This is probably the most common question I’m asked about the simulator I built, with many of these questions originating from my related YouTube video.
Most people seem to assume that I spent some silly sum putting this thing together, but that’s simply not true. The truth is that this project was mostly about recycling a lot of older electronics and materials that were just lying around. It’s true that I did spend a decent sum building a high-end gaming computer for FSX. However, outside this computer and the flight controls (purchased from Saitek) the simulator itself only cost about $150.
Probably one of the most common questions I’ve received via comments, PMs and e-mail is ‘so how to you use standard toggle switches with a keyboard hack’?
I won’t go into too much detail about the keyboard hack here (and there are plenty of other websites that described it in detail), but the basic principle is that you find an old keyboard and remove the controller chip inside. When you press a key on the keyboard, the key squishes together two conductive surfaces printed onto layers of plastic. These conductive lawyers are arranged in lines across a grid-like pattern. Each key corresponds to a unique set of coordinates in this grid. For example, pushing down the ‘A’ key might have the coordinates A1-B3 corresponding to the A1 and B3 pins on the controller chip.
There are generally three different ways to figure out the ‘map’ for the controller chip (eg which combination of coordinates equals which keys).
– Search the web and see if someone else has mapped the same chip (long shot)
– Carefully trace the the lines on the conductive layers to figure out each key’s coordinates (possible, but likely to give you a huge headache)
– Test out each combination of pins by systematically crossing each combination from the two sets of pins
The third method is probably the quickest and easiest. Generally I will just make a grid pattern (with the top and side corresponding to the two sets of pins on the chip). Small wires can be placed onto the pins and then quickly tapped together to simulate the pressing of a key. If you have a word processing program open, you’ll quickly be able to see which pin combinations correspond to which letters. Some, such as ‘shift’ or ‘ctrl’ won’t be obvious, but just ignore any combinations that don’t produce a letter or number response (as you generally won’t need that many different keys to map).
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:
There has been progress in a number of areas with the project. For one, I recently started building the desktop simulator cockpit. I’m looking forward to not having to use the keyboard for most controls! The goal of this build is to construct a ‘cockpit’ that can be moved onto my desktop for use with FSX. It needs to be big enough to contain realistic looking displays and controls, but not so big that it’s obnoxious and can move it away when I use my desktop computer for other things. The general layout is based on the Boeing 737-800, although I’m not trying to make an exact replica and am making some changes as needed to suit the project as needed. There will be a very abbreviated overhead panel (lights, seatbelts and basic engine controls) that will attach to the main structure although the layout of this is still being designed.
Another major goal is to keep costs to a minimum and recycle old bits from around the house as much as possible. I’m happy to incorporate some old computers I had lying around into running the display panels. Those displays, by the way, will be running FsClient and FsXPand from Flyware Simulation. Continue »