ARC-159 Update

The ARC-159 UHF Radio was one of the very first panels I built for my first Skyhawk sim, back in the early 2000’s. Back then I didn’t have access to CAD/CAM CNC or even plastics, so it was all made with whatever materials I had at hand. The design was all done in Corel Draw 4, printed out 1:1 then taped onto each piece of material before drilling and cutting to shape with hand tools. The backplate was from aluminium saved from the scrap metal bin while the faceplate was 5mm MDF, with a paper print-out glued to the front. It worked ok, and has been in use, complete with the oldest Interface components in the sim; ACCIS which was the very first interface built by Simulation Hardware (who became Pacific Simulators – my current employer…)

Fast forward nearly 20 years and I have access to lots of cool technology. Luckily I had the original Corel Draw file for the ARC-159, so I imported that into Fusion 360 and created a new 3D CAD model of the faceplates while retaining the original layout for mounting hardware. This meant that I *should* be able to re-use the back plate which I had hand-made all those years ago. This time around I included the bezel for the display at the top of the radio which I hadn’t tried to make originally. To my surprise the faceplates did fit, with just a minor amount of fettling, which goes to show that my original design and manufacture was pretty good!
This time around I fitted all the remaining switches, which I didn’t have originally, and finished it all off with 3D Printed custom knobs.

Dry-fit of most of the components. Still need to make/fit the Squelch, Lamp Test and Dimmer switches

Tonight’s mission (Sim Work Night!) is to get the final components fitted, then pull it all apart and paint it. Then I can move on to the TACAN and finally the APX-100 Transponder, and that will be my radios refurbished!

Time to Dust off ’58

6258, the Skyhawk Sim has been pretty neglected for a while, for a whole raft of reasons. Last night, in the middle of a sleepless night, I had a great idea to fast-track getting her flying again quite quickly. So tonight, for Sim Work Night I set about getting her back and flyable. First up was setting up the displays in the same way as I had them in FS9, i.e. vertically spanned. Next was to roll in the old FS9 panel config as a starting point. FSX-SE is a little different in the way it deals with viewpoints and zoom, so it took a little bit of re-jigging to get it looking something like what I want. Next was inserting and aligning the basic elements of the MIP and HUD. For this I am using Nigel Booth’s Kahu gauges, suitably modified to fit into my physical panel.

Still work to do, but it looks pretty good.

After a few hours of tinkering with the configuration I am reasonably happy with how it looks. There is still much to do, gauges need to be further modified to remove graphical bezels, and to make them interact with my switches.

From here the next big step is finishing the flight controls and throttle, then calibrating it all and doing some flying! CANT WAIT!!

SWN April 7, 2020

Last week’s Sim Work Night turned into a CAD exercise on the 3d Model of Canterbury.. so not much to show!
This week is a different matter. I started the process of swapping out the flight controls in the Skyhawk a couple of weeks ago, and this week I made some serious progress!

The mechanic’s of the stick were all stripped down and cleaned, then I ripped apart an old Logitech ‘Attack 3’ joystick and salvaged the circuit boards inside it. Now I have the stick extended, and interfaced with the Logitech boards. For now I have wired only the switches I intend using, as the stick has more buttons than the Skyhawk grip anyway!

The grip reassembled after being re-wired.

The stick shaft has been extended 100mm, which give a travel which feels about right, and now has a nice offset to make it fit in your hand nicely.

With the extension in place and the new cabling running out the front of the stick I interfaced it to the Logitech boards.
Switch wires attached to the back of the existing boards.
In place, with suitable ‘spacer’ to test the location

With the Throttle and Stick Rewired I tested the various axes and switches, and all worked fine!
The next step in the build is to design a pedestal to support the stick at it’s right height, incorporating an enclosure for the various boards cables and connectors, then make a suitable mounting structure for the Throttle. Part of the mount will include adding a Flap switch to the structure so that it is located correctly (finally) For now the Throttle doesn’t have any buttons interfaced, that is for a later time!

SWN March 24, 2020

COVID-19 has bitten hard, with NZ going in to lock-down tomorrow. So tonight’s Sim Work Night was pretty quiet. After spending the afternoon converting the ManCave into a temporary work office, I decided that I still needed to do something on my sim. So tonight I did some messing around with displays in the Skyhawk, and a cool tool for ‘storing’ and ‘restoring’ panel positions. This means that I can fine tune the positions of all of my undocked panels, an recall them whenever I need.
This application has changed my plans for how I will “build” the virtual panel for the sim. Instead of building a single panel, with all my gauges on it, I will make individual panels for each gauge which I can then move and size to fit the panel. Then I can use these cool apps to store the positions.
I also *temporarily* pointed the projector lower to align with the HUD. This is until I design and build new legs to bring the height up to where I now want it.

Quick and dirty, but shows the capabilities of the apps!

SWN March 17, 2020

On tonight’s blog; I remove a joystick, I destroy a joystick, and I re-make a joystick!

The Skyhawk has been without flight controls now for quite some time, and that is a bit of a hindrance when it comes to flying. I have thrown around a couple of ideas for curing this, from re-instating the old Saitek stick, through up-cycling my Cougar HOTAS to the extreme of building a representation of the real A-4 stick mechanism. Tonight I had another good idea, which is a sort-of half-way solution; I would modify my Suncom F-15E stick and throttle. The ‘Talon’ as it’s known is a reasonable match for the Skyhawk stick, and a pretty good facsimile of the Kahu throttle, despite being a twin-lever setup.
First step was to remove the Cougar, and return it to it’s former use as my joystick of choice for flying VR, then it was time to pull apart the Talon, rip out all the bits I wouldn’t need, and modify the stick base to fit into the cramped space of the ‘pit.

De-construction of the stick went well, with all the circuit boards and wiring removed and the gimbal mechanism and stick grip isolated. Next it was out time for gratuitous use of power tools to cut the base body down to size, then re-assemble the new base and try it out for size.

With the stick base in place I measured up for a mount and a shaft extension to bring the grip to the right height.
Up next in the workshop of horrors was the throttle. This didn’t need any where near as much work, as it was pretty close to what I needed anyway. Once again I removed all of the existing wiring and circuit boards then test-fitted it in the sim. The throttle is pretty close to the right shape and size as the Kahu throttle needing just a couple of switches changed to make it a fairly good replica.

The Suncom throttle looks perfect in the cockpit, but this view highlights the need for paint!

The final part of the nights work was to clean up the quite considerable mess I’d managed to make, and dispose of the evidence of a night of simulator carnage!

I may go to simulator hell for this….

A quick test

Tonight I connected the MIP monitor in the Skyhawk up, via an HDMI to VGA downscaler and had a wee test.

This was using the TACPACK powered T-45 model and avionics, which I will be using as the initial test bed for my TACPACK integration.

It looks quite smart, even just at this stage. Can’t wait to fly it again!

SWN March 10, 2020

Skyhawk night tonight, and it was all about the visuals. Turning the cockpit around meant that the projector and screen needed to do the same. Re-instating the projection system also meant moving the sim sideways to centre it on the projector screen.

The ‘Before’ image….

First step was to remove all the junk lying around, then to measure up for the changes. Nathan was my helper again, unscrewing the fittings for the ‘Do Not Cross’ tape.

Child Labor at it’s best

Moving the sim sideways was not a huge challenge, but moving and reattaching the screen was a mammoth task. I have elected to mount the screen slightly higher than it was previously, with the aim of raising the simulator up, making some space under the floor for electronics or computers (or maybe storage)

My projector mount is a basic slab of MDF with a swivel projector mount screwed to it. With plenty of dimensions taken it was a reasonably simple job to remount the panel in it’s new location, attach the projector and re-run the power and signal cables, at least temporarily. With everything connected it was time to see if the projector/screen relationship was correct. The best way to do this of course was to fire up the PC, and FSX… which led to a wee test flight 😉

Test flight, with a very dark cockpit

After a successful test I did a little more tidying and sorting, then *finally* re-routed and shortened the hideous LAN cables which have been lying across the floor for ages..

The ‘After’ image, showing the screen in it’s new location.
It’s beginning to look ‘a bit good’ I think.

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…