Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What's been going on?

Not a lot. Work, travel and other distractions have kept me out of the build for some time now. There is a little progress to report but nothing compared to my mate from Hobart, who is simply knocking out his sim in short order. More from him here:

Since flying the more realistic sim in Sydney, I've been obsessing about the look and feel of the yoke. On my set up, it neither looks nor feels like the "real thing", or best I can tell from my go on the more professionally turned out rig. The decision was made to replace what I have with one from Routech. They also offer the yoke with a more realistic looking neck than the big plastic electrical box I have on mine. Not only does it look more the part, it obstructs less of the PFD, a handy thing to have when you're on short final.

On one of my trips to Europe I arranged to pick up a new yoke from Routech. I'll spare you, Dieter (from Routech) and my colleagues based in Germany the whole story of what happened. In brief, when I arrived at our office and unwrapped the device, I was disappointed to see that it was defective - hairline cracks along both of the arms:

Everything else though seemed functional and the feel was much more solid. No problem, Routech agreed to swap this one out for a replacement. I picked it up on my last trip of the year to Germany and was much happier with the finish. One or two tiny blemishes but at this point I'm nit picking.

Of bigger concern was the comms (or push to talk) switch on the left hand side - it was completely seized up. Dieter has a replacement one in the mail to me... The neck comes with a sprocket and bicycle chain to connect up with a potentiometer presumably in the base of the control column. I'll need to re-engineer my set up - will be thinking of how best to do this in the coming weeks/months. May swap out the bike chain for something smaller and lighter that I can conceal in the neck itself.

For those of you who have been struggling with Project Magenta (and let's face it, it isn't the most robust, easy to use software and lord knows they charge enough for it...) there may be a better, cheaper alternative, ProSim737. Ian Sissons has been testing it and reports great results. Since it supports all of my hardware (according to this chart), I decided to give it a try. I've ordered a copy - will let you know my experience in a future post.

Anyway, I'm still working on the sideboard for the wife, it's in bits in my workshop. This will be the priority in the new year - will knock it out in January/February then back to the sim build. An early new year's resolution for you.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Got the display card blues

On the road again but have time to report some recent misadventure with my display cards in the main flight computer. My idea is to drop in 2 SLI capable video cards with 2 DVI display ports each, bridge the 2 cards and hook up my 3 projectors, leaving a spare port for misc maintenance. Since I purchased an EVGA 470 GTX card last year, I thought I'd just buy another and be done. For SLI to work, the processors (and probably the cards) need to be the same.
Vendor of choice (as always) is Amazon. One of their subsidiaries (Universal Media) shipped me the card. It sat in my closet for a couple or months and I finally got around to installing it recently. If you're looking for a review of Universal Media - read on!

Thought I'd install the card and run a test before bridging the 2 together. Just as well - the card malfunctioned. No worries, Amazon has an excellent return policy. Not so fast they told me, take it up with Universal Media. I did. Universal told me it was my problem since I had failed to notify them within their 30 days return policy. Nice move block heads. If I see their name on any purchase through Amazon again, I will be sure to shop elsewhere.

Got on the phone to EVGA and they could not have been more helpful and straightforward. When I told them  the card was a direct swap for an identical one, that the old card worked and the new card didn't, the guy figured me for someone who knew what he was doing and didn't ask me to check the power cord, display cable, download the latest driver etc. Within an hour or so a return order was created and I shipped the card back to them for review. While I've been on the road, they have already shipped out a replacement - my good neighbor John picked it up off my doorstep for safe keeping.

On my return, I'll be putting in a quality weekend of effort in the workshop - that is if the German air traffic controllers don't strike on Wednesday. As I said to Dirk today, real life keeps getting in the way of us trying to simulate it...

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Vacation report - Sydney

in Australia wrapping up a vacation for me, part business for the missus. Checked into a hotel in Sydney on Monday, walked outside and right into a fixed based sim in a shopping mall.

You can check out the facility here:

First impression was the place will never make money! Popped in to see what was going on and apart from a bloke working the desk, nothing. He asked if I'd like to look in and of course I agreed. What I saw was a full cockpit with a couple of jump seats for observers, wrap around screen - all looked good. We were heading out for dinner and since the bloke was now talking to someone on the phone, I decided to come back another day.
Big mistake. Turns out the sim is fully booked out and I just happened to catch them when no one was in it. Sure enough, the outlook was not promising that I would get a flight. The bloke I met briefly the first night (who I will now call Blake, since that is his name...) kindly offered to keep the place open for me an hour after they would normally close. I was on for a 9:00pm flight Wednesday night!

I've flown in the presence of others a couple of times and found it a bit daunting. This time I'd be doing it in a sim I wasn't familiar with, alongside someone who knew his stuff. Blake told me later that he is qualified to fly the real deal - I'd need to be on my game. I planned a simple flight, take off from KSFO, out towards Oakland then Point Reyes for return to 28L (I chose to fly the ILS approach).

Wednesday night rolled around and I walked down to the sim center. Since someone was finishing up his turn, I got to read through some operations manuals Blake helpfully provided. I told him I was building my own sim and was interested in what software they were using. Turns out the sim was built by a New Zealand company called Pacific Simulations Limited

From a software standpoint, FS2004 and Project Magenta were deployed. The display system was made up of 3 projectors with a wrap around screen. No details on the hardware although the manual talked about 8 computers in use. I asked if a behind the scenes tour was possible, as I found out later there wasn't a lot to see. More on this in the post flight debrief.

Also in the ops manual were "5 golden rules" for the operators of the sim. Rules 1 and 2 were along the lines of "do what the customer wants to do" and "don't let them crash". This put my mind at ease a little - this wasn't to be a check ride.

Into the cockpit. While Blake sorted out the airport and runway, I banged the short flight plan into the FMC. We both screwed up - he put me on 19R (I asked for 1R, at least I think I did - maybe nerves got to me) meaning a 180 degree turn after take off to get me over to Oakland. I jumped the gun in putting in the STAR for 28L which deleted the rest of my flight plan.... With the clock ticking, I got the plan entered again.

First impressions:

  • The yoke has a much more solid feel than mine does
  • Moving the control column required more force than mine and seemed to have a great range of travel
  • The control column seemed low. Blake explained that it was intentionally about an inch and a half shorter, since most customers found regular height obscured the PFD
  • The control column is linked to the first office side, not something I have. Also it has something akin to force feedback - I feel this really adds to the realism
  • The CDU had a different tactile feel to mine... not sure which I prefer. I think the display is easier to read on mine (Engravity)
  • The flight model seemed more responsive than mine
  • Their TQ is very smooth - it doesn't make the same racket mine does
  • There was some kind of "butt kicker" vibration device hooked up. It added realism and is now on my "must add" list
Took off, made the 180 degree turn and got the plane into straight and level flight. Engaged the AP and took a breather. 

Blake was very helpful, calling out the flap settings, gear commands, speed settings etc. I didn't feel like I was being manhandled through the whole process, I felt he gauged my capabilities quite quickly and was being a true help in the experience. I picked up a number of flying tips from him that will enhance my skills and pleasure as I fly my own sim.

Onto final, Blake suggested the appropriate speeds, flaps etc. We both struggled to get the sim to stay on VOR LOC and APP, same experience I have at home. That was interesting, along with the changing altitudes the FMC called for on the approach waypoints (Project Magenta, I hope you're reading this and get it sorted out). Nice to see that even in a "professional" sim, we all suffer from the PM bug fest.

At 1000 feet I took manual control and made what I think was a pretty good landing. That cheered me up!

Decided that it didn't make a lot of sense flying the sim purely in autopilot mode. Blake set me up for some circuits, departing 28R. I'd hand fly from here on in. I think this is where I learned the most. Blake was very good at keeping me honest with the bank angles and the turning radius, when to pull out of the turn etc. It was a bit of workout holding the back pressure on the control column, while trying to make coordinated turns and leaning over the TQ to grab the gear lever etc. Came back around for a touch and go.

This is where I had a bit of an epiphany. Even though the sim sits on a fixed base, I swear the thing was moving as I turned into the bank! That's the power of the immersive visuals and the effect of looking out of the cockpit window! To get this feeling at home, I know that not only will I need to get the external visuals working (and I'm really motivated to get this done now), I will also need to build the cockpit enclosure...

It also occurs to me that I should probably build out the first officer side too. The enclosure will look a bit  odd if it ends on the center panel. Oh joy - I'll be taking the whole thing apart again. I may also look at having a more realistic yoke with more accurate control column resistance and possibly force feedback. We'll see.

Anyway, back to the flying. On my first touch and go I think Blake may have helped me out a bit with the nose attitude. He gave the column a nudge and got me back on the glide slope. Touched down, ran out along the runway then gave it full throttle for a screaming pass over the poor folk who have the misfortune of living in Daly City.

Back around the circuit for a full stop landing, taxied out using the tiller handle. And with that, my 45 minutes were over.

According to Blake, the sim flies quite similar to a real 737. There are some important differences, some of the systems are inop and the visuals are not that superb. Pixilation and blocky graphics were very noticeable, especially on short final. Apparently they have a high definition projection system on order. I think (nay I hope...) that my projectors will provide a better experience. It was definitely a distraction.

Understandably, Blake was in a hurry to get home. He gave me a quick look in the back while he was powering everything down. Couldn't really see anything - the projection system was shrouded with a large blackout blanket.

Shake of the hand and a lock up of the store - I was done. It was truly a great time and I would recommend this to anyone building their own sim. The biggest eyeopeners were the difference in feel, the immersive experience and most importantly, time spent with someone who knows what they're doing. Blake told me that at this location, they only use instructors who are qualified pilots. To get 45 minutes of his time was worth it all. Wish I could do it again but they're full booked and I'm flying home for real on Saturday.

All food for thought. I'm determined to get more of the sim finished and to increase the realism.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Projectors ordered

Just placed the order for 3 Infocus (I hope they are...) IN146 projectors. According to my SketchUp 3D model, they should work out:

Link to the model is here (you'll need Google SketchUp to view it)

Wish me luck...

Monday, August 1, 2011

Pleased we got that covered

As you know, the build has been put on hold while I work on a built in sideboard for the missus. Before sawing through more lumber than I need to, I decided to draw up some plans in Google SketchUp (don't worry, we'll get back on point in a minute...). I've tried this "free" software in the past and found it a hassle to work with. Too mean to actually purchase some CAD software, I decided to give it another try.

I found an excellent set of instructional videos for SketchUp that are geared towards woodworkers. You can find them here. So if you want to use it to plan your build, I highly recommend it.

If you're interested in the sideboard design, here you go (drop me a line if you want me to send you the SketchUp file):

Now it got me thinking, maybe I could use SketchUp to plan the wrap around screen for the sim. Here's my first crack at it:

Note I still need to add the projectors on the ceiling and check for clearance/coverage but you get the idea. You can also see that I have very little clearance between the door and the right hand edge of the screen. The beauty of this approach is that I can move around the room in 3D to see what fits and what doesn't. I can get a visualization of what I'll see by putting the viewpoint where my head would be and by panning from left to right. What's also apparent is that I'll need to move everything else out of the sim room to get the screen in. Well that will make me popular...

I did take some time out to make some covers for the center console, to fill the holes not taken by instruments. Decided to go with 1/4" plexi glass. First, I took a forstner bit and drilled out anchor points for DZUS. Then trimmed out the remainder with a Stanley knife. Now how to paint? Since the surfaces are polished, I knocked one side down with an orbital sander to scuff it up, to give the paint a surface to key into. I then sprayed with a plastic primer that provides excellent adhesion:

I can't say enough about this stuff. You really need to go to town on it to scratch it off the plastic:

A coat of latex paint later and here's the result:

Not that thrilled with the finish - I rushed it and rolled the paint on too thick, causing air bubbles to form and dry into the surface. Nothing for it - I'll need to buy a spray it is. Isn't she a beauty?

Well it's for the sideboard right? I watched a great review on this British built product at the Wood Whisperer web site. There are a lot of great tutorial videos here that I highly recommend.

Also had a visitor to the sim last week. My colleague Dirk was visiting from Sinsheim, home of the Tecknik museum if you ever find yourself there. Dirk has a lot of hours flying the standard FSX 737, so I threw a lot of new topics at him in a very short space of time. He was making a very good approach to SFO 28L, when everything went pear shaped on short final. He and his lucky passengers took an unexpected dip into the bay...

What I learned from this experience is that after a while we take so much of what we do for granted, we operate the plane instinctively rather than think about what we're doing. We amass so much knowledge and skill, we often overlook it. It's only when you see someone try to make that jump in a one hour session that you realize how much expertise we've developed.

My expertise will be spent on cabinet making for the next few weeks...

Monday, June 13, 2011

There and back twice

Back home after the aforementioned 2 trips to Europe. Second trip I got to fly on a Lufthansa A380 from San Francisco to Frankfurt. Impressions? Very nice! My key take aways:

  • Much quieter than a 747. You can hear conversations of others around you (not always a good thing)
  • Lufthansa has a cool feature where you can select one of 3 camera angles to watch on the plane in action: one in the belly looking straight down, one in the nose looking forward and one in the tail plane looking down over the aircraft. Not sure if all 380s have this but it was fun to watch what was going on (although the day I flew it was mainly cloudy the whole way over). With the tail plane view you could easily see the spoilers deploy on landing. Cool
  •  The "nice view" moving map is enhanced and much better than anything I've seen so far. In one shot, you get to see a simulated view of the cockpit and the view out the windows:

  • I was sitting right over the wing in economy. On the ground you couldn't really see the wing tip. In the air, the wing lifts up and you can see it. On landing it droops down again
  • In general a much greater sense of space in the cabin than I've experienced in 747s
Back to what this blog is all about...

Since I was in Amsterdam, what trip would be complete without a run out to Aviation Megastore? I picked up a tiller handle from Open Cockpits:
It's solidly constructed, has a nice feel to it and is self centering. Also snagged a couple of brightness boosters for my master and fire warning switches:
Saves me messing around trying to fit an LED into the bulb holder... Also picked up a copy of Aerosoft's Frankfurt airport scenery add on. And why not? I seem to be spending a lot of time at "Fra Port". As the wife says, on the way to heaven you'll need to change planes in Frankfurt, get parked at a remote stand and take a ride on one of their buses. 

No build report although I did tweak some configuration settings per this guide:
Happy to report increased frame rate and a smoother flying experience. More later, post side board build...

Sunday, May 22, 2011

What I did on the day after the world didn't end

Home briefly. Somewhat concerned that the world was going to end last night so didn't make any special plans. Woke up to the same world I fell asleep in last night, at least I think so...

Today I treated myself to just flying the sim - what a concept. I did want to check a couple of aspects of the TQ to make sure the checklist is complete. I'm happy to report, all is good. Specifically:
  • The spoilers automatically deploy on landing
  • The reverse thrusters are fully operational
I spent a bit of time tweaking the configuration on the rudder pedals in FSUIPC. The handling is much better now I have it calibrated there. For the life of me though I can't get the right brake pedal working, even though it's showing up correctly in FSUIPC. I'll need to do a spot of RTFing on that.

Here's a better photo of what the rig looks like now:

Must admit, quite encouraged today - will get back into the build later in the summer. Next up though is another 2 trips to Europe in the next 3 weeks (don't ask...), first departs Thursday night. Also must get cracking on the sideboard the wife wants me to make, otherwise the external visuals will be a none starter...

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Cleared for take off - a checklist

Spent an hour on Skype with Oral from Revolution Simproducts on Saturday morning, bright and early for me. He identified and corrected a number of problems for me:
  • In the config screen I had selected "Pro-line" as my TQ. This is because I had purchased a Pro-line. Apparently this should only be selected for "a handful of customers who were shipped a custom TQ". Instead I should have selected "Motorized"
  • I was running the PMDG version of the RS interface software, since the Project Magenta one wasn't functioning. I should have selected the PM version
  • Oral reprogrammed the custom SIOC script he had provided months ago
Process took a little over an hour, very timely since I had to head out. Result?:
  • AT disconnect button working? Check
  • Reverse thrusters working? Check
  • TOGA button working? Check
  • Smooth operation of both throttles? Check
Of course Oral reminded me to smile! Which if course, I was. I think we've ironed out all of the problems now, I just need to test auto deployment of the speed brake on landing. Sadly, I took off for another business trip to Europe (from where I'm filing my report). Will perform a full shake down test on my return.

I may finally be a happy Revolution Simproducts customer!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Between flights

Home briefly from Europe - I head out again on Sunday. During my brief stay on PDT, I was able to fit in a visit from a fellow sim builder, Gianluca and the lovely Linda. This marks the first time someone has looked over the build, other than peering at my poor attempts at photography via this very blog. I'll admit I was anxious.

One item Gianluca was particularly interested in was the Revolution Simproducts TQ. I wanted him to see it at its best so I again started up my request for support from RS. The basic functions are working but not the TOGA buttons, reverse thrusters, AT disconnect. A couple of other problems where the throttles move out of sync and clicks off the AT or the lights flicker because of a USB cable that needs to be wiggled into just the right position have also been driving me bonkers.

I'll be the first to recognize the issue with the time difference between San Francisco and Istanbul/Paris. It isn't rocket science to figure it out though. Despite this, the crew at RS failed to make 2 appointments in 2 consecutive days with me, over Skype. My email expressing how disappointed I am in their after sales service and would they take the unit back for a full refund has gone unanswered. If you're looking for a review of Revolution Simproducts before buying, pay attention and drop me a note if you want more details.

Onto other preparations. I screwed everything down onto the base your saw built in the last post. That would be the MIP, TQ, pedestal, rudder pedals, everything except the chair. Remember the wheels I put on the front to make it easier to move the whole ensemble? No chance - even without the chair the build is too heavy to pick up at one end! Will need to rethink this. Also tidied up the room and vacuumed...

Dropped a line to the master of sim visits, Ian Sissons in the UK. First to thank him for posting a very comprehensive library of manuals etc. (you can see it here) and also (since he knows Gianluca) to share the news and my anxiety for the pending visit. As always Ian was quick on the reply with advice, sharing that he was taking a brief break for his sim to paint and decorate his living room and hallway. I fear I too will soon be getting caught up on the "honey do" list.

Gianluca and I have approached our builds from very similar design principles. He was very gracious with his comments on my efforts and gave some tips on how to tune up a couple of things. He patiently watched while I took off from KSFO, flew north for about 20 minutes then doubled back for a landing on 28R. Having failed to intercept the localizer, I took manual control and, given the pressure of a knowing observer, made not too bad a landing. A bit like a check ride. He declined a go himself so we returned to our ladies and wrapped up the evening.

While writing this post, Gianluca has snuck in there to comment on my pedestal build. You are too kind sir. Also while writing this post, just received an email from the team at RS suggesting we resolve the problems on Saturday morning my time - I'll let you know how it goes.

In previous posts you may remember me rattling on about seeing the aurora borealis from the airplane window, while flying over northern Canada and Greenland. I found this very interesting video taken from the window of an Air France jumbo. Enjoy, as hopefully I will on my next flight to Europe on Sunday.

On my return I'll be taking a break from the sim and will be building a sideboard for the dining room. You don't want to see photos of that? Surely not....

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Fixed base operations

Spurned by my fecklessness of last week (and another mostly rainy weekend in San Francisco) I resolved to get the base finished and moved upstairs to the sim room. Second attempt with the plywood worked out fine. Rather than go with 2 pieces, I cobbled it together from scraps in the shop and went with 3:
Next I stretched out a piece of cheap carpet over the assembled frame and nailed it to the underside. With the wife's strong back help, we lugged the beast up to the sim room (aka "his playroom" according to the missus):

Unseen in this photo are 2 large castors at the fore end of the base. The idea being if I need to move the whole ensemble around, I can lift the back end up and wheel it back and forth. I'll attach a couple of handles on the aft end to enable this. Probably will also be working out with weights 4 days a week to get in shape for this feat.

And here is the result:

A lot to do before I can get it operating. Next up I'll make covers for the unused space in the pedestal and will fabricate some j-rails for the chair. But wait I hear you say, Revolution Simproducts makes j-rails. Indeed they do. However, it will be a cold day in hell before I buy anything else from them. My last 2 emails regarding the defective TQ have gone unanswered. I'll need to put more energy into chasing them up. And if that is your idea of good time dear reader, caveat emptor.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Measure once, visit lumber yard twice

One of the wettest months of March I can remember will not stop. Feels more like South Shields than San Francisco... Upside though is that I'm "forced" to spend more time in the workshop.

The goal this weekend was to complete the base that the sim will sit on. Diehard followers of this blog (or newcomers motivated to plumb it's murky depths) will note I started this some time ago but was distracted by other things. Made from 2" X 4" dimensional lumber (a standard building material of everything from garden sheds to McMansions in the US), the idea was to raise the base up high enough to hide the control column mechanism and electronics. In case I need to remove the assembly for servicing, I want to have a snug, friction fit. Here it is in situ:
Note the plywood to the right - more on this later. Now another shot with the assembly removed, simply pulled straight up:

A lot of measuring went on between the MIP and the base to ensure the yoke would clear it when in full forward position. If only I had taken the same care when cutting the plywood that sits on top of the base... I had to make a cut out big enough to allow me to pull the control column assembly through. The idea being, I'd use the cut out to fit around the bottom of the column. I was off my precisely 1.5" all the way around, the exact dimension of the skinny side of a 2" x 4". Wait a minute, I thought you said it was a 2" X 4"? You can read why we don't get what we pay for here.

I'm too embarrassed to post a photo of my cock up.

Back to the lumber yard then! No, it's raining. To heck with it - early dinner, movie then bed.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Pedestal complete

Finished painting the pedestal this week. Here it is:
I just have the units sitting on top. No point mounting them with the DZUS until I have the base ready. It looks pretty cool though:

What else is going on? Ivar Hestnes has posted a great tutorial on how to plan for and build a wrap around screen. You can find it here. Also, he is recommending Warpalizer, software that not only warps an image on a wide screen, it blurs the edges of each projector image so that you can overlap and merge the images. This results in more of a seamless transition in the projected images, something I'm very interested in. Think I'll go with this approach.

First though I need to square away a few other bits and pieces. They are:
  • Get the Revolution Simproducts pedals working. Eren sent the missing nuts this week (don't ask...)
  • Complete the base and get the control column mounted at the correct height
  • Finish wiring up the replacement CPFlight card
  • Get the recently purchased Project Magenta instructor workstation set up on my work lap top (shh - don't tell...)
Not this weekend though - first need to spend some quality time with the missus.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Checkpoint Charlie

In Berlin this week on business. A fascinating city with lots of history. My first trip there and I was thoroughly impressed. As I was with my new colleagues, one of which is Dirk. His son, a sensible 8 year old, is interested in all things aeronautical and loves to fly the sim at the Sinsheim air museum.

One of my blog followers, Raik, came over to my hotel to exchange ideas and progress reports on our sim build outs. He yet again confirms my belief that most people in the sim building community are thoroughly decent types. And of course I was flattered that he went out of his way to meet with me.

The conversation alternated between his experience flying helicopter simulators (real ones) and the home built efforts we're involved in. He too is having problems with his Revolution Simproducts TQ. We're both struggling to get the reverse thrusters going and the TOGA functionality working. Will attempt to get Eren from RS on a Skype session this week, once I'm home.

Currently sitting in the Frankfurt airport for my flight back to San Francisco. More to come next week. Surely the paint on the pedestal is dry by now?

Tally ho.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

I got the bends

We Anoraks will sweat the smallest of details. For about a week now I've been pondering how to make the metal trim that fits around the pedestal. As previously reported, my workshop is set up for woodworking, not metal working. In terms of fashioning metals, I have limited experience (I once made a coat hook in Mr. Clack's metalworking class when I was 12...) and few of the right tools. I spent some time in the evenings last week figuring out how to go about it and running through some spare material to test my ideas.

My goal is to make the trim out of one piece of 2 inch aluminum bar, 1/8 inch thick with 2 X 90 degree bends and some fancy cut work. Since I could only find an eight foot length, I had some spare to waste in experiments. My aim here is to make 2 perfect 90 degree angles with no distortion to the bar. In other words, all sides have to be straight and flat after putting the bends in.

First test was to put a piece in the small bench vice I have, then bend it manually. The result wasn't that impressive:

The radius is too much and the side that wasn't in the vice has lost its straightness. To reduce the radius, I knew I'd need to remove some material. At this point, if he's reading this I'd advise my mate Nick (a master craftsman) to skip down to the end - he'll be horrified to see what I'm about to share with you...

My tool of choice to remove the material is a router with a carbide bit. The aluminum is a softer metal, the carbide should be able to cut through it ok. What I didn't want to do was make a deep cut in one go. To facilitate multiple shallow cuts, I built a simple jig. It's a bit of scrap wood where I've dadoed out a grove that is the exact width and depth of the aluminum bar, as shown here with the bar in place:

Running perpendicular to the wood, I've screwed in a couple of scrap bits of plastic, to act as a guide for the router:
Making a number of shallow cuts, I cut through about three quarters of the stock. When finished I simply bent the bar in 2 by hand. Result, a perfect 90 degree angle that lasted for all of 10 seconds. I flexed the thing back a little (since I'd gone further than 90 degrees) and it fell apart in my hands:

I'd cut too much out. A second attempt using a shallower cut (about half way down) and bending it in the vice resulted in a more sturdy, perfect 90 degree angle.

Saturday arrived and it was pouring down with rain. Great I thought, a full uninterrupted day in the workshop! "Not so fast" spoke the missus. It's time for that other great indoor sport that Americans enjoy at this time of year, yes you guessed it, prepare the tax return... Well if nothing else it gave me the incentive to get it done and out the way, since the next thing I was obsessing about was how to make the narrowed end of the trim.

The trim is a full 2 inches at the rear but at the front it goes down to 1 inch for about 7 inches in length. I want the thinner end to be as parallel as the thicker. My cutting tool options are limited. I opted for a jigsaw with a metal cutting blade. To stop the aluminum bar from flapping around, I screwed it down onto a scrap piece of 3/4 inch plywood. To make a parallel cut, I screwed in a fence guide for the jigsaw to push up against:

I then clamped the ensemble to the end of my workbench. Here's a shot with the jigsaw in action:

Result, a perfect straight line.

As for the angled cut, I just eyeballed it and cut it freehand:

Not bad eh? Repeated the operation on the other end. I purposely left the 2 ends a little longer than needed - I will cut them down later to get the exact dimension.

Back to the cabinet, I cut a dado all the way around the top to accommodate the metal trim. My goal is to have the trim run flush with the sides of the cabinet. Here's what it looks like:

A dry fit with the bar shows the challenge ahead - how to get the 2 X 90 degree bends in and still keep the whole thing flush to the sides:

I marked where the first bend was going in and made the cuts with the router:
Ok Nick, you can start reading again...

Now to make the first bend. I wrapped the jaws of the vice with thick pipe tape to prevent the surface of the aluminum bar from being marred. I then placed the bar in the vice vertically and clamped a piece of scrap to the end of the bar I will be bending. The pre-bend ensemble looks like this:

Here's what it looked like after pulling down on the wood/bar combo - not bad at all:
I put it back on the cabinet for another dry fit. Looking good. I made the mark for the second bend and started worrying. What if my mark is off by a fraction? Metal is a lot more unforgiving than wood. If I cuff up the second bend, it's back to the hardware store and start all over again on the fabrication. To hell with it - second bend went as smooth as the first.

Result? It fit perfectly! Oh you can believe there was some celebration tonight - rarlely does anything come together so well but my goodness it did. Next, I used a 220 grit fine sander to work out all of the saw cut marks and rounded off the cut edges. Screwed it in place and chopped off the over cuts. How does it look? Like this:
Ready for a little more filling, primer and paint. Now though, sleep. A sleep where I won't be waking up through the night panicking about those bends....

Monday, February 14, 2011

Back pedalling on the pedestal

This weekend I finally got to chat real time with a fellow sim builder (and blog follower), Gianluca. A great opportunity to compare notes (although I was doing most of the asking) and to swap ideas on design. Since his and my build are so similar in approach, we have a lot in common. In the conversation Gianluca offered up his opinion that I must be a perfectionist. I never thought so but then....

Spent any free time I had yesterday redoing the rails on the pedestal. I wasn't happy with the way the holes were lining up (see last post). Drilling bigger holes in the CPflight modules wouldn't have worked since the fake DZUS have very little wiggle room (almost none) in the face plates. My approach was to remove the rails and replace with fresh ones, mask off the units, place each on the rails in turn, drill through the face plates, tap and secure each one before moving onto the next. Given how fragile the paint is, I used a masking tape designed for such, so when you pull it off, it doesn't take the paint with it.
Then to the drill press where I very carefully drilled each hole, through the face plate of each unit. I drilled very slowly to minimize the swarf. Sometimes it can stuck on the drill bit and with it lashing around, it can strip off paint in an instant. Vigilance was key, as was the shop vac on standby to vacuum up any debris.

My plan was to shove the front units up against the MDF, get those seated then push the others up right behind. I quickly discovered though that the units still were not properly aligned! What is going on? Quick check with a set square revealed that the cabinet sides are not an accurate 90 degrees from the ends. Wouldn't normally be a big deal but with the tight tolerances of the metal work, you can see any misalignment. I wasn't about to rebuild the whole thing so I compromised with the next row of units. I set them at 90 degrees to the sides and left a small gap between them and the first row. I guess I'm not that much of a perfectionist..

Here's the finished result:

Good enough for me. Much better than it was. Although the sharp eyed of you will notice a little missing paint on the ADF. Even with masking tape for delicate jobs - beware.

I've received a couple of kind comments about the pedestal. I should acknowledge Rudy's design work, I took the idea and dimensions from here.

I should also acknowledge the comment from Rhydian about the qualities of MDF and that it can be dangerous to work with. According to this site the biggest threats are the formaldehyde leakage and the fine dust. I always wear a quality dust mask when working with the stuff and seal the finished article inside and out with primer as a minimum. Suggest you do likewise.

All for now. Will work on the metal trim and paint this week - honest I will.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Pedestal Progress

Some pics of the pedestal build out for you. Here it is during a dry fit with the TQ etc:
The ah, Captain's chair you see there is temporary - trust me. The case is made of MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard), devil to work with but sands really smooth and is stable. The units are sitting on aluminum angle brackets that are screwed and epoxy glued into the side and on the 2 center supports. I covered the rails with masking tape, set the units down on top and marked where the holes should be drilled:

And here's where you see my cock up. My brainwave was to cut 2 dados in the back and front to slide the center supports into. The idea being that this would ensure they would be perfectly parallel to each other and that I could easily adjust the height of the supports to have all rails be nice and level. As you can see, I put the dados in on the wrong side of the mark I made. Doh! Hence the added strip of MDF nailed to the top of the sliders. Once it's covered up you'll never see it, I was cross with myself anyway and too lazy to redo the end pieces.

You'll also notice the bit of metal I have on the back, where the fire handles go and the whole thing backs up to the TQ. It's from an old laserdisc player that had seen better days. It also has this cool sticker on the back which I of course saved (what an anorak!):

I made a small rabbet to keep the whole thing flush. Another construction photo for you that simply shows how the sides of the case are nailed to support members inside:

All the nail holes and small gaps have been filled with Bondo. Now a word about drilling the holes for the mounting screws. Even with a hefty drill press and being as accurate as I could be, the tolerances on these units from CPFlight are very tight. The supplied bolts are about the same size as the holes in the units themselves. In my final dry fit before painting, I can see that the drilled and tapped holes in the aluminum strip don't always quite match up with the holes in the units, like this:
The solution is for me to drill bigger holes in the some of the CPFlight units, not something I'm thrilled about of course. Note to CPFlight, make the holes bigger so we don't have to.

Wife heads out today for a 10 day business trip in Europe - I'll be putting more hours in on the sim. Next up, paint the pedestal and get the base finished.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Revolution Simproducts TQ: Progress - slowly but surely

Having re-installed FSX and the Accelerator add on, I spent some time yesterday checking out the Revolution Simproducts TQ. It's coming together. After calibrating the TQ one more time and running the PMDG TQ software from RS (instead of the Project Magenta one - apparently it needs more work), I was able to get the thrust lever moving. Especially rewarding when you press the N1 button and you see the levers move forward and the engines spool up. Also a joy to be hauling away on a proper flaps lever and not pressing F7 or F6 on a keyboard...

Levers are working, as is the spoiler and engine cutoff switches. Still to get working are the TOGA buttons, reverse thrusters, AT disconnect and spoiler deployment on landing. I await further instructions.

Also last night hooked up all of the CP Flight radio units etc. MIP board and the fire handles. They are looking superb although I'm struggling to get the power connection to the MIP board working. Instead I'm forced to run power through the MCP, however I understand with so many units daisy chained, you're better off with power on the board. Will keep you informed on this one too.

Off on a brief business trip tomorrow - can't wait to get home to finish off the pedestal.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Mini weekend post

Started Saturday bright and early on a call with Eren from Revolution Simproducts and Ian Sissons. I really appreciate the time they spent with me to get the TQ going. We ran some tests and concluded that the hardware is all working fine and that the problem is software related. Not least of which, when I set up my banging new computer for FSX, I forgot to apply SP1 and SP2. Whoops... I de-installed everything and I'm in the process of putting it all back together, to ensure I have a clean install.

For a good part of the weekend I worked on the pedestal cabinet. Sorry, no photos just yet. It all went together beautifully except for one miscalculation on the clearance I needed for the middle 2 mounting rails. Once I figure it out I'll post some in progress photos. Then it's time to fill the nail holes, sand, prime and paint. May be able to complete during the week.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Yoke finished

I'll resist "cracking" another dumb joke like the "yolk" is on me..

The yoke is finished and awaits mounting in the new base. More construction notes for you. First off, I added a couple of terminal blocks inside the yoke for the roll potentiometer and the other switches on the yoke handle:
In the base I needed to beef up the stops I had in there to limit the travel of the column to 10 degrees forward and back. I used some cut down blocks of 2X4 that are long enough to push up against the ends of the base. More on that in a moment. What I want to show in the next photo is the mounting plate for the elevator potentiometer. I re-used the mount from the CH Products yoke, since I can use the trim tab to fine tune the calibration of the potentiometer. It's the little lever you see in the photo. With this you can adjust the offset of the potentiometer, important since it's range of usefulness is quite narrow, more so than the pot on the roll control. I screwed the mounting plate onto a scrap of plastic, to make it easier to move it up and down the wooden stop that you see here:
Note the adjustable end stop on the wooden block. This allows fine tuning to ensure that the control column travel is within specs. Next photo shows the block in the base with the potentiometer hooked up. Note the metal rod that is connected to the column base and then to the lever on the pot:

Now we need to wire it all up to the control board. It's on the other (forward) side of the base, mounted on top of the stop block. You can also see the 2 cat 5 cables coming out of a hole drilled in the bottom of the column. There's not a lot of travel and despite the seeming mess of wires, nothing tangles up on anything.
Eagle eyes will notice a couple of switched thrown in behind the control board. These micro switches are from the old yoke base. I may have a use for them later, in the meanwhile I've just tucked them in here since they're wired up to everything else. The old throttle, mix and trim potentiometers that were also in the base were connected via a quick connect on the board. It  seems to work fine without them so I've disconnected them completley. I may have use for them in the future - we'll see.

Now to test and fine tune the calibration. When I first hooked it up the roll worked fine, as did all of the switches on the yoke. Unbelievable! As far as my computer and FSX was concerned, I'd just plugged in a CH Products yoke. What didn't seem to be working was the elevator potentiometer. This is where the calibration comes in.

You can get to the calibration a couple of ways. In these examples I launched the CH Products calibration software from within FSX:
What we're looking for is movement on the Y axis, that's the little dot in the square box on the left. If you don't see any movement (or limited movement) in this box, move the adjusting lever on the CH Products mounting plate (as shown in the 3rd photo above) until you can see the full range of travel. With the column full forward, the dot should be at the top:
Full back the dot should be at the bottom: 
Dot doesn't cover the complete distance? You'll need to adjust how far up or down the connecting rod is on the potentiometer lever.

Bottom line: this thing works and it's cheap. It also means I don't need to order any more gear from bolshy Europeans...

Talking of which, I received some new software from our good friends at Revolution Simproducts. I'm happy to report that the flaps and spoiler levers are now working. Still a bunch of other things that aren't but I'm sure that in another month or so, we'll get it all working....

Also heard from CP Flight, my new units and replacement MIP card are on the way. Hurrah!