The CPFlight 737 forward overhead is a cockpit hardware device for flight simulation designed to replicate the forward overhead panel in the Boeing 737NG. CPFlight is based in Italy and the product was shipped to the United States.
TIP: If you are curious about the lengthy comparison process I put myself through when deciding which overhead to buy, check out how I got there in my related Overhead Overload article!
ORDERING / PRICE (in Euros, rounded up)
The forward overhead was ordered in early April via email with CPFlight.
€6,290 – CPFlight 737 Forward Overhead panel (OVH737FWD)
€290 – CPFlight 737 Forward Overhead cover (OVH737FWD_C)
€6,580 – TOTAL COST before shipping
SHIPPING / PACKAGING
Less than a month after ordering it, my CPFlight forward overhead panel arrived via DHL. It arrived along with my CPFlight complete pedestal. The overhead arrived in its own cardboard box, taped and strapped, and in good condition.
Once opened, I found the overhead well packed within plastic wrap, corner protection, and heavy duty foam padding blocks.
I removed the overhead from the box and found the actual panel packed face down inside the metal cover case. The power supply, USB cable, manual, and hardware were sealed inside.
After removing the plastic wrap and corner blocks, I pulled the panel free from the cover. I was extremely pleased to find thick, custom-cut polystyrene foam sheets protecting all of the switches and knobs.
DRIVERS / MANUALS
CPFlight utilizes a USB driver to allow Windows to communicate with it. Depending on your Windows Operating System, you may require the USB driver from the CPFlight website. This causes the connected overhead panel to appear in Windows as an available COM port. If you already have other CPFlight hardware installed and working, you can skip this step.
If you will be using this overhead panel with default FSX or add-on aircraft like the PMDG 737NGX, you will also need the CPFlight Communication drivers specific to your flight simulator software. At least in the case of FSX/Prepar3D (P3D), this will install the OH_COM plugin into the menu system which is needed for the overhead to communicate directly with FSX/Prepar3D.
You will also need to have the popular FSUIPC library installed, however, it can be the free non-registered version.
If you have an avionics software suite, it may already natively support this overhead panel. For example, ProSim737 and Project Magenta are known to be compatible without any additional communication drivers.
A detailed 12-page color manual was included in English, which includes installing, configuring, and maintaining the overhead panel. It also included dimensions information to help plan your build. The latest version of this manual is also available in the downloads section of the CPFlight website.
ASSEMBLY / INSTALLATION
The overhead panel is completely assembled right out of the box.
There are five columns, and each one is a single sheet of laser-cut aluminum where all of the switches and annunciators mount. These columns are then attached to the rigid aluminium frame with replica DZUS fasteners. Not all of them are used for this, as some are just for cosmetics. The panels do not flex or bend under pressure.
The CNC-milled, laser engraved, acrylic light plate panels are attached to the columns with location-accurate screws. The light plates are 5mm thick and the FLT ALT and LAND ALT display windows are beveled as they should be. Classy, painted, injection molded plastic knobs that allow the backlighting to show through correctly are then affixed on top. Accurate printed adhesive labels are placed where expected.
Most of the overhead and cover are painted/powder-coated in RAL 7011 “Boeing Grey” to hopefully match your existing equipment. The shapes, sizes, colors, fonts, and artwork used appear very accurate, even down to the special light-grey panels.
INFO: If you have ever wondered why there are light-grey panels on the overhead, these are the systems directly affected by the pulling of a Fire Panel handle. Good to know!
Behind the cabin pressurization panel, there is a 2-pin DC power plug and USB port. The power connector is an indexed plug that cannot be installed backwards and has a tab to lock it in place. The power supply and USB cable are provided.
NOTE: The overhead’s power supply has a European-style Type C plug on the end of the cable. However, this power transformer “brick” is similar to a laptop power supply which has a standard C14 male outlet on it . It also accepts both 110/220v so, here in the US, I was able to substitute a spare standard PC/Monitor power cord and use my normal wall outlets.
No other connections are needed. All of the panels are backed by printed circuit boards and are already connected to each other with ribbon cables. No miles of separate wiring, layers of interface boards, and backlighting strips. Just solid-state goodness with all of that embedded right in. This design was a cooperative effort between CPFlight and FlyEngravity and they dubbed it their Integrated Cockpit Solution (ICS).
The normal toggle switches used on the CPFlight overhead are from the world famous company, APEM, and are of very high quality. The red and black switch guards are functional. Additionally, the EMER EXIT LIGHTS switch guard is a custom-made “shorty” that only moves the switch to the proper middle ‘ARMED’ position when closed. However, I did notice that none of the switch guards are drilled for use with copper safety wire, if you are trying to be that faithful to the real plane.
Where locking switches are required, CPFlight uses their own proprietary design contracted by APEM. This includes the large white nylon heads as seen below. These heads can be unscrewed and replaced if needed. All of the switches on the overhead function and feel exactly like the real Honeywell counterparts, which adds immense value and realism to my cockpit!
The landing gear light switches do have the Boeing style ‘T-bar’ covers which are metal and do not rotate. And, the retractable lights are accurate three-position switches. However, there is no “palm bar” above the switches to turn them all ON at once as seen on some aircraft.
The gauges in overhead panels are where most simulator companies cut corners. I’ve seen panels that don’t include them, use dummy gauges, or perhaps only include one or two simplified gauges. I can understand why. Gauges can make up a large portion of the cost of a realistic overhead panel. For example, buying a full set of forward overhead gauges and interfacing from Flight Illusion would run about €1450 alone. And, that doesn’t even include the tiny outflow gauge.
Yet, the CPFlight overhead includes every gauge on every overhead they create, even the outflow valve gauge. They are fully operational, backlit, interfaced, use accurate color and fonts, and have easy to read faces.
The gauges are all protected behind clear plastic lenses and have detailed bezels. Even the CABIN ALT and bleed DUCT PRESS gauges include the proper dual needles.
The Engine Start, Wing Anti-Ice, and Yaw Damper switches are all electromagnetic. Just like the real aircraft, these switches will kick back to OFF when the correct conditions occur, such as during starter cutout. But, I do want to mention something special here as CPFlight doesn’t include on their product pages: The engine start switches require you to push in to turn them away from OFF. This is accurate to the plane and was a very unexpected surprise! Just one more thing I love about this product.
Another big feature the CPFlight overhead panel has, which I didn’t find anywhere else, is push-to-test annunciators. Each one can be pressed in to test the lights behind it. This is exactly how the real 737 overhead works as well. All of the annunciators are lit by LEDs and the blue ones such as the engine and anti-ice have accurate dim and bright settings.
Now, if you look closely at a few of the pictures in this article, you might notice something that took me a few minutes to catch. Some of the toggle switches didn’t look right . Where are all the white switch covers? Even though the images on the CPFlight website show the white vinyl covers on all the non-locking switches, my overhead did not come with them.
It turns out that CPFlight no longer includes these covers and had not updated their website yet. That just wouldn’t do for me, so I managed to find some online and ordered a few to test out. And with good luck, they fit perfectly! I went back, ordered a full set from Aircraft Spruce (search for ‘Standard Toggle Switch Covers’), and began putting them on. These vinyl switch caps not only make the switches more visible, but your fingers do not slip off as easily as the bare metal.
Now, the CPFlight forward overhead’s electromagnetic Wing Anti-Ice and Yaw Damper switches are customized. They have a long thin shaft with no bulbous head. This required a little creativity to add the white covers. I ordered a few white ‘Ultra Mini Toggle Switch Covers’ from Aircraft Spruce and tried them, but they were just a bit too small. I then used a hair dryer to soften them up and was able to slowly slip them on. The very tip would get a bubble from trapped warm air, but I “popped” it with a small needle and I think they came out very nice indeed!
To CPFlight’s credit, they acknowledged this omission of the switch caps before the website was updated, apologized, and offered me a small discount when I ordered my second EFIS panel.
I also noticed that one of my annunicators had an incorrect label on it. These black labels should both read FILTER BYPASS. This was quickly fixed, so keep reading…
Next, I went to install the overhead panel into the rear cover and ran into a small issue. The hole in the panel where the hinge bolts go was too small and needed to be drilled out a little bit. No big deal, but unexpected.
Once the overhead panel is on the hinges, there are long metal standoffs that are used to hold the panel closed at the lower front edges. These standoffs are bolted inside the rear cover like so:
But, I must have become carried away, tightened one of them too much, and snapped the end off! Be very careful with these standoffs as they are nearly impossible to find.
Thankfully, CPFlight quickly sent me spare standoffs with the replacement FILTER BYPASS annunciator label.
TIP: I was worried about breaking the annunciator when I swapped in the correct label face, but it was super easy. A little flick with a utility knife at the edge and it cleanly popped right off. I used two tiny dabs of super glue and stuck the new one right into place in no time at all.
They even included a replacement annunciator housing and springs in case I ever need them. And this was at no cost to me!
INTEGRATION / OPERATION
When power is applied to the overhead, you will hear all the gauges doing a quick self-test. Then, I made sure the drivers were installed, connected the USB cable, selected the correct COM port, and fired up the CPFlight overhead test software.
I use the ProSim737 Avionics Suite exclusively now, and my only ProSim737 configuration steps were to enable the “CPFlight/FlyEngravity ICS Overhead Panel Support”, select the correct COM port, and restart ProSim737. That’s it!
NOTE: If you are using the default 737 FSX or PMDG-type add-on aircraft, I can not say if all functions are supported.
There is some lag between the gauges and ProSim737. They move to the correct positions, but take longer to get there than they do on ProSim737’s own on-screen software panels. After speaking with CPFlight, I agree that this is an avionics software issue. Even the CPFlight test software moves the needles quite fast. I’ve started a forum thread over at ProSim737 to hopefully get this fixed.
The backlighting is warm white, has great coverage, and matches my other CPFlight devices perfectly. The light plates even have the correct + marks. In the real plane, these marks indicate where the backlighting bulb/connection is located behind each plate. You may notice the backlight color is not accurate to the real plane. The actual Boeing 737 uses tiny incandescent light bulbs which create a warmer, orange color instead. I will look into correcting this at a later time.
The on-board PANEL dimmer knob controls the backlighting and is turned on and off by the appropriate aircraft condition. Both the electrics and pressurization panels have working and correctly-colored segmented LED readouts.
The CPFlight overhead panel and rear cover together are quite bulky and awkward to handle, so mounting them required some special considerations. And, the arms on the JetMax Overhead Support Stand are designed for the JetMax overhead and do not line up with the holes in the back of the CPFlight overhead’s cover.
Simply enough, I had to measure and drill out my own mounting holes in the CPFlight back cover. With the fantastic measurements PDF from markuspilot’s website, I was able to get the entire panel into the right position relative to the MIP. Then, I used spare 8mm bolts and washers that came with the stand to lock it down. A friend to help hold things is invaluable here, please don’t try it alone! Otherwise, the mounting was fairly straightforward to do and is very sturdy with negligible movement.
Once everything was mounted, the rear edge of the overhead cover is about 66.5″ (1685mm) and the JetMax support stand is about 68.5″ (1740mm) above the “cockpit floor” of my custom platform base.
To route the power and USB cables down to your MIP, there are two small square holes on the rear and forward sides of the overhead cover. The power cable between the transformer “brick” and the overhead is only about four feet, so the transformer should probably be mounted inside the cover. This will allow the overhead frame room to swing down fully for any maintenance/repairs. I have not done this yet, so my transformer is currently strapped to the side of the support stand mostly out of view.
After using the overhead for a few flights, I noticed very strange behavior when it came to the fourth panel column. When enough annunciators were turned on, all annunicators in that panel would start randomly flashing. This was especially evident during pre-flight procedures when the Window Heat lights are on, Pitot Heat and Hydraulics were off (lighting the LOW PRESSURE lights), and the doors started to be opened. If I turned on one of the Pitot Heat switches, it usually turned off enough lights to fix the problem, but that was simply a workaround.
I worked with CPFlight support for weeks on this issue. Dozens of emails, photos, videos were exchanged and countless tests were run. They even sent me special firmware to try. However, it finally culminated in me removing the fourth column panel and shipping it back to CPFlight in Italy. When I did get the panel out, I found a tiny loose spring was stuck to the back of the electromagnetic Wing Anti-Ice switch. I am not sure if this was causing the erratic behavior by shorting something out, but CPFlight returned the “fixed” column panel back to me when I ordered the AFT overhead panel and it has seemed OK so far.
Claudio is the sales side of CPFlight. He speaks Italian, but communicated well in English, answered quickly, and was always friendly even through a barrage of my questions.
Paolo is the support side of CPFlight. When I ran into issues, he spent as much time as I needed to get to the bottom of it. He took great care and pride in making sure I had the best service possible.
Both of them are superb at customer support and service!
I might sound like a broken record, but I just can’t say enough how much replacing mouse & keyboard actions with a realistic physical object makes such an impact in flight simulation. And, the CPFlight forward overhead panel does this beautifully.
The switches and knobs are all fantastic to handle. Learning to operate real locking switches was brand new and took a while to master, but what fun! There is something about doing an action and seeing a reaction while sitting in the simulator cockpit. I’ve heard that the overhead panels should be some of the last things you buy as it is mostly only used for startup/shutdown. But, I am an addicted “switch flipper” and I just love interacting with it every flight.
The operation of the CPFlight overhead has been magnificent and the quality is stunning. The hardware is detailed and accurate, true plug-and-play, gorgeous to look at, and it doesn’t require a lengthy, complicated setup. And, the whole thing only takes up a single USB port on my PC, so when get the matching aft overhead, it will use the existing connection.
Once I learned where everything is, I really enjoy being able to go from cold & dark to shutdown & secure with accurate motions. And it does make a big difference when I have been triggering failures as the overhead is almost mandatory for them.
It may possibly be the most expensive overhead out there short of professional components, but I feel it is worth it. There are so many small details that show they really took the time to make a quality product and the price reflects that “you get what you pay for.”
Like my other CPFlight hardware, this is another fantastic addition to the cockpit building adventure and should be on your short list when considering a forward overhead panel. Even with the small setbacks, I still give the CPFlight Forward Overhead Panel a resounding 10 out of 10 for the quality and support.