Compass and Clock for the Skyhawk

After making my mock-up compass and clock I started looking for real components to replace them. It all started when I stumbled over an inoperative clock on a suppliers website, then a black compass showed up at work…. 2+2 in this case equals ‘yeehaa’ 🙂

Though not exactly correct they are close, and will look great in the cockpit.

Another Sim Software Shuffle?

After recently deciding on the software for each of my sims, and the shift of VR into the Skyhawk, I have had a bit of a re-think!
This has mostly come about by my breaking out my old Thrustmaster Cougar HOTAS, and setting it up in DCS and FSX.

‘Cougar’ in place on the desk. Perhaps a custom keyboard shelf will be next?

Another part of the reason for the shift has been a re-discovery of the joys of VR in other simulations. I spent a very relaxing evening driving from Oxnard, CA to Yuma, AZ in American Truck Simulator, which reminded me how much fun VR can be, beyond the ‘cockpit’ of the Skyhawk.

The new plan (until I change it again of course) is to run both DCS and FS9 on the Skyhawk, but skip the VR part, at least for now. I hope to put together a version of the A-4, with a modified version of the F-15C avionics, and simplified weapons, which will let me fly a ‘pseudo Kahu’ in the ‘pit, and join in multiplayer missions, while retaining VR capability on the current desk-based rig. This shift will mean FS9 will remain as the primary sim for the Skyhawk, with DCS being a development as time goes on.

DCS Development

The more I explore DCS the more excited I am getting about integrating it into the Skyhawk sim.
I have been looking into the options for panel software for DCS, and had some good experiments with Ikarus using the F-15c as my test bed. I need to work more on exporting data from the A-4, then I can move on to building a working panel.

A little ‘hotel room experiment’ running Ikarus on a tablet, with DCS on my laptop

One of the real attractions of using DCS in the sim is how pretty it looks. As I’ve been experimenting and testing I’ve grabbed a few screenshots, and you have to admit; they do look good!

A-4, loaded for bear, heading out on another ‘development’ flight

The learning curve for DCS interfacing/moding is quite steep, but I am starting to get the hang of it. There are so many different aspects to this sim, which is of course true of FS9, it’s just that I’ve had 15 years to learn FS9!

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.

December and Distractions

Well, since the Skyhawk appeared for DCS last month almost nothing has happened in the ManCave at all, apart from many *many* VR flights in the DCS Skyhawk!
First Don (that’s Mr. Skyhawk to you) came to visit and trialed the A-4 in VR

This is what Don had to say about the experience:
“This afternoon I got to experience flying the latest A-4 flight sim in VR (virtual reality). All I can say is WOW! So real. The cockpit detail is incredible and very accurate for a pre Kahu cockpit. The outside visuals are equally amazing, as is the flight model. I flew in formation with two other Skyhawks flown by some other Christchurch flight sim guys sitting at their home computers. Isn’t technology amazing. Thanks so much Sean. I WANT ONE!”

Don totally immersed in the experience!

Tanking Training

Saturday afternoon was a good time for some brushing up on my tanking skills in the Skyhawk.

The afternoon started with Alex’s friend Jethro having a look around the ManCave, and a quick Air-to-Air refueling introduction.  After he left, I spent a bit of time in the seat.

Jethro turning inside the tanker to rendezvous
Contact!

It was a great afternoon chasing both the VC10 and 707 around for some refresher training.  I had the 707 orbiting on Autopilot at various speeds and altitudes giving me lots of opportunities to practice.
Using the TACOPS command interface I was able to set the autopilot on the 707 directly from TACOPS, without having to go to the specific FS machine.  This all means that during a ‘mission’, the tactical commander could direct the tanker (or any other ‘Drone’ asset) to where they are needed to suit mission requirements.  I’m quite pleased with this aspect of TACOPS, and will be expanding on it’s capabilities in the near future.

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 Windy.com 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