2020 Plans

Over the Christmas break, sitting on a beautiful beach I spent a bit of time sketching out the direction I wanted to take in my hobby. One of the key decisions was changing direction of the Skyhawk (we shall call he ’58), away from the VR/DCS path I had started heading down. After a couple of VR test flights in the cockpit I came away somewhat underwhelmed, and I think it was diluting what ’58 was all about. So after some soul searching I decided to change back to using MS FS in ’58, but to move to FSX:SE and to investigate VRS TacPack. TacPack offers a ‘Combat Environment’ within FSX, allowing me to shoot guns, drop bombs, fire rockets and shoot sidewinders. This is basically what I had always wanted to do in the Skyhawk anyway, with the added bonus of being in a somewhat familiar simulation environment, in which I can develop content.

Tonight, I did some *more* PC shuffling, and moved the TA-4K sim PC back into the server ‘pile’, hooked it up to the KVM switch and did some TacPack testing. I flew 2 ‘Tacpack Powered’ aircraft; the T-45 Goshawk, and S-3 Viking, playing around with dropping bombs and firing rockets.

A stick of MK82’s makes quick work of airliners on the ramp…

TacPack not only lets you drop bombs and shoot stuff, it allows you to add SAM sites, Carriers, Drones and Tankers to the environment in real time. Unfortunately I selected the wrong ‘team’ for the Carrier to be on…. and so it defended itself with RIM-7 Sea Sparrows…..

Oops… must learn to set the ‘teams’ properly!

Which made short work of my Combat Hoover….

From these quick tests I can see that I have plenty of options for getting ’58 ‘Combat Ready’ using FSX:SE

There is a tool which applies TacPack weapons and sensors to almost any aircraft in FSX which I will be experimenting with to try and get a workable Skyhawk into the sim, using Nigel’s TA-4K model. It’s *another* change of direction, but I am comfortable that this is the right way to go.

A bit of Spring Cleaning

Once again, a ManCave visit lead to a bit of a cleanup! With the ongoing re-configuring of the sims, and the ManCave itself, the place has become a little messy…

So, after a busy couple of hours the space looks much better. With the room much tidier you can see the increase in usable space, which is a nice feeling given the radical changes I’ve made!
Still plenty of work to do; The printer cabinet needs to be ‘relocated’… out of the room, The cables need to be routed out of the way, and the carpet needs to be fixed up 😉

New 737 Radios

Long long ago, a friend built an incredible B200 Kingair simulator. He eventually sold it, and through a series of events I ended up helping maintain it for the new owner. The simulator has had a series of upgrades in the intervening 10 or so years, and now sports a flash new Garmin G1000 cockpit setup. This is a long way of getting to the point of this post, but we are getting there… I promise! With the new Garmin suite up and running successfully for a few months, Steve (the now owner of the sim) offered me any of the left-over bits from the upgrade… this included the 6 radios, which were based on GoFlight’s radio technology, but in a ‘remote mount’ setup. I jumped at the opportunity, as I am a fan of GF’s tech. Fast forward a couple of months, and a deal has been made, of the ‘brown bottle’ type, and I have 6 working radios here.

The radios are currently set up as ‘Collins’ radios, with over/under frequencies. I hope to convert the digit boards to side-by-side and build some ‘737 Classic Style’ radios out of them.

Extension Impressions

3D printed, cleaned up and test fitted… my stick extension looks pretty good, and places the stick about where I wanted it.

The forward offset means I can mount the base further back, allowing for at least a little more space for my legs!

Next up is creating a solid mount, then extending the wiring up through the extension, so that the switches all work.

Certainly looks the part…

HOTAS Repair and replacement

After deciding that I would fit the ‘Cougar’ HOTAS to the Skyhawk it was time to actually do it… *and* to repair the broken gimbal arm.

First up was making sure the mounting concept was going to actually work. I borrowed Richards Warthog, with 150mm extension, and confirmed that it would all work where I had imagined. Interestingly the height I had ended up at almost exactly the same height as the Warthog on its base for Rich’s A-10C.

The height I had calculated is shown by the cut on the 50×25 steel box section

After confirming the height and location I fabricated a mount which sits on to of the steel box section (which was trimmed down by the thickness of the MDF mount) and is also secured to the front of the ejection seat. For now the stick base is only sitting in place, once the position is finalised I will secure it properly.

The mounting is not elegant, but it is solid, and should let me get flying again soon.

With the stick and throttle in place (albeit without a stick extension) and it looks ok. The size of the stick base does make access a little tight, so at some point I will have to build either a replacement housing for the gimbal, or a complete replication of the Skyhawk stick.

Now with the stick mount made, it was time to repair the previously broken gimbal.

I made a ‘C’ shaped brace to hold the broken part back in place. Here you see the ‘splint’ clamped in place ready to be drilled.

With the splint secured in place the roll gimbal is ready to reassemble into the base.

Returned to its place in the base. There is still some wear in the gimbal, so it will need replacing in due course.

The complete stick assembled, ready to seal up and reinstall in the sim.

Skyhawk Renovations

After much soul searching, wringing of hands and generally procrastinating I have finally become comfortable with my plan to integrate my Thrustmaster Cougar HOTAS (yes, the one I recently broke) into the Skyhawk. It makes plenty of sense from an operations perspective, but the dilemma I had was that it is now drifting away from the original concept of being a fairly faithful representation of the Kahu update TA-4k.
So… my solution was to write my own version of history, which goes a bit like this…..

Imagine for a moment, that in 1999 the F-16 ‘deal of the century’ didn’t get canned…..
F-16’s entered frontline service with 75 Sqn, while 2 Sqn took over the entire fleet of Skyhawks.
They looked after strike training and conversion, as well as maintaining the base at Nowra supporting the RAN. They also took on an aggressor role for both the RNZAF based at Ohakea and the RAAF out of Nowra.
To ease the conversion from the A-4 to the F-16 some cockpit modifications were introduced to maintain procedural commonality across the Skyhawk/F-16 fleets. This included updates to the radar and HUD plus the HOTAS from the F-16

Therefore, as a reflection of the completely fictional Kahu-2 program I can justify my TM Cougar in my Skyhawk….
Seems legit to me 🙂

Source: The Authors own wildly vivid imagination

So.. with that sorted, it was time to perform some surgery on the cockpit to bring it up to the now totally legitimate “Kahu-2” Standard…..

First up I stripped out miscellaneous unused and random cables, then removed the current throttle… when this came out, I found extra cables, and **another** throttle quadrant, which had been kicking around under the ejection seat for who knows how long.

Unidentified, unused cables.. plus a really useful controller destined for the 737 (more on that later)
The pile of cables, adapters, power supplies and ‘junk’ was truly staggering… even by my own low standards!
One perfectly serviceable Thrustmaster WCS II, which was lurking under the seat. Clearly I was in a rush to swap this out for the new throttle. Even had a USB/Gameport adapter connected (which was probably also connected to the PC!)

Next up, the Cougar Throttle was test fitted in the console, and ‘ergonomically’ tested. It feels really good in the pit, and apart from having to incline it slightly toward the seat for clearance on the outer wall it fits in really well.

An interesting perspective, only accessible with the outer skin off the cockpit. The throttle looks really good and believable.

Next up is was time to remove the current Saitek ST90 stick which has done many many years of sterling service, and then remove the steel mount..

Stick removed, now time for a ‘test look’
WIth the Cougar stick held in place, awkwardly, it looks like it will fit the bill nicely. While it was held in place I took some rough measurements for the stick extension I will need to make to place it perfectly. I plan on lowering it slightly, and bringing slightly further aft than the old one for better ergonomics. Now.. onto the final step: removing the mount…

And that is where it all came undone. The cockpit frame was made many, many years ago (scroll back through this blog if you don’t believe me) and my welding was pretty awful at best. I expected to be able to bend the mount back and forth a bit, and the weld would just give way. It was not to be. I sat in the cockpit yanking and stomping on the damn thing and it didn’t even so much as creak or crack! So.. into it with my blunt (as it turns out) hacksaw. Sweat, bourbon and skinned knuckles, and the stick mount is still standing proudly. Tomorrow I am borrowing an angle grinder from work… Then we’ll see who’s boss!

Aerofly Scenery Design

I said there would be more Aerofly screenshots…. Well, here we go 🙂
Over the weekend I did some further experiments with some of the development tools for Aerofly. I have not yet gone so far as to look at the 3DStudio part of the SDK, I’m sticking to established end-user tools for now.

Once I get a little more familiar with the tools, and get consistent results I will publish a list of tools, tutorials and links for those of you playing along at home 😉

ManCave re-shuffle Part 1

This weekend I spent a bit of time tidying (read: chucking out) in the ManCave in preparation for shifting things around. After a bit of organizing, sorting, moving, stacking and generally making a huge mess, I was able to turn the Skyhawk sim around 90º and into it’s new location. Then, after much cable tidying (read: chucking out) I moved my 2 primary PC’s into their temporary home next to the desk, and re-cabled everything again.
I am **really** thrilled with how it has worked out so far, in fact there is a lot more space than I was anticipating. from my CAD modelling I expected it to be much tighter than it actually is…

Susan doesn’t look too happy… still, I’m sure she’ll get used to it.
The new view from the door… I like being able to see the sim, rather than it being stuck down the end of the room with it’s back to you.

Next step is to get rid of the un-used PC’s on the right, find a home for the printer so I can get rid of the cabinet it’s sitting on, sort out the cabling **properly** and find another piece of carpet to fill in the gap.
I have/had plans for lifting the sim up maybe 300-400mm to allow for storage (and PC’s below the floor, but with more space than I thought in the room, I may not need to go down that track.

Aerofly FS2

I have experienced Aerofly FS2 before and was impressed especially as a VR experience, what I wasn’t prepared for was the open architecture and the ease of adding scenery. The tools available for AFS2 are outstanding, allowing for easy development of vast, detailed photo sceneries and even airport design from your web browser. AFS2 is pretty exciting, and has really re-ignited my passion for GA flying….

Expect many *many* more posts on AFS2…. In the meantime, enjoy a screenshot from a flight over Banks Peninsular.

It wasn’t to be

Tonight was going to be my ‘Back in the Saddle’ flight in DCS:World, after a lengthy absence.
The launch, in a Harrier went well, dropping 2 Mk82 low-drag bombs accurately onto an enemy frigate, delivering the coup de grâce after my fellow aviators had damaged it earlier in the day.
And that is where it all turned to rubbish….

The gimbal on my Thrustmaster Cougar has given up, and after some research it appears to be a not ‘uncommon’ problem. I’ve looked into options to repair or replace the broken part, and will probably end up machining a new part. A lot will depend on what I end up doing with my plans for the Skyhawk sim. One of the options I am thinking about is retro-fitting the Cougar to the Skyhawk, with a modified gimbal mechanism. The sim is potentially going to have a multi-purpose VR makeover….