Because I am always seeking that next level being introduced for us avid flight simulator fans, I was especially flattered to be chosen to write the Avsim review of the Volair Sim flight chassis. This NASA looking apparatus does indeed promote yet another step or maybe two up the technology ladder of innovation.
When Bart Waclawik, President of Volair Sim based near Indianapolis, Indiana set up a demo at the most recent FANCON in Wichita, KS a new buzz was added to the already highly charged atmosphere for the flight simmers milling around waiting for the Key Note address by Captain Rob Randazzo. Most were hoping to hear something new about the possible release date of his PMDG Boeing 777. Sigh, will they never learn?
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These two items actually have a lot in common. Both of these gentlemen are passionate real world pilots, both are passionate flight simulation pilots, and both are concerned about the future of our chosen hobby. Both are also in position to directly affect the level of immersion of yours and my personal FSX setup and level of enjoyment.
Let’s look at the Volair Sim Flight Chassis system first. This is a very modern design, only available on the market since last December, and is intended to take the flight simulator instruments off our desks and put them in a more realistic simulator environment. Although the pre-drilled installation holes are universal in nature they are also specific for the Saitek brand of instruments. Go Flight and many other popular brands can be adapted with a little ingenuity.
The Volair Sim flight chassis’ name was derived as a play on the Spanish /Italian word volare, which means ‘to fly’. This futuristic looking layout is the near perfect setup for most of our flight simulations. You can adapt any piece or combination of pieces of flight sim gear to the basic chassis and go even further with a little imagination, a drill and a screwdriver.
Fortunately, I already had a full inventory of the latest Mad Catz/Saitek flight instruments and panels arranged on and around my oversized desk. I have written Avsim reviews of my installation for the initial Cessna Pro Flight Yoke and Pedals and single engine roundup (http://www.avsim.com/pages/0312/Saitek/Saitek.html), the piston powered multi-engine round up (http://forum.avsim.net/page/index.html/_/reviews/mad-catzsaitek-flight-simulator-cockpit-r690) and most recently the Corporate Jet roundup (need link here). Each of these reviews will add to your knowledge of using Saitek flight instruments and panels with FSX.
As a common theme throughout each of these reviews, I have always stated that no airplane was ever designed to be flown with a mouse and keyboard. Now I will also be the first to admit both are very useful in the flight simulation environment but as an old real-world pilot, the closer I can get to replicating the real world environment the better. But then no airplane was ever designed to be flown using a desk either. So, even though I had my collection of external flight instruments, throttles, levers, trim wheel, etc. placed in the generally correct location, I was still sitting in an office chair and flying a desk.
The Volair Sim package arrives in one huge, heavy box at your door by your friendly FedEx representative, even on a Saturday. The shipment is a large box within an even larger box as the seat is the first item you see when opening the package. This double box weighs in at 121pounds (55 kg) and is 42 inches x 25 inches x 25 inches. This makes for an intimidating start for the average Lego erector.
My first impression, actually my second, is that the quality of the Volair Sim seat is outstanding. This would be correct as this is a real world racing car seat that has a flight sim chassis built around it. My initial impression was anything this heavy must be a seriously well-made device and that was certainly correct. Using powder coated tubular steel components and equally heavy duty nuts and bolts for attachments, this thing is built like a tank. The 13 page instruction pack looks a bit skimpy at first glance but when looking at the real components and following the diagrams it comes together in about 4 hours. I’m sure a second assembly would go faster but most of us will never assemble two of these units.
I was convinced that I was missing a couple of pieces here and there, but I was mistaken, as some parts come pre-assembled. This was not so obvious to me until I actually got to that portion of the installation.
The page with the pictures and descriptions of the nuts and bolts is a wonderful idea. Not only is the quantity and full description for all of them on one page, each little plastic Ziploc bag also has the same info so you can match them up. Some are only slightly different.
Take a look at this photo of the seat brace pieces. I chose to go to bed and attack this part with a fresh cup of coffee in the morning. It is actually quite easy and straight forward.
The general logic of assembly is to fit the proper pieces together but not to tighten the bolts until you do a fit check for your height and arm or leg lengths. This is important to remember as I was to find out when I jumped in to test the seat adjustment and it had a bit of play in the locked position. Initially disappointed, I soon found out that I had failed to tighten the 4 nuts and bolts after attaching the seat, railing and frame. Once I was back following the instructions it was solid as a rock.
I completed the full assembly in about 4 hours total. I started the evening that I received the package and worked about two hours. I stopped, went to bed and completed the final assembly mid-morning the next day. One of the assembly instructions is to rub some silicone grease on the tube that serves as the articulating keyboard holder. I thought to myself, yeah right, where does one find silicone grease around my house? At about the same time that I completed that thought, I noticed the included and convenient ziplock bag of ‘silicone grease’. Duh.
Once you have the basic chassis assembled and you have the seat adjusted to your personal preferences, you can start to imagine where you would like to place your various flight instruments, panels, and assemblies. Because I have so many to choose from for the initial setup, I elected to do something slightly different from my previous desk layout.
I do not know what the ‘typical’ flight simmers choice of cockpit would be, but I do know that mine changes from day to day or at least from one recent add-on release to the next. Some days I choose the A2A J-3 Cub for low and slow leisurely flying; other days the Carenado Twin Baron for a short cross country, and when I want to go fast and high I choose the RealAir Legacy or the Flight1 Cessna Mustang. I have an overflowing hangar full of high-end add-ons. As a matter of fact, I have so many that I sometimes forget just what I do have back there in that dark corner.
I have spent a lot of time recently in the A2A Simulations P-51 Mustangs and have gotten use to the near real-world sounds, vibrations, and realistic flight and ground procedures so the new Volair Sim chassis will need to be setup for those military missions also.
Should I desire to load up my MilViz F-15 Strike Eagle and knock out the local power plant or take out one of the interstate bridges, I can easily replace the dual throttles with the Saitek X52 Flight Stick and be ready to go in minutes.
If you do not have the full complement of Saitek or other flight instruments then the decisions will be slightly easier. One great advantage of the Volair Sim is that you get all the chassis options and add-ons with the original purchase. Nothing to add later should you acquire more or different instruments.
I chose to assemble the Volair Sim in my home theater room where I had just completed the AOPA Redbird JAY review so I had some of my flight sim gear just sitting around waiting to be used. This Volair Sim is a little overpowering when first viewed by friends and family. A typical reaction is somewhere between ‘Holy Cow, is that a Mars Lander?’ and ‘Does it really fly?’ But, they all want to do a fit check on the seat and see the view from the cockpit.
As a word of caution, you might want to at least loosely lock in place the Saitek panels as you are experimenting with the various locations. If nothing more than securing them with large rubber bands or painters tape as you evaluate the look and feel. I made the mistake of leaving three Saitek panels stacked on the left side totally unsupported and accidently knocked them off the flight deck. Lucky for me, they landed on padded carpet and none were damaged.
I have chosen a 3-high stack of panels, the Pro Flight Cessna yoke, eight Flight Instrument Panels, the TPM for the single-engine simulations and the dual throttles for multi-engine flying. I like the large Cessna Trim Wheel close by so my right side is hanging over the mount slightly. I am using the Saitek X52 throttle for the left side setup with my iPad on a temporary mount just forward and upward.
This brings up the subject of expansion or multiple layouts using the Volair Sim chassis. I would give the original design 4 ½ out of 5 stars. I realize it is a daunting task to design anything for the general public’s use and enjoyment, but to try to satisfy a bunch of picky flight simmers with all the iterations and pieces of equipment is really a challenge. Especially when one might have Saitek, CH Products, Logitech, Thrustmaster or some other brand of equipment or a mix of these.
So, I give the Volair Sim a ‘near perfect’ for the layout and mounting holes. Near perfect only because it is totally unrealistic to expect anything to be made just for you and your personal setup. I think a little imagination, some spare pieces of metal or wood, a drill, screwdriver, hex key or Allen wrench and a can of black spray paint and there is not anything you can’t install or hang on the Volair Sim chassis.
Once you have your configuration stacked and bolted down it is time to bring in the computer and all those powered USB ports. There is an amazing number of USB cables required for the Saitek gear. At least one for one for each unit and sometimes more. Some black plastic or nylon cable ties or one of those ‘cable management’ systems might be a good investment for a clean looking installation. I suggest you wait a few days or weeks for the final lockdown just to make sure you don’t want to do some rearranging of the instruments and panels.
I am thinking about getting a second wireless keyboard and mouse just for the Volair Sim.
I had a spare set of Pro Flight Cessna Rudder Pedals that I added to the chassis with four bolts and nuts. I placed the pedals in the full forward position and that seems to be a perfect first choice for me. It is a snug fit, just like in real world Cessnas.
The last item to add will be the monitor or monitors. The Volair Sim comes ready to accommodate from 1 to 3 large monitors. I am going to start with a Dell 27 in. widescreen monitor in front as the primary flight monitor and a 24 in. Dell widescreen set on either side for the supplemental monitors for moving maps and support information.
Although I have three monitors, they are not all 3 matched and my graphics card does not support the 3-monitor setup. I planned on leaving one behind with my old FSX PC to write reviews from my desk. The front monitor support is fixed but both the left and right tubular metal arms slide in and lock in place as needed. Bart stated that once a customer has the Volair Sim assembled their next goal should be to add the 3 matched widescreen monitors. He says that is ‘the ultimate way to fly with FSX’.
Only the slightly larger 27 in monitor is live with FSX in my setup. The right monitor is for the moving maps and flight plan data. The left monitor is powered by a 2nd PC. I also have the iPad for MAPS and additional flight instruments.
When I asked Bart if there was any one area of confusion that seems to surface when the users are first working through the assembly process, he stated it was in the mounting of the monitors area. The Volair Sim is predrilled for mounting three 19 – 30 in. monitors or one large up to 42 in. forward monitor using the world standard VESA square bolt pattern but some users fail to check that their monitors do indeed use the VESA standards. Some Samsung monitors have that ultramodern rounded shape and are expected to be used with their own modernistic stand and maybe a few others do not support the flat four screw world standards.
The initial prototype and design process.
Bart says, “I am an instrument-rated private pilot. My professional background is in engineering, physics, and product design and development. I came up with the idea for the cockpit based on several observations. First, I noticed that there was a need for a good-looking (read: passing spousal test of approval), affordable, ergonomic, and configurable sim cockpit for those who do not have time or energy to build their own. Second, I noticed that many of the pilots like me who do not fly regularly would really benefit from a sim to have in the office/den/local flight club in order to become a more proficient and safer pilot. Lastly, I believe that a flight sim chassis such as Volair dramatically increases the level of immersion and realism compared to “flying” a computer desk.”
The production design team had three basic goals
- Maximum flexibility of design
- Use only high quality materials
- Make if affordable for the average flight simmer
My impression is that all of these goals have been met or exceeded. This is a very affordable upgrade from desk to true stand-alone flight sim chassis. Once set in place with the equipment, monitors and computer all connected it has a truly awesome presence. Just walking by makes one want to stop and sit for a moment or two even if you don’t have time to fly at the time.
About the only big improvement one could make to a fully loaded Volair Sim would be to add full motion electric motors and enclose the unit. This is basically what the FAA certified full-motion simulations are. Of course, you would then need a dedicated location and about $80,000 for a full blown all-in-one simulator.
There is a very large gap between the $549.00 retail price of the Volair Sim and the full motion all-in-one system. The unavoidable kicker is the additional shipping cost for the typical domestic destination of around $145 due to the oversized, very heavy box. I guess they are building into the costs a contribution to the ‘hernia repair fund’ for the delivery guys.
The good news is there may be a step between the two for us real world pilots who also love to fly the simulator. Volair will be looking into the certification process of a slightly upgraded Volair Sim as a FAA certified Basic Aviation Training Device, BATD, which will allow pilots to log simulator flight time. Now wouldn’t that make the headlines?
Once configured with your flight instruments, panels, and assemblies, your monitor or monitors set and your computer fired up and loaded it is time for preflight. As previously mentioned, I have been flying the A2A Simulations P-51 Mustangs and these are as realistic as currently possible with our simulator. More time will be spent in preparation for flight with these add-ons as compared to the more typical FSX add-on.
I had of set of 4 of those magic sliders for moving furniture on carpet so I placed them under the completed Volair Sim frame and could slide the fully loaded chassis over to the edge of my theater. Even though the chassis is probably not intended to be moved around, sometimes you might want to do some slight rearranging.
One item that struck me as more immersive or more flight realistic is the art and method of getting into the Volair Sim. As you can see in the photos, although quite large, the chassis is tightly designed around the excellent, adjustable seat and the supports for your flight equipment.
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This leaves only a couple of points of entry – just as in a real world airplane. A delicate step here, a firm grasp there, NO! don’t step there or NO! don’t hold on to THAT! is appropriate to those uninitiated or to your guests. Once you have negotiated the proper entry and your butt is firmly in place, it is time for the pilot wiggle, where you do your own version of the ‘chicken dance’ and then reach for the seat adjustment lever to set the exact distance for rudder pedal operation. This seat also has an adjustable back so you can get everything just right for those long flights or stressful instrument approaches in bad weather.
I usually adjust my seat several times in quick succession just to make doubly sure it is in the correct position and locked in place. This works in the Volair Sim just as it does in the real world airplanes. Little things like this add tremendously to the immersion and realism of the simulator as related to the real world equivalent.
As for the location of the equipment and motion, most everything I use is exactly where I would expect it to be. The Volair Sim has a myriad of adjustments, some coarse, some fine, to assist you in finding that perfect spot. I like to think of it as the Lexus ‘pursuit of perfection’. I have had a Lexus since the very first LS400 model in 1990 and I think they are as good as anyone at ergonomics and placement of controls and indicators.
The Volair Sim is similar in that it allows you to place those items that are important to you in just the right spot. For instance, I use the large trim wheel almost constantly when flying the simulator and not on autopilot. Therefore, I want it placed exactly where it is most comfortable for me. You may have another instrument or control that you would like to have in your favorite spot. This is easily achievable with the many adjustments and mounting locations and brackets in the Volair Sim.
I introduced the iPad to my flight gear after receiving one for Christmas. The Volair Sim does not have a specified location for the iPad but any available location will work. I chose to mount mine slightly forward of the left hand flat mounting panel but, angled upward and tilted toward me. This places it at an angle between the large flat flight instrument panel shelf and the flat left hand mount that has my Saitek X52 throttle. I can add additional flight instruments, various radio panels, and moving maps using very inexpensive IOS software. My two favorite add-ons are from FSwidgets and RemoteFlight.
I am a big believer in big sound for FSX. Although the real world motion, wind, and smells are impossible to duplicate in a home simulation, that is not true for the engine sounds and those little sounds of a switch clicking or a door opening or flaps extending that further increase the immersion factor. I hooked up my Bose speakers to the Volair Sim and they do a great job but then everyone within 100 feet are forced to experience my simulator environment. To the rescue is the new Sennheiser noise blocking gaming headset. The PC 350 Special Edition is a great way for you to experience the engine rumble, the gear retraction thumps and all the more subtle simulator sounds without interfering with others that might share the household. I keep mine handy and only switch to speakers when I know my wife has left the house for shopping.
We will be watching the possible development of the FAA Certified edition so we can log flight time when flying the simulator for sure. For the short term, Volair is working on adding an adjustable center mounted flight stick location that will be available to those early owners. This will be perfect for those pilots that prefer the J-3 Cub or Lancair Legacy or P-51 Mustang and will come pre-drilled for the Saitek X52 flight stick and others.
Even though the layout of the Volair Sim is near perfect I would like to see a way to angle the left and right sides of the large work table toward the pilot. A 3 piece table with some slots for an angled setup would be my suggestion. Similar to this:
Another development is that Volair Sim will soon be available to worldwide buyers. Just check their website if you are an international customer. Although the international shipping price will vary by country it will be possible to fly the Volair Sim from almost any place in the world. Customers in many EU countries and South America are already starting to receive the first of these international shipments.
The Volair Sim is a quality product that enhances the flight simulation environment to near real-world expectations. The high quality powdered tubular steel chassis built around the adjustable real world car racing seat is a true joy to experience. The pre-drilled mounting holes and innovative design features along with the universal adjustable mounts adds to the flexibility of the unit. The ability to mount up to a single 42 IN VESA spec monitor or three 19 – 30 IN widescreen monitors makes it an instant hit with all flight simmers.
The Volair Sim is an easy recommendation for the coveted Avsim Gold Star for flight related hardware due to the innovative design at an affordable price.
You now have a high quality, affordable flight simulator chassis to replace that office chair and desk setup. You can move all your equipment from your desk, including your PC, keyboard and mouse to the Volair Sim and fly more comfortably and have much more immersive flights. Once seated in your very own cockpit, you can fully enjoy the thrill of simulated flight while having all of your controls properly located and your flight instruments outside of the monitor. Maybe this is what Saitek had in mind when they pinned the appropriate tag line - closer to reality.
Those folks with legacy PC systems will also enjoy a boost in CPU performance when using the expanded ‘Exterior Views’ with FSX or P3D and using the external flight instruments and controls to fly the airplane. I guess this would be a hybrid virtual cockpit. Those with the new updated graphics cards loaded with plenty of onboard memory will thoroughly enjoy the visual surround view when using three match monitors. Should you have both a high end overclocked PC and the necessary graphics card to drive 3 monitors you will be able to experience the best of the best using any view location. No doubt.
For those of you who are still eagerly awaiting the release of the PMDG Boeing 777, yes, your throttle assemblies, MCP packs and FMS add-ons will fit nicely in the Volair Sim.
- Hellfire FS Intel i7 2700 OC to 4.5 GHz
FSX w/Acceleration, Win7-64, 8 GB RAM
nVidia GTX580 w/1.5 GB RAM
Crucial M4 256 GB SSD, Intel 330 180 GB SSD
Seagate 3TB data drive, WD Black 1TB data drive
WD My Passport 750 GB USB 3.0 External Drive
- 1 Dell 27 IN, 2 Dell 24 IN WS HD monitors
- Full Mad Catz/Saitek hardware cockpit
8 Saitek Flight Instrument Panels,
BIP, Switch Panel, Multi Panel, TPM,
dual power quadrants & Cessna trim wheel.
Saitek x52 Pro Flight Control System
Saitek Combat Rudder Pedals & Cessna Pro Pedals
Cessna Yoke System
- Logitech wireless Keyboard and Mouse.
- Bose Companion 20 speakers
- Sennheiser PC 350 Special Edition headset
- Apple iPad / iPhone
Commercial Pilot License Single-Engine Land and Sea, Multi-engine Land, Instrument Airplane, DC-3 type rating and Instrument and Advanced Ground Instructor with expired CFI/CFII licenses.
Q: Why does Volair Sim Cockpit comes with all mounts and accessories in the standard package and you do not offer them separately?
A: Great question. Most manufacturers have a strategy to charge a lower base price for the “bare” cockpit and then charge high premium for extras. We, at Volair Sim, believe that you should not pay premium for accessories that you may need now or in the future. For instance, many simmers start with single monitor but down the road end up with three monitors for best flying or racing experience. We provide these in the kit standard, knowing that sooner or later you will need them. The same goes for the yoke or shifter mounts. You get BOTH the left and right mounts for maximum configurability. See the table below for comparison of Volair Sim to some popular gaming sim cockpits:
Q: What flight simulation accessories is the Volair Sim™ Cockpit compatible with?
A: Volair Sim™ Cockpit is fully compatible with all Saitek and CH Products accessories. Specifically, the yoke mount is pre-configured to accept the Saitek Pro Flight Yoke and the Saitek Pro Flight line of flight simulation accessories such as the Radio Panel, the Multi Panel, the BIP, Switch Panel, etc. There are no holes to drill, just take all of your Saitek components and mount them directly to the yoke table.
The left and right stick mounts are also pre-drilled to accept a single or dual Saitek Throttle Quadrant(s), the Trim Wheel, etc. The pedal base accepts a wide variety of rudder pedals such as: CH Products, Saitek, Elite, etc.
Q: How much will it cost me to assemble the entire flight sim cockpit and where do I get the rest of the components?
A: Building a very capable flight sim suitable for VFR or IFR practicing can be surprisingly affordable with the Volair Sim concept. See this Guidance Document for details.
Q: Which locations do you ship to?
A: We currently ship within the continental United States, Canada, and Mexico. For international shipments, contact us and provide complete mailing address for a quote.
Q: Can I switch between the flight and racing controllers or do I have to hard-mount the yoke or wheel?
A: You can definitely set-up your cockpit for easy swap between the flight and sim modes. We give you the option for permanent or swappable installation.
Q: I am over 6’ tall and a bit on the heavy side. Will I be able to use the cockpit?
A: We have designed the Volair Sim cockpit to accommodate a variety of body frames and heights. The seat base has two adjustable tubes that allow you to shorten or lengthen the entire chassis to accommodate a range of 48" to 80" in height. The seat has been designed to accommodate users up to 260 lbs.
Q: What is the Warranty Policy?
A: Volair Sim offers a one-year warranty against defects in materials and workmanship to the original purchaser of the cockpit. For details, please see the Terms and Conditions in the Buy section of the web-site.
Q: Where can I get a replacement for my assembly instructions?
A: Please download the file below.
Assembly Instructions O=Rev 1.3 pdf at volairsim.com
Thanks Bart Waclawik for providing the Volair Sim for review and answering my questions.
Thanks Sennheiser for providing the PC 350 SP Gaming Headset.
Thanks Mad Catz/Saitek for the Saitek hardware.
All photos taken from the Volairsim.com website or taken by the Author.