Overhead

The overhead is probably THE crown jewel in a 737 cockpit.   While primarily used during startup preparations, shutdown and of course emergencies, it otherwise goes largely untouched.  Still, you’ll probably agree it’s one of the coolest parts of the cockpit.  Here is a photo from a real 737-800 I took while visiting an Aeromexico maintenance hangar in Mexico.

I liken the overhead to a pinball machine.  Switches to toggle, knobs to turn, and indicators that light up based on various events …in a light test it lights up like a Christmas tree!

Here are a couple of shots of my overhead as of November, 2017.  It probably took around 6 weeks to get to this point from scratch.

A lot of that time was wiring.  If you’re never used a soldering iron, or aren’t good at it, you better get good at it because you’ll be doing a LOT of soldering!

Here are just some of the things you’ll likely need to build something like this, off the top of my head.  Yeah, be prepared because all of these were needed at some time or another during this build:

TOOLS

ELECTRICAL COMPONENTS

  • High quality soldering iron (like a Hakko) and a wet sponge.  Don’t skimp here!
  • High quality 60/40 solder.  I prefer thin strand solder because it’s easier to work with on small parts.
  • Solder Remover (for those soldering mistakes)
  • Flux (optional but recommended)
  • 2-3 spools each of 24 gauge of various color wire.  I stuck with a standard color scheme that seemed common.   This is what I used.  Up to you what you prefer:
    • SWITCHES AND INDICATORS (24 Gauge):
      • White: Toggle Switches
      • Red: Indicator LEDS
      • Purple: Rotary Switches
    • POWER (22 Gauge):
      • Yellow: 12v
      • Red: 5v
      • Orange: 3.3 v
      • Black: Ground
  • Electrical Tape
  • Adhesive cable organizers (LOTS of them!)
  • Cable/Zip ties (LOTS of them!)
  • U shaped and push-on Wire connectors (LOTS of them!)
  • Wire labels (you should get in the habit of labeling EVERYTHING!)
  • Various size barrier blocks and jumpers for electrical distribution
  • Heat Shrink tubing (a LOT of it!)
  • Hair Dryer (to heat up shrink tube)
  • 12v LED lighting strips for back lighting (if your panel is back lit).  5v would work too.  Up to you.

WOOD (if you go this route)

This is all going to depend on your design.  I originally went with 3/4″ square dowels for my overhead rails but later found that was too thick and found 5/8″ to be better, such that two panels could butt up against each other leaving enough space for screws without breaking the sides of the dowels, and yet still strong enough to support the panels.

  • 5/8″ square wood dowels (as many as needed) for panel rails
  • 3/8″ wood sheet (for side panels)
  • 1/4″ wood sheet for the bottom flooring

WOOD WORKING TOOLS (if you go this route like I did)

  • Mitre Saw
  • Belt Sander
  • Table Saw
  • Hand Saw
  • Dremel Tool (definitely a must!).  Cordless is best.
  • Sandpaper
  • Wood screws
  • Wood Glue
  • Two Part Epoxy

USB HARDWARE COMPONENTS:

This is where you’re going to have to do some advanced planning to decide which path you want to take to connect all your switches, rotaries, and LEDs.  There are a lot of good boards out there by the likes of FlightDeck Solutions, Phidgets, PoKeys, and more.

Much of what you choose will depend on what avionics software you are using and how easy it will be to interface your hardware with that software.  I use ProSim and find it is basically plug and play compatible with just about everything. with little to no headaches.

Here’s what I used in my build:

  • FlightDeck Solutions SYS4X – My primary switch and LED controller.  Components are connected in groups of 8 with one common ground.  Pretty straightforward and uses less Black ground wire.  Dual brightness takes a little extra effort but is possible.
  • Phidgets LED card – Used for all the blue dual brightness LEDs.  Each indicator is individually wired with a positive and negative wire so more wire is used.  But I love the no brainer dual brightness configuration.
  • Phidgets Relay card – Used to operate the magnetic start switches I bought from Anders Sim Parts.
  • PoKeys 57E – Ethernet card that handles 7 Segment displays as well as switches and LEDs.  Very versatile.