Disaster recovery

Today I received the final part I needed to get the desktop sim up and running again: a CH throttle quadrant. This may confuse you if you remember that I’m using a Saitek yoke which comes with its own TQ, and I’ve replaced this yoke with another, so I got another TQ with it. Why, then, buy yet another? It’s a complicated story, but then that’s what this blog is for, so listen very carefully; I shall write this only once.

When last I updated you, I told the sorry tale of how a malfunctioning USB hub managed to fry a lot of gear. The full list of dead stuff was:

  • Saitek ProFlight yoke
  • The associated throttle quadrant
  • Saitek switch panel
  • Saitek radio panel
  • Saitek multi-panel

If you’re spotting a link here, you’re not alone. However, these were the only things connected to the USB hub itself, other than a USB wireless keyboard/mouse adapter – which survived. So it may just be coincidence. If Saitek are not properly surge-protecting their gear, I recommend they do so. It’s no fun losing several hundred quid’s worth of stuff in an instant.

I tried to order replacements for all these parts, but I ran into problems straight away. These are all niche products, so it’s not like there’s going to be a huge amount of stock around, but some of the parts were just not to be found anywhere in the UK. I was able to order a new radio panel and switch panel from Amazon UK direct, but the multi panel was just unavailable, and all the various shops saying they had stock were quoting 2 to 4 weeks lead time for delivery. I ended up cancelling an order from one place that said they had it in stock and then sheepishly revealed, after taking my order, that they didn’t. Meanwhile, the yoke was proving equally difficult to replace. None in stock at Amazon, and none anywhere I could find that wasn’t for silly money – it’s amazing how some outfits think they can charge double the price that others do, and sadly they probably get away with it more often than not. In the end I settled for getting the Saitek Cessna yoke instead; this is basically the same product (well, actually it turns out the insides are quite different; but it’s functionally the same) but is fitted with a Cessna-style handle and switches; whereas the Pro’s is based on the Beechcraft Baron. The Cessna range is supposedly officially licensed and includes some other parts including Cessna-style pedals and a panel that gives you the standard Cessna throttle assembly.

The multi-panel looked like being the sticking point, but I decided to see what Amazon US could do for me, and it turns out that if you pay for express shipping (which is about £20), they’ll put it on a plane for you overnight and get it to the UK in 2 business days, customs permitting. So I ordered one from there on a Sunday evening, and it duly turned up on the Wednesday. Even with the delivery cost and currency conversion, I paid less than I would have done to buy it locally. I vowed to do this more often – and indeed I already have.

So, with all the parts in hand, I set about rebuilding the sim. All well and good. But the aircraft I most enjoy flying right now is QualityWings’ excellent BAe146 / AvroJet, and that’s a four-engine bird. OK, you can control all four throttles with one lever, but that’s cheating. Meanwhile, the Saitek TQ has only three levers. What to do?

Well, of course I now had two Saitek TQs available. One from the fried yoke, one from the new one. Naturally, these TQs don’t plug into USB like a useful device – Saitek sells a USB version, but by default the TQ plugs into a port on the yoke and works through it (though having examined the electronics in some detail I believe it actually is a USB device specially mutilated so it won’t work on its own).

Anyway, I reasoned – if I rip out the guts of this TQ and connect the potentiometers and buttons therein to a Bodnar interface card, I’ll have a USB TQ to put alongside the new one and that’ll give me six levers and lots of buttons. Yay!

And so I set to work. I decided to go a step further, and build a proper enclosure for the two TQs to bring them permanently together. And I figured I’d rip out the guts of both of them and wire it all into the Bodnar card. I would add some nice industrial toggle switches with missile-silo-style flip covers to be my fuel cut-offs. And some work with saws and screws and so on later, there I had it – the quadrant of my dreams. Or at least my feverish imaginings.

I re-wired all the pots, wired up the switches, patched that all into the Bodnar card, plugged it in, and bingo! All working. But calibrating the axes shows a problem – I’m getting distinctly different outputs from different levers; the older quadrant’s pots cover a much larger spectrum than the new ones. OK, so let’s use FSUIPC to even this all out, right? No luck. The pots are shaky, unreliable, giving vastly different values, flipping up and down uncontrollably. Absolutely no way to keep it under control – I have no idea how the Saitek firmware does it.

A lot has been written about the pots in the Saitek TQ. At first glance, they look like trimpots – go look that up if you don’t know what it is, I don’t have time to explain here, suffice it to say that you can’t use trimpots in an application where the pot is in motion all the time. Saitek has said that they are in fact special devices manufactured specifically for them, and it seems that electrically, they are non-standard. Certainly I couldn’t get them to calm down and give a steady output when attached to the Bodnar card.

At any rate, that leaves me without a working TQ, let alone one that can do four levers, so I’m left with a choice of either ordering two Saitek USB TQs, or going another way; and that’s how I come to be the proud owner of a CH six-level TQ, which I also had to order from Amazon US.

In truth, I had owned a CH TQ before. It was one of the original devices I bought back when I first got bit by the simming bug. But it was long ago dismantled as part of The Project, and while I’ve found the levers and pot assembly, I can’t find the bottom half of the case or the electronics that go in it. Oh well.

I’m not utterly distraught; yes, I’ve spent a lot of money, much of it twice, but the ‘dead’ parts will yield lots of bits and pieces I can use in future. I’m already considering painting the knobs from the dead radio panel and multi-panel to replace those on the new ones; the garish silver colour does not please me. At the end of the day, if you can’t spend your money having fun, what’s the point?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and fire up the sim and take the new TQ for a spin. I’ll report back after my upcoming house move (I’m moving twice – once temporarily for a few months, and then into a permanent home where I plan to resurrect The Project) and show you what state the desktop sim is in then.

Until then, happy flying.