Making the cockpit panel for the gauges, 3D printed bezels, rotary encoders and Arduino

This is not an in-depth guide at all, and also I’m skipping a bit ahead compared to the previous posts that I’ve made on my flight sim build, but I wanted to write this while it was still somewhat fresh in my memory so I can better relay the things I’ve learned so you don’t do the same mistakes as I did (if you’re building…)

On the photo above you can see my 3D designs for some of the bezels I’ve made. They work and they actually do a good job. The problem is that they became too deep/thick, 12mm in total.

My MDF panel is 6mm thick. I also needed some space between the MDF panel and my 27″ display (for instruments) behind it, so there’s room for wires and especially the rotary encoders (KY-040’s). However, the sum of “MDF thickness” + “space for encoder PCB and wires” makes the instrument sit really far back. Not just 12mm, but actually a few mm’s extra just due to “wiggle room”.

As you can perhaps see on this photo, from my viewpoint (more or less) as a the (sim) pilot, notice the instruments in the right. Their left sides are covered up by the depth of the MDF + space. I have to move the instruments further to the right, which means they are totally off-center when looking at the panel from any other position than the pilot. This will probably always happen to some extend, but this feel too much.

Also note the bottom 2 instrument holes (the square ones). I screwed up my math… aka, I forgot that the 27″ display had a bezel too… so that black part you’re seeing inside the instrument cutout, is actually the bottom bezel of my display. Damn, rookie mistake on my part!!!

A quick fix: I raised my instrument panel up a bit, so at least now it’s useable, and I can see fuel quantity and oil temps. Unfortunately it’s now tilted outwards a bit, and the distance between front of panel, to the display behind, is increased even more (notice the gauges on the right side).

So how did I get here?

Well, I basically just cut some holes in my MDF panel (where I wanted each gauge/instrument to be) then used a router to make some “roads” for the wires. And here’s another mistake I made: The router should be more than just 1 mm depth. Probably 2 or 3mm. I just need to be careful not to “soften” the 6mm MDF panel too much. The reason that I need deeper routing is due to the rotary encoders taking up space between the MDF and the display. It would be better if the encoders could be buried a bit more into the MDF. As you can see, I actually made some square cutouts for the rotary encoders, but the pins on the encoder PCB sticks out onto the MDF in this design, so I either need deeper routing in the MDF, where the encoders sit, or bigger square cutouts (and re-designed 3D bezels).

LUCKILY, this cockpit panel is just “PROOF OF CONCEPT” (as you can see on the photo above, it’s a mess with random cutouts and patches…). When I’ve learned how to do all this stuff, I’ll make a better version.

Also, this panel is designed for a Cessna 152 (which is what I’m using to take my “virtual PPL” for free on VATSTAR, also known as “P1” on Vatsim). Remember, my plan is to make a Piper Comanche 250 PA24 simulator.


Anyway. Here’s the front of my panel, with most of bezels mounted (they just snap in, no screw needed), and a bit of black spray paint. Scratches were not done on purpose, but they seem appropriate for an older plane 🙂

And here’s the backside, with the rotary encoders installed and starting to apply duct tape to keep wires in place… Here you can also see that the rotary encoder PCB’s stick out, over the MDF.

And my newbie soldering work:


A tip for future me: There’s actually no need to run 5V and GND wires to each encoder all the way down to the Arduino. Just daisy-chain it between each encoder, save some wire and space…

UPDATE – a few days later…

Despite this panel is just “proof of concept” and a learning platform so I can make a better version in the near future, I wasn’t happy at all with the depth of the gauges. So I cut some more MDF wood away so I could raise the panel up, and also managed to move the 27″ widescreen display about 0.4mm closer to the panel, so now the depth is actually much better, this is the result as of now, with a few added placards:


For more Flight Simulator / Home Cockpit building related articles, click here.


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