Thursday, February 14th, 2008

Video Update of Home Cockpit (Simpit) Progress

The build on my home cockpit has gone really well in the last few weeks. At this point, everything is now up and running and I’m tweaking some of the different systems and settings. I’ve produced a brief video (below) showing the setup and highlighting the major design features. The video is quite general and in the future I will be posting much more detailed segments on specific aspects of the system and any future expansions.

The text below after the video is a transcript of the descriptions in the video:

Switches and Buttons
The panel itself contains over 30 different switches and buttons for controlling all of the aircraft’s systems and navigation equipment. The overall layout of the panels is modeled after a Boeing 737; however, I made a number of significant alterations to suit my own personal preferences. All of the switch panels are backlit with amber colored lighting to allow for easy operation at night. Some of the switches also feature additional backlit status lighting. For example, this display illuminates a red parking brakes indicator when the parking breaks are activated and the landing gear display also features notations to indicate when the landing gear is deployed.

Flight Controls
The primary flight control input is a Saitek ProFlight Yoke. Throttle, spoilers and flap controls are provided by the three axis throttle control that comes packaged with the yoke in the ProFlight system. Rudder and brake controls are provided by a set of flight pedals also from Saitek. Finally, the Z-rotation axis from an old sidewinder joystick is currently being used to control the nose wheel steering whilst taxiing. The foot pedals can also be used for steering, as is the case with some small aircraft, but the additional joystick provides an input closer to that found with hand crank steering input on a commercial jet.

Flight and Instrument Displays

All of the flight displays are provided by a combination of Flyware’s FsXPand and FsClient suite. FsXPand, working in conjunction with Peter Dowson’s FSUIPC, functions as a server to distribute aircraft gauge readings and system information across a standard computer network (see links below for the relevant sites). Other computers on the network can then run another program, called FsClient, to receive this data and display it in the form of navigation displays and electronically generated gauges. The displays and gauges in my cockpit consist of two LCD flatpanel monitors positioned behind strategically placed openings in the cockpits structure. All of the aircraft’s systems are covered including the autopilot, radios and navigation gauges. This allows for the primary display from Microsoft Flight Simulator to be fully reserved for showing the ‘out the window’ view without any on screen panels or gauges.

Behind the Scenes

The entire cockpit setup was built with wood and then painted a grey-blue color to resemble the painted metal panels of the Boeing 737 cockpit. Wood is much easier to work with than metal panels and is my material of choice for cockpit building. Here you can see the rear of the main cockpit display with the two LCD panels and wiring for many of the switches. The switches interface with the flight simulator computer through a keyboard hack using the controller chip from an old keyboard I had lying around up in the attic. The controller board was removed from the old keyboard with the original key inputs removed and and replaced with a terminal strip that simplifies the process of making connections from all the switches around the cockpit.

Check FlightSimulationGuru.com in the future for a much more detailed description of how this chip was integrated into the project, but briefly… The controller chip translates a simple signal pulse from the terminal strip into a single keystroke. This setup works fine for a momentary pushbutton switch; however, many of the controls within the cockpit are toggle switches that operate in a constant off or on state. This presents a challenge because flipping a toggle switch would produce a constant signal, rather than a pulse, and would be equivalent to holding down a single key on the keyboard. To get around this issue, simple relay circuits were wired up for each toggle switch consisting of a reed relay and capacitor to produce a pulse of a few milliseconds each time the toggle switch is flipped on or off. These circuits are powered by a 9V battery and it’s very important that the circuit is wired up correctly or else the voltage from the relay control circuit could damage either your controller board or computer’s motherboard.

Finally, the backlighting for the panels is provided by amber LEDs positioned behind each panel. In the future, I will also be producing a much more detailed guide for how I built my panels using inexpensive materials available from your local hardward and office supply stores so be sure to check back at the website again soon.

Well that’s a brief overview of my setup at the moment. I will be producing more updates in the future with a lot more details for each of the setups systems and design elements so be sure to check back again soon!

Relevant Links
Flyware’s FsXPand and FsClient
FSUIPC
Saitek

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6 Comments on “Video Update of Home Cockpit (Simpit) Progress”

  1. Dominic

    Hey its actually called True altitude, which is AGL (Above Ground Level)and indicated altitude which is MSL (Mean Sea Level), instead of altitude and radar altitude but no worries lol

  2. Dominic

    Ooops wrong comment page link sorry man, but hey nice job with the simulator, I am interested in building one myself. I have my Private Pilots license and im currently workin on commercial and IFR
    ratings at UND. +]


  3. Dominic,

    Thanks for the clarification (I’ve posted a note at the end of the corresponding article) and comments and congrats on your license. I’m looking to start working towards flying in the real world at some point in the next year ;-). Simulators are fun, but its never a substitute for the real thing.

    — Nick

  4. Don Ho

    I’m really interested in seeing the tutorial on how to set up the keyboard controller. Any idea when it might be available?

  5. Darklandz

    Hi, nice job, i’m also interested in how to make the keyboard controller work with normal switches.

  6. Jesus

    Good work.!!! I want to know how did you do the front panels… exact the labels for the switches that have the name with the funtion… are black with white texts but the permit show the light… what material did you use… and where did you print these???… Thank you.

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