Graphics and virtual cockpit
Aircraft models for the X-Plane may have very good looking graphics, with interior, detailed and realistic cockpit panels and animated (?) switches. But all this is just visual detailing, which is not needed when you are building a real hardware cockpit.
In fact, you don’t need to have any visible switches and lights in a virtual panel when you have a “real” panel with real switches and indicators.
Basically, the only important thing for every plane model to be used with SimVim is realistic flight dynamics, and nothing more. Some models can be built very carefully (in PlaneMaker, see below) and have realistic aerodynamics, some need to be “modded”.
It would be nice if aircraft developers could provide “panels-free” models without any interior elements, along with their complete models for home cockpit builders.
If you plan to use a paid/custom plane model most likely it will have their custom datarefs and commands. Even if you don’t use the view of the virtual panel on screen, the SimVim plugin needs to convert some input or output parameters to them instead using the standard X-Plane commands (if the custom model prevents using them).
How realistic is your aircraft model behaviour?
Flight dynamics of some sophisticated plane models can be (but not necessary) better then “standard” or most of free models, but not always as good as it can be. Some of the good freeware planes may have very realistic flight dynamics and this is all you need for the airplane when building you cockpits – to have realistic behaviour (and maybe detailed external view sometimes, especially if you make left/right side view screens).
As you are building a real panel/cockpit, using external software for instruments (or making hardware gauges) you don’t need the detailed and animated virtual 3D panel views. The “good-looking” plane and detailed and animated 3D panel of such aircraft could be very demanding to computer resources and can reduce your frame rate.
a realistic and highly detailed 3D model (exterior view) does not affect the flight dynamics of your plane in any way! For X-Plane program, this is just visualization, and it is not used as a “physical” model for calculating flight dynamics.
Only the physical model of the plane airframe that has been built in PlaneMaker matters (and, maybe, some of the custom scripts can change a few flight parameters). Talking about realistic flight dynamics model of the chosen aircraft, you can build it (or improve it) by yourself in PlaneMaker specifically for your cockpit.
1. Using default or other freeware models
There are many freeware planes for X-Plane, and you can find some suitable for you, with appropriate (more or less realistic) flight dynamics.
Then you can delete the 2D/3D Panels (all instruments, textures, some .obj files) from the aircraft folder, because all of this is not needed if you build a physical cockpit with an instrument panel. Or, you can use the “Forwards with Nothing” view during flight. (Optionally you can remove the panel from forward view but leave the side views).
If you’re not satisfied with your aircraft model flight behaviour you can improve it, and this is not so hard to do (see below), having all the necessary characteristics of the real aircraft on hand, of course.
You can choose an appropriate free aircraft model or one of those included in X-Plane and correct the characteristics and flight dynamics of this plane in PlaneMaker if you think you need to improve them. Find any available technical data, dimensions and manuals for your chosen aircraft and use these to edit the data in PlaneMaker or even make your own model.
2. Create realistic model of your aircraft yourself
First, you need to make the “physical” model in PlaneMaker from scratch or take any simple, free airplane and re-make it’s flight behaviour to be much more real.
Note: you don’t need any additional 3D software to make aircraft with realistic aerodynamic characteristics.
To get a more-or-less realistic aerodynamics model the ‘physical’ airframe should represent the actual aircraft’s outer structure, including wings and all bodies which interact with the air. For this you need to draw the fuselage and other bodies cross-sections (except the wings), assign all sizes, surface areas and airfoils, wheel sizes and positions.
NOTE: this is not a visual 3D model! This is an aerodynamic model, used in X-Plane to calculate all elements drag and lifting forces!
Although, you can make it good looking enough with appropriate textures and don’t have a “replacement” 3D model at all.
The more external elements you add (nacelles, blister windows, struts and fairings), the more realistic your plane model behaviour will be.
Don’t forget to add engine nacelles and landing gear to your Plane Maker model! The released landing gear is an important drag force factor. Also, the wheel fairings or skids are essential.
!!! I’ve seen that even some popular aircraft developers might not always bother adding all aerodynamic elements (even important). For example, on one of the paid model, which is 2-engine plane Pa-44, engine nacelles are not simulated as aerodynamic parts!
Enter needed drag coefficient for every element accordingly with its shape, elongation ratio, etc. Yes, you will need a few aerodynamic reference tables, but it’s not so hard.
Then you need to enter all physical characteristics, such as engines type and power, fuel tanks, weights, instrument limits, etc. There are plenty of such parameters in PlaneMaker, and you should fill all needed fields.
Remember: the more real characteristics you will add to your model the more authentic aircraft you will get!
Having done this you will get a ready to fly aircraft, that will have flight dynamics as close to real as much of the parameters of this airplane you would adjust correctly in PlaneMaker.
If you want to have some “good-looking” outside airplane model, this can be done separately by creating a 3D model of your plane. Again, this is not necessary, only needed if you want to create screenshots or videos of your flights, or need to have detailed parts of the airplane visible from the cockpit (e.g. for the left or right side view).
Plane Maker Manual
3. Custom aircraft models and SimVimCockpit
All aircraft models that are included in the X-Plane by default and all their mods ( including planes that use new XP11 “laminar/../” commands and datarefs ), as well as third-party aircraft using only standard X-Plane commands/datarefs, work with the SimVimCockpit as-is. This means that you can simply assign all the necessary parameters in the Configurator. and fly.
Also, the conversion table for some freeware models, that use their own custom datarefs, can be embedded in SimVimCockpit database, like Aerobask Robin DR401 (you can use it as is).
If you have a plane that uses the REP (Reality Expansion Pack), the plugin will automatically adapt all the needed parameters.
Data conversion files for custom aicraft models
If some SimVim parameter name assigned for your custom aircraft do not work properly and your plane model uses its custom datarefs/commands, you need to have an additional SimVim “data conversion file” for this particular model (simvim_xxx.dat) and place it in assotiated aicraft folder.
This data file includes only those SimVim named parameters that had to be “remapped” by plugin to related custom commands (datarefs) provided with this specific model.
How it works: When an aircraft is loading, the plugin looks for replacement data table and remaps all needed standard input/output parameters located in the SimVim database into this plane model custom data.
Download: You can download the related data convertion file for some planes on the SimVim “Custom Conversion” community section