There was an unusually large number of flight simulator setups for sale on eBay this January, with about 5 available ranging from $600 to $4,250 for a fairly new Precision Flight Controls (PFC) C2 setup. I guess it was spring cleaning time. 🙂
Above: the PFC C2 with enhanced avionics stack, PFC 430W and pedals for $4,250 on eBay.
All of them were good deals, typically 75% off retail.
I set a budget of $1,000 to buy a basic setup and learn more about sim gear. The plan is to use it 30 minutes per day.
My requirements were:
- compatible with Microsoft Flight Simulator (FS) and Elite. X-Plane support optional.
- primarily for piston, steam-gauge IFR procedure training practice (I have a commercial/IFR licence)
- all radio settings in hardware, no need for magnetos or circuit breakers in hardware
- no particular need for GPS or MFDs as they are rapidly-changing technology, though a Garmin 530W would be a plus
- able to add multi-engine controls
- I’ve never used any PC yoke or rudder pedals that I liked, so not expecting much here.
(For those not familiar with Elite flight simulator software, it was the first to gain FAA approval with hardware as a PCATD, is ideally suited for the business of flight schools, and has an invaluable map display with ground track/profile view and user-updatable navaids, and allows failure simulation by the instructor.
Note that MS Flight Simulator 2000 and newer also offer similar teaching features to Elite: Flight Analysis shows a flight map with plan and profile views, and using a second computer you’re supposedly able to join the student’s flight and control the settings remotely.)
I ended up buying an Elite setup for $600 as-is, including:
- PFC Cirrus yoke with throttle
- PFC rudder pedals
- Elite AP-2000 (serial interface) avionics stack
- King Air B200 multi-engine throttle quadrant (serial interface)
- Elite UCI 5 DRM box.
Above: My Elite flightsim. This was the first FAA-approved PCATD setup under AC61-126 in 1997!
Luckily for me, everything functioned. Even the cables were complete.
My evaluation of this equipment so far is that it’s cheap, compact and pretty useful. The next step up in hardware would be much more expensive and require a lot more space at home, like a dedicated table.
Here’s some installation tips:
- the Stancor 9VDC AC adapter for the Elite UCI 5 and AP-2000 can be purchased for $20 from flyelite.com. It has a negative polarity jack, the opposite from the usual 9VDC adapters I have around the house. You can use a splitter cable from one AC adapter to both devices.
- the easiest way to test the 9VDC AC adapter is to try it with an Elite UCI box. There should be a steady green LED and a blinking amber LED. (Elite equipment seems to be fairly electrically tolerant when connecting the wrong jack polarity. Nothing has died yet.)
- my PFC gear uses the joystick port, which Windows XP supports natively. Just use a 15-pin Y-cable, choose “4-button flight yoke w/throttle” and rudder pedals, and calibrate it, exactly like you would any game controller. I set the 2 yoke rocker switches to elevator trim and rudder trim.
- to use Elite hardware with FS 2002/2004/X, download the FSELITE.EXE program and run it to install the correct drivers.
- I already have an Elite USB key, so don’t need the UCI 5. To connect the AP-2000 serial, just use a straight-through 9-pin serial cable from the PC to the AP-2000. Connect the throttle quadrant to the AP-2000 with a straight-through 25-pin serial cable to the connectors marked “Extended.”
- to add the new serial hardware to an existing Elite software install that is already using an Elite USB key, just delete the \ELITE\Core\Pref directory, start Elite and then scan for hardware again. (I had to choose COM1 for the serial AP-2000, and a dialog box appeared to calibrate the PFC gear.)
- In Elite, to hide the GPS map and show the radio stack after installing the AP-2000, click on the “Back” button to the right of the GPS map view or toggle the “AUX 1” button on the AP-2000.
- the easiest way I found to test the hardware in FS and Elite is just use the flaps button or mixture levers on the throttle quadrant. If those work, then everything is connected and installed correctly.
Some general notes are:
- I’m using an old PC (Pentium A 2.53 GHz/512 MB RAM/ATI X850XT). Elite is not CPU-intensive and works smoothly on any 1997+ PC or Mac, but this is the minimum for FS to refresh at 20 FPS.
- it appears that Elite software supports all older Elite hardware, so buy used with confidence.
- AP-100, AP-1000 and AP-2000 avionics stacks are “non-lighted” and show the radio settings on your computer monitor, while the newer AP-3000 and AP-4000 have LED readouts directly on the radios. The AP-2000 supports the Trimble 2000 GPS, while the newer ones also support the Apollo GX50/55/60/65 Series GPS. The AP-4000 also supports the Garmin 430W. Photos are available here.
- FSELITE.EXE supports FS2002, FS2004 and FSX.
- Elite hardware has been manufactured under a few labels, including Hapa Elektronik, Initiative Computing AG (IC), Elite and no name.
- I have seen two different AP-2000 avionics stacks with identical controls: 1 is the thin, narrow, quadrilateral-shaped unit labelled “ELITE Personal Simulator TM”, and the other is wider and taller with no mfg. or model label but black rocker switches and the GPS section is labelled “Trimble 2000 A.” They both function the same.
- the Elite AP-2000 aka “On Top” AV-1 now.
Some notes about FAA Airplane Training Device (ATD) requirements:
- PCATD is now a general-purpose term that refers to the concept of a PC-based flight training device.
- Basic ATD (BATD) is the official term for a flight simulator that allows flying required maneuvers and procedures without a mouse, the installation is approved by the FAA, and only a CFII can sign-off hours logged using it.
- Advanced ATD (AATD) starts with BATD requirements, adds a GPS, and provides an ergonomic and immersive environment along with a station for the instructor.
Elite 7 Software Review (a little pedantic)
Elite Software Drivers Page
AC 61-136 – FAA Approval of Basic Aviation Training Devices (BATD) and Advanced Aviation Training Devices (AATD)
Microsoft Flight Simulator as a Training Aid
AOPA: Meet the PCATD (1997)
Avsim Review: Elite G430 Home Cockpit Module
Lockheed Prepar3D (MS FS ESP)
MS Flight Site
Simulator-Based Recurrent Training for Piston Singles and Twins
Logitech Flight System G940
Redbird Flight Simulations