Before my first flight as pilot of a Cessna C172.

Why did I build the Sim?

I spend a lot of time looking at flight simulation Internet forums, blogs, and videos. This is both curiosity and  comparison to see what others have done during their cockpit builds. One feedback comment I frequently see “outsiders” ask is “With all the money you spent on this thing, you could be a real pilot.” I thought I would take a few minutes to explain why I chose to build myself a 737 home cockpit instead of getting my Private Pilot License (PPL).

I got back into flight simulation in October 2014. It reignited an inner passion I realized I always had… flight. After a few months with Microsoft FSX and the PMDG 737 NGX, I thought the same as most: Why am I not doing the real thing? My father and step-father were both private pilots and seemed to love it. So, I started using my desktop flight sim to take the Cessna 172 out and fly it around as preparation. I even bought the Saitek Pro Flight Cessna Trim Wheel to help me out.

I then searched for a local flight training school and signed up with Westwind Aviation at Deer Valley Airport (KDVT) in September 2014. I passed my Class 3 Medical and got my Student Pilot Certificate from the FAA. I also had to buy my David-Clark aviation headset, flight bag, kneeboard, charts, GATS jar, and manual flight computer. The costs were starting to add up.

My first flight was September 20, 2014 in a Cessna Skyhawk C172SP. I was so familiar with glass cockpits at this point, I even chose to train with a plane equipped with a Garmin G1000.

My flight instructor, Steven, was a fantastic teacher and loved that I obtained a great amount of knowledge about flying. Due to flying my sim, I already knew about airport markings, NOTAMs, reading METAR/TFRs, flight control basics, airspace usage, radio operations, navigation, and more. He said most new students don’t even know what an altimeter looks like or what it does. I was like a dream student to him.

We did the pre-flight, taxied out, and took off from Runway 07L. Turning north, we practiced climbs, descents, wings level, situation awareness, and trimming the plane. I even instinctively trimmed without knowing it from my trim wheel practice at home.

First time piloting the Cessna C172 with a Garmin G1000.
First time piloting the Cessna C172 with a Garmin G1000.

We spent over an hour in the air, and as we entered the pattern, he took over, landed, and took us back to parking. Steven was impressed and looking forward to our next trip. At this point, I even picked up the Saitek TPM (Throttle, Prop, Mixture) panel to hone my skills even more. I did enjoy the feeling of being up there, but something didn’t seem quite right.

I went on three more training flights with Steven, learning steep turns, stalls, visual reference, S- turns, turns around a point, flying the pattern, slow flight, and normal landings. All while I was the Pilot In Command (PIC). And then, I just stopped flying. My last training flight was in January 2015.

I eventually realized that I was paying $200/hr to learn to fly. After the estimated $12-15K in training costs, I was still going to have to pay about $120-140/hr to rent a “wet” G1000-equipped C172. Even a simple trip from Phoenix to Las Vegas and back (~270 miles each way) was going to run me about $900 in rental fees. Not to mention another $420/day as long as the plane on the ramp in Nevada. I could drive there and back for about $50 in my car.

And, to keep current after obtaining my PPL, I should really fly a couple times a month. Ultimately, I felt the costs to obtain and maintain my PPL were just too much to accept.

I am an analytical person. I like learning and practicing procedures, systems, and processes, but I don’t think I caught the “bug” of real flying. I want to do everything right, and I fear doing less than that. And, real flying has a lot of wrongs that can hurt you or worse. Not to mention that I would never get to fly the big complex jets that intrigued me the most.

If I were going after a career as a pilot, it would likely be a different story. But, I am just not young enough to change careers at this point and the pay at most commercial airlines is lower than you might think until you earn some seniority.

So, instead, I decided to dedicate my resources to building a “big jet” of my own at home. I settled on the most commonly successful one out there, the Boeing 737. Cockpit parts can be sourced relatively easily. I can fly it anywhere in the world, any time of day I want, in any weather I want. I can make mistakes and start over. I can trigger failures and save the day. I can fly online or alone. And once it was built, it is incredibly cheap to operate.

My Boeing 737 NG home cockpit as of January 2016.
My Boeing 737 NG home cockpit as of January 2016.

So far, I have spent more on my cockpit than I would have on completing my PPL. But, this setup has resale value if I ever grow tired of it. My hours in the C172 do not. It can always provide another simmer with the hours of enjoyment it gives me.

Interestingly enough, Steven called me a few weeks ago to see how I was doing and I told him about the cockpit build. He was shocked and exciting and wants to come fly it himself. My home flight simulator is something I can be proud of, share with friends, and spend time tinkering on. This, to me, is more of the safe, entertaining hobby I was looking for. And that, my friends, is why I built the simulator.

Thank you all for visiting!

14 thoughts on “Why did I build the Sim?”

  1. Hi there,
    Sorry I don’t know your name but I came across your website via google when I was searching for 737 SKTQ detailed drawings. I read your welcome blog with interest and can relate exactly to your reasoning. I too became obsessed with flight simulation back in 1988 and have been ever since. I too started to take flying lessons in hope of gaining my PPL only to be disillusioned when the costs started escalating. Like you I’ve wanted to build my own cockpit so I took the plunge and after gaining permission from my good lady wife, I placed the order with Peter at Jetmax. I have ordered the same as you, the 737 SKTQ with the overhead too. If possible, I was hoping we could correspond regarding the Jetmax system. I have some question I would like to ask you so if you wouldn’t mind, I would very much appreciate your assistance.

    1. Hello WilloW! An honor to have you stop by, as I have practically read every word on your web site. Great job and thanks for all you do for the community!

  2. Hi,

    sad to say that flying a real plane is so expensive, even a small Cessna 172.

    But you are right, even when you hold your PPL licence in your hand, you can’t fly the big ones. And that’s what caused the aviation fire.

    It’s surly great to flying around with a small plane, but not with a ticking money clock in your brain.

    I believe many builderd can tell nearly the same story as you…. and iam one of them.

    I love the liberty to fly where and when I want. And i love the challenge to build such a complex thing. And i am also very proud…. not less than a PPL holder.

    Many privat pilots are very impressed about the Flightdeck and (i must confess) it’s always funny to see that i have to explain them a lot about flying the sim 🙂 Me…. a Sim pilot:-))

    My small website


    1. Thomas, thank you for the comment and the visit! You run yet another of the respected cockpit-building sites I have frequently visited.

      As for the PPL, I have a much better time in my sim than I did flying the Cessna. No FAA regs to worry about, go where/when I want, ongoing expense is low, and I can let my friends fly it anytime (some of them real 737 pilots). I may still consider finishing my PPL, but it will likely require retirement and winning the lottery. 🙂

      1. Hi, I was just trying to find some good words to convince myself that a boeing 737 home cockpit would be good spent money versus the Real thing. Then I found your post on Google, and it was like I would have said it myself. I have about 150hours as pilot in command with ppl and ultra light. I have just started building my own 737 home cockpit and some days I have problems with justifying the money spent on it rather than refresh my license and start flying the real thing again. I am lucky to have a neighbor who has a full replica 737 cockpit, most pnp from Simworld, and I was in heaven when I tried it. As you I also am a analytical person who loves to do procedures and fly the advanced navigation as the real airliner aviation provides.

        Nice to read your arguments so that I remain confident about my decision. I really got my thoughts when my buddy recently begun his flight training for ultra lights and some memories from some years ago with real flying came.

        Tor Christian

  3. Hi,
    Thanks for sharing an informative article on why you built your sim. I have puttering around the skies with just the computer and the X-Plane simulator and recently began investigating adding hardware.

    I did try for my Private Pilot’s license and rounded up about 12 hours, however, due to vision was unable to get a medical and gave up.

    I continue my interest of flying by going the flight sim route. The folks at CPFlight provided me with your website as I had inquired about USA customers and if they sold / supported customers here.

    Thanks and I look forward to reading more of your site.

  4. Hi there,

    thank you for that article. Right now I’m in the same position than you where before. I’m thinking about getting a PPL or a Home Cockpit and your Article helped me very well.

    I think we have the same sight abouth that kind of thing. Now I’m going for a Home Cockpit. Thank you very much

  5. Hi,

    Many thanks for writing such an interesting site. Like others, I found your site whilst searching for more information about the JetMax. Mine (the SKTQ) with overhead panel, pedestal and radios, will be with me in about 10 weeks. I opted to have mine built as I am not as handy as you are (I might have been able to build it but, sitting in the UK, I did not want to run into problems that I was unable to resolve).

    I am retired now but finished my PPL many years ago. I am not current… I could not afford to maintain it at the time and now that I have the financial resources, I could not pass the medical.

    Like many others here, I have a passion for commercial flying. I am lucky enough to have just landed a job as an instructor on a full sized commercial 737-800 sim built by FDS!

    The pleasure of flying an approach into Innsbruck or Gibraltar in the wonderful 737 is indescribable!

    Keep up this brilliant site!

  6. Great to read your impression about real flying vs having a jet at home 😉
    Not talking about the possibility to fly whenever you want and being safe !
    About to build a sim but considering so much advanced software like PMDG, majestic or mad dog, do you see a major difference between l’âge sceeen with great soft and real hardware stuff ?

    1. There is definitely a difference when it comes to physically having the cockpit. The biggest is that you can do things faster and more accurately. You just reach for that switch/knob and adjust it, instead of changing views in the virtual on-screen cockpit and clicking a mouse. Tactile feedback from turning an MCP knob or pushing a button is something that just cannot be replicated in something like the PMDG. I started with just an CPFlight MCP/EFIS panel and the PMDG and that got me hooked. The rest you can see here on the site. I hope this helps!

  7. Hola. Soy de España y estoy interesado. Tengo cabina 737 de CPFlight y me gustaria formar grupo con usted para dudas, preguntas, comentarios, etc. Yo tambien estube volando para sacarme la licencia de Piloto Privado en España pero analizando las cosas y siendo realista, mi mejor opcion fue dejarlo y optar por la simulacion de vuelo y en la que hoy me mantengo activo a mis 62 años. Lo mismo que le ocurrio a usted me ocurrio a mi. Yo tambien soy muy analitico y realista. Pude recuperar el dinero invertido menos las hora que estube volando como alumno-piloto.

    1. Ya no tengo mi simulador 737, pero de vez en cuando todavía vuelo en MSFS. Simplemente no es muy frecuente. ¡Gracias por la oferta igualmente!

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