Of all the electronic projects I’ve been lucky enough to build over the years, I don’t think anything has been as exciting as owning a machine that literally
picks you up off the ground and immerses your senses
fully in another world. Not to mention, a world in which
you can fly!
The first version of my Flyer (discussed here) was built
almost 15 years ago. Since that time, phenomenal new
applications in software and hardware have emerged.
With wonderful programs like Google Earth, it is now
possible to do what even the most advanced military
computers could not do just a short time ago: allow you
to fly in real time with real satellite photo images and
weather anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice!
In writing this article, I want to talk a little bit about
the adventures of the Virtual Flyer, its creation, and
motion simulator theory. I also want to discuss how you
can get started building incredibly strong motion
simulations just like I did.
Note: This article is not meant to be a precise step by
step, bolt by bolt description of one simulator (which
would be impractical short of a book length effort), but
will give you a highly detailed overview of all the basic
systems you will need to create your own flying simulator
easily. In addition, I’m making all software open source
and downloadable, and will provide videos of the machine
to simplify your construction, as well.
Working on a full motion simulator will require some
mechanical work, electronic work, and even a little
programming, but surprisingly, it’s not a great deal more
difficult than many other Nut & Volts projects. I’m
confident that the first time you step into your flying
machine and leave reality for cyberspace, you’ll agree it is
worth the effort!
Don’t forget, when your simulator is
complete, you’ll find me waiting for you on
the Internet in a green cyberspace field
somewhere, guns loaded and ready for
combat — simulator to simulator.
Of course, you know where you’ll be
seeing me first ... in your rear window! Virtual Reality Waits for No One
Fifteen years is an eternity in computer
Both the hardware and software described
in this project have been greatly surpassed by
newer computers and interfaces.
I’m certain you will have many ideas for
how these can be updated, and I’ll be
including tips and tricks regarding simulation
to help you do so.
That said, despite the older tech, the
simulator itself is still flying beautifully after all this time
(having given over 40,000 rides at air shows and events).
Should you choose to use the same hardware/software,
you’ll find yourself up and running in no time. The Illusion of Flight/ Simulator Theory
In designing your own simulator, it’s very important to
understand how we perceive motion and our
surroundings. Many aspects of making a good flying
simulation are surprisingly counter-intuitive!
The first thing to take into account is how we as
human beings sense motion. Our strongest sense of
motion comes not from our inner ear, but from our
If you were to stand in front of a movie screen staring
straight ahead with no other visual cues and a flying scene
was projected, most people will become so disoriented
that without a handrail they will be unable to stand.
However, if you were standing while watching the same
scene on a TV, you would have no difficulty at all. This is
because while the TV screen is projecting the same
motion, your visual field isn’t filled by that motion. Plus,
you see other visual cues around it that aren’t moving, so
you are able to keep your balance.
For this reason, any simulator that does not fully
enclose your vision will NEVER capture the feeling of flight
... not even to a small degree! While it may be fun to rock
around in a moving chair, your brain will lock on to stable
visual cues and all feeling of real flight will be lost.
So, the first rule of an immersive VR experience is:
You must fully enclose your cabin or block all outside
visual cues with virtual reality goggles (or the like).
April 2014 39
; This is an
example of a
simulator I built
that uses virtual
No cabin is