How Open Source Powers a Battlestar Galactica-Inspired Flight Simulator

What do you get when you combine smart students, an old airplane fuselage, and the FlightGear open source flight simulator software? Add a few more ingredients and you get a Battlestar Galactica-inspired flight simulator called The Viper.

The Viper flight simulator is being built by five high school students, some parents, and mentors from Marin, Oakland, and San Francsico as part of the Young Makers program. The plan is to unveil the project at Maker Faire in May 2012.

Outside the fuselage, two axes that rotate 360 degrees move the plane to help simulate the feeling of flying. "In addition to recreating the feeling of flying, we're also trying to create a totally immersive experience by having joysticks, thrusters, an instrument panel, three computer monitors to display the virtual world, a ton of additional set dressing and blinky lights, and audio and video clips, which we are making ourselves," explains one student in The Viper Promo video.

Although proprietary software is behind the audio and video creation, the students are modifying FlightGear as the flight simulator game that will be running on the monitors in the cockpit. Other open source components include Arduinos, which control the "set dressing" and internal controls, and Python code that acts as the glue to facilitate communication between the controls, Arduinos, and FlightGear.

Don't assume that these students are a bunch of rookies, though. They've unveiled several impressive projects over the years at Maker Faire, including a fire-breathing animatronic dragon and a six-barrel potato cannon. But they consider The Viper to be their most ambitious effort yet.

Sometimes ambitious efforts also require deep pockets, and despite contributions from Autodesk and NVIDIA, the group is still trying to raise cash to help complete the project. If you'd like to help these cool kids create the project you wish you'd thought of first, chip in on The Viper Kickstarter page. And if you pledge US$ 50 or more, you actually can make a Viper for yourself. The students will send you a Pilot's dog tag, behind-the-scenes DVD, and a guide to help you build your own simulator. The instructions will help you build either a Lego model prototype, or you can use the schematics, parts lists, and included videos and interviews to build the software and other components.

The Bay Area Maker Faire will be held May 19 and 20 at the San Mateo Event Center.

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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