More 2020 Musings

As I alluded to in the last post, I have had a serious re-think on what I will be doing with my sims. Notable is the separation between VR and physical cockpits.
The other major change is about adding more structure to my sim-building, by creating a Task List for each sim, plus the ManCave, and having a scheduled evening each week to ‘work’ on the tasks. So, Tuesday is now Sim-Work night. I’ve had a couple so far, and made some good progress on getting ’58 up and running in FSX with TacPack/FSX@War/CCP/FSCAI. It feels good to have a bit of a plan, rather than just doing a bit here and there as time allows.

TacPack + FSCAI testing

I now have 4 Task Lists roughed out, and the first task on each identified. Part of the new plan is to continue on a task until completion, which is not something I’m good at!
I plan on posting some sort of on-line task-list to show what I am up to… but that’s to come later. For now my priority is the re-activation of ’58, but as an FSX sim. Tomorrow I hope to get Nigel’s TA-4k configured with weapons and usable, then it’s on to hooking the sim up to it’s PC and configuring inputs! Very exciting.

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.

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!

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.

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….

More Linings and BIG ManCave Plans!

Another evening of ‘doing stuff in the garage’ tonight meant some more work on the 737 Linings.

Even has SouthWest branded tissues in the pockets 🙂

I’ve put enough fasteners in to hold it all in place so that I can plan the structure to hold it up. As I’ve said before; I want the sim to be fairly modular, so that I *could* move it in pieces, but mostly so that I can remove parts of the sim to work on outside of the confines of the enclosure it will be built into.

As part of the development of the 737, there will be a big renovation of the ManCave. For a start the 737 sim will be coming downstairs from the loft. The main reasons are access and temperature; not only is it hard work getting to the sim, it’s also too cold in winter, and way too hot in summer. The 737 will be just outside the current ManCave door, and mounted on casters so that it can be moved around to be worked on. The rest of the ManCave will have a shuffle with the TA-4 being turned 90 degrees, and going purely VR, while the ‘Instructor Desk’ will become more of a general purpose desk and be moved against the wall.

A virtual top down view of the planned layout, TA-4 on the left, Arrow on the right, and the 737 at the top, just outside the door

You can see in the render that it is a very cozy space, but with some careful and creative design I think I can make it all work and make far better use of the space than I do currently.

The 737’s new enclosure, just outside the ManCave door.

With the move downstairs of the 737 sim, I hope to turn the loft back into a useful storage space again, and recoup more space in the garage than the 737 sim will take up.

On this day…

I received an interesting link via Facebook, to a database of US Air Losses during the Vietnam conflict. I am a fan of the F-4 Phantom, and of course the A-4 Skyhawk, both of which featured prominently during the era.
The search function on the database was pretty cool, and after couple of sample searches, I entered my date of birth as the criteria, to see what, if any, aircraft were lost on that day.

Much to my surprise there was only the one loss, but it was a TA-4 Skyhawk, with the Tactical Callsign “PLAYBOY 45” and it was flying perhaps my favourite mission; Forward Air Control.
Why it’s spooky;
– The Skyhawk link is obvious, but even more so given that it is a TA-4, similar to my sim…
– The callsign “PLAYBOY 45”; “45” was my pilot number, which formed the basis of all my callsigns during my time with RAAFvirtual.
– The mission; FAC, my favourite, and one I’ve been working on lately in DCS!

If the Vietnam Air War is of interest, visit www.vietnamairlosses.com it is well worth a peruse.

Skyhawk update

It has been a while (seems to be a common theme) since I did anything on the Skyhawk sim… tonight, with a few wee software updates and other fiddling around I got the sim up and running, in DCS with the VSN Hornet. This was to prove that I could get the sim running using my combination of software and ‘mods’

This is the VSN Hornet, running in the sim, with Maverick TV feed working 🙂