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 🙂

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!

TA-4k Sim:DCS Conversion

The deadline for having the sim at least “flyable’ was Saturday, and I made it… just. We had a group of friends over for a ‘BBQ and Sim’ evening, and my mission was to get the Skyhawk sim converted over to DCS ‘enough’ for them to have a fly around. This got further complicated when I discovered that my oldest controller in the sim was not Win64 compatible… which lead to some hectic re-wiring, and trying to figure out how I had wired some of the earliest panels from *many* years ago.

After a few beverages, and some good music I had it all re-wired, and ready to test. Only thing which didn’t work (that I’ve found so far!) was the gear lever, which wasn’t bad given the significantly compressed time-frame on this part of the conversion.
With the hardware (mostly) working it was time to start ‘mapping’ the various buttons and switches in DCS. For the purposes of the Saturday night flying, I only mapped the more important controls, allowing all the novice flyers to have some nice scenic flying.

Test Pilot Nathan takes the sim for a spin

Before the flying night I had three eight year old’s test the sim, headed by Nathan, my Chief Test Pilot… I figured if some 8 year old’s had fun, then a bunch of middle-aged, half drunk motorcyclists would be fine 😉

I didn’t take any photos on the night, but everyone had a ball, lots of sight-seeing around Vegas, and some ‘unplanned landings’….

Next morning, slightly hung-over, I tidied up the display-extraction tools to correctly display the Maverick TV Images on the RH DU, then did a wee test flight ironing out issues with the weapons systems.

After the past weeks experiments and steep learning curve, I am petty happy with where the sim is at. The path to a more-functional ‘Kahu-esq’ Skyhawk is clearer than it was. I am going to try and merge some of the Community A-4E project, with a TA-4k visual model and A-10A avionics. This will allow me to shoot Mavericks, drop laser guide bombs, and fire Sidewinders. The only thing missing is a radar, but for the most part I think it will give the best compromise feeling.

Sunday night, sitting on the couch writing this, I feel that I have accomplished a lot in the last few days. There is a lot more to do, and a lot more to learn, but it’s a good start. A very good start!

What a night!

Sometimes you just have to take the plunge, and last night was *THAT* time. After procrastinating for so long about changing over the main PC in the Skyhawk sim, I decided to just do it, and figure it all out as I went along.
First step was to fire up the sim in it’s current state, to say farewell.. I was going to go for a fly, but with my motivation levels at a high point, and not wanting to get distracted I decided to just take a couple of final photos then rip into it.

The PC swap-out wasn’t too big of a deal, but running and sorting cables was… One day I will just rip all of this mess out and start again with cut-to-length cabling..

One day…. One day 🙂

With the PC in place it was a case of figuring out what needed to be re-connected, and what wouldn’t work. So far the list of ‘wont work’ things is short; can’t connect my MIP monitor, due to the new PC only having one analogue output, and can’t connect my **seriously* old DB9 COM cable… which runs ACCIS.
SO, PC in, fired up, windows updates done.. time to fire up DCS and see what happens. Of course, DCS needed updates.. many many updates, like 5Gb’s worth.

But finally, we got there! Nothing mapped, and only the stick <sort of> working but it flew.. and looks awesome!

Tonight I hope to start mapping some of the cockpit switches, and maybe define what I want to be able to do in the sim, at least in the short term.