Some time ago, I began to build a Balsa USA Laker and wanted an instrument panel for the cockpit. After discussing this with other club members, I decided attempt the project.
For projects like this, I previously used AutoCad LT. However, my old version is no longer usable on my Windows-7 PC and the upgrade was too expensive. Luckily, some CAD companies are now offering their 2D CAD programs free. I downloaded a free version of Draftsight, which has all of the features of AutoCad LT and has, for me, a very familiar interface. With Draftsight, I was able to create a panel template—1/6 scale to fit the Laker—which I could print out and use. I also created a JPEG of the panel template that I could manipulate in Photoshop when creating the required panel layers. Deciding what instruments to use was the next part of the project.
The instrument requirements for VFR flight (day) are contained in the FAA's "Code of Federal Regulations, Sec. 91.205. In so far as possible, I wanted the Laker's instrument panel to contain a set of required instruments, including an airspeed indicator, altimeter, magnetic direction indicator, and fuel gauge. Searching for images of the required instruments on the Web was next in the project.
There are many sources of flight-instrument images the Web (check the reference section at the end of the article). In addition to images of actual instruments, one company offers a beautiful 6-piece coaster set of the basic flight instruments. In fact, my first attempt at putting together an image set of instruments consisted of borrowing a set of four coasters from a club member and then photographing them. After photographing the "instruments," I was able to reduce them to the required size for my panel. I was able to complete the basic instrument set with images from the Web. In the end, however, I discovered other instrument possibilities that I used in place of some of the conventional instruments.
My final instrument panel consisted of the following instruments (some contained in a multifunction package):
In Photoshop, I created a layered image, including panel and instruments, and moved the instruments into their positions on the panel. I cut out a panel template and verified that is was the correct size for the Laker.
Now that I had the templates available, I could construct the actual panel. The panel is a sandwich of 4 layers: balsa back, printout with instruments, plastic (for the glass), and plywood front. Because the instruments are high resolution, they show up fairly well even in this 1/6-scale panel.
I purchased a 1/2" Forstner bit to drill the round holes for the instruments. The good news is that after drilling the holes, I could resize the instruments in Photoshop to exactly fit the openings, as necessary.
One club member observed that there were no switches in the panel. So, I got some pins and beads in order to add switches and indicators.
Of course, the panel would not pass inspection as it does not have required pressure and temperature gauges—but who need ‘em with an electric motor: smoke will tell me if the power system is overheating and the engine does not need oil. Pull the big silver knob for warp speed.
I hope you enjoyed this article.