July, 2011

I don't believe it.  All of the primary construction is complete!  Now that it is a thousand degrees outside here in Arizona, I have spent some time inside doing assembly and lots of soldering to get to this point.  No more measuring, cutting, cursing, re-cutting, painting, and installing.

I also have all of the switches wired up to the panel connectors.  Now the next step is to make and install the wiring runs between the panels and the programming boards.  Sigh, I'm getting tired of soldering everything.  I ended up with 235 selectable switch positions split between toggles, buttons, dials and rotary switches.  I also have a couple of small sub-assemblies left, like the ejection handles, but those should be fairly simple compared to everything else.

Main Panel

The center of it is a 23" touchscreen running Helios.  All of the gauges on the touch screen work and reflect what is going on in the game (in this case DCS A-10C).  I put a bezel over the top of the touchscreen to allow me to mount the TM MFDs over the top of the screen and to give it some depth.  By using Helios, I can then present the game MFD images directly behind the functional TM MFDs.  It's really cool to see it in action! 

All of the buttons and switches on the touch screen work with the game.  The center part of the panel actually has several screens that I can flip through showing me other parts of the sim cockpit, like the main computer and defensive systems.  I also have several of the checklists available through the center screen.  They are interactive, so as I peform the action (say turn on the main battery), an indicator lights on the checklist showing me I have completed that step.  It's really handy for long or complicated procedures.

Right Console

This is the right console.  It opens like a car door so that I don't have to step over the console, risking damage to the cockpit when I trip over it.  Notice I said when... not if.

Down the road there will be another touch screen in that blank spot in the middle of the console.  This is where I will use Helios to put my radio stack and CDU/nav computer stuff.  Right now, all of those live as a selectable panel in the center portion of the main touch screen.

Upper Right

This is the right front panel.  There is some expansion space on the main panel shown here for any future sims I don't already have covered.  Remember that this is a generic, multi-sim pit.  It isn't modeled after any one particular aircraft or car.  I have relocated the power and reset buttons from the PC that runs the pit, along with the power and HDD LEDs.  There is also a blank face plate that covers space for a DVD drive... if I ever decide to relocate it out of the PC.  Not sure I need to as most of the sims don't require the DVD to be in the tray to play them anymore.  It may end up being an expansion panel. 

You can also see a set of 4 selector switches marked CAR, A/C, & SIDETOUCH.  This is a switchable USB hub, that I use to switch between car and plane modes in the cockpit.  This is so I don't have extra controllers enabled when I don't need them (say a steering wheel while flying).It will also enable the side touch screen once it is installed. 

Left Console

This is the left side panel.  It also houses the throttle set.  You'll notice a gap on the left side.  That is to allow the center part of the panel (with the throttle assembly, jettison switches, and engine controls/emergency systems panel) to rotate to the left, exposing the space where the future helicopter collective will go... once I build it.  That black post supports the keyboard.  It pivots on the swing arm in the picture.  The keyboard tray also rotates on the pole, making it flexible enough to rotate into a useable position when you need it, or to just be pushed out of the way when you don't.  It's also very stable on that thick post.  The panel in the lower left corner of this picture is the primary power bus panel... lot's of toggles huh?  Speaking of toggles, all of the toggle switches in the pit are momentary or sprung load to return to center.  This was a decision I made that allows for faster resetting of the cockpit between flights... or crashes... whatever. 

Upper Left

This is the left front panel.  Being that I was using momentary toggles, it made it a challenge to have three position toggles like they do in some of the aircraft I like to fly.  So, I substituted rotary swtiches for some of them, or relocated those controls into the touch screen area.  I made all of the knobs for the rotaries and dials by casting clear resin copies of some sample Boeing knobs I was able to get.  This helped keep my cost down, and should facilitate backlit indicators on the knobs once I get around to backlighting the entire cockpit... one day. 

I also found a cheap way to make the switch guards like those on the gear lever panel.  They are small U-bolts with T-nuts on them.  Each one costs around .75 cents to make, as opposed to $6.00 for a real one!  Yes, I am frugal. My wife says its being cheap... but I like to think of it as being cost effective.  It leaves me more money for beer... mmmmm... beer!

Center Mounted Stick

This is the base of my center mounted joystick.  Because this pit converts into a car sim as well, I need the stick to be easily removed, but rock solid when it was in place.  This mounting gave me lots of flexibility in the height adjustment of the new Warthog stick.  The angled wooden base slides into some slots on the front edge of the seat, and then some clasps connect that lock it in place.  

Center Mounted Stick 2

I remoted a power USB hub to the seat front to make connection into the system a breeze.  The wiring for the USB hub, along with speaker cables for the two rear surround sound speakers mounted by the headrest and for the sub woofer mounted under the seat, all run into the floor under the seat, coming back up into the right pedestal.  

Presto Chango!

After removing the joystick I can pull a pin on the dash and swing the center touch screen panel out of the way, revealing the steering wheel.  It pulls out of the hidden cave in the center panel and locks into place.  It has it's own keyboard as the main one is now obscured behind the touchscreen.  I currently have an old Saitek PCDash2 doing duty in car mode, but it will be replaced by a custom switch panel and touch screen down the road.  I will probably pattern it after a BMW dashboard, being that they are the best cars in the world!  (notice the car on the desktop!)

The Seat

I made the seat from scratch, based very loosely on an ACES II ejection seat.  I made the seat cushions from scratch using high density foam and some really rugged fabric I found. I felt a bit like an dork wandering around the fabric store looking for the right material... but whatever, the result was worth it.  It's pretty comfortable too, but I wish I had made the bottom cushion a little bit thicker... it gets a little tough on my behind after about 90 minutes.  I'll probably remake that cushion down the road.  Until then it gives me a good excuse to get up and stretch my legs once in awhile.  Like maybe to go get another adult beverage!