Cockpit Panel (Part 1)

After reconsidering carefully (or just following the example of oh so many wonderful blogs out there), I decided to move the page to the blog. This way I also get to tag it, which makes searching and categorizing much easier once I have created a few more entries. So here it goes:

Basic Idea

I had this half round table top from Ikea (they seem to have changed the size, though), which I used with three kitchen legs (also from Ikea) as a cheap monitor stand. The stand got replaced by a more fancy arm that I got from Konrad and so I wanted to put the table top to a new use. As a father, computer scientist and aviation enthusiast, the first thing I saw in it was a cockpit panel to play with for myself kids.


Sketchup Model of a basic cockpit model based on the half round table top

The panel I had in mind was supposed to have a standard T arrangement (air speed indicator, altimeter, attitude indicator, compass, turn/slip indicator and variometer,) along with a landing gear lever and a few switches for batteries, lights and such.

Attitude Indicator (AI)


Due to the (assumed) complexity of it, I started with the AI. It later turned out to be much easier to build than expected, but isn’t that the case with most challenges?

ArtHor 1

The first idea for the artificial horizon was to use a shpere

The first idea was to have a sphere rotate along the longitudinal and lateral axis to have the highest freedom of movement possible. But when reading through a few pages about the technical details and design of the instrument, I found that most of standard (non fighter jet) aircraft using a classic AI would have a limitation of +/- 27° pitch and +/- 60° bank and thus a sphere would be a little bit of an overkill. I also wanted to work with the material I had at hand and for driving the AI it was two Hitec hs-55 servo motors.

ArtHor 2

Second design, a toilet paper roll in a chips can

In the second attempt I started from the casing of the instrument. I had this old Altimeter lying around and derived the dimensions of my instruments from it. The frame should be a 83mm square, and the tube… Well, I found the perfect match for the tube in an old potatoe chips can, which has the exact same diameter as the tube the altimeter was installed in: 75mm. Based on that, I chose the frame rotating around the longitudinal axis to be limited to 74mm, giving 1mm of space. A cover ring around the outer rim to hide the edges also left enough space for another very simple solution: a toilet paper roll with each the diameter and length of 45mm to rotate around the lateral axis. To save some space, I decided to install the servo inside the roll, attaching it to one of the lids of it.

Another part I wanted to use for the instrument was an Arduino Pro Mini clone. With its small footprint and easy way to program (the Arduino IDE comes with a servo library), the hardware part of the AI was finished in half a day only.

Hooking up the servos is pretty straight forward, you can find plenty of exaples all over the web, so I won’t re-invent the wheel there. The example coming closest to my setup might be this.


The software can be found in my github repository.



About Michael Melchior

Husband, Father, computer scientist, commercial helicopter pilot. Full of ideas and open minded, I try to see challenges in what others call problems.
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