Let's take a look at the overhead panel! "Hell yeah!", I hear you say. It is after all the nerve center of the aircraft. Nothing goes in the aircraft until you consult the overhead panel first.

Looking at the DC-9 and MD-80 from the outside, it's quite easy to see these aircraft come from the same place. The nose profile, the aft fuselage mounted engines, the T-tail - they all pretty much look the same! There are definitive telltales you can look for to tell the models apart though.

 

The cockpit is a different story. If you look at a the early DC-9s and compare them to late MD-80s, they look like completely different aircraft. While the modern MD-80s are hybrid glass and steam gauge type of cockpits with cleaner layouts, the early DC-9s are more of the "let's cram as many gauges as we possibly can in here and who cares where they are located" type of philosophy. Or so it seems anyway. There is method to the madness, but one could easily be fooled.

 

Despite the many differences between the old DC-9 and the new MD-80, there is one place in the cockpit where you can easily see the family resemblance: The overhead panel.

 

The overhead panel is where you have all the controls for the operation of the aircraft systems. The main instrument panel, on newer MD-80s compared to older DC-9s, may have upgraded instruments to aid the flight crew with the flying part. But the overhead panel has the same old controls for the underlying "under the hood" aircraft systems which hasn't changed much at all.

 

You've got the electrical panel, the APU panel, the ignition panel, fuel boost pump panel, ice protection panel, rain protection panel, air conditioning panel and cabin pressurization panel and gauges. These are all identical from one model to the next.

 

You've got some changes as well, most notably the Overhead Annunciator Panel on the Super 80 Pro. The Super 80 Pro OAP shifted towards a digital presentation of warnings and cautions while still retaining a few analog light indicators. 

 

The DC-9 Classic is a big step forward in terms of the systems simulation and complexity of the underlying sub-systems. But the DC-9 is also a big step forward in terms of the quality of the graphics and the 3D modeling, which is very much true for the overhead panel. Comparing the Super 80 Classic, the Super 80 Pro and the DC-9 Classic side-by-side, there is an obvious leap.

 

The overhead modeling and graphics are the creation of McPhat Studios. They are just fantastically talented at what they do. All switches and knobs are modeled in 3D and every bit of detail on the textures are hand drawn with precision. I'm very happy with how it turned out.

 

I'm also excited about presenting higher quality graphics for the 2D panel version of the overhead panel. Created in-house here at Coolsky, the 2D panel graphics are rendered from a 3D model. It's a different kind of approach to creating graphics, but if you are a 2D panel type of guy - like me - I think you might like it. The overhead panel is personally my favorite part of the 2D panel.

 

So there you have it; the evolution of the overhead panel both in the real aircraft and here at Coolsky.