In 2009 I initiated a project of building a homecockpit flight simulator. For two years I spent time in my basement further improving the simulator. As a result of beginning my Aerospace Engineering studies in Delft as of 2011 the project discontinued. Nevertheless I wanted to share my experience with other simulator developers, hence the development of this website. In 2012 I won a ticket to space, which for me will most likely become a life changing event around 2018. A recollection of training and other preparatory activities I have pursued can also be found here.
For these stumbling onto my website for professional purposes, you will find my contact details and CV on the right.
Send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or visit my LinkedIn profile to stay connected or view my CV.
In May of 2012 I was announced winner of the Space for Innovation competition organized by VSV ‘Leonardo da Vinci’, KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines) and XCOR Space Expeditions. The competition requires candidates to write about an innovative concept that will change the aerospace world in 2040. As finalist I belonged to the final 10 candidates with the task to deliver a full report and three-minute film pitch about my concept.
“Astro-Nout mag gratis de ruimte in” – Algemeen Dagblad
“KLM’s essaywedstrijd ‘Space for Innovation’: Nout van Zon uitgeroepen tot winnaar” – KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
“Ik mag de ruimte in, niet te geloven” – TUDelta
“Astro Nout (18) gaat de ruimte in” – NOS Jeugdjournaal
Avonturier ‘Astro’ Nout van Zon kan niet wachten om de ruimte in te gaan – Delft op Zondag
Bezoek jeugdastronaut Nout van Zon – Florencius Amstelveen
My TED talk on the TED.com website
XCOR Space Program
XCOR Space Expeditions
Based in Blaricum, the Netherlands, XCOR Space Expeditions started selling space tickets in 2011. The company was started by four visionaries, two from the dutch air force and two dutch entrepreneurs. Their vision is to make space accessible and opening new worlds for humanity, specifically with regard to science, education, economic growth, sustainability and leisure by travelling through space. Together with their partner XCOR they intend to start flight operations from Curacao in 2016-17. I won one of the five tickets bought by one of XCOR’s biggest partners, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. Other partners of XCOR include, but are not limited to, Luminox, Denham, Philips, Heineken Wings of Care and Unilever, the latter known for their AXE Apollo campaign.
XCOR Lynx MkII
The Lynx Spaceship is designed, built and test flown by XCOR Aerospace in California, USA. The eight and a half meter long spaceship will be able to fly up to an altitude of 103 kilometers, right into space, and return safely to the same airport where it departed. The spaceship is powered by four revolutionary rocket engines that can be switched on and off more than 5000 times and each produce 12.9 kN thrust.
The Lynx does not depend on any launching environment in order to get airborne. The Lynx can takeoff from any airport in the world given the runway is long enough. The spacecraft is towed to the start of the runway where the pilot test fires all four rocket engines. After successful completion of the before takeoff checks the Lynx rapidly powers down the runway and initiates a steep climb once airborne. Within 60 seconds it breaks the sound barrier and two minutes after that it is flying 2.9 times the speed of sound as it powers itself away from the Earth. At an altitude of 60 kilometers the engines are cut and the crew experiences total weightlessness during the final ascent to 100 kilometers and subsequent initial stages of descent.
During the descent the Lynx crew experiences 4.5 times the earth’s gravity during a pull-out manoeuvre that lasts about twenty seconds. The final part of the flight consists of a stable and quiet glide back down towards the airport. The total flight will be just under an hour.
XCOR Space Expeditions will operate spaceflights from two spaceports: the Mojave Desert and the island of Curacao. The Lynx Spaceship is being built in Mojave on the same airport where Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites SpaceShip Two is being built. The Mojave Desert is home to many milestones in aerospace including the flight of Chuck Yeager, the first pilot to break the sound barrier, and many Space Shuttle landings.
I am planned to takeoff from the caribbean island of Curacao which will give me an amazing view of the caribbean islands all the way from Miami to the northern short of South America.
XCOR Training Program
A spaceflight isn’t a walk in the park. During takeoff and re-entry excessive G-forces are felt by the Lynx crew and thus adequate training is required to make for a enjoyable flight. One training is mandatory when joining the XCOR space program, the remaining four are optional. I will complete the Mission Tactics Course and the rigorous L-39 Albatross Jet training program. As part of the training program a thorough medical check, comparable to an aviation medical, is completed. During the L-39 training the steep climb, weightlessness parabolas and atmospheric re-entry pull-out manoeuvres are all practised.
In september of 2013 I preformed by medical examination which is mandatory before completion of any training and the actual suborbital space flight. The check was completed by Dr. Joppe of aeglia.nl at Lelystad Airport, the Netherlands. The check consisted of a limited physical examination similar to what commercial pilots undergo. On top of that an Electrocardiogram was made to look at my heart performance. The most important aspect of my health is that I can still easily circulate blood when exposed to 4G’s. My examination details were sent to Wings of Care, the medical advisors of XCOR Space Expeditions. They subsequently gave me the green light to continue. Medically I am now GO for training and the suborbital flight!
On March 19th 2014 I did my G-force training in the L-39 Albatross experiencing up to 5.5 Gs. The Lynx flight profile was simulated several times in three phases: 70 degree nose up climb, weightlessness parabola and subsequent 40 degree nose down descent and finally a sustained 4G pullout maneuver. Later we climbed to a higher altitude and preformed a descending spiral dive sustaining up to 5.5Gs. Furthermore I am planning on getting my PADI Open Water Diver certification to get accustomed to a pressure suit and oxygen from tanks instead of the atmosphere.
Flying is a passion that can be extremely enjoyable and explored in many ways. For those that are not in the ability to fly in real life, flight simulation can be a very good alternative. For pilots that do fly general aviation of glider aircraft, their computer could be used to explore commercial aircraft operations. Personally I have some hours of experience in motor aircraft and am activally engaged in the oldest soaring club of the Netherlands. Furthermore Aerospace Engineering has always interested me and I therefore intend to keep flying as a hobby, whether it is flight simulation or real world sport flying once I have my GPL/PPL. One of the best ways to expand the enjoyability of flight simulation is the construction of a home cockpit flight simulator to get as close as possible to real world airline pilot flying.
My home cockpit flight simulator models various aircraft and whilst flying online on the Virtual Air Traffic Simulation Network (VATSIM) I fly with other pilots around the world, make use of authentic voice Air Traffic Control (ATC) and enjoy the realism that my home cockpit brings me. The story behing the sim is very interesting, mainly due to budget constraints I have never fully modelled a specific aircraft, I generally try to simulate many different aircraft to get the most fun out of it.
After starting my Aerospace Engineering studies in the Netherlands I closed down the project and the simulator was dismantled. In total the project has now run for two full years during which I gained a lot of experience and had a lot of fun in building and flying my home cockpit flight simulator.
The primary concept of a home cockpit simulator is to have all the main instrumentation there in front of you displayed in a manner that real pilots are accustomed to. Main instrumentation can be defined as the Electronic Flight Information System (commonly known as the EFIS). Conventionally the flight deck consists of the six main flight instruments in front of the captain and the first officer’s seat and the engine indications in the center console of flight deck. The six main flight instruments are now all displayed on the Primary Flight Display or PFD. Additional navigation instrumentation is displayed on the Navigation Display or ND. All the engine indications and critical warnings are all displayed on the Engine Indicating and Crew Alerting System display (EICAS) or Engine / Warning Display (E/WD) with Airbusses. The two software’s I use retrieve the majority of the information from the flight simulator through a plugin and then display it on the respective display unit. The following software I use for my Electronic Flight Instrumentation System:
- Primary Flight Display (PFD) => xHSI or vasFMC
- Navigation Display (ND) => xHSI or vasFMC
- Engine Indicating and Crew Alerting System (EICAS) => xHSI or vasFMC
- System Display => vasFMC
Due to the lack of a third computer monitor my EICAS is displayed on the same display as the ND, similar to the Boeing 787 Dreamliner set-up.
External display units with the PFD, ND and EICAS is the first step to your home cockpit. Very simple to do, and gives a lot more pleasure!
I discovered vasFMC quite a while ago and its a very powerful software. It is a software that works for X-Plane and Microsoft Flight Simulator and is subsequently also available for windows, mac and linux. It has a MCDU (Airbus FMC), PFD, ND, E/WD, SD and an Airbus style FCU panel. It has a fully integrated flight management system and will completely take control of your simulator. Very nice if your simulator or aircraft model has a badly modeled autopilot and flight management system.
vasFMC’s latest version, version 2.1, allows you to (x-plane only) turn off vasFMC’s flight guidance capabilities giving X-Plane’s autopilot the upperhand. At the same time you can use vasFMC’s displays and MCDU to continue programming your flight with high precision and in airbus style.
This gives me the opportunity to take advantage of QPAC’s custom FCU and Fly-By-Wire opening a wider range of possibilities when it comes to hardware integration.
vasFMC 2.1 takes Airbus Instrumentation to a new level with added functionalitiy, amazing graphics, and new hardware compatibility options.
xHSI is a Java based application that draws a Boeing style navigation display for special use within X-Plane. It is seamlessly integrated with the software I use for the autopilot and flight management system (detailed below). The latest version now also includes a PFD, EICAS, EFB and annunciator panel. It subsequently does not intervene with what X-Plane does so easily becomes a hardware oriented flyer’s friend.
xHSI does not intervene with X-Plane whilst providing you high resolution and authentic Boeing Instrumentation.
EADT x737 Model
The aircraft model I use within the X-Plane Flight Simulator is the Boeing 737-800 BBJ2 model built my Benedikt Stratmann of the European Aircraft Development Team (EADT). They dub their project the x737 and their model is the most realistic and advanced Boeing 737NG model for X-Plane. It is also freeware. The model has an incredibly realistic flight model and a 100% authentic autopilot. It also features several fully programmed systems such as the electrical and fuel systems. It works perfectly with the software I use for the flight management system (detailed below).
It’s hard to get more authentic or realistic than the x737. Hardware support is outstanding.
QPAC A320 Model
QPAC is the EADT for Airbus. Whilst the x737 is the most authentic 737, this A320 definitely wins the award for most authentic A320. Its Fly-By-Wire system is very realistic and its got complete instrumentation and system modelling. You can control most of the FCU datarefs/functions by joystick inputs allowing for easy hardware integration although I haven’t fully tested this feature yet. It has recently been upgraded and become one of the products of Peter Hager (www.petersaircraft.com). The new A320 includes ADIRS, a nice FMS system and a lot more features that make it an even more realistic Airbus model. Peter Hager also offers some assistance with home cockpit builders.
UFMC and x737FMC
For the FMC/CDU I use the x737FMC programmed by Javier Cortes. It’s a software package that has an extremely realistic 737NG flight management computer that not only is controllable using the official 737NG FCOM but also works perfectly with the x737 aircraft model explained before. It’s therefore a beautiful addition to my home cockpit.
X-Plane Flight Simulator
The flight simulator I use is of course the most realistic desktop flight simulator: X-Plane. Running on mac, windows and linux and with a growing community I look forward to the future of X-Plane.
Hardware is a very interesting field in home cockpit building and most likely the most important aspect of the simulator. Hardware can be split into two components: inputs and outputs. Inputs are the basics and very easy to accomplish however outputs require more money, time and skill. As for inputs I see the most important elements to be:
- Basic Control Inputs
- Autoflight System Control or Mode Control Panel (MCP)
- Systems Control
Basic Control Inputs
Basic control inputs are the hardware that you need to fly the airplane. You need a yoke or joystick to control the lateral and vertical controls of the aircraft and a throttle quadrant to control the flaps, speedbrakes and the engine thrust setting. Additionally you could use rudder pedals to control yaw and wheel braking. I have all of the above mentioned items, all supplied by Saitek. Saitek has a very good quality-price ratio and I highly recommend it.
Autoflight and System Control
To control the autoflight system I built my own autopilot panel to control the heading, altitude, speed inputs, etc. For all switches, knobs and pushbuttons I use the BU0836X Joystick Emulator Card by Leo Bodnar. Its one super piece of hardware which allows you to very easily connect switches, knobs and pushbutton and it makes the flight simulator think it’s an ordinary joystick.
Additional Possible Hardware
Additionally you could buy other pieces of hardware. There are highly realistic, near to 100% authentic mode control panels for prices around 899 euro. Check CPFlight for an example of such a product. GoFlight produces some cheaper hardware products, such as the 120 euro radio panel that I use. It all depends on your budget, but I still believe that building it yourself, regardless of the loss in authenticity, is a lot more fun and rewarding.
Motivation (November 2009 – May 2009)
Since my childhood I have been interested in aviation, building lego airports, that sort of thing. In November 2008 a freind opened my eyes to X-Plane and that reopened the world of flight simulation to me which was closed 8 years earlier when I had briefly tested Mircrosoft Flight Simulator 2000. Slowly I started to learn the basics of flying, autopilot use, the flight management system and aircraft systems. I purchased a joystick and later Saitek’s Pro Flight Yoke System. I was constantly looking for something new.
Initiation (May 2009 – July 2009)
When I stumbled onto vasFMC in May 2009 I had found this “something new”. In their forums I found a thread where people posted pictures and links to their personal home cockpit projects which were powered by vasFMC. From these forums I found Christoph who is building an Airbus A330 cockpit (www.dalpi.de). His project is now very advanced and is truly becoming an amazing A330 simulator. Having someone like him on my e-mail list was extremely helpful for various reasons. First of all he had the experience and was able to answer many of my questions regarding the subject and second of all he provided me with his construction drawings which I used for building the basis of the cockpit. I started the project on the 1st of July 2009.
Airbus First (July 2009 – December 2009)
Initially I was modelling an Airbus A330, because Christoph has supplied me with very accurate blueprints of the cockpit. Through the latter part of 2009 I finished many crucial and basic parts such as the pedestal, main panel, glareshield and overhead support. Meanwhile I also got into contact with another fellow cockpit builder, Nigel, who coincidently started the project around the same time. By the end of 2009 I started to see some problems and found that a major change was inevitable.
Going Boeing (January 2010 – May 2011)
Modelling any Airbus posed various problems, which were solved easily by modelling a Boeing 737-800.
First of all there simply wasn’t an Airbus model for X-Plane that had the quality of system modelling that I was looking for. The x737, created by the EADT, has 100% authentically modelled overhead systems and autopilot, all easily controllable with joystick controller cards through their smartly built custom plugin system.
Second of all the Boeing 737 itself features a lot of toggle switches instead of the numerous push buttons installed in an Airbus. As not every system, such as the IRS, is modelled in X-Plane these switches would become “dummy switches”; moving them would have no affect on the simulator but just step up the experience and make it “more realistic”. Pushing “dummy” push buttons looks stupid where as toggle switches are switched into an actual visible, physical different position and therefore have the possibility to control external LEDs that work as annunciators showing whether or not the “dummy system” is functioning or not. Subsequently the Airbus FCU uses extremely complex and expensive rotary knobs, which are not found on the Boeing 737 MCP. I had to make some decisions due to my limited budget and this required creative thinking throughout the process.
Finally companies such as Opencockpits, CPFlight and many others produce more and cheaper Boeing 737 products as those for Airbus aircraft.
‘Completion’ of the Project (May 2011)
It remains difficult to choose what aircraft of model, especially when only a few models are properly support within X-Plane. However, with continous new releases and updates more and more is possible. Given the universality of UFMC and xHSI I have flown the Boeing 737-800, Boeing 767-300ER, Boeing 747-400, McDonnell Douglas MD-11 and Airbus A330-200 in my home cockpit.
After moving to the Netherlands for my Aerospace Engineering studies I closed down the project and the simulator was broken down a year later when I parents moved out. I am now focussing on my studies and my private pilot license. Maybe I will return to building a simulator for a commercial airliner in the future.