Building a DIY Flight/Driving Sim Pit on a Budget

So you just got that killer racing game or flight simulator and even though you are in VR and it looks great it seems that there’s just something still missing, the true feeling of being there! I too had this happen shortly after getting Elite Dangerous and Project Cars last year and started to desperately look into the possibilities of a sim chair. The problem was that for anything descent, the price was just too damn prohibitive! So I started to think, “Why couldn’t I just build one for myself?”

Cockpit view in Elite Dangerous

View from Inside the vehicle in Project Cars

So, you might be asking yourself, “Can I really do this?” and the answer is yes! Although everyone will have their own take on it, I will provide you with my build as a point of reference in the hopes that those who are interested can get an idea of where to start. This is not meant to be a cookie cutter chair design with instructions that can be copied, but more as something to get the mind racing as to what you can possibly build yourself.

Building a proper sim chair was no small undertaking for a person of limited skills such as myself, but with a bit of perseverance and research I set out to do it, and the end result was astonishing. This has brought my flying and racing games to a whole new level in VR. The ability to be seated as your character is in game and to have the controls match up almost seemed to flip a switch and bring me to levels of presence that I had not yet felt.

In my build I wanted something versatile that would work for both flying and racing sims, so a few things stuck out in my mind. First I needed it to be comfortable as well as functional and second, I wanted it to swivel and rock back and forth for a sort of Flintstones style feet powered motion control. To achieve this, I figured perhaps I should modify a ladies sized rocking chair I had in the garage. After my first attempts I quickly realized this still didn’t feel right. I was just sitting in a rocking chair that had a few tables bolted to it for my HOTAS and this wasn’t the chair I had imagined. It just didn’t match up with my games very well and it was about at this point that it hit me, “I need a car seat!” After putting out a few feelers, a friend happened to have one laying around and I quickly snatched it up. Once I got the seat home I pondered on how I could mount it? I tried several different methods but none gave me the swivel and rocking that I desired. As it turns out the answer was staring me in the face from the beginning,

The rocker I started with made the perfect base for this.I began by stripping all of the fabric and cushioning off of the chair and took it down to the base wooden frame. Then I simply set the car seat into it and it fit like a glove with no further modifications needed. Now I had a seat that felt like I was really sitting in my car or spacecraft and I had my feet powered motion simulation as well.

The next thing was to get the HOTAS mounted. I have the Thrustmaster T-Flight X HOTAS which is a great value stick and throttle set up. You can usually grab one of these on the cheap for less than $50 if you look hard enough. The only downside to this stick is that wires connecting the two parts were really short and this was going to be a problem. After some Google-Fu, I came across an Imagur post that detailed how to extend the wires using CAT5 cable and with a few snips and some tape I now had a nice long wire that could be run through and hidden under the chair.

So now I had the right feel for the seated position and the ability to pan around and swivel to the flight motion but something was still missing… I didn’t feel the roar of the thrusters or wind up of my cars engine. It was then that I started looking into transducers like the popular Buttkicker Gamer 2, but once again found these to be to damn expensive for my little hobby chair. So I started to ponder on this and then remembered I still has an old holdout from my first VR rig back in the 90’s that might just do the trick,


The Aura Interactor vest. was a really janky hard plastic backpack type peripheral that rumbled against the body when explosions and gunfire would break out in games. It already had it’s own amplifier and I was just sure if I took it apart it would yield a suitable transducer and low and behold it did! Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying this is as good as a pro type bass shaker, but remember I was trying to keep this build cheap by using things I mostly already had.

Once the Aura transducer was bolted in place
the magic really started to happen! Suddenly I was “there” in my favorite VR game Elite Dangerous. Not only was I sitting exactly as the in game character did, as well as my stick and throttle aligning to the perfect positions but now I could feel my ship. The rumble of the bass shaker in combination with the foot power made me start to feel the sensations of movement that matched what my ship was doing in game. This was quite possibly the most important part towards adding to the immersion of the game.

So now I had all the pieces in place and it was time to make it look a little nicer. After a few modifications to the HOTAS tables and some coats of paint to gain Wife approval I had a descent looking seat, but I still needed something to mount my steering wheel on as well as hold all of my other peripherals. The small desk that I currently was using was not going to work for this as it was far too wobbly and too big to mount the wheel on for a proper driving position.

Once again I started to look at my options. At first I thought of going the PVC route and building a movable wheel stand, but this still didn’t fit into the vision I had for my poor mans sim pit. However, this soon changed after a trip to my local Goodwill store where I found a perfect small roll away laptop desk. All that was needed now was to remove the wheels for a more stable surface and I was all set.

Finally, all I needed was a way to raise the chair up a bit and this was accomplished with a shipping pallet I obtained from work. I added some paint to match the look of the rest of my sim rig and a few felt strips to the bottom so it could slide easily and there it was, finally I had something similar to what I had envisioned in the beginning of all this madness. Although it may not look as professional as others that can be purchased online, It was mine and was very functional! Never before had I been brought to these levels of immersion in a game. If you are thinking of doing something similar I highly encourage it. Once you fly or drive in VR using a setup like this you will never want to go back!


Project Battle Chair


* In game images used were taken from Google Images.

Brought to you by vrgamerdude  of the VR Spies

4 thoughts on “Building a DIY Flight/Driving Sim Pit on a Budget

  • February 2, 2016 at 3:37 am

    I'm actually thinking of one day, down the line a little ways, after the 1800 dollar sting of the rift and the new pascal Titan, that hopefully comes out sooner rather than later, has subsided, to build a 3dof motion platform with actuators. I am already ecstatic about the upgrade VR will bring my sim racing, but that would be the piece de resistance!

    • February 2, 2016 at 2:23 pm

      Yes! this is my next move as well… I really want to get some motion on the platform to add even more to the realism feel █-)

    • February 3, 2016 at 1:58 pm

      I picked up a Logitech Force Pro wheel on Craigslist for $40. It was a good deal for a starter wheel, but I'm thinking about upgrading to the G27 or newer G29 soon. I would really like to have the proper shifter!


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