Eli’s Approach to Building Realistic Aircraft Panels for the Q400

Leftmost section of the Q400 Overhead Panel (toggles and knobs not pictured)

Hi Everyone,

The MJC Q400 is regarded as one of the best payware aircraft on the market. Nearly every switch and system is simulated and works in the sim. Even better, nearly all of the inputs and outputs of the aircraft can be coded to work with controllers. goodbye mouse and keyboard.

The goal of this post is to walk through my process for designing and pre fabrication of aircraft instrument panels.

Speaking of processes, procedures and tools…

I will be using some high precision equipment to manufacture these panels but there are always ways to accomplish similar results using more basic methods. This sim will be my 6th cockpit build over 12 years and I didn’t always have a laser cutter so I will try my best to post alternate manufacturing methods for those who have more basic tools.

As always, please post questions to the site and we will do our best to help you along the way.

My process begins with obtaining a life size illustration of the part I want to reproduce.

Randy (my build partner) and I decided that the first part of the Q400 we wanted to build was the overhead panel pictured below

My first goal was to obtain a life size drawing of the Q400 overhead panel.

I found JetPubs.com they sell life-size posters of many of the panels in various aircrafts for the purposes of training.

If you are also building a Q400 cockpit and you intend on following our build you don’t need to purchase one. we are doing all that work for you but if you want to build a different aircraft check them out they are very helpful.

My approach is to use the life size poster and a pair of digital calipers to take all the critical measurements needed to rebuild them in my CAD program.

Some reference notes and reference dimensions.
Naming important dimensions saves time and prevents mistakes.

Once I have modeled a part in CAD, See DC Control below

I make PDF’s (I don’t always make them now but before I used a Laser and a CNC machine I used to tape these PDF’s to wood and make all the cuts and drill holes in the right place with a power drill and trim router, or skill saw, or bandsaw. (whatever you got).

For CNCing and for laser cutting I produce DXF files from my cad program.

I tried to upload a DXF file here but Worpress won’t allow the file type.

Rest easy though, we will find some way to make them available to you. (Stay tuned)

Once I reach this point I am ready to begin testing. I do extensive testing on smaller sample parts. Mainly I check on a separate build that all of my hole sizes and spacing is correct before manufacturing a big or intricate part.

Test Sample for four button/toggle types used on the project.
Testing on a small part allows me to check clearances on the back, mounting hole placement and even check the paint job

Testing is very important. I usually find improvements that can be made from tests. Sometimes I catch a critical mistake that would have wasted lots of material. No matter what process you use, don’t rush and validate your design and manufacturing process.

Thats all for now. keep an eye out for my next post where I will cover some manufacturing/build techniques.

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