Review by Doug Horton. Flightdeck Solutions, Ltd (FDS) designs, manufactures, and markets high quality aviation products for commercial customers, aircraft manufacturers, government agencies, and computer flight simulation enthusiasts. As part of my assignment for preparing this review, I had the opportunity to visit the FDS plant in Newmarket, Ontario, Canada in early October, meet with its founders, learn about all their products, and focus on their JetMax product for flight simulator users.
Flightdeck Solutions and JetMax facility in Newmarket, Ontario
For commercial and government customers, FDS offers a variety of products that include Fixed Based Trainers, as well as Single and Dual Seat Training Devices. With proprietary hardware and software, FDS products include support for the latest in glass cockpit equipped commercial airliners, in all major airliner types as well as custom configurations for development, educational, and recently, entertainment/experience venues. FDS also produces accessories and interface systems for these products, and it has been supporting flight simulator home cockpit builders for many years.
Author in captain’s seat of fully enclosed B737NG model
during final inspection and testing at FDS factory
As an outgrowth of their work with home cockpit builders, FDS recognized in the past few years that a market was developing for an enthusiast product that would be similar to their commercial products, be easily assembled by users, but have a slightly smaller footprint, and be available at significantly lower prices than FDS’s mainline flight deck products.
Another requirement was for the new product to be nearly fully operational “out of the box,” after assembly, with applicable hardware and software. At most, the user would need to add controls and visual displays, with some of these components optionally available from FDS. Of course, the user would also need a capable computer. On this subject, the ordering process includes determining users’ computer needs, and referring customers to appropriate computer providers, as needed.
“Are you still flying your desk?"
This question is asked in FDS marketing materials, and the answer is “no” for users of the JetMax product that’s been available since late 2012. Instead of “flying your desk,” the JetMax product offers flight simulator enthusiasts a highly immersive experience in a single pilot trainer version of a Boeing 737NG.
With computer needs satisfied, after assembly of the JetMax components, a new user is furnished with links to applicable software, which include drivers, other interface software, and one or more 737NG airplanes. Currently, JetMax components can be interfaced with the user’s choice of Sim-Avionics, Aerosystems737, Project Magenta, iFly 737 (Cockpit Builders Edition), and PMDG 737NGX.
Looking at the JetMax product and the large number of parts I saw being produced in the factory, I imagined that some users would be completely capable of assembling their new JetMax and enjoy the experience, while others might be overwhelmed by the process. Fortunately for the latter customers, factory assembly service is available for a reasonable fee.
The base model of JetMax is the K model, which includes the following components:
- Powder coated metal structure
- Glare shield structure
- Throttle quadrant stand
- Wiring harness
- LCD holders
- Hardware and knobs
- Interface card
- Landing gear control lever
- Lighting package
- Dimmer controls
- Flap Gauge
Photo of JetMax model K
The JetMax model SK is the model K plus the following components:
- PRO-MX CDU
Photo of JetMax model SK
The JetMax model SKTQ is the model SK plus:
- Steering tiller
- Throttle quadrant
Photo of JetMax model SKTQ
Many users also order the overhead panel. In my experience trying out the JetMax product on display at FDS, this equipment is very impressive, as it includes all operable functions of the real aircraft panel. It’s plug and play with the applicable software added, and in terms of components, there are about 15 selector switches, over 60 toggle switches, and about 105 function annunciators (lights), all of which are realistically back lighted.
JetMax Overhead Panel
The photos above show components that can be purchased by the user or ordered from FDS. See the additional information section below for more details on required LCD sizes.
- LCDs (PFD/ND/EICAS)
- Lower EICAS LCD
According to FDS, some buyers purchase the JetMax in steps, beginning with the K model, and adding the MCP, EFIS, CDU, and overhead panel, and Lower EFIS display, as budget permits. In reality, most purchases are either for the model SKTQ, or that model plus the overhead panel, plus various options in all cases.
During my visit to FDS, I had the opportunity to try out the JetMax model SKTQ with optional overhead panel, as well as lower EICAS. The installed software and aircraft were from the iFly 737 (Cockpit Builders Edition) package. FDS president Peter Cos coached my session, and we began the session with Peter and FDS Technical Support director Steve Cos setting up the computer and JetMax interface software for my session. As I’m not checked out on the iFly 737 and the JetMax overhead panel, Peter started the engines for me and set me up to taxi to runway 06R at Montreal CYUL airport.
Left view of JetMax, including upper panel and 46” LCD display
After Peter talked me through the takeoff, and after initial climb, I began a turn to the reciprocal heading 240. This put me on a downwind heading, and in a few minutes on extended downwind, I turned for the base leg and then final approach to runway 06R. I then experienced one of the perils of single pilot flying, which Peter has since called a “mishap.” I lost control while reaching to the far right of the panel for the landing gear lever, and I was unable to recover. One of the great features of flight simulation is the ability to reset and try again.
Right view of JetMax, including upper panel and 46” LCD display
Next, Peter set me up for an approach to CYUL 06R, using FS Instant Approach PRO from www.fsinventions.com. I made two approaches and landed both successfully. See the image below for how FS Instant Approach PRO was set up for my approaches.
FDS used FS Instant Approach to set up my two practice approaches.
At one point, I tried to turn the trim wheel on the JetMax throttle quadrant, and it doesn’t turn. Nor are levers motorized. Asking Peter about this, he indicated that the trim switch on the yoke is the principal means of adjusting trim. He also reminded me that the JetMax product has a few limitations in order to significantly reduce costs. In this case, the JetMax throttle quadrant is designed and made entirely by FDS, using industrial plastics and other moderately priced but durable components and materials, whereas mainline FDS cockpits include used, real 737 throttle quadrants, which by the time they’re fully restored, cost 20 times more than the JetMax version.
Overall, I was very impressed with the JetMax product and how completely realistic it is to operate. It has the look, feel, fit, and finish of the high quality product it is, and I highly recommend it for simmers who want significantly greater realism than “flying their desk” and can afford a high quality product.
The actual size of the JetMax 737NG flight deck product is relatively small, though all JetMax components are full scale in relation to the real components. The total width of the product is 43.75" (111cm). Height is 43.125" (110cm), not including the overhead panel; and the depth (including the throttle quadrant) is 33" (84cm). Purchasers are advised to plan for additional depth for whatever seat is used.
Monitors for Control Panel Displays
One of the most important elements on the www.JetMax.ca webpage is the feature chart that FDS posts for every device. Potential purchasers are advised to review this information carefully as to what is included (check-marked) and what is equipment is optional and/or needs to be furnished by the purchaser
The PFD/ND Monitor is typically a widescreen 18.5" or 19" (diagonal) LCD. FDS supplies the LCD holders, as per the feature chart, and the holders are universal. Purchasers should verify the standard VESA mounting bolt locations on the LCD, as VESA mounts are an industry standard and line up with the JetMax LCD holder.
The Upper EICAS/STBY monitor is a 15" LCD (4:3 aspect ratio). These are not as common as they used to be, but FDS has located a few new models. These are currently stock items from FDS.
The Lower EICAS is not that commonly used on the 737 but some purchasers like the "eye candy" element. Typically, the lower EICAS is used during the engine start procedure, though the relevant N2 value can also be displayed on the upper EICAS panel. FDS offers the lower EICAS LCD and included bracket as an option.
Other Accessories for JetMax
FDS recognizes that JetMax customers likely have their own controls, such as a CH Products or Saitek yoke and rudder pedals. To accommodate these purchasers, FDS has designed accessory products such as optional brackets for mounting yokes, while the most popular brands of rudder pedals can be used without the need for mounting brackets. Here are some of the accessories FDS offers for the JetMax:
- CommNav Radio – for accessing all communications and navigation frequencies, including Comm1, Comm2, Nav1, Nav2, and ADF, by selector push buttons on the faceplate.
- All-metal support structure for JetMax overhead panel
- Mounting bracket for CH Products yoke
- Mounting bracket for either Saitek original or Cessna yoke
- Mounting bracket for CP Flight regular or Pro MCP/EFIS
- Mounting bracket for GoFlight MCP/EFI
Computer Processing and Graphics Capability
According to FDS, the biggest challenge in the larger setups can be the computer/software side. At time or writing, a recommended new computer would be one with an i7-3770K processor on a Z77 based motherboard or an i7-4770K processor on a Z87 motherboard. Adding a second, networked computer dedicated to the avionics side of the setup would certainly improve performance, according to FDS.
Multiple graphics cards, or recent-generation graphics cards with four to six connectors, are required to run the various displays. As an example, graphics connections might be needed for the following displays: one or more LCD displays for scenery, and panel displays for PFD/ND, Center EICAS, CDU, and lower EICAS.
Kit Form or Factory-Assembled Complete
To help with the total cost including shipping, FDS provides the JetMax products in kit form. All the required elements are included as described in the package ordered. A detailed assembly manual is included to provide step by step instructions on assembling and connecting all components. Freight costs are significantly reduced by compact packing, according to FDS.
On the other hand, some purchasers prefer to have their new systems completely assembled and set up at the factory, so this service is available for a reasonable fee. On the other hand, this option leads to higher shipping cost because of the larger packaging.
Current pricing for the JetMax models and accessories can be found at http://www.jetmax.ca/products/. Note that all pricing is in Canadian currency. FDS recommends contacting their resellers for local currency pricing in the following areas, such as the European Union and the Middle East. At time of writing, FDS is negotiating the establishment of resellers in Japan, Spain, United Kingdom, Hong Kong, and Australia. Readers are invited to contact Peter Cos at email@example.com for detailed product information, options, and pricing, including referral to the nearest reseller.
Flightdeck Solutions History
According to its founders, Peter and Steve Cos, Flightdeck Solutions was created in 1999 to meet the global requirement for cost effective flight simulation hardware products. Their background for this was that they’d built an A320 cockpit in their basement. Since then the company has grown to be a one-stop hardware provider for a wide variety of customers.
Peter Cos, author, and Steve Cos among panel frames, with full sized B777 model in background
FDS offers a variety of configurations that include Fixed Based Trainers, as well as Single and Dual Seat Training Devices. With proprietary hardware and software, FDS products include support for the latest glass cockpit equipped commercial airliners, in all major airliner types, as well as custom configurations for development and educational purposes. As mentioned above, FDS also produces accessories and interface systems.
Factory work area with FDS throttle quadrants in foreground
According to its founders, FDS customers such as Air Canada, Boeing, EADS, Honeywell, FAA, U.S. Navy, and others, rely on FDS to deliver complete and accurate flight simulation solutions, whether for training, fully operational cockpit models, and other unique uses, recently including entertainment “experience” venues. They are masters of their market, based on aviation industry expertise gained by company founder Peter Cos, while working and training at Atlantis Systems International in Brampton, Canada. This experience included ISO operational practices and working directly with Airlines, FAA, Military, and others, to provide a full understanding of this industry and its high level requirements.
Panoramic video of FDS B737 cockpit
Early FDS achievements include:
- Air Marshall training units for the FAA (William J. Hughes Technical Center) – designed and supplied 12 units
- Air Canada – worked with airline staff to develop ground training devices
- New concepts in design and construction methods for low cost training devices
- High resolution display products for pilot familiarization
- High level graphics for the AgustaWestland 101 helicopter (formerly EH101) for computer based training development program
- LCD-based touch screen training concepts – worked with development groups on early designs
Recent FDS achievements include:
- Boeing P8A "Poseidon" – cockpit and unique functionality design for marketing Initiative
- B767-400 – high level replica flightdeck for the Boeing "Heavy Lift" marketing group
- B737NG flightdeck – high level replica for Boeing KC-46
- B787 "Dreamliner" – multiple dual seat trainers for Boeing Flight Deck Development Group
- B787 Marketing Initiatives for worldwide aerospace events – developed with Boeing's "Digital Design Group"
- B737 – dual seat training device for avionic upgrade demonstrations for Boeing, Wichita
- A320 – multiple Fixed Based Trainers for flight schools/development centers
- B737 Fixed Base Procedures Trainer to Boeing Research and Technology Division in Australia
- B707 Based Platform (Upgrade Program) for Boeing Seattle – custom device for laboratory use
- CAE, Canada (simulation and control technologies) – added to roster of aerospace customers in 2012
- Multiple devices for iPILOT for commercial use in their facilities
- EADS/Rostock, Germany – B747cabin crew trainer – supplied high fidelity replica parts for Intercontinental Flightdeck Development Group
- Honeywell – developed PnP devices for flight deck research initiatives
- Discovery Channel "MAYDAY" Series – supplied various replica cockpit components
- "UNITED 93" by Universal films – supplied various replica cockpit components
- Royal Court of Bahrain – provided high fidelity b747-400 fixed based trainer
- Fully enclosed, fully operational B737NG and B777 flight deck models for entertainment/adventure venues in Belgium and Canada, respectively
- Over 60 full scale flight deck devices shipped in past few years
All photo and screen capture images provided courtesy of Flightdeck Solutions, Ltd