10 Years of Panel Design

Curriculum Vitae of a Panel Designer


In February 1998 I uploaded my first panel to Flightsim.com where it still could be found. It was not the first panel I did (this was about 13 years ago) but it was the first panel I made available for the public. Because of my love to the BAe 146 / Avro ARJ it is no coincidence that my first panel was an ARJ panel. However on the picture below you could see that version 1.0 was far away from being realistic. I could not program gauges but just make small modifications of existing gauges (mostly just a repaint of the gauge cases). So my work comprehends only the painting of the panel bitmap and the placing of the gauges. Not really very much work but compared to a new panel it was ready in just about two months. For a new panel today I need more than a year. Below I try to explain the reasons why a new panel is very complex today. This description is also my personal Flight Simulator designer career.



For the first Avro ARJ panel version 1.0 I just had a very small cockpit photo which I found in a pilots journal. But Konstantin Prokopiu made a very good BAe 146 for FS95 which Iíve used with FS95 for a long time. Both, the photo and Kostaís very good FS95 panel, were decisive for my first ARJ panel. Panel design with FS98 was much easier than with older FS versions. It was no longer necessary to make separate bitmaps for the window and the cockpit, each gauge was now only one file and the new panel.cfg had a clear structure. Hence, it is not surprising that Microsoft still use the same panel.cfg structure today (just with minor enhancements).



But there was another thing I would like to realize with this ARJ panel. Maybe some of you remember Roy Vegaís FS5 and FS95 panels (Airbus A320, Fokker 70, and some other). For me Royís panels had a big advantage, because all of them had this ďin the cockpitĒ feeling. He did not made just a panel for the lower part of the screen. He was one of the first designers who paint more parts of the cockpit for the FS panel. The result was that the gauges were smaller in his panels but you got this feeling of sitting in a cockpit because of this. I want to have at least the windshield centre pillar and some parts of the overhead panel when looking forward in the main panel. Especially the larger overhead panel was an enhancement I made compared to Kostaís FS95 version. After I got Kostaís permission to rework his panel, I upload my panel to Flightsim.com.



Avro ARJ Panel V1.0

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My second panel was a panel for the Beech Sierra. The reason for this panel was Terry Hillís great Beech Sierra aircraft which Iíve already used in FS5. I like this aircraft very much but was always a bit frustrated to have no realistic panel for it. Using a Beech Bonanza panel in a Sierra is far away from reality. I remember very well a holiday in Ireland. I was checking some pilots magazines and found suddenly a large picture of a Beech Musketeer panel in one magazine (the Musketeer and Sierra are akin models but the Sierra has a retractable gear). I bought the magazine and start making the panel for Terryís aircraft immediately when I was back home. The Sierra is also a General Aviation aircraft so I could use the standard Cessna gauges for it. For the Sierra I add an additional gear lever. A second version for the Musketeer was without this lever and so it based very close to the real Musketeer panel which I found in the Magazine. This panel was also uploaded to Flightsim.com in 1998.



Beech Sierra

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After now two panels from me were available at Flightsim.com, it just takes a short time until I got a mail from a Flightsimmer. He told me that he like my Sierra panel very much and he asked me to continue making FS panels. After that I got three or four further mails from other Flightsimmers asking me the same. I already had this in mind but those mails were a further incentive. Seems that others like my panels too. In the next months I made one panel after the other. Always when I find a picture of an aircraft  cockpit (airliners.net did not exist yet) I start making the FS panel of it. Also some very kind Flightsimmers provide me interesting photos which helps me making panels. The picture below shows a set of panels I made (not all).




Set of photorealistic Panels

1998 - 1999
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FS98 gives a further improvement for FS designers. As written above, Microsoft has changed the file structure of the gauges. Every part of the gauge is now in one *.gau file. Seems that this improvement made Gauge design easier, because some designers have specialized in making gauges now. Iím sure some of you remember Harald Geier and Helmut Busch (HGHB) or Christian Koegler. Some later Dai Griffiths also start making gauges. Dai has released a very good tutorial of how to program gauges (which is still updated today). From now on more and more gauges were uploaded from different designers. But also some other interesting tools came out. Chuck Dome made his small programs Gaubmp2 and Gaumod which allows editing gauges and digital text in gauges. With this tools I had now the possibility to rework gauges for a more realistic panel design.



Except the first ARJ panel, all of my panels were photorealistic until 1999. Iíve always used a photo, reworked it for the Flight Simulator and placed the gauges on it. When necessary, Iíve also reworked the gauges with the above named tools to get a more realistic look. This has changed in 1999 after a lot of Flight Simmers told me that panels with hand painted bitmaps looks much better than photorealistic panels. Among other things, Eric Ernstís new panels (Saab 340 for example) were responsible for this trend. It was no longer hip to make photorealistic panels and the experience I had with Paintshop Pro was not enough for painting a complete panel bitmap without using a photo. Thatís why I had to expand my knowledge with Paintshop Pro. In all of my panels which were released since this time you could see the advancement I made with this great painting program. In the picture below you could see some of my panels with hand painted bitmaps.




Set of handpainted Panels

1999 - 2003
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One day Iíve asked Dai Griffiths to make an APU gauge. Just a dummy, but something which works like an APU. I didnít reckon that Dai would start with a complete set of gauges for an electrical system hereupon. Daiís electrical system gauges and my expanded knowledge with Paintshop Pro were the determining factor that I start with a new Avro ARJ version. I made a completely new bitmap, reworked a lot of gauges and include Daiís electrical gauges to the new version 2.0. Version 2.0 was originally designed for FS98 but some weeks later I made a separate version for FS2000 too. Version 2.0 for FS2000 was just a favour for some Flightsimmers who asked me for a FS2000 version, because I never used FS2000 for my own flights.




Avro ARJ Panel V2.0

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2000 Iíve started with a new panel for the BAe 146. A new panel because the BAe 146 has an analog cockpit with mostly mechanical instruments while the ARJ has itís modern digital displays. It was the first time that I realize this important difference with a separate panel. Version 1.0 of the BAe 146 was ready in May 2001. Like with the ARJ panel I made one version for FS98 and one version for FS2000. This panel contents also the electrical system from Dai Griffiths and some other nice new tools. The picture below is a screenshot of version 1.0 of the BAe 146 panel.




BAe 146 Panel V1.0

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Because of several reasons Iíve stopped uploading panels in 2001 for a while. Nevertheless I still made a lot of panels in this time (which were never released) and Iíve learned to program gauges. It was a quite time with almost no contact to other Flightsimmers. This gave me the chance to put my ideas into practice and to test my own programmed gauges with some test panels. I thought about making completely new things which are part of a real aircraft but not part of the Flight Simulator. Then I remember a Lago payware package called MadDog which had a  panel with an almost complete electrical system and a working APU. I conceive a way of how to realize a working APU based on the FS electrical system. My first real panel for this idea should be the next version of the BAe 146 panel.



It was a lucky day for me that I got in contact with Bob Ward in 2001. Bob worked for British Aerospace and in his free time he built a BAe 146 home cockpit. He sent me some photos of his cockpit and believe me Ėsitting in Bobís cockpit is like sitting in the real aircraft except that you see the FS scenery when looking outside and not the real world. I never saw such a great homebuilt cockpit before. Needless to say that all instruments work. Bob send me a lot of very important information about the BAe 146 and ARJ which I could use for the next BAe 146 version. Version 2.0 of the BAe 146 panel was now the first of my panels which had a separate overhead panel with some working systems. It was also the first of my panels which use a lot of my own programmed gauges. In this version those own programmed gauges were combined with the standard FS2000 Concord gauge set which I have completely reworked for the new BAe 146 panel. This new panel which was finally released in March 2002 marks the turning point in my panel development. Of course I also add the same functions to the digital ARJ panel. This version 3.0 was just released four months later in July 2002.



BAe 146 Panel V2.0

Avro ARJ Panel V3.0

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Click on Thumbnail for a larger image



In the beginning of 2003 I want to try something new. It was my plan to focus on the civil aircraft panels of British Aerospace aircraft and to do this together with other designers in a project Ė the BAe Panel Project. For this Iíve placed a topic in the Avsim Forum searching for other designers who are interested to work in the BAe Panel Project. Unfortunately this project ends before it started. I have completely underrated the necessary time when you work together with others. Also some of the members who were first interested didnít had enough time too or lost the interest in the project. But I donít want to give up the idea, why I decide to make it alone in May 2003. This was the official beginning of the BAe Panel Project.



In the time of the BAe Panel Project I could realize version 1.0 of the Jetstream 31 panel, version 4 of the ARJ panel and version 3 and 4 of the BAe 146 panel. Except the still missing GNS, the BAe 146 panel has now a state I almost could no longer update (just make smaller facelifts). All systems including the backup systems were realized and based very close on the real systems now. This was possibility because of a lot of contacts to real world pilots, real world BAe 146 technicians, all manuals, training manuals, and a lot of other things. I once again want to thank all the people who helped me and provide me with those things. There are still some minor things to do for the BAe 146 panel, but those things are just small potatoes and could be done secondary. Within 2008 I will also bring the ARJ panel to the same level as the BAe 146 panel.


Jetstream 31 Panel V2.0

Avro ARJ Panel V4.0

BAe 146 Panel V4.0

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Click on Thumbnail for a larger image

Click on Thumbnail for a larger image



You may now ask why I did this all for free. The answer is quite very simple. Itís my hobby and I like it. Uploading a panel is just a side action but gives the advantage to become acquainted with a lot of very friendly people and to get in contact with people who help doing what I do. In all those years I never won a price or get an award for a panel. Seems that my panels are never good enough and long time ago I was quite a bit disappointed about this but in the meantime it doesn't make any difference to me. I make my panels because itís fun and in all the years I never count any download numbers or take care about them. I don't have a hidden motive when I upload a Panel as Freeware. But the days of releasing my panels are numbered. In July 2008 I decide to stop the BAe Panel Project and making any further panels. Please see the About site for more information.