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How Much Does It Cost?

This is probably THE most asked question and my simple answer is, I’m not telling you.  Ok, I’m kidding.  But most simmers are hesitant to answer how much THEY personally spent.  It’s like asking “What did you pay for your car?”  The bottom line is, it depends on how far you want to take it.

If your goal is just to have a simple display on a monitor with some flight controls, maybe a few switches and knobs, you can do it very affordably.  But most people want to take it further and that can quickly get  a lot more expensive.

Here is what you can expect (these are rough estimates so as always, do your research):

Main Instrument Panel (or MIP) – $500-3500 USD

If you build it yourself, you can probably get by with a couple hundred dollars (US) in wood, and maybe a couple hundred dollars in electronic parts, and then the cost of some monitors to make the displays (let’s say $150-200 if you buy them on eBay).  The trade-off with this method is time.  You need to research the right dimensions and materials for the parts and figure out how it will all go together.  You need to cut the parts (remember, you’ll need the wood tools so if you don’t have a table saw, router, drills, etc them there is an additional expense).  Then you need to put it all together.  You’ll need to wire and solder.  And you’ll need to paint.  Etc, etc.  There is a HUGE investment in time for every dollar you save.  But if you’re up for it, you can “potentially” save a lot of money.  Keep in mind that in the end it’s not always as much as you’d think.

Which is why I elected to buy a MIP kit.  I chose FlightDeck Solutions because I had heard good things about them and they are in Canada which is close to the United States and therefore the exchange rate was in my favor and getting it here was more affordable.  I also purchased  their associated electronics pack which had all the switches and indicator LEDs.  It is somewhere around $2600 US now, plus the electronics pack (around $750 USD), plus you need an interface board (I bought an FDS SYS card) to plug everything into (around $350-400 USD), plus shipping.  Yeah, it’s not cheap, but it was well worth it

Note that there are many companies that sell MIP kits, most of them in Europe.  Visit the Links page for a list of some popular vendors.

Anyway, the advantage of buying a MIP kit is that everything has been designed and thought out for you already.  You just need to put it together with simple tools.  However, the wiring is where you may be challenged.  At the point I built the MIP I didn’t know much about wiring and started to get overwhelmed by how much wiring I had to do so I ordered a pre-made wiring harness from FDS for $300-400 and it was the best thing I could have done (sadly, I don’t think they offer it anymore).  Keep in mind that depending on the vendor you go with, the wiring could be as simple as plugging in a cord or as hard as wiring everything individually yourself so make sure you research that before you buy.

FDS MIP 2.0 Construction

MCP/EFIS/CDU – $1000-2500USD

You’re going to need to control your aircraft’s flight while on autopilot and you’re going to do this with the Mode Control Panel (MCP), Electronic Flight Instrument System (EFIS) and the Control Display Unit (CDU) which comprise the Flight Management System (FMS).

This is an area where you’re going to spend a little money.  MCP/EFIS’ and CDU’s are not all that cheap.  You can start out with something like a GoFlight MCP and EFIS which is probably the most inexpensive available.  It’s not terribly scale in appearance, but it works well as does the EFIS.  At some point you’re going to want to bump it up to a more professional looking MCP/EFIS combination and most of the major sim vendors have good ones.  I would recommend CPFlight or FlightDeck Solutions versions as the quality and support are excellent.

The same applies to the CDU.  It’s basically a keypad with a display that allows you to enter aircraft performance and route information.  Most vendors sell these as well and as above, I’d recommend both CPFlight and FlightDeck Solutions.  These will run you around $1000 USD each and there are two of them in the cockpit (you can get by with one if you’re flying alone).

Forward (FWD) Overhead Panel – $750- 8500 USD. 

This section of the cockpit is significantly more complex than anything else in your cockpit.  The number of switches, mechanical gauges, LEDs, and overall parts makes it extremely challenging to build yourself, which is the route I took.  Now, I say minimally you could do it for $750.  That’s if you just build a simple box, put a bunch of regular switches and knobs, buy an interface card to connect everything to (or several depending on which you choose) and maybe use a printed background from a print shop to replicate the panels.  No back lighting, nothing fancy, but it will be functional.  Remember, you still need to design it, have tools to cut the frame and such, buy all the electronics, wire everything (so you need to buy lots of wire, solder, etc), and interface it.  So you might be able to do it for less than $750 but it will be tough.

If you choose to buy one pre-built (recommended), you can expect to spend at least $3500-4000 for a base model overhead, and up to $6500-9000 for a fully accurate forward overhead with the proper locking switches, smooth gauges, proper backlighting, etc.   Don’t forget shipping, which can get expensive quickly since the overhead will have to be crated and is heavy.  Personally, I would have gone this route if I knew how much mine would end up costing.

I chose to build mine myself using affordable CockpitSimParts panels and elecronic components/gauges and building everything else myself, thinking I would save a lot of money.  The panels are very good and the electronics components while basic are good enough.  But it wasn’t good enough for me.  I wanted locking aircraft switches like the real aircraft, real landing light toggle switches, solenoid starter switches, and so on.  Before I knew it, not only had I spent a tremendous amount of time building the overhead (add to that a good amount of trial and error) but the final cost was almost what I would have spent if I had just bought a solid pre-built one from a reputable vendor.  There are things you forget to think about as part of the cost that add up quickly…things like wire (you need a lot), solder, solder flux, screws, barrier strips to carry power, power supplies, backlighting LEDs, paint, rubber seals, wire management, zip ties, interface boards, special tools, and on and on.  In the end, a pre-built overhead would have solved a ton of time and a avoided a lot of build issues I ran into (proper backlighting, multiple power and USB cables coming out the rear, frame fitting issues, etc).

That said, I am quite proud of what I created and I think you’ll agree it looks pretty good.  And it does what it’s supposed to so it’s good enough.

AFT Overhead – $500-2500 USD

The AFT Overhead isn’t as important as the forward, but it does contain some useful components like the IRS keypad/display.  It’s also not as complicated to wire so the cost isn’t nearly as expensive as the Forward Overhead.  You could probably get away with doing it for $500.  It’s just a rectangular box.  Again, if you use printed panels and just use cheap switches and knobs you can replicate a lot of the AFT overhead for a reasonable price.

If you want to add a functioning IRS panel, LE indicator and Audio Panel, well, that’s going to bump the cost up quite a bit.  I used CockpitSimParts panels again for the AFT but struggled with how I was going to scratch build a working IRS keypad and digital displays.  The displays can be found almost plug and play from flightsimparts.eu , albeit it will cost you a little, but the keypad would have been tough.  So I decided I didn’t want to build the IRS panel from scratch, nor the LE Devices panel with all its close together LEDs, and I didn’t want a “flat” looking non-functional Audio Selector Panel (ASP).  So I caved in and ordered them from Sismo Soluciones.  Up goes the total cost significantly.  But they look good in my overhead and for the most part are much more functional than I probably could have done, despite some challenges I discuss elsewhere in this site.

A good pre-built AFT Overhead will cost you anywhere from $1500-3000 USD but again, it’s all about time and effort.  I’m fairly happy with my self-built AFT Overhead, but in retrospect I probably should have just bought it outright.  The problem for me in the United States is most of the good pre-built panels are made in Europe so shipping costs are significant.  Of course if you live in Europe you have to pay VAT taxes so I guess in the end it works out about the same.

My Aft Overhead with new ACP

My Aft Overhead with Sismo LE Devices, IRS and ASP modules.

Throttle Quadrant – $150 – 4500 USD

The throttles are obviously very important and I felt this was an area I wanted something fairly realistic.  There are many options for throttles.  You could just buy a cheap Saitek desktop throttle and use two of the three levers for throttles and perhaps the third lever for spoilers.  You can even buy mods that will exchange the Saitek levers for Boeing look-a-likes.  You could also go with a non-motorized throttle.  I bought a second-hand Jetmax throttle that looks great and does the main things I need it to do.  New they’re somewhere around $1000 USD.  Or you could go crazy and get a fully motorized throttle with moving trim wheels, thrust levers, spoiler lever, etc.  That’ll set you back a pretty penny, probably close to $4000-4500 USD.  That is my eventual goal, but my Jetmax throttle is good enough for now.

Jetmax Throttle

Center Pedestal – $? – $4000 USD

Ok, I put the question mark on the lower end of the cost because it all depends on what you want.  A center pedestal is kind of useless without some radio panels and definitely a fire panel.  Those alone will add up very quickly.  Figure each radio panel, if bought pre-built, will run you $300-500 USD each.  A pre-built Fire Panel will run you easily $1000 USD.  So right there just a few radio panels and a fire panel and you’re at $2000 USD.  And what about the pedestal itself?  If you buy one, expect to spend $700-1200 USD.  If you build one, like I did, you can do it for a few hundred dollars and again, lots of time.

You could go cheaper and just buy an inexpensive panel kit then slowly add buttons, switches and displays as your budget allows.  Nothing wrong with that.  Still gotta build that pedestal box so just take all that into account.  It adds up quick.

As mentioned, I built my pedestal out of MDF.  I spent a week or so cutting, sanding, gluing, painting.  I didn’t have real DZUS rails (the metal rails with a locking wire you mount your modules with DZUS screws to) so I made them out of square wood dowel and drilled every single hole with a drill press.  That was maddening.  I just recently replaced those rails with real DZUS rails I found online for a good price so now my pedestal is much closer to the real thing.

DZUS Rail Mounted in Pedestal

I bought a few of the critical radios from FlightDeck Solutions (COM, NAV, ADF, and Transponder) which are Ethernet based so wiring is minimal.

Pedestal with DZUS Rails and Some Panels

And my Fire Panel is real.  I bought it in good condition off eBay with the intention of someday converting it to work with the sim.  Fortunately I found someone that could do that and paid him for the labor and parts.  He did a phenomenal job and in the end it cost in total what it would have cost for a pre-built simulated Fire Panel.  Except because mine is real it’s practically indestructible!

Converted Real Fire Panel

Cockpit Shell – $750 – 5000+

The cockpit shell is very important in my mind.  It gives you a sense of realism that you are “sitting in” something verses just being in a room.  It also gives you proper placement of major sections of the cockpit.  And it just looks cool!  I’ve seen people build them from lumber and that’s amazing to me.  Figuring out what goes where (proper overhead height, window location, etc) has to be very difficult.  I’ve seen some just make enough of a frame to hold things where they should be, and others build a completely accurate frame with ribs and all.   I just don’t have the time or patience to do that but I assume if you do, you could do it for relatively inexpensively (just lumber and screws…and of course all the related wood cutting equipment).

I chose to go the FlightDeck Solutions way and bought their pre-fabricated cockpit shell for around $2300 (and another $500 to ship via freight!).  It goes together with just screws and bolts, and sets up the interior mounting points perfectly.  The outside looks like a Star Wars Darth Vader helmet, but you’re not flying from the outside so who cares.

FDS Cockpit Shell

I chose the bare aluminum version but looking back I wish I had spent the little bit extra and got the black powder coated version (then we’d REALLY be talking Darth Vader!).  Painting/Coating it yourself will cost you WAY more in the end.  So for now, I’ll just keep mine bare and try to keep it as clean as I can.

Yokes – $150 – $5000+ USD

You can’t control your plane without some sort of control mechanism, and the control column (or yoke) is what you use.  There are inexpensive desktop yoke solutions out there from many vendors, mainly Saitek. They’re not going to look and feel real, but they’re on the low end of the cost scale.

If you want to up your game to a more realistic column you can go with a high quality Precision Flight Controls (PFC) yoke for $1400-1900, or a very realistic ACE yoke for around $1300 USD.  I have owned the PFC Saab airliner yoke and it was a very solid piece of kit.  Since then they came out with the 737 style yoke and it’s likely also very high quality but it is pricey.  While the ACE yoke is not exactly cheap either it looks great and feels great.  It’s what I use now and I’m very happy with it.

You’ll need two yokes if you want a truly accurate cockpit, and for even more accuracy you’re going to want them to be linked so movement in one is replicated in the other.  That’s when you start getting into the high dollar, and most needs space under the floor for the connector bar so keep that in mind.

Lastly, you can do a control loaded yoke.  This is going to be the most realistic because the yoke will move itself when on auto-pilot, like the real thing, and you’ll feel the forces in the yoke during various flight maneuvers.  This is what I ultimately strive for, but due to cost it will sadly likely always remain out of my reach.

Rudder Pedals / Steering Tiller – $150 – 5000+

Flying an aircraft without rudder control is possible, but not normal.  You’re going to want rudder pedals, especially on windy cross-wind days when you need to do some crabbing and last minute yawing when landing these jets.  Not to mention the brakes which are activated by pressing the tops of the rudder pedals.

You can do this cheap by just buying an inexpensive Saitek or other hobby brand of rudder pedal.  It’ll do the job fine but won’t stand up to much abuse.  You could then go the next step and buy a quality rudder pedal from a company like Precision Flight Controls for around $800 or so.  These are much sturdier but aren’t going to look like the real thing.  For around the same price you could buy a set of solid real-looking pedals from someone like Opencockpits (remember, don’t forget shipping costs!).  Or lastly, you could go full bore and buy a pair of real-looking linked rudder pedals  where pressing one pedal causes the same movement in the other set of pedals like the real aircraft.  Those will cost you easily $3500-5000+ depending on who you buy from.

And if you really want to take it next level, then you could do a force-feedback, servo-driven set of pedals.  I don’t even want to go there on price but it’s going to be expensive!

Remember, the real cockpit has two sets of rudder pedals that are linked.  But if it’s just you flying, you only need one so you can save some cost there.

For what it’s worth, in my setup I have an old set of FlightLink rudder pedals.  They work but I’ll end up replacing them at some point, hopefully with linked pedals.

Lastly, to steer a heavy jet on the ground you use a steering tiller.  The rudder pedals on a 737 only turn the nose wheel a maximum of 7 degrees which isn’t going to get you around tight corners on the ground.  So I highly recommend a tiller.  I bought a Jetmax one and finally got around to installing it.  I’m thrilled!  It is so much easier (and more realistic) to control the aircraft on the ground now.  Expect to spend $300-400 on a decent spring-loaded one.  Sure, you can build it yourself, but it’s just not worth it, honestly.

Simulator Base – $200 – $13000

You need something to attach all this stuff to.  You can build a simple base of just a couple of 4′ x 8′ pieces of plywood if you want, or get more fancy and create a raised floor with room underneath for a dual linked yoke mechanism, wiring, etc.  I went somewhere inbetween. I create an 8’x8′ raised floor out of four square sections 4′ x4′ each made of 2’x6′ lumber, then added a plywood floor and put castor wheels on the bottom so I could roll it all around.  All told, I probably spent $200 for wood and screws.  Not much.  Just depends on how fancy you want to get.

Of course, you can go all out and buy a complete floor with yokes and rudder pedals all part of the package and it’ll run you upwards of $10-13K USD.  As they say, all it takes i money!

My Simulator Base

Everything Else – $??

Don’t forget you still have computers (I recommend a minimum of 2 but ideally at least 3), avionics and sim software, simulator addons, USB cables, power strips, audio systems (like surround sound, cockpit speakers, etc), cable ties, miscellanous parts…the list goes on and on.  This can also add up so do your research and know what you want to spend or before you know it you’ll be like me and spend way more than you should!

If you’re overwhelmed after reading this (it’s easy to be)…

Start small.  Buy the most important parts first.  Like the MCP/EFIS panel to control the autopilot, a CDU to program the flight system, yoke/rudder pedals and throttles.  Then, start working toward the other pieces.  It takes time.  I’ve been doing this for many years and I’m nowhere near complete.  Sometimes I’ll go months without doing or buying anything.  Sometimes a ton happens in a week.  Sometimes I just get burned out.   And sometimes I feel like I’ll never finish.  But these last days as things are starting to come together, I’m enjoying it more and more!

Good luck!