Colin S

Home Cockpit Progress

23 posts in this topic

So, after years of theorizing and speculating, I'm taking it one step further: I have a machine to run my "avionics." I'm building a very basic replica of a 737-800 cockpit (for the EADT X737, as it is my favourite aircraft). Here's what I have so far:

  • ca. 2007 IBM ThinkPad, Intel Pentium M. No, I'm not running a slave copy of XP10 on this thing, its hard drive isn't even big enough for the demo installation. It is purely an avionics machine.
  • 1 External cruddy old LG Display for the EICAS and the MFD (the layout is a bit weird compared to real life)
  • XHSI. After hours upon hours of searching the internet for affordable or free all-in-one network instrument utilities, I settles for XHSI as it's glass displays are basically perfect for the panel of a 737.
  • Tab S 8.4 as my CDU, the most money I'm going to blow on this project will be the $25-ish that it costs to buy the X-Plane flight computer app for Android. The panel will have a little place for my tablet to sit so that I wont have to use a mouse to click the keys. 
  • A big box of old switches and stuff
  • Four or Five Old Joysticks that I will be disassembling, soldering to the physical switches.
  • Maybe and Arduino if I feel adventurous enough (or I run out of buttons on the cheap Value Village joysticks that I will otherwise be using as my USB buttons).
  • Plywood and some basic power tools.

I have an actual plan for this now, not just some ideas floating around in my head. Unfortunately, I start work on Monday (schedule unknown), so this could be a very tedious project to follow as I won't have much time at home this summer.

I'm making some serious changes to the cockpit as I don't have room or money for every instrument and switch. The overhead will have a basic ignition system and light controls. I won't have any autopilot-dedicated LCDs (for altitude, heading, V/S, etc), instead I will just watch the indicators on the PFD when I spin those little knobs or push the switches - whatever I end up doing for that part. The autopilot console is really the biggest threat to this whole project, and I'll save it for last as by that point I may have decided to just buy an Arduino and a breadboard and rewire the entire thing, allowing for LCD number displays for the autopilot console.

The screen layout uses the two screens. The IBM screen is pretty small, so it's the left hand display, allowing for that good old tapered panel shape. On it will be the Primary and Navigational displays, in that order. The LG monitor is slightly larger. For most of the bottom of it, I will have the EICAS and Multi-Function display side by side - a change from the actual layout as in the real 737 the "MFD" is beside the CDU. This change is because this little laptop can't handle three screens and I don't have that much room. With the bottom of the LG monitor lined up with the bottom of the IBM's built-in monitor, there are about three inches left at the top of the LG. I will fill this with the remaining options from XHSI - clock on the left, annunciators, flap, and gear indicators on the right. The latter two are in the exact correct position compared to the real panel, but the annunciators aren't - but again, I'm not buying more monitors or learning Arduino programming just for that. Below this monitor will be my tablet CDU and my very inaccurate Saitek X52 throttle. I'm considering keeping engine ignition stuff for this cockpit down on the throttle quad since I already have all those fancy buttons built in. Flaps and speed brakes will be incorporated with the remaining sliders on the Saitek quad. On the main panel, the most important switches (for casual flyer me) are as follow: Gear, Autobrakes, Warning Shutoff, Yaw Damper. Anything else is depth that I can't afford nor do I have the time to care about. As for the autopilot panel, I have a plan but it might change by the time I get to it, so it'll remain in the dark. As for the overhead (which I'm considering simply integrating into the panel, again for financial reasons), the most important switches to lazy me are Landing Lights, Taxi Lights, APU, VERY basic fuel, Ignition (although I've already discussed the possibilities) and indicator lighting (Nav/Strobe etc).

As I don't fly on any sim network (I really can't add another complicated thing to learn to my life), a radio stack is not needed. If it ever is, meh.

The reason I have finally decided to do this is because I was just officially accepted into the final stages of the B.Ed. (Bachelor of Elementary Education) program at UVIC, so my life is a little more reliable now, and I know I won't be making any major moves in the next three or four years).

If you have any suggestions from your first build or good sources for good switches (I'm trying to find good landing light switches that aren't $20 apiece), shoot them over here :) I don't know where this project will take me. It's all a big adventure, hence why I'm not pouring money into new equipment. The laptop is a laptop that my dad was going to throw away (for obvious reasons), the monitor a rather beat-up old thing from my dad's dental practice. All the joysticks to be dismantled were either free from Craigslist or under $5 from thrift stores.

I will keep updating this as progress happens (or fails to do so).

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I have a question for the community: I want a heading knob. This would require a nob that when turned one way would always click on one button (read is "increase heading by one degree) and the other way, immediately upon switching direction, would be "decrease heading by one degree." I can only find selector switches, with up to about ten positions to select from, and a stopper at each end. It would also mean that each opposite direction wouldn't be it's own button. I also need it to be infinite - you can spin 'til the world ends, since heading select knobs don't stop at some point.

Suggestions on what this device is called would be much appreciated. Thank you :)

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What you need is called a "rotary encoder".
I would not get the cheaper ones, as I experienced sone quality issues like imprecise behaviour and bad durability with those (they were the cheapest of the ALPS line of encoders).

Most stores for cockpit building stuff also sell encoders.

 

Edited by mgeiss
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1 hour ago, mgeiss said:

What you need is called a "rotary encoder".
I would not get the cheaper ones, as I experienced sone quality issues like imprecise behaviour and bad durability with those (they were the cheapest of the ALPS line of encoders).

Most stores for cockpit building stuff also sell encoders.

 

So will I be able to simply make one direction of spin one joystick button, and the other another? I do not intend to do any programing for this. If I can't find a simple solution I'll simply use an (ON)-OFF-(ON) switch, which would suck for realism but for function would be just fine.

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You don't need to do any programming. A rotary encoder basically works like two buttons. One is triggered in every detent when turning clockwise, the other one when turning counter-clockwise. They are also used in real cockpits.

The only thing you need is a standard USB-Joystick-Interface (which you might already have), which translates the encoders output to two joystick-buttons. I use Leo Bodnar's interfaces for all axis, buttons and encoders: http://www.leobodnar.com/shop/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=94&products_id=204

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Thanks for the clarification - I'll check this out. I think I'll buy one just to mess around with it before I start trying to wire this into my panel. This is great, thank you so much :) Just for clarification, if I were to attach two lightbulbs to a rotary encoder, when I spun one way it would make one flash on and off with each detent, and the other way would make the other one flash with each detent? Also, when purchasing these, how does one determine the number of detents in a full rotation? 

Cheers, this has saved so much time and hassle.

EDIT: I forgot to mention, yes, I already have a USB interface board, one that basically allows me to attach any old light switch to it and it will be a button. Will this be sufficient for communication with a rotary encoder or do I need something more complex than simple on-off buttons?

Edited by Colin S
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This will be sufficient, although there might be differences between the interfaces regarding their sensitivity to very short button presses, which is what the interface practically sees when the encoder is being turned.

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9 hours ago, mgeiss said:

This will be sufficient, although there might be differences between the interfaces regarding their sensitivity to very short button presses, which is what the interface practically sees when the encoder is being turned.

Gold. Thank you so much, this solves a problem that myself, two coworkers and my father (formerly an electrician), and a fourth year robotics student couldn't solve.

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A picture. Evidence that I am actually doing something and that I have "invested" (ie stolen stuff from my parents' basement) in some hardware.

RpqC2zd.jpg

Sorry for the weird location, I have my apartment desk torn apart for reorganization and cleaning in preparation for my bachelor's in elementary education.

While to most this will be a "who cares" moment, to me it is a massive victory. I've been fighting a battle against Windows XP SP3 for two weeks to get this computer to acknowledge a local area connection. The machine is from early 2005, not 2007 as previously thought. It barely can anti-alias XHSI. As you can probably guess, I'll be splitting these (very much smaller than real life) displays into nine main sections with the MDF panel overlay when it's all carved up with the jigsaw and router: PFD, ND, EICAS, MFD (more on that later), Clock (intentionally in the wrong place, I have to make concessions), Master Caution/Warning, Annun., flaps, and gear indicators. The blank space on the right is where the anatomically incorrect gear lever will be. I hope to have a layer of plexiglass between the monitors and the idiot using them, but budget will dictate that. Now for the "more on that later" part of the post.

Today's "Help Colin because he's confused:"

The MFD in XHSI is brilliant, with the airport maps, flight surface monitoring, fuel, etc... but once I have my laptop locked in behind the panel and yoke for flight, I won't be able to switch what it's showing easily. The ND is lovely because it listens to X-Plane's opinion of what the ND should be showing, but the MFD has no in-sim equivalent, and thus has no in-sim switch or function to try to cling to for instructions. Here's the question in a nutshell: will it be possible for me to have a rotary selector switch (big words for Colin) switching what the MFD is displaying? If anyone has used XHSI in conjunction with a cockpit populated by physical switches, I'd love help with this. I have no programming knowledge and therefore not rip the program apart to try to establish a USB controller for this purpose. 

The Yoke

I redesigned the yoke. I'll still be carving the "important" (handle) part of it out of MDF in two components to allow for wiring inside without damage to the exterior afterwards. That will be spray-painted black and will likely be the second most fun part of building this panel other than using it. However, I have changed the style of yoke from a true-to-reality floor-mounted pillar-and-yoke to a CH products style homebuilt yoke. Yes, I have a plan. No, I have no effin' clue if I can even get it close to working. I do, however, know that all the parts I need exist and that my concept is sound. The execution will just have to be pretty solid to make this fly (heh). I found a great website for the measurements of the yoke so that it will be as close to accurate as possible. The website may be from the 90s but the information is great and indispensable for cockpit builders:  

http://www.markuspilot.com/

Pedals

You can throw tomatoes for this one. I'm using racing pedals for my rudder. I'm going to try to modify them to more closely resemble the 737 pedal layout (with the block in the middle), but sadly, there will be no way (yet) of having them move simultaneously in opposite directions. I've already taken them for a flight without modification, and they work quite well. It just doesn't quite click in the brain it does when you're using pedals that move opposite to one another. Maybe I'll come up with something for that.

Conclusion

This is a brief summary of what has changed or been added since my last post:

  1. Yoke redesigned from the ground up (and no longer comes up from the ground).
  2. Avionics now communicating with aircraft (makes them far more useful).
  3. I have a great relationship with the MFD but I fear that distance will make us come apart. Help.
  4. I have no idea what rudder pedals are.
  5. I need to make sure my avionics don't turn into the Star Field Win XP screensaver on short final (Just looked over and realized this).

Thank you for reading, if you have. And thanks for any help in advance regarding XHSI. I am incapable of posting on X-Plane.org for support from the authors (where it's hosted) for reasons that belong in the rant section, not this one. And they are there. Just dig for them. 

 

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Hiya,

Update when you can :)

I've got a 3bed semi, only use the largest bedroom, so 2 spare

'She' won't let me use a spare for gaming :(

Says she'll never see me, so i'm down in the lounge/living room, but hey, she controls the remotes and i have a 7.1 headset ftw lol

I can only dream of a cockpit setup in the largest spare, who knows, i'll keep on trying to work my magic on 'her' hehe

Tony

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14 hours ago, Defiance_co said:

 

.Heh... my girlfriend specifically told me that when we finally have a chance to move out of this apartment into a small house, I get the garage. The words "you should have a full cockpit" were involved from her end. To some that would be a marriage proposal ;) Looking forward to the day I don't have to share an office with my girlfriend and I have room for a better rig. By that time VR might have gone so far that all I need is a porta-potty in the back yard ;)

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Update: Assistant Manager to the Rescue

I'm glad I have a great AM at working. He's into building weird crap like me (right now he's building a police light bar for his car, only like 50% illegal in Canada). I go to him for quick advice on things, and he's not always too useful but this time he was very useful. I mentioned that I was building my own yoke and asked him what he thought I should be using for the telescoping components (the tubes that need to slide in an out of eachother and whatnot). I had been looking at PVC and conduit as those are the cheapest things out there, until he told me to check out aluminium tubing - such as that used in I have no idea where to find this stuff. Apparently the local Home Depot has some, and he guarantees that there are sizes that telescope. Well, fingers crossed. The Canada Day Long Weekend is coming up and my girlfriend and I have decided to hunker down in the dark (no A/C) and enjoy a weekend without the crazy tourists in Victoria, meaning I'll have time to get started on the panel and the yoke, or at least the initial structure of it.

I've changed the design around a bit. since I'm going to lifting my monitor up a bit (and getting a second monitor, that's a whole other bag of noodles), I've decided to hell with optimizing the shaft length so it doesn't hit the laptop screen, the yoke will just be UNDER the laptop. Before I had to make the pitch range two and three quarter inches in both directions so the shaft wouldn't require a hole drilled through the screen of the IBM ThinkPad (poor little thing). Now I can make it up to one foot in each direction in the pitch axis. As a hint, that's not happening. I'm going for closer to three and half inches in both directions, similar to yokes you can buy from Saitek. One day I'll have a proper column yoke. No room for that yet.

The story of the monitor is one I can't help but share.

The Story of the Second Monitor (Maybe?)

I work as a park attendant for BC Parks. Working in an "edge of the city" provincial park campground, you get everyone from happy little families with smiling, giggling kids on bikes to homeless people, as those with disabilities - including financial disability - stay for free in parks here. Anyways, as you can imagine, our first-come first-serve areas look a little like a tent city, and have the same kind of vibe. I have evicted three parties (two today). They always leave the weirdest junk behind (one left four unopened gallon bottles of ketchup). Today, the ones leaving left an entire tent, a garbage bag worth of clothes, a few crack pipes and a mysterious suitcase. Along with loads of garbage. Cleaning up, we made the deal that if you were willing to open the suitcase, you got to keep whatever you wanted inside it since opening a suitcase left behind after an eviction from a campground is kind of sketchy. I won a free X-BOX, large monitor, Blu-Ray player and surround sound system. All of it is mildly damaged old stuff, but it all works. Sadly I have to wait 24 hours for them to reclaim it before it's mind. I might be getting my very first gaming console at age twenty. And it will be just about as old. The monitor is rather large though, I didn't measure it.

That is the saga of evicting people and getting free tech. As long as they don't return to claim it. Which I doubt they will, since they don't own a car.

I will let you know tomorrow if I truly did win a free computer monitor or if all this hype simply evaporates.

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Still no word on whether the stuff is mine. We have to get permission from a manager before we can claim abandoned stuff, and my managers were out today.

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Hiya Colin,

Hoping a manager appears for you asap

And you can crack on with the project :)

Havr Fun

Tony

Edited by Defiance_co
added text
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Help Needed: Button assignments missing

Going through the available buttons to program in X-Plane, I've noticed on heck of a lot of missing - vital - options. I need autobrakes for the main panel of the 737. Not an option as a "selector," only an "up down" option. Same thing goes with the EFIS zoom and modes. I was pleased that the map display buttons are their own thingies. Even the X737 custom commands don't have an autobrakes setting thing. Driving me a bit nuts.

Basically, I'm wondering if there is a plugin out there that makes it possible to actually have rotary selectors to select your EFIS/ECAM modes and zoom levels. They are buttons in X-Plane by default, so it should be possible to set a joystick to do the same. Right now I will have to use (ON)-OFF-(ON) switches as up/down toggles. 

Edit: Looks like there is a great python utility... which I can't make work... for this purpose.

Edited by Colin S
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13718664_10210245259397713_1873601351793

So it has begun. I'm X dollars (see below) into switches from eBay and Amazon and I only need five more rotary encoders and I'm set. The backlit momentary pus buttons for the autopilot panel were the hardest to track down, luckily I found some blue square buttons with label slots. I'm doing all the lighting of the panel in blue since it's what my Saitek X52 throttle has on it and I want this to look pretty. 

I've also determined my official budget: $300. That will basically take care of the pay I got on Canada Day because it was a stat holiday. I plan on building a fully usable (minus radio stack) basic 737 cockpit for $300. Here's the breakdown so far of budgeting:

JOYSTICKS (not for dismantling)
Saitek X52 Pro - $0.00 gift                                                                 
Logitech Extreme3DPro* - $5.99 value village
CH Products Virtual Pilot Yoke** - $35.00 craigslist
Logitech Wingman Formula Force GP*** - $15.99 value village

JOYSTICKS (for dismantling as USB interface)
Logitech Extreme3DPro - $0.00 gift, faulty
Logitech Wingman - $0.00 craigslist
Logitech Wingman - $4.99 value village

ELECTRICAL COMPONENTS (all purchased from DiscountTown on Amazon)
10 backlit blue square buttons - $6.74
10 ON/ON white-handled toggles - $6.59
3 Rotary Encoders (20 detents) - $4.54

MISC. COCKPIT COMPONENTS 
2 Used 17-inch monitors - $20.00 craigslist
1 IBM ThinkPad - $0.00 gift
1 LG Flatron (for instruments) - $0.00 gift
2 DVI-to-VGA adapters - $3.72 eBay

__________________________________________________________________

Current Total: $83.56

THINGS I STILL NEED

  1. Blue LED 12V strip lighting - cheap as all heck on DiscountTown (and I know it works because my dad lit our cabin with it).
  2. Wiring (Likely going to be getting this from the pile of junk in my dad's shop because he has too much miscellaneous stuff in there and is always throwing out wiring).
  3. 1/4" MDF board for panel (Home Depot sells it really cheap, I'll only need two panels which will come to about $8.00)
  4. Acrylic sheets/plexiglass, 1/3-1/4" thick (for the sectionsof the panel where I need backlighting for the labels. Anywhere near switches and knobs, basically). This will likely be the most expensive thing compared to how much it will actually do for me.
  5. Miscellaneous hardware - screws, bolts, nuts, etc.
  6. Boeing Grey spray paint. Not the easiest to find. Canadian Tire for this stuff, since they have the largest selection of spray paints and the lowest prices.
  7. iFMS app - still thinking about this one because it requires you to learn how to use an actual Boeing FMC, which is something I'm not sure I have the patience for. But without an FMC, an airliner cockpit is kind of bare. Sadly there isn't a basic X-Plane style FMC for tablet. That will be about $20.00 depending on exchange rates. Damn Brexit and our economic fluctuation in Canada.
  8. Yoke. That's an ongoing battle, hopefully in a couple of weeks I'll have some pictures of my failure to show off. That is the next big step.

I want to point out that this is the most extensive (and expensive) project that I have taken on "single handedly" (in quote because of the help from the community), my first my-hands-only project. It's going surprisingly well. I am scared for when I actually have to start engraving the words into the acrylic paneling and wiring in the 12V back lighting. 

Then there's the issue that our apartment is so poorly wired that using a printer throws the breaker. But we'll deal with that when it comes to that.

Next on the checklist is the patterns and stencils for the MDF and plexiglass cutouts. Nothing else at this point. All instrumentation concerns are dealt with, all components have been found. We're into plain and simple (heh) manufacturing now. 

Thanks to those who are following along with this never ending saga. Soon I will actually have something to show for all this bragging and blabbering.

*The throttle of the X52 will be used on the right side, the joystick will be left in case I feel like flying Airbus style.
**15-pin connector. Will not use in purchased condition, will be attaching custom yoke handle hand carved from MDF, repainting, removing throttle, etc...
***Using pedals and buttons. Will leave wheel intact for other gaming purposes as it is force feedback and worth keeping.

 

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THEY'RE HERE

Well, some of them. I just got these beauts in the mail today (10 of them). They may not look exactly right for 737 autopilot buttons, but hey, for about 40 cents apiece, who am I to complain? Amazon is a great place.

QqVoNX3.jpg

In other news I received this:

4fCMHOv.jpg

Fun fact: Windows 10 doesn't agree with an old analog yoke. However, I will be starting my video series of constructing this joke of a cockpit with converting this thing over to a modern USB device. Also something that I don't  have a picture of is the keyboard for my FMC... because it uses my tablet. I'll be using XFMC, and droidpad with a custom control layout as the keyboard as well as communication control buttons. That is all for today. 

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Hiya Colin,

Glad you're making more progress :)

I'll be hoping all goes well and easier for you ;)

Maybe one day i'll be doing a similar post (i'll keep on 'working on her' ) lol

Have Fun

Tony

 

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JOYSTICKS (not for dismantling)
Saitek X52 Pro - $0.00 gift                                                                 
Logitech Extreme3DPro* - $5.99 value village
CH Products Virtual Pilot Yoke** - $35.00 craigslist
Logitech Wingman Formula Force GP*** - $15.99 value village
CH Virtual Pilot - $15.00 Purchased by friend, repaid since we're both in university

JOYSTICKS (for dismantling as USB interface)
Logitech Extreme3DPro - $0.00 gift, faulty
Logitech Wingman - $0.00 craigslist
Logitech Wingman - $4.99 value village

ELECTRICAL COMPONENTS (all purchased from DiscountTown on Amazon)
10 backlit blue square buttons - $6.74
10 ON/ON white-handled toggles - $6.59
3 Rotary Encoders (20 detents) - $4.54

MISC. COCKPIT COMPONENTS 
2 Used 17-inch monitors - $20.00 craigslist
1 IBM ThinkPad - $0.00 gift
1 LG Flatron (for instruments) - $0.00 gift
2 DVI-to-VGA adapters - $3.72 eBay

_________________________________________________________________

Current Total: $98.56

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Minor Update: It works. Did a quick test with my laser printer to see if normal printer paper would agree with the backlighting in the AutoPilot buttons. It does. Here are the completed V1 buttons. V2 will be printed on InkJet or projector transparency for a crisper and darker look. But I'll wait until it's fully assembled and running before spiffing it out like that. In case you're wondering, yes, the paper is inside the button, I'm not that stupid. I do want this to look somewhat good.

cDtJV3G.jpg

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Hi..i am a new user here. As per my knowledge it require a nob that when turned one way would always click on one button and the other way, immediately upon switching direction, would be "decrease heading by one degree." I can only find selector switches, with up to about ten positions to select from, and a stopper at each end. It would also mean that each opposite direction wouldn't be it's own button.

pcb assembly company

Edited by VallyOrent
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How did you get the XHSI navigation Display to show your route. When I enter a route into the FMC the route shows in the IXEG ND but not in the XHSI ND

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