Trying to faithfully recreate every single part of the cockpit is particularly hard when all you have to work from is photographs with no dimensions.
To solve this, I took a known item, (common instrument) that is present in the photographs then zoomed the photograph in the screen until it matched my tape-measure. From there I could take measurements all over the screen. It’s obviously not going to be exact, but it will be pretty darned close. I’m happy with a tolerance of a few millimetres here and there.
The bonus I’ve found is that I can work late into the night in the shed, because I can cut 3mm plywood with a knife. Nice and neat too! I drilled holes in the plates and screwed in some socket-head cap screws. All it needs now is a paint and fit out with instruments.
First cab off the rank is the head up display at the very front of the cockpit.
After a quick paint, (I know it’s not the genuine colour…. yet) I used some cardboard to rough out a dashboard cover unit, then transferred it onto 12mm plywood.
I got an altimeter for the HUD unit, but unfortunately it’s not the same Kollsman altimeter that you would see in the original Viper. They are hard to get and expensive. I now have illuminated toggle switches fitted, along with an illuminated arcade button that was so huge I had to glue it all together and turn it down on the lathe.
I’ve been trying to reconcile what I have learned from my aviation friends and what I see in this cockpit. The gauges are supposed to be surface mounted- that is, installed from behind the panels so that only what is within the bezel is visible, plus any control knobs poking through. Clearly in the movie prop though, many of them are pushed through from the front, protruding above the panel up to an inch. My quandary – Do I mount them as per modern day real aircraft, or remain faithful to the movie prop?
I’ve started putting in the walls and floor in the cockpit now, which makes it easier to plan the fitting of the instrument panels. There are a few angles that the internet reference photos just don’t show, but when the physical is in front of me, there are a few surprises. Hence, I have fallen back on my old faithful cardboard to start working things out, instead of wasting good plywood on mistakes.
I also pulled the case off the outside of the HUD, as the angles are too squat and broad. The panel it is mounted in is on a steep angle, so the case in turn, needs to be modified to fit.
Now that I have a few instruments in, some of the known dimensions on them can be extrapolated and used to scale the panels in the photos. This is still a challenge due to lens distortion and angle of shot, but at least it is something to work from.
My friend Andrew W has been working hard to recreate the display screens. Thanks to the kindness of David Marriott, the monitor on the left is going to be my main DRADIS screen, centered in the forward instrument panel. The graphic on it will be displayed on a small digital photo display unit which I have yet to acquire.
I’ve had to redo the HUD housing to make it steeper.
Reaction Control System (RCS) Joystick and base.
I couldn’t source the Piper fuel mixture lever and knob, so I made one out of wood and steel. The knob alone would have cost me over $50 plus shipping. This way, it cost me nothing. Not a lot of difference to look at either.
neither could I find the unit that the handle attaches to. It looks like the light fitting around a semi trailer clip light with the lens removed, but I can’t find one anywhere. Time to make one.
Thruster Control Joystick and Pedestal
Designing the pedestal for the thruster control joystick, as usual using cardboard to get it right before wasting good plywood. Dimensions are all guesswork, based on known objects in the cockpit.
I’m finding it hard to find the colours the show used here in Australia, so a little experimenting with hardware-store spray cans has turned out fairly well. I sprayed an undercoat of primer grey, then the blue, over-sprayed with chrome silver, then if too much, a light spray-over from a distance with the blue again.
These are the colours from the show. The pale blue for the instrument panels and the darker blue for the interior side panels from the canopy to the floor. Thanks to Steve at Galactiguise for the info.
Why are there always knobs around when you don’t need them? Ah well, it’s not often you create a knob, but that’s one I can strike off my bucket list.
First test fit
It’s often annoying that I only get 20 minutes free at a time to work on the project. By the time I squeezed my lanky body through a tiny access hatch in the side, bolted and test fit the instrument panels, blocking my exit….. It was time to unbolt and get out again. Dad-duty calls. At least now I have a bit of a plan for when I’ve got more time.
Thanks to Rob Simpson, I received a stack of the smaller diameter gauges and the VOR. The faces of the small diameter instruments are not the same as in the movie prop, so I have taken them apart and replaced the faces with a printed one. The HUD is now complete, as is the main instrument panel instruments. Push buttons and lights next.
It’s getting very hard to squeeze in through the side of the cockpit now, so to continue fitout it is time to remove the canopy formers. At this point I couldn’t yet afford the aluminium for the canopy frame, so I have made it out of scrap wood and aluminium trims to establish the shape and dimensions. Now it is done, I have something solid to copy once I acquire the aluminium and I can cut off the canopy formers.
LOTS more room now and I can climb in over the top.
That little darned red light!
Hard-to-find props or just too expensive? Fine then. I’ll make it.
Scaled using a screenshot of the original prop and a know item that I have, (red switch). Turned on the lathe from polycarbonate rod, polished using wet and dry then Brasso and cotton. Details melted in with soldering iron, collar is the lid off my wood glue bottle. Drilled out for a globe. I’ll paint it with a red permanent marker.
That hexagonal thingy!
Just what the heck is it!? Speaker maybe. Air vent….hmmmm…maybe, switch plate with switch and axle removed…maybe. Gutted 50mm instrument body with something hexagonal still in it….maybe.
For lack of positive ID, I went ahead and made it out of plywood, foam and some screws.
AMPEX VPR-80 Panel, (Weapons systems and fire control)
After months and months of internet research and networking with Ampex companies, distributors, owners, Facebookers, Twitterers, video editing forums, and Youtubers, I have had absolutely no luck in sourcing an Ampex VPR-80 panel. Again, I have no option but to make one, using whatever I can find and some internet reference photos.
An overseas VPR-80 owner, Fernando M, has been very kind and patient with me and sent me some dimensions. I printed it off close to life size to help guide me. I’ve turned the small knobs on the lathe out of wood and used the lid off a methylated spirits bottle with a steel plate glued on top for the large knob. I have some thick white opaque perspex sheet which I’ve used for the large buttons, while the small ones are shaped out of wood. I’ve used clear perspex for the screens.
It’s getting tight in here!
With new and unprecedented reference photos now made available to me, thanks to a secret benefactor, I have decided there are some angles,shapes and sizes I can’t live with. So, I stripped the instrument panel out and fixed. Never be afraid to start over and strive for perfection!
While I was at it, I trimmed an old parcel shelf out of a hatchback to size and installed it for a floor. Much nicer.
Side instrument shelves.
Using cardboard and reference photos to work out the side panels. Once I’m happy with it I will transfer it all to wood for shaping and painting. Alternatively, if I can get the cardboard looking good, I will fibreglass it instead.
3 Feb 2018: Back to working on the cockpit. These instrument side shelves require careful fabrication, so I’ve slowed down and actually bought dressed timber this time, instead of rough ply. Taking my time with it means I can hopefully replicate not only the shape, but with careful paint selection I might even be able to replicate the surface finish of the vacuformed original.
I’m really worried that the push button banks sent via US postage last October, (2017) have been lost or stolen. I am making fake buttons to cover the shortfall. They are 19x19mm and have 18x18mm stickers to label them all.
2:43am. 29 December 2017, I’ve ripped the instrument panels out of the cockpit again to install and wire all the panel lights. Time for bed. Sleep seems like such a waste of productive time….
Instrument panels back in. Definitely going to need a resistor on those buttons.
There’s lots of compound curves and weird angles, but I finally managed to get the top of the walls dressed with the window sills. I can now bring the outer skin of the hull all the way up to meet them and provide an air seal with the canopy frame.
The ejector seat.
Starting the ejector seat configuration with a spacer box underneath to raise it and provide a base to build the rest of the unit from. I also cut the top of the seat off as they did with the original prop to allow for the headrest and integrated systems in the top of the seat. The padded cover just gets folded back and stitched behind the seat to dress it off.
Building the sides and top was tricky and a bit of trail and error. I only really had three half-decent photos to work from at different angles, but they were difficult to translate into shape and size with such limited views and details. I made a frame out of plywood which was pretty basic to back the seat and hug it’s contours. Then I started from the top, as the pictures I have are of it are best from there. Working my way down, it was a bit of improvisation with limited materials, but I managed to find a happy approximation.
Again, I found it a big money saver to use cardboard first to freehand the shapes and fit, then transfer to half inch plywood once I had established the form.
Cockpit interior nearing completion.
15 September 2018
Rerouting all the power to a panel on the starboard side, between the skin and the interior wall.
21 September 2018
Vinyl stickers done, thanks to Ken Byrnes for printing and Andrew Smith for generating the printable PDF artwork. I got some aluminium plate to put them on and screw them to the interior walls of the cockpit, rather than stick them straight onto painted plywood. They will last a lot longer.
Rear firewall headboard.
I suppose there are a lot of ways to make this board. The trick is to make it look the same with whatever is on hand. In my case, lots of leftover plywood.