Flight logs

Logbook
Printable logbook

Back in 2012 I took a solo motorcycle trip from Oregon to Colorado that spanned 10 different states in 16 days (Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Wyoming (again), Montana, Idaho, and back to Oregon). One of my goals after setting up my flight simulator was to take that same trip virtually in a Cessna 172.

I began that virtual trip a few weeks ago and am currently parked at an airstrip in Durango, Colorado. I have mapped the trip to include takeoffs and landings at the same towns where I had overnight stays on my original motorcycle trip, and I even have landings and takeoffs in towns where I stopped for lunch. I’m trying to mimic the same route as realistically as possible, just in the transportation medium of flight.

One of the aspects of this trip I have implemented is detailed flight logs. I started by making notes in a spiral notebook as I flew, writing down flight date, departure airport, destination airport, and a few minor details along the way such as waypoints and altitude. I refined those notes to include more detail, then decided to use a formal flight log form that I fill out for each flight.

I used a spreadsheet to create a printable form that I put on a clipboard and fill out as I fly. I make notes every time I change course or altitude, with timestamps. About the only thing I don’t write down is my airspeed.

So far the logs have worked great, and I have really enjoyed the detail-oriented aspect of the process. Flying, once you’re at cruising altitude, can be somewhat boring, especially if you use autopilot. Making notes as you fly keeps your brain occupied, and gives you a reason to pay attention to your gauges and the other aspects of the flight, rather than just zoning out and getting bored.

You may download a printable PDF version of the logbook here.

The original Excel spreadsheet is available here [XLSX].

The Delta column is for denoting changes in altitude or bearing. I often use < or > to show changes in course for left or right, respectively, and up or down arrows with X fps or -X fps to show changes in altitude. For Altitude, I write the altitude I was at when I began the delta.

Enclosing the flight simulator cockpit

Over the weekend I completed the next phase of my home flight simulator project. This effort was spent enclosing the cockpit in a shell or box to at least somewhat mimic the inside of an airplane’s cockpit.

I didn’t pursue realism. I wanted versatility, low impact, low cost, and ease of construction. The size of the cockpit enclosure is rather large compared to a real airplane, 59″ wide and 60″ tall. There are no side windows or imitation door handles. What it does, however, is make me feel like I’m inside the simulator, rather than sitting halfway in a room staring at a computer sitting in a closet. It also lets me control the amount of light and even the air flow to a certain extent. Here are pictures of the enclosure so you can see what I mean.

Step 1: Ceiling frame. I built a framework out of 1.5″ x 3/4″ hemlock and L brackets. It holds an AC Infinity USB-powered ventilation fan that will suck air up and out over the top of the simulator. This framework is very lightweight yet plenty sturdy enough to hold everything in place.
Step 2. Mount ceiling panel. I attached corrugated plastic panels to the underside (or inside) of the ceiling frame, and draped two additional panels down the sides. These are held in place by large binder clips, which means they can be easily removed for access. The entire ceiling panel rests on two L brackets mounted to the closet entrance, resting on the crossbeam you see in the ceiling framework. It actually pivots up and down with ease, as the whole panel is well balanced. In the rear, under the closet supports, are two down-facing L brackets with velcro to kept the panel from rotating up.
Side panels. In this photo, you can see the overall size of the enclosure, including detail of the side panels. These are corrugated plastic panels purchased at Home Depot. They are very lightweight and can be cut with a utility knife. The inside dimensions are 59″ wide and 60″ tall. They extend out into the room about 30″.
Far rear. Standing in the room looking into the simulator, you can see how much space there is to either side of the cockpit panel. I have an old speaker stand sitting to the right where I have my mouse to control the simulator’s menus and settings. I will put a small shelf of some kind to the left to hold an iPad, notebook, and a place to put a beverage.
Inside
Inside. From inside the cockpit you can see the ventilation fans I mounted in the ceiling panel. They are controlled by the dangling cord you see on the right; I’ve since tucked that back around the wall where I can reach it but it isn’t in my view. The back of the ceiling panel is pressed against the closet wall about 4″ above the top of my three 32″ monitors.

The materials to build the ceiling panel and side panels cost about $125, all purchased at Home Depot. The entire structure can easily be removed without having to remove any screws or other hardware, other than unplug the USB-powered ceiling fan.

After using the enclosure, I will be attaching some lightweight material along the back to block out sunlight, as there is a window directly behind the camera in this photo and it makes the inside of the cockpit a little too bright during mid-day. I’ll attach the material with binder clips for easy removal. The ceiling fan does a good job of ventilating warm air from the PC (lower-right, behind the mouse stand) and keeps the enclosure relatively comfortable. The fans themselves are relatively quiet, but because of how I mounted them they make a slight buzzing sound which actually is similar to what a Cessna 172 sounds like when it flies overhead at 5,000 feet. When I fly I wear headphones and don’t hear the fans or PC, however, so it’s moot. To others in the room, though, it actually sounds like a prop-driven plane buzzing along (quietly).

Next steps include putting a shelf of some kind on the left-hand side of the cockpit chair. I’ve also been teased that I need to put posters of blue skies and clouds on the inside of the side panels. We’ll see.