Back when I ordered my JetMax SKTQ cockpit, I included the JetMax-737OH1-STD Overhead Support Stand in preparation for a future overhead panel. However, I quickly learned that the process of selecting an overhead panel for my 737NG simulator was not going to be a simple one.
The overhead market offers a vast range of different designs, configurations, complexities, features, and prices. From individual build-your-own frames, panels, and component kits, to completely finished products you simply plug-and-play. So, I wrote this article to hopefully give my readers some insight into my decision making process and share what I learned along the way.
I started out by setting guidelines based on my skills, my desires, my cockpit, and my budget.
My primary guidelines were:
- Fully assembled and functionally ready-to-fly
- Plug & Play configuration (no scripts or extra software)
- Simple to troubleshoot and maintain
- Built by a trusted manufacturer with great support
- Supported by the ProSim737 Avionics Suite
My secondary guidelines were:
- Affordable within my overall cockpit budget
- Minimal assembly required
I considered VRInsight, OpenCockpits, FlightDeck Solutions, CockpitSimParts, Poldragonet, and FlyEngravity, but I did not feel that they met all of my guidelines, leaving me with the JetMax, SimWorld, and CPFlight overhead panels.
I then looked into CPFlight and SimWorld online and via email and even flew up to Toronto to see the JetMax and FDS stuff in person. From this research, I then compiled the following feature list.
NOTE: Please understand that the following information is solely intended to document my own findings and in no way should be a declaration that any overhead panel product is any “better” than any other. Product offerings can and will change. It is always wise to weigh your budget, skill set, and current configuration, and then find a solution that suits your own needs. In short, do your homework!
|Price in USD||$7,310||$7,000|
$6,290 on sale
|Completely built, pre-wired|
|Single, preconfigured USB interface|
|Solenoid Start Switches|
|High quality switches and injection molded knobs|
|Numeric electrical & pressurization displays|
|Metal frame & enclosure, powdercoated|
|Accurate color & size|
|Dimmable LED backlighting|
|CNC-milled light plates with accurate screw locations|
|All Gauges Included and Operational|| APU EGT and DUCT PRESS use LEDs|
to show one or two static
readings. All other are dummies.
|Beveled FLT ALT and LAND ALT windows|
|Exterior lighting switches||6||5*||5*|
|Authentic Locking Switches|
|Electromagnetic switches (Yaw Damper, WAI)|
|Push-to-turn Start Switches|
|AFT Overhead available|
|Landing lights T-bar handles|
|Lavatory SMOKE annunciator|
|Voice recorder switch|
|White caps on non-locking switches|
|STBY RUD ON annunciator|
|FMC switch on Navigation Panel|
|* Strobe/Position lights combined into one three-way switch|
As you can see, each overhead has its benefits and compromises. The next step for me was to dive deeper into each one and see how they could work for me.
The JetMax overhead panel is a high quality, affordable, and well-supported product, and the majority of cockpit builders would be extremely satisfied with it. While it may not have as many features as the other two panels, the price is 40+% less expensive. For those looking for a good plug and play overhead on a limited budget, the JetMax is a very reasonable choice.
However, I knew at some point I was going to end up buying and installing all those missing features that are included in the SimWorld and CPFlight panels. And, since JetMax doesn’t offer an aft overhead panel, the aft panel would have to come from another manufacturer. These caveats let me further narrow the field down to two.
The SimWorld “Plug&Play Professional” overhead panel satisfied nearly all of my guidelines. And, it included the white caps on the non-locking switches, STBY RUN ON annunciator, and FMC switch missing from the CPFlight model. For their gauges, they use a proprietary CAN bus system for communications, use stepper motors for smoother gauge operation, and claim no one else has these two features. They also mentioned to me other unique SimWorld details such as realistic gauge bezels, accurate Engine Start switch travel, and a faux microphone grill on the CVR Panel. But, to be fair, I believe by “switch travel” they mean the Engine Start switches are push-in-to-turn like the ones CPFlight uses. And, you can also find a faux CVR microphone grill on the JetMax overhead.
I pay a lot of attention to genuine customer feedback before making purchases like this. But unfortunately, I was only able to find a single “review” of the SimWorld Plug&Play Professional overhead panel over at Dave Kubosch’s website. It is written in German, and Google won’t translate it, but he seemed extremely satisfied with his purchase. If you go check his page out, it is worth noting that Dave’s overhead is an older version and did not have SimWorld’s newer stepper motors for the gauges yet.
I wanted to see the inner workings of the SimWorld panel, so I emailed them asking for a picture of the back, and got this:
Not exactly what I meant, but is still quite informational. You can see the USB, power, and AFT panel connections are mounted to the rear cover and there is a cooling fan grille at the bottom. I then asked for a picture of the guts behind the panel itself, and they said “no, it is confidential”. So, the best I could do was head back to Dave’s page as he had posted a partial photo of the SimWorld interior. Here is that picture alongside the CPFlight interior:
As you can see. the SimWorld panel is packed full with electronics, wiring, ribbon cables, support structures, stacked circuit boards (including at least one mounted inside the back cover), and more. While I am sure it runs fine, I couldn’t imagine having to troubleshoot or maintain so much complexity. This was ultimately the deciding factor for me. And what’s more, there was a build issue: that cooling fan grille on the rear cover that would have been blocked over by my JetMax overhead support stand.
So, here we are. The CPFlight overhead panel finally won out in my little battle. With a nearly endless list of features (including the exclusive push-to-test annunicators that I love) and a heavy dose of simplicity, it met and exceeded all of my preset guidelines. It also didn’t hurt that I already owned other CPFlight products and had built a certain level of trust with them. Plus, it meant more things in my cockpit will match in design, colors, lighting, feel, and materials.
UPDATE: I have also posted my in-depth review of my CPFlight Forward Overhead Panel. It is chock full of pictures, information, experiences, and tips.