Not a whole lot of simming going on

A brief update as usual. My promise to do one new post every week lasted all of zero weeks, I’m afraid. So to date we have a grand total of 4 posts in 2017! I don’t seem to be able to hold down a full time job, have a life outside work, pursue the simming hobby, and write about it all at the same time. Let alone make videos.

This seems to be the fate of all simpit blogs. I can’t think of a single one that lasted beyond the point where its author had a working sim. All seemed to tail off in the end. I’m trying to avoid that fate, but I’m perilously close to it. Hence my intention to move more to a blog about simming and the challenges of that than about building a sim, since I’ve now done that – at least in this incarnation. In 2018 (or more likely 2019) when I start work on the next sim-in-the-garden-shed, that’ll be a whole different blog 🙂

A few changes since my last post, but not many – I’ve added some Saitek FIP LED gauges to the sim for my standby instruments and for particular aircraft configurations, and I also added a pair of Saitek throttle quadrants mounted on a kind of bracket that goes over my Throttletek thrust levers for when I’m flying single or twin prop planes that require power / mixture / prop for each engine. I still use the Throttletek throttles for jets.

Other than that, I’m mostly in tweak mode now, adding new capabilities and aircraft and tweaking the sim to accommodate them (control setups, scenarios etc). Most recently, I built a couple of startup scripts for my PCs so that they start up the sim and all the default software (SPAD.Next, Active Sky Next, G1000 simulator etc) automatically. I’m trying to get SkyDemon up and running on my iPad and synced with a GPS position broadcast on the LAN from a program called FSXFlight, but it was made for Foreflight and doesn’t seem to work that well with SkyDemon.

I finally got properly synchronised AI traffic working via WideTraffic. The initial release of the 64-bit build had a bug which caused P3D v4 to crash after a few minutes, but that’s been fixed now, so I can run Ultimate Traffic Live on my server PC and have the traffic show up properly on my client machine. While I was waiting for that, I spent a little money on a couple of copies of RealTraffic which is a program that takes real-world transponder info from aircraft and injects it into Aerowinx’s PSX sim, and a freeware adapter PSXSeeconTraffic from Nico Kaan that plugs this into FSX / P3D. Using this, I was able to inject real-world traffic, in real time, into both sim instances, and hence get real traffic showing up in the sim as it was flying in the real world. This is really cool, especially because there’s no need to calculate any flight movement data for the injected aircraft which means there’s no frame rate hit, unlike with AI traffic. But the traffic doesn’t interact with ATC at all, which is a bit of a realism killer for me. So right now I’m preferring Ultimate Traffic Live. But I have both options available and working.

I have finally made a new video for my YouTube channel. It summarises some of the stuff that I’ve mentioned in earlier posts here about the new screen, new console etc. But, perhaps more interestingly for this audience, it also has a 20-minute demo flight that I took in the sim just to show it working. I intend to do a lot more videos like this (which are easy to produce just as a side-effect of the hobby itself), interspersed with more ‘educational’ video content. Production values should increase as I get used to it – in particular I need to learn how to get my GoPros to work better in low light, and I’ll need to find a better place to position the camera, and have a second camera focussed on the instruments etc. Do check it out if you have the time to spare!

It’s beginning to look a lot like a simulator…

It’s been ages since I posted here. This will not be a surprise to anyone who has followed this blog for any period of time – although ‘follow’ is possibly an inappropriate word for something that moves at the speed of a particularly leisurely sloth – but is a source of constant sadness and irritation for me.

I could plead that I’m getting on with building the sim rather than the bad old days when I might work an hour or so a week on a shell that would never see the light of day, and that would be true; I’ve come a long way in the last 12 months. I have an operating and usable simulator. It’s by no means finished, and it’s by no means the last one that I will build, but it works, I can use it, and I am using it.

Rather than a very slow blow-by-blow diary of building a sim, this blog should really be about the challenges of building a sim, and my thoughts on them. And so that is what it’s going to be.

I’d love to promise you one update a week. In fact, I will promise you exactly that, and let’s see what happens.

Then there’s my YouTube channel, which has one video on it and about half a dozen hopeful subscribers. Making videos takes a lot more time and effort that writing blog posts, and can’t be easily done at 2am, unlike most of these scribbles. There’s been nothing new on the channel since January, although I shot a bunch of footage during the Great Screen Rebuild and the subsequent getting-things-to-work phase, and I’m hoping to put out a video about the screen rebuild and then something about single-channel vs multi-channel in Prepar3d in the not-too-distant future. I can’t, and won’t, promise any frequency of updates to the YouTube channel. I subscribe to a lot of channels that are updated daily or at least a few times a week, but those guys are doing it as a full-time thing. I have a job. And a life. Not much of one, but I do have one. And sometimes I just want to fly the sim.

Anyway… enough rambling. This is just by way of a promise that there is content to come, now that there is a sim to write content about. I just need to factor writing and shooting videos into my regular schedule. That can’t be hard, can it?

Here’s a quick shot of the sim in action, to show how far it’s come. I’ll explain the layout and function of all the screens in a future post.

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I don’t do updates…

…but if I did, they’d be the best updates in the world. Probably.

Seriously, though, it’s been ages since I posted here, and just as long since I posted on YouTube. You’ll have to forgive me, although this is hardly unusual in the history of this blog.

I’ve got some updates coming down the pipeline Real Soon Now, but long story short – it took me much longer than I’d intended to get done with the new screen and get the projectors mounted and aligned, but the results have been good. I did some real test flying and the display is much better than it was, not least because of the Screen Goo paint which I’ve finally applied. There are issues, which I’ll go into, but I’m working on those.

Most recently, I made a significant decision to go from a two-seat console down to a single-seat (pilots’ side) console. This was primarily so that I could get the console much closer to the screen and sit nearer the centre of it.

Details on all this and more in updates soon. Honest. In the meantime, he’s a picture of the current status quo:

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New screen takes shape

img_0186It’s been a while since I posted and I thought I owed you a status update. The build of the new screen has been going slowly for reasons I’ll explain shortly, but it’s definitely progressing. Just today I put on the new screen surface. I hope to be painting by mid-week and mounting the new gantry next weekend. First light on the projectors maybe by the weekend after.

Continue reading →

Screen rebuild – update

I started work on my screen rebuild this weekend, but it quickly became apparent that it’s really hard to cut decent, accurate curves with a simple jigsaw and my limited cut supports and space. I really want this to work properly so I never have to consider building the screen again.

Having taken down the existing screen surface, I’ve decided that the underlying frame is itself not fit for purpose. Specifically, it’s a bit wonky. It’s the best I could do with my limited skills, but it’s just not good enough.

So (deep breath), I broke out the CAD program and drew up a set of parts for a completely new frame and screen assembly, calculated to be millimetre-perfect for the projectors that I’m using. I’ve just sent the CAD drawing off to a CNC cutting house for a quote to cut the parts. Provided it’s not super-expensive – and there’s no reason it should be – then I’ll have the parts cut and delivered to me, and from those I can build a new screen assembly and projector gantry.

I’ll update you when I know more…

UPDATE 23/01/17: I’ve commissioned a local design firm with the right CNC cutting equipment to cut the parts for me. Hopefully they’ll be ready this week. In which case, a build log will be forthcoming after the weekend…

UPDATE 25/01/17: Nope. The parts will not be coming until next week. So building will have to wait until next weekend. Sorry!

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Screen / gantry rebuild

What? Am I mad? Well, maybe, but since I got the sim running I’ve been plagued with display problems and these come down to two main things:

  1. The screen has multiple distortions on it due to joins and flexing, and is not properly semi-circular.
  2. The projectors are badly aligned and keep moving.

These leave me with a sub-optimal experience and it’s only really become obvious since I started using the sim.

So – I’m going to rebuild the screen yet again, and also re-mount the projectors.

I’m going to cut four semi-circular support rings which will be mounted to the original frame and will leave a properly circular guide against which to attach the screen material. I will replace the hardboard with new board. With the continuous circular guide, rather than relying on four mounting points, the board should conform properly to the shape and have no dips and bumps. Then I’ll paint it with the long-awaited Screen Goo paint.

I’m also going to re-mount the projectors. To do this, I’m going to take down the current gantry and replace the wooden cross-bars – which, like all wood I can get from a DIY store, is warped and not completely straight – with square-section steel tubes. This will not only get me a dead straight run, but also improve the structural rigidity of the whole system.

Then I’m going to make my own projector mounts. The current mounts are meant for AV systems and are fire-and-forget – that is, you set them up and leave them; but they don’t do well being adjusted on-the-fly as I’ve been having to do, and it’s impossible to tighten then up enough to stop any movement without losing the careful positioning I’ve already done. I will replace them with my own design which will be rigid and allow for adjustment using bolts. I can get them into place and adjust them in-situ without losing the other settings I’ve made.

I’ll do a video / entry on this whole process and show you how I do it. I hope to have the sim back up and running by next week, the week after at the latest. With a stable and properly aligned visual system, the software tasks of blending the views etc should get a lot easier.