There are not many guides on the internet on how to build a flight simulator starting from a car seat; so naturally, when I embarked on my quest to make one, I started by asking lots of question to those that had already jumped through the many hoops that such a project entails. In the Hotas subreddit there is a small but motivated group of DIY and flight simulation enthusiasts that share their personal builds and projects among themselves; the audience is very niche for an undertaking of thi...
There are not many guides on the internet on how to build a flight simulator starting from a car seat; so naturally, when I embarked on my quest to make one, I started by asking lots of question to those that had already jumped through the many hoops that such a project entails.
In the Hotas subreddit there is a small but motivated group of DIY and flight simulation enthusiasts that share their personal builds and projects among themselves; the audience is very niche for an undertaking of this magnitude, so it is perhaps not too surprising that many such clever individuals are more than willing to talk about their labour of love with complete strangers looking for information.
One thing that is worth discussing is why anyone would want such a contraption in his or her home; after all, there is plenty of gaming chairs available on the market right? There are indeed, but the problem is that such products are glorified office chairs with fancy colours; they are charged exorbitant amounts for what is essentially a regular padded chair with back support, fashionable appearance and perhaps a brand name popular among streamers. This is not what draws flight-sim enthusiasts, a group that pays little heed to fashion statements and is much more focused on substance, that is, having a place where to rest one’s bottom during long hours of (virtual) flight.
It is thus no surprise that my previous chair was made from a comfortable office one, but with time – and with new hardware available – I wanted more.
The first step was the seat itself; I started my search by calling nearby junkyards and asking if it was still possible, as I read in many a description and from online correspondence, to just show up one day, finding a suitable candidate and ripping it off with my bare hands from its host. Turns out that yes, you can, but nowadays is much easier to browse car parts on eBay - the world’s largest virtual junkyard. A few weeks of camping the right keywords later, I found a listing for two beautiful red leather front seats formerly part of a scrapped BMW convertible, and my mind was made: for a price certainly inferior to their manufacturing cost, both seats were now adorning my living room (much to my wife’s raised eyebrows – both of them). My cat also approved.
I had already decided that the base was going to be made of aluminium profiles, but before proceeding, I needed to find a way to power the electric motors of the seat to adjust its angle and horizontal position, a task significantly harder than I initially envisioned. Fortunately, on the now-defunct Newtis website, it was possible to freely download the electrical schematics and repair manuals for most components of a BMW car – including the chair. Armed with this knowledge, and after butchering a computer PSU, I was eventually able to locate the right connectors, applying the correct voltage and reclaim the chair’s functionality.
Building the frame was relatively straightforward: I already had a reference in other people’s work, so while it was time-consuming to order the aluminium cut to measure from the main European retailer, it was also a simple matter of screwing bolts and nuts as needed.
The next technical hurdle was the bass shaker; in my previous work, this was solved by carving a circular hole in the wooden frame of the chair, however, it turns out that shaking an office chair is a way easier task than causing significant vibrations in a 50 Kilograms bulk of steel, plastic and leather. Such an arduous task is currently being carried out by a Sinuslive Body Sound Transducer powered by a 70W dedicated amplifier; wiring the connections was not difficult, but in order to isolate the shaking part of the chair from the base I used Sorbothane under the lowest metal rail. All in all, the hardest bit was drilling a sufficiently large hole in the 2cm thick aluminium plate to which the bass shaker is attached.
Last but not least, I carved two aptly-sized armrests from an old wardrobe door, painted them each with a few coats of white, and screwed down the joystick and throttle; the only annoying part of this process was watching the proverbial paint dry, and the cable management for the ever-increasing wires cropping around the monstrosity that is now starting to take a good chunk of our living room; all of this made easier by cable clips expressly designed to fit inside the ridges of the 4040 aluminium extrusions I used.
At last, my work was finally done; which meant that I was free of bragging about it with my friends and fellow (space) pilots; you can see the result of all this in a video I edited, briefly showcasing the assembly process as well as the final result.
All in all, a solid hobby project that will probably outlast the vast majority of our furniture, and will likely puzzle future archaeologists should they dig up the ruins of my home many years from now.