Seeing the Wood, Despite the Multitude of Trees

After a bit of a revelation it occurred to me that for a very long time I have been trying to create a simulation environment in my sims which is almost exactly the same as DCS:World provides. I have been, for a long time, been trying to develop a multi-platform ‘combat’ simulation, using the tools with which I am very familiar.
I found it very interesting that I opted to stay with my known and familiar environment, rather than taking a leap…. In this case I was very ingrained in the development of FS9 content, I was comfortable working in the environment, I could ‘talk’ to the simulation, I understood the way most things worked inside the sim. What I was really after was a complete combat simulation covering air land and sea warfare, with a Tactical Commander function.
DCS:World has always been on my radar, I have ‘played’ around with it over the years, but never anything more than that. Recently though, with my interest in VR, I have been learning more and more about how DCS works, and how I can develop content for it, and make it into the sim I’ve always been looking for!

TACOPS; part of my mission to make a combat sim out of my FS9 based sims 🙂

So. I am now ‘officially’ (as officially as I do…) I have stopped development of TACOPS and pretty much all of my projects around trying to morph FS9 into a combat sim…..
My focus now is on development of content for DCS, focusing on NZ and the Cold War era.
My 737 and Arrow sims will continue, running FS9 and FSX respectively, but wont be trying to be involved in any ‘combat’ mission.

Some DCS Development… and a glance into the future

It is very odd to look back and contemplate all the time and effort I have spent on a project which was merely trying to replicate something which was already around..

So now it’s onward and upward… I can concentrate on using the best software for each of my sims, rather than trying to make the one platform do everything I wanted.

SO, New software plan
– TA-4k Skyhawk will be running DCS:World.
– Piper Arrow will be running FS9 and/or FSX
– Boeing 737 will remain on FS9

That is, until the plan changes again!

737 Throttle Quadrant

Over the past years I have been slowly collecting all of the used, cast-off or reject TQ parts from work… Today I thought I’d gather them all together and sort out what I had.

The list of ‘missing’ parts was not as long as I had expected, which was a nice surprise. There were even a pair of ‘Classic-correct’ trim wheels (from a development project at work..) in the box!
My TQ build is going to be a long slow process as I get the time to work on it, but at least I have a good bunch of the parts 🙂

737 Overhead beginnings

I had planned on having the overhead as just a static panel, with not much on it, then I evolved it into having only the switches I needed, maybe a ‘fictional’ panel covering the function I needed….
Well, that all changed when I scored a pile of old, quite used FDS panel faceplates from an NG overhead, most of which are usable on a classic. Despite only needing a few switches for my needs, I plan on fitting all the switches and annunciators….

A mixture of real and replica panels. Makes a nice ‘patchwork’ effect, which looks like a worn cockpit.

I will need to draw up a series of backplates, and fit dzus fasteners. Then finally I’ll have to either source or replicate the missing panels.
**Eagle eyed spotters will notice that the Cabin Temp panel is sitting upside-down!

737 Radio Interfacing

Some time ago after an in-depth discussion with an avionics guru, I started to figure out how I would interface my 737 ‘Gables’ radios, by using their OEM connectors.
Understanding the pinout, interpreting the “ARINC 410: 2 of 5 code” and converting it to a valid frequency.

While I was on holiday I spent a bit of time and buzzed out all the required signal wires and connected them to a Leo Bodnar BBI32, to see if I could get valid data off the device. The good news was that I could see data pins changing, the bad news was that without a +5V signal I was not getting reliable data. Next step is to get the +5V working, and see if I can get some stable data out!

Gables Radio, 28V PSU and a Leo Bodnar. Stage 2 of the project is a (partial) sucess!

737 Gear Lever

I’ve had the gear lever in the 737 panel for a while, but haven’t gotten around to wiring up till tonight. Part of the reason for taking so long was that the lever “ground lock” meant having to pull the override trigger every time you wanted to raise the gear; not very satisfactory. Today at work the guys pulling a cockpit apart discovered that removing the solenoid on the lever mechanism was really easy, and made the lever move freely up and down… so tonight I removed the front panel, striped out the solenoid, and secured the actuator so that it wont inadvertently move and lock the mechanism. Next, I grabbed a spare gear lever (yes it IS a disease!) and pinned out the micro-switch on the back of the lever mechanism and figured out a strategy for interfacing it.

OEM Gear Lever and Ruscool break-out board

As an easy connection between aircraft components and my IO interface I am using some old RJ45 to Screw Terminal break-out boards made by Ruscool over 10 years ago, which I am recycling from our prototype 737 at work. The gear lever switch is connected to the screw terminals on the board, then a CAT5 cable runs from the RJ45 socket of the board to a Leo Bodnar BBI32 USB Input Controller.

All 8 wires of the CAT5 cable are utilised, giving me 7 inputs and a common from each cable. The BBI32 is a great board for momentary, on/off, rotary switches and even rotary encoders. I’ve used a bunch of these over the years, both in my own projects and at work.. I absolutely love them!
This sim build will be using at least 2 of these, probably more… depending on how well my OEM Radio interfacing goes!

So far I’ve used 1 of the 32 inputs, next up I hope to interface the auto-brake panel, then move across the MIP wiring up everything, even if I don’t have a use for it at the moment… much easier to wire it now than try and add more in later!

As I mentioned earlier; we are stripping another 737 Classic cockpit at work, so I got a couple of new bits to fill in some more gaps, and even started filling the overhead 🙂

Flight Deck Door Panel… needs a clean!

As well as the Flight Deck Door panel, there is a “Terrain” control panel, which will go between the CDU’s, and the Cabin Temp panel for the overhead. With any sort of luck there could be some nice overhead panels coming in the next shipment…. watch this space!

B737-400 Sim Visit

Today I had the opportunity for a very quick visit to a Level-D certified 737-400 simulator.
This sim is getting old, but is maintained in an immaculate condition, but sadly will be decommissioned soon as the airline who owns it is moving to NG’s
The best part of the visit was that I was able to get good photographs of the next couple of items on my ‘build’ list for my 737 Simulator.

EFIS Panel – I have started making mine, but it was nice to see, and ‘touch’ a real one. I am pretty happy with my design after seeing the real thing!
Engine Displays – This is my next major project, and it was really useful to be able to see, close up and in 3D, how it was constructed.

ManCave Inspiration

During a recent visit to the Air Force Museum at Wigram, Nathan and I looked at the ‘mock’ C-130 they have as an interactive display, and talked about things which would be cool to incorporate into the upstairs part of the ManCave.

‘Dummy’ Door, and cool non-slip floor
Very simple window frame, but very effective

The interior of the C-130 was pretty simple, grey vinyl material, with suitable stencils and very basic window frames made for a really cool effect. This may be the theme for the area at the top of the stairs where the 737 passenger seat is located. The plan for the seat was to have a window with a side-view from the 737 sim…. maybe an austere ‘military’ interior will fit in well…

While we were wandering around the museum we had a wee look at the Mosquito sim. Despite it being quite simple, it looks impressive, and works well… more motivation to switch the Skyhawk to a combat sim…

Change of Sim Philosophy

After the developments in DCS over the past couple of months I have had a significant change in thinking on how I will operate my sims. Up till now I have been working on a single, standardized software install across all my sims, but with the recent DCS developments, and some recent experiences with Orbx scenery in our sims at work, I have had a major rethink on my plan.

With my recent experience in DCS I realized that work I had been doing on my ‘TACOPS’ application was basically trying to replicate what DCS has bulit in.

So. Big decision, but now my 3 main sims will be running *different* software as their primary platform:

  • The Skyhawk will be running DCS:World with the A-4 Community Mod installed as it’s primary Platform.
  • The Arrow will switch to FSX:SE with Orbx NZ:NI and NZ:SI scenery
  • The 737 will continue using FS9, with my mature scenery build.
  • The current F421/Termserver PC will switch over to running DCS:Combined Arms as a JTAC (Joint Terminal Air Controller) for the Skyhawk, while retaining FS9 and FSX to run alongside any of the other sims.

DCS:Combined Arms has been a bit of a revelation; I bought it for the JTAC role, but once I had it installed and running I discovered that I had unwittingly bought the Tank simulator which I have been looking for since the days of ‘Armored Fist’ from Novalogic.

DSC:Combined Arms

Combined Arms allows you to control ground forces in the DCS Digital world, and to assume control of individual vehicles. This means that I can free-roam around the map in a Humvee, driving wherever I like, sight-seeing or designating targets for pilots in the mission.

The tank sim I’ve been looking for…. bought ‘by accident’
The operational possibilities are almost endless…..

This new philosophy means that each sim will be working to it’s own strengths, rather than focusing on interoperability. This does mean that I wont be trying to make the Arrow or 737 be anything other than what they are, and I wont be trying to turn FS9 into a pseudo-combat sim.
The switch to DCS allows me to leverage of a true combat sim, with robust multiplayer, a complex mission scripting system, giving me the ability to build realistic missions for the Skyhawk, and with the former-F421 PC running DCS as well, the mission options are pretty wide ranging.

The Skyhawk will be running both VR and 2D, using the Community A-4 mod, and one of the DCS ‘Panel’ utilities to render a 2d panel on the lower screen in-cockpit.

An example of the A-10C Panel in Icarus

The switch to DCS will finally allow me to have systems operating which have been merely a dream before now. A good example is the RWR display, which Icarus can render on a small monitor which I can mount behind the RWR display in the main panel.

A weekend of Development and Testing

After the development work on TACOPS over the past few weeks, it was time to put it all to the test.  Nathan and I fired up all three sims, plus the Tactical-Commanders station, Canterbury and a Navy RHIB.  The testing plan involved flying and sailing all the assets into the same location, and testing radar and ibnet ‘visual’ contacts on each.  The location for the test was the Bay of Plenty, Tauranga and Whakatane for the aircraft, and White Island for the ships.

The first part of the mission; the locating of all assets, meant a quite long flight in the Arrow, which was at Wigram all the way North to Whakatane.  The positioning flight began on Thursday evening in awful weather.  At one point, battling a terrible North West gale I had a mere 70 Knots ground speed, so I opted to drop in to Kaikoura for the night and try again the following evening.

First stop;  Kaikoura

Friday night, the weather was marginally better, but only marginally, but with tanks topped of and charts in hand it was time to push North.  The initial plan was to position the Arrow to Galatea, but given that the airfield has no lighting at all, and it was going to be near midnight by the time I got there, I opted to continue on to Whakatane, with not only lighting, but published instrument approaches (which would turn out to be quite a good thing!)

Some pretty cool cloud-scapes and colours as the sun set

Now, with everything in place it was time for our test ‘mission’, so bright and early on Saturday we powered up all the sims and started our testing.

Tactical Commanders view, Tactical Situation on Google Earth, Weather brief via and a camera view from the host aircraft.

We identified a few missing aircraft models on a couple of the sims, which were quickly fixed, then we moved on to the ‘radar’ testing. 

TACOPS provided the radar targets, which were showing successfully on Eric Marciano’s early, freeware radar gauge, but not on his later, and much more sophisticated gauges, nor were they showing on the 737’s Project Magenta Glass Cockpit display.
‘ibnet’ Multiplayer targets were showing on Eric’s later gauges, but only when airborne (which I imagine was by design).  So with this knowledge The Skyhawk will be fitted with the older radar gauge for use against Maritime and Land based targets.  The down-side is that the locked targets probably wont be showed on the HUD… but that is merely a theory at this point and will need some testing!

Canterbury on station off White Island

It *was* dark…. but the ‘TAC-CDR’ made a low-pass on arrival in the AO

Sounds good?

Tonight, while working on a small work project (yes I can multitask…) I got a simple GPWS package working for the 737 sim.  This is a ‘gauge’ which runs inside FS and makes all of the standard callouts.  Simple but effective 🙂

Test installation on my tablet, and the sounds work very well!  May need some better quality wav files though….

After a quick installation on my test machine, and some sample approaches it all appears to be working pretty well, and definitely good enough for the 737 sim! 

The gauge was developed by Rob Barendregt, who has made a huge range of useful, and slightly ‘left field’ gauges for FS.  Look for at all the common FS sites.