Over the years I have had many fun projects, whether it was something taking up space in my basement or keeping my wife from parking in the garage. For all of these projects, I have taken inspiration from other projects. For the first time though, it was my turn to build for someone else. In December 2018, I was approached by a friend who is a member of the Iowa Military Aviation Heritage Museum in Ankeny, Iowa. The museum had an Ultralight aircraft donated to them from a former member's estate. It was not airworthy, and it would have taken more time and resources than it was worth to rebuild it and fly it.
It was at that point that two of the members had the idea to work on converting the ultralight to a flight simulator. As my friend had worked with me on projects past, he knew that I had tinkered with plugins and hardware required to make it happen, so thats where I came in. From the start, our entire goal was to make the simulator as true to the original aircraft as possible. We had no desire to use any "video game" controls when we had literally everything we needed right in front of us to fly an aircraft.
I wasn't sure what to expect on the first night, but we went to the hangar to take a look at it and my imagination started spinning. The other group members had such a wealth of knowledge and mechanical experience that nothing seemed off the table and we started right away in coming up with a plan.
As the winter went on into spring, we slowly started making progress. The first step was to clean out all of the unnecessary parts like fuel lines, linkages, and wiring. There was also a significant amount of junk in the cockpit that needed cleaned out like ventilation hoses and instrument parts. We also needed to give it a good bath, as the years were not friendly to the vinyl on the outside of the cockpit.
Once the junk was cleaned out, it was time to start the challenge of connecting linkage to sensors. This was accomplished using 3D printed connecting rods and mounts to the existing linkage and control cables. This allowed us to stick with our original plan without compromising any of the control surface feedback. Once we got the basic controls down (Elevator, Aileron, Throttle, and Rudder) we were able to focus on more advanced systems such as switches and gauges.
Throughout the summer, many Tuesdays and Saturdays were spent by the entire crew at the museum providing feedback and expertise. We were able to use these experts to provide information in order to make the feel and the response as close to the real thing as possible given the parts we had available. We finally rolled it out in August at the Central Iowa Airshow where we served over 200 future pilots and logged nearly 16 hours of flight time over 3 days of the show. The simulator is now a full time staple of the museum, and thanks to the support of the generous community they will be able to soon use it for events and gatherings in the area.