Panel Builder 2
For FS2004, FSX, P3D, X-Plane 9 and 10
Developed by simPlugins.com and published by RC Simulations
Reviewed by Joe Lawford
In most areas of the flight sim community, at shows, clubs and in forums, more and more people are either using stand-alone panels, extra screens or expensive hardware add-ons. Or if not, they are talking about it.
From the high end systems to the simple modular systems you could be talking 1,000's to get your ideal setup. So if you don't have the time or inclination to get the soldering iron, hammer and chisel out, or to put hundreds of hard earned Pounds or Dollars into someone else's pocket, there's always an alternative.
Panel Builder 2 could well be your answer. Panel Builder is an extensible, inexpensive way to make use of that old screen you have tucked away at the back of the cupboard or in the attic. Even better, if you have an old laptop or PC as well, you can make use of it. Even if you don't have an extra screen you can still use it in an ingenious overlay mode which will hide your desktop icons whilst running.
I really can't do much better in my introduction than to quote Reinhard, the developer.
"Panel Builder 2 is an add-on avionics package that allows the creation of custom instrument panels to interface with several flight simulation Programs.
Typically, instrument panels are displayed on a separate monitor in full-screen mode. A mask can be used to cover unused portions of the monitor to more closely resemble a typical instrument panel.
This professional version of the program is designed for use in commercial applications. Compared to the home version it provides additional configurations options and features useful for commercial applications including a larger instrument size option that can be useful for demonstrations and pilot ground training.
Panel Builder 2 can be run on the same computer as the flight simulation software. It is recommended though to utilize one or more additional computers for this purpose for performance reasons.
Each instrument is ‘free floating’ in the screen. It can be resized, moved around the screen and combined into a predefined panel. For the latter purpose, a management tool called Panel Builder is provided. Panel Builder allows the building of instrument panels for different aircraft types and provides a mechanism for starting and stopping all instruments.
Some instruments contain configuration options that are accessible via a right click menu option. This is used for setting ranges and/or color bars on the instrument, calculations and performance related options. This allows using the same instrument for a slow piston powered airplane or a high performance turbine powered airplane.
The same instrument can be used multiple times in a panel. This allows for example to build panels for multi-engine aircraft or for defining a pilot and co-pilot instrument panel".
Presently (Although the spec is increasing constantly) the main features are listed below.
• Fixed Wing and Helicopter Instruments
• Suitable for all single and multi engine aircraft types
• Covers Piston and Turbine Engines
• Design an unlimited number of panels
• Panels can be saved and loaded using the included ‘Panel Manager’
• A Background Image can be assigned to each panel
• Multi-Screen support
• Over 70 Instruments included
• Instruments are configurable for different aircraft performance data
• Instruments are scalable to fit all sizes of monitors
• Dials and buttons on instruments are functional
• Build Pilot and Co-pilot Panels.
• Complete, ! Nothing else to buy.
Fortunately there is an option to try a demo before committing to the full version, the demo is available by download from the simPlugins download page It is limited to amending 6 gauges on an existing panel and a 10 minute runtime but it will give you a good feel for the product.
There are various packages available and I hope I have them correctly listed here:
• Boxed SimPlugins Panel Builder Home - FSX Version 2.3
• Boxed SimPlugins Panel Builder Home- X-Plane 10 Version 2.3
• Boxed SimPlugins Panel Builder Professional 2.3 - All versions included
• Download MS Flight Simulator 2004 Home Version FSUIPC
• Download Panel Builder X-Plane Home Version 2.3
• Download Panel Builder Home Version 2.3 for FSX
There are upgrade options for previous users and existing users who want a different version. Some products are available on a USB stick which also provides the licensing to unlock the product.
This will depend on what purchasing option you have gone for, my copy came on a USB stick which means you can install the software into more than 1 PC. The USB stick holds the licensing info so you can only run it in registered mode on one machine at a time.
Installation is by way of a familiar installation program that will allow you to set the installation folder.
When you run the installer, the overview explains that there are 2 programs it is going to install, the panel builder main program and a flight simulator interface program which passes the information back and forth from your gauges to the simulator. You can see the options in the screen shot below. I am using FSX, so the interface will be via SimConnect. You may also notice there are options for a single or dual PC installation, more of that later.
Note: The interfaces available depend on the version purchased.
Possible PC and Screen Configurations
Single PC with single or multiple monitors - Interface and Panel Builder on 1 PC. Screen options are: single monitor flight sim and gauges on one screen or flight sim on one screen and gauges on second screen.
Two PC's with single or multiple monitors - Interface and flight sim on on PC and Panel builder on remote PC. Screen options are: PC1 - flight sim with one or two displays; PC2 - Panel Builder and one screen to show gauges.
Multiple PC's with single or multiple monitors - As option above except panel builder added to a third PC to show different gauges to those on PC 2. *Requires a license for every PC that Panel Builder is installed on.
These options are well illustrated in the manual and you can get a visual explanation too.
My set up is option 1 above, 1 PC and two screens. Note, my screens are just free-standing. For better realism, the second screen could be built into a panel or cockpit designed with a specific aircraft in mind.
All modules of Panel Builder communicate using a network protocol. The Interface software receives data from the flight simulator and sends the appropriate data to each instrument, either on the same computer or to additional computers. Even if both the flight simulator software and Panel Builder is installed on the same computer, communication is still performed using the network protocol.
For the different interfaces (FS2004, FSX, P3D, XP-X) there is a bespoke interface with communication channels pre-configured for around 98% of machines, so there is a good chance it will work out of the box.
You can configure each variable that drives the instruments using the SimPlugins FSX program. By clicking SimConnect Configuration. This is for advanced users who want change and SimConnect variables to suit their installation. I left this well alone!
The 80 page manual goes into far more detail of the setup options available for each interface.
Once installation is complete, you should only need to refer back to the interface again when you want to connect to your flight simulator or if you want to change your network configuration.
The Panel Builder GUI is quite intuitive but the manual is definitely your best friend, you should already have it to hand for the installation!
Clicking the Panel Builder 2 icon on your desktop will start the Panel Builder in the home screen. Here you can edit your panels, load and edit saved panels and start and stop instruments for a panel, see fig. 1.
Fig. 1 - Home screen, here you can start stop and edit panels
Fig 2. - Building screen, here you add the instruments to the panel
Fig.3 - Network configuration screen
First of all, you need to add instruments to your panel (See Fig.2) you can always find real world panel layouts from the internet to know which instruments to choose, this could be your favourite helicopter, crop duster or executive twin.
If you are building a cockpit, you may have already fabricated a panel with port holes or have an overlay for a monitor, Panel Builder 2 is built with exactly this in mind as you can position and resize each gauge on the screen.
When building the panel you will be choosing which instruments, their size and position, also calibrating them to suit aircraft performance. (See Fig.4 & 5 below) The size set here is just the initial size, you fine tune it on the panel later.
Fig.4 - Gauge selection - All
Fig.5 - Gauge selection - Type
As you can see, there is a comprehensive selection of gauges and there are more coming all the time as part of the development of this product.
The developer will be releasing custom add-on instrument packs, for the Spitfire for example that include replicas of the gauges used to give it a more realistic feel, these will be a premium add-on in most cases and can be made to order.
3rd Party Applications
|One unusual gauge you can add is the 3rd party
Essentially, you can fire up another application when you start the panel and include it in your panel design in a windowed mode. (See figs.15 & 16)
This is ideal for setting up a GPS type interface running something like Tim Arnot's Plan-G, see how I included it in the screenshots below.
See below for some images and captions for different stages in the build process.
Single Screen Use
Fig.17 Photograph of my monitor running FSX and the basic six on one screen.
In Fig.17 you can see a photo of my 23 "screen (Taken with a camera) with a basic 6 set up. You can drag these gauges around the screen with your mouse and re-size using the mouse wheel. Right-clicking the gauge shows its properties where you can set V speeds for the colour arcs, see the inset picture above. Once you are happy with the position you can lock them in place. On the picture above you can also see the gauges working, relaying the sim data.
If you have a second screen, then all you need to do is direct the video output to that monitor via the panel setup (Fig. 6). A second screen can be attached to the same PC, a second PC or could be built into a stand-alone panel you have. Essentially, the set up is the same as a single screen setup, just more versatile.
So that is how simple this program is to operate, if you were designing a multi-engined aircraft panel then you just double or quadruple the engine gauges you need, then in the gauge properties assign it an engine number.
Performance & Quality
This is a very innovative product, it solves the dilemma of having to use expensive hardware to run your instruments.
The interface is clear, simple and easy to use for the hobbyist and enthusiast alike, yet the results are very professional looking.
It has many applications in home flight simulation and commercial situations, such as flying schools and indeed it is already being used in those scenarios.
If you are into panel building or thinking of starting, you should give Panel Builder 2 serious consideration.
Since our review of this product nearly 6 months ago the developer has not been sitting on his hands!
Just released is version 2.5 which encompasses the following additions and improvements:
Panel Builder Version History:
Twin Engine Instruments (Dual Needle) for RPM, CHT, MAP and EGT
Fuel Gauges for FSX/2004 (FuelSingleFSX & FuelSingleSqFSX) to support all possible FSX Tanks
StatusLight1 - Single Annunciator Light
Soaring Instruments : VarioMeter, SlipIndicator, YawString
VOR 1 & 2 ‘old style’ swinging needle versions.
Fuel Gauges for X-Plane (FuelSingle & FuelSingleSq) to support all 9 possible tanks
Altimeter Analog configurable for metric (mb/hPa and meters Altitude)
Fixes and Improvements:
RMI1 & RMI2 fixed fro FSX
CHT shows correct values now (was showing Deg C)
Show a Grid on the Panel Background to help with aligning instruments on panel.
Preparation for upcoming EFIS ‘Glass Cockit Add-on’.
2.41 (Patch Release)
Carburetor Temp (FSX only!)
Fixes and Improvements:
Added Tick Marks for CHT Gauge
Fuel Flow Gauge has improved settings for tick marks and labels.
Manifold Pressure Gauge has now a Max setting
Vertical Speed Indicator now correct for FSX (fix in 2.4 was missed in release)
RPM Gauge for Piston Helicopter (RPMHeloPiston) working again.
Square Oil Pressure Gauge Green Arc setting fixed.
Some Temperature Gauges where showing Deg C instead of Deg F (e.g. Oil Temp, EGT ...)
X-Plane 10.20 support for 32bit and 64bit
Copying of Panels
Use check marks to add multiple instruments at a time
Instruments Groups when selecting instruments
Fuel Selector Indicator, Audio Panel, RMI (2 versions), Chronometer
Altimeters now show negative Altitudes.
Instruments now observe if Battery Power is on or off (where applicable)
Night mode for Radios
Fixes to Instruments:
Night Mode and Radio Display flickering
Minor display fixes to Helicopter Instruments.
Instruments added to Firewall at install time
FSX Interface: Vertical Speed fixed (was off by about 500 fpm).
FSX Interface: ADF Needle is working correctly now.
The FSX and FSUIPC Versions are one product now called Panel Builder for
Microsoft Flight Simulator (both Interfaces are included)
2.31 (Patch Release)
Shutting down FSX Interface without pressing ‘Connect’ shows exception error.
Clicking on dials on COM 1/2 and NAV 1/2 Radios shows exception error.
Night Mode does not come on. (FSX only issue)
Clicking on Instrument Dials when in Night Mode does not work.
With all the above taken into consideration we now think this product is worthy of our Award for Excellence! Well done to SimPlugins and
• Ease of use:
• Value for Money:
Mutley's Hangar Score 10/10 and our coveted award for excellence!
Review machine Spec: Core i7 Extreme 965 @ 3.6 Ghz | 12Gb Corsair DDR3 Ram |GTX690 Graphics |Windows 7 64bit