The Viper Cockpit

I decided to put my graphics talents to work and create a decent interior schematic of the Colonial Viper cockpit.
I haven't seen on the web where anyone else has tackled this project, so I thought I'd give it a go.
It has taken a good deal of episode watching, frame-by-frame at the cockpit scenes and some background research to try to get good representations of each panel in the Viper.

The Port Console

The Center Console

The Starboard Console



About the Graphic:
This is drawn using real dimensions, e.g. the drawing is a 100% full size representation and can be printed actual size. I have tried to get this as accurate as possible using the photos off other websites, my own screen captures and some caliper measurements of actual switches as well as certain known avionics display sizes. I did this to get a feel for the actual panel dimensions, which were not easy to determine from mere photos.

I'm sure if I had access to the original panels, I could draw it to within 99.9% accuracy, but since it is long gone this will have to be my offering at this point. The original cockpit instrument stage-set supposedly languished on a back lot at Universal somewhere along with the full size mockups of the Vipers and Cylon cockpit and other left over Battlestar Galactica set pieces. At some point in time it was either torn down for scrap or (as legend has it) was destroyed in a fire at the studios. No one seems to know for sure, and I guess it just adds to the mystique. You have any insider information? I'd love to hear it!

The Flight Stick
There are apparently two variants of the 3-button switch labels. One, which we most commonly see says (L-R):

  • FIRE
  • TURBO
  • IM
The other is labeled:
  • STORES
  • CAMERA AUTO
  • CAMERA MAN

Being a little bit curious about this, I figured Jack Stauffer probably spent as much time sitting in the Viper full-scale mockups as any actor. In the course of some email exchanges with him, he didn't recollect too much about the interior arrangement of the mockups and didn't recall them being nearly as detailed as the "cockpit set". The only detail we see in the mockup is some white lights near the right elbow which don't correlate to anything on the panels from the cockpit set. Mr. Stauffer did however tell me a very funny story about "the fat guys with 2x4's who would rock the full-scale mockups when the actor would shout 'Break left!' or 'I'm hit!'. Ahh, how even the big-budget films do things is sometimes a real hoot! ha

March 20, 2008 - Thanks to an alert fan, Kevin Coyne, I can now show you where the joystick came from! Here is a photo from the cockpit of the Vietnam-era recon aircraft OV1-C "Mohawk", I think you'll recognize the item circled it red:

[ Note: There was a separate filming "Cockpit Set" which consisted strictly of the control panels which was used in the scenes where we see the actors pushing buttons, hitting switches, moving the flight stick, etc.

It's hard to tell if stock footage from the episode "Saga" contained the less-seen lables "Stores" "Camera Auto" and "Camera Man" on the flight stick, but I did note that throughout the series, they took careful steps to make sure the actual actor or actress depicted as the pilot's hands were filmed in the cockpit panel set and corresponded with the shots in the full-scale mockups. There is always good continuity between Boomer's fingers, Starbuck's, Sheba's and so on. Which is something they did *not* do on the original Star Trek, by the way - haha. Watch closely, now! ]

I also noted that although things did light up on some of the aircraft instruments the Viper had, they were by no means fully wired in. For example, the HSI or Horizontal Situation Indicator had the digits wired up, but the left digits (Heading degrees) would jump from 110.0 to 210.0 and then to some non-character plus "10.0" while the compass card was spinning around. The other digits would always read 995. If the degrees had been wired in, it would have stepped numerically with the turn and the distance (995) would have been either decreasing or increasing as flight continued.
~sigh - it was television...

And Now for some Technical Humor!
During the show, the Viper pilots sometimes say "I'm scanning a life-form blah blah blah" and we see the red flashing LED's along the upper panels, usually to Port. This, in fact is a set of RS-232 communication breakout panels, probably provided by Tektronix from some prototype project they were working on at the time. Anyone familiar with RS-232 serial data communications will instantly recognize the nomenclature and probably laugh out loud!

Interesting NASA Space Shuttle similarities!
The NASA Space Shuttle a near cousin to the Colonial Viper?
Well, if you start off with the basics, you can see a few instant similarities,

  • The 3 wing structure of both craft
  • The 3 engine arrangement of both craft (albiet disproportionate in size)
  • The landing gear arrangement
  • And last, but not least - some of the cockpit panel controls!

Back in about 1983 I bought a paper-bound manual from a mall book store about the Space Shuttle, and I've kept it in my box of keepsakes over the years. The text of it was written mostly for young teens or younger adolescents, but has some wonderful pull-out diagrams of the shuttle's cockpit control panels, and a wonderful huge shuttle cutaway diagram. You can still find copies of this on Ebay and Amazon among other places, keep in mind it is vintage information of the original shuttle configuration.

Well, in the wee morning hours of August 1, 2007 I was browsing through these and decided to look over the control panel diagrams with more than just a passing glance. Well, what I stumbled across is pretty neat (and I'm sure whoever actually designed the Colonial Viper panels is reading this and chuckling again).

I had already drawn up the Colonial Viper panel graphics in the weeks before this, but I sure wished I had made this Discovery well before-hand.

If you compare this with the gauge panel on the Viper, you'll say "Hey!", about like I did. ha The gauges as well as the two toggle switches in the lower right corner of this panel are both replicated closely on the Viper (however actual text of the switch labels is somewhat different, and the Viper gauges have no outside labels identifying what parameter they are measuring).

I went thru the rest of the diagrams with a fine tooth comb after that. There are only 4 identifiable similarities in the panels, once again - The gauge panel and the angular joining rib off to the right of it, which both appear in the Viper.

The second similarity is the "HSI SELECT" switch, which looks almost identical in its arrangement. If you wanted to reach a little bit, you could include the Shuttle's landing gear switches/lamps as being in parallel with the Viper's "Turbo" and "Check" switches, and it does resemble this a little, but a quick glance at the Shuttle diagram shows the arrangement is a pretty loose one.

Thirdly, the "Engine Start" toggle switches (which are often unused in the series. Instead they press the 3 lighted rectangular buttons labled "TURBO").

Sorry, I failed to include the Shuttle Engine Start switches in my page scan. Interestingly, on the Space Shuttle the engines are labled "Left" "Ctr" and "Right" instead of "Port" and "Starboard" as they are on the Viper.

The fourth similarity is the inclusion of a red LED (Light-Emitting-Diode) digital "Mission Time" clock. I failed to scan this part of the page in as well, but it is instantly identifiable on most Battlestar Galactica episodes where you can see the flashing red digits on the right hand console (inside the large red-tinted plastic circle), just to the left of the radio audio monitor.

Other NASA connections? - Yes, one BSG fan named Clayton Barr has pointed out that on the episode "Greetings from Planet Earth (Part 1)" that the Lunar Avion shuttle/ship has a panel (missing a knob) that is right out of Skylab. It was probably obtained from the Skylab Procedures Trainer or spares capacity scrap pile at NASA after the program ended. Here's a LINK to the page on his site. Thanks, Clayton. This panel was from Skylab experiment M131 "Human Vestibular Function". I'll let you drive over to his site to see the photos.

My humble opinion about this is that someone in the world of Battlestar Galactica had friends as NASA, most likely the Houston Johnson astronaut training facility, who were able to get them some old or removed simulator items to be used on the show. I think the set designers of BSG went to as much effort as they could to make great looking sets, using laboratory electronics power supplies, scopes, computers and other items to create sets of neat but believable gear. It looked fabulous during the show's run time. Now with a country full of inspired electronics people who are still fans of the original show can look back and see that the efforts of the BSG people went a long way toward guiding them into great careers.

What about CORA? Where did that come from?

The display panel for CORA was an actual Audiophile instrument called a "spectrum analyzer". (Here goes the Electrical Engineer talking again...) It's normally used while piping white noise into a venue's sound system to see how flat or responsive the venue is. Certain materials like curtains, carpet, acoustic tiles change the sonic performance of the venue, and the spectrum analyzer is used to determine how to set the sound system to compensate.

On the Colonial Viper cockpit instrument TV set, we see that the IVIE has been disassembled and built into a panel in the front left corner of the Viper cockpit. It has great visual appeal for TV, and it appears they connected it into the pre-recorded audio of CORA's voiceover actress to react to her speaking. It made for a great visual display, but best wishes trying to find one of these on eBay. They go for a lot of money and are very, very rare.

Here's some photos of the IVIE 10A in various states of disassemblement:

Well, that's about it for my walk thru the panels. I've had several people write in and tell me how great this is, can they buy full size prints, posters. I've had others write in and tell me where they thought my mistakes are, which is fine, I just don't always agree. One really neat girl wrote me and sent photos that she'd printed the panels off this page down really small and used them in her LEGOs Colonial Viper. I'll post those when I locate them again, I don't get rid of anything so they're here somewhere.

Several of you have written asking for my vector graphic files.
Please don't bug me about these; they aren't for sale and I won't give them to you either. They are the product of many hours of my labor of love. I have my reasons and that's enough. Draw your own panels, that's what I did.

Several professional model builders have told me that simply resizing and printing the images I've provided here will work quite nicely in the 1:32 vintage Colonial Viper Model. They also suggest using a 3M cement to keep the cardstock from wrinkling, and glue them down to Styrene sheets like you find on plastic signs or balsa or other wood strips you can buy at your local hobby shop supply. I've also glued larger prints of these to balsa pieces I cut with an Xacto knife for a larger scale cockpit model, and it works well, very attractive. This will also relieve your brain: Printing these vectors at 1:32 contains so many tiny fine lines that it will appear on your 600dpi or 1200dpi printer as a lot of blurred lines, it's better to print the jpg's believe me.

For those of you who have not bought a Viper model yet, the new re-release one has a much-improved cockpit window set which is clear and a scale cockpit and pilot. It's nice and much less effort than trying to build a 1/32 scale cockpit for a vintage Viper model.

Ok, that's it for this! Thanks for looking!