[Tom Stanton] has been playing Microsoft Flight Simulator a lot recently, and decided his old desktop joystick needed an upgrade. Instead of just replacing it with a newer commercial model, he built a complete controller system with a long joystick that pivots at floor level, integrated rudder pedals and a throttle box. You can see it in action after the break.
The throw of the joystick is limited by [Tom]’s legs and chair, with only 12° of travel in either axis, which is too small to allow for high resolution with a potentiometer. Instead, he used hall effect sensors and a square magnet for each axis, which gives good resolution over a small throw angle. The pivot that couples the two rudder pedals also makes use of a hall effect sensor, but needs more travel. To increase the size of the magnetic field, [Tom] mounted two magnets on either side of the sensor with their poles aligned. To center the rudder pedals and joystick, a couple of long tension springs were added.
A normal potentiometer was used in the throttle lever, and [Tom] also added a number of additional toggle switches and buttons for custom functions. The frame of the system is built with T-slot extrusions, so components can quickly moved to fit a specific user, and adjust the preload on the centering springs. All the electronic components are wired to an Arduino Micro, and thanks to a joystick library, the code is very simple.
At a total build cost of £212/$275 it’s certainly not what anyone would call cheap, but it’s less than what you’d pay for a commercial offering. All the design files and build details are linked in the second video if you want to build your own.
People making DIY controls to enhance flight simulators is a vibrant niche of engineering and hackery, and it sure looks like Microsoft Flight Simulator is doing its part to keep the scene lively. [akaki]’s latest project turns an Xbox One gamepad into a throttle-and-stick combo that consists entirely of 3D printed parts that snap together without a screw in sight. Bummed out by sold-out joysticks, or just curious? The slick-looking HOTAS (hands on throttle and stick) assembly is only a 3D printer and an afternoon away. There’s even a provision to add elastic to increase spring tension if desired.
The design looks great, and the linkages in particular look very well thought-out. Ball and socket joints smoothly transfer motion from one joystick to the other, and [akaki] says the linkages accurately transmit motion with very little slop.
There is a video to go with the design (YouTube link, embedded below) and it may seem like it’s wrapping up near the 9 minute mark, but do not stop watching because that’s when [akaki] begins to go into hacker-salient details about of how he designed the device and what kinds of issues he ran into while doing so. For example, he says Fusion 360 doesn’t simulate ball and socket joints well, so he had to resort to printing a bunch of prototypes to iterate until he found the right ones. Also, the cradle that holds the Xbox controller was far more difficult to design than expected, because while Valve might provide accurate CAD models of their controllers, there was no such resource for the Xbox ones. You can watch the whole video, embedded below.
We have seen quite a few DIY joystick designs that use Hall effect sensors, but [Akaki]’s controller designs (YouTube video, embedded below) really make the most of 3D printing to avoid the need for any other type of fabrication. He’s been busy using them to enhance his Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 experience, and shares not just his joystick design, but makes it a three-pack with designs for throttle and pedals as well.
Hall effect sensors output a voltage that varies in proportion to the presence of a magnetic field, which is typically provided by a nearby magnet. By mounting sensors and magnets in a way that varies the distance between them depending on how a control is moved, position can be sensed and communicated to a host computer. In [akaki]’s case, that communication is done with an Arduino Pro Micro (with ATmega32U4) whose built-in USB support allows it to be configured and recognized as a USB input device. The rest is just tweaking the physical layouts and getting spring or elastic tension right. You can see it all work in the video below.
The OpenStreetMap project is an excellent example of how powerful crowdsourced data can be, but that’s not to say the system is perfect. Invalid data, added intentionally or otherwise, can sometimes slip through the cracks and lead to some interesting problems. A fact that developers Asobo Studio are becoming keenly aware of as players explore their recently released Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020.
Like a Wiki, users can update OpenStreetMap and about a year ago, user nathanwright120 marked a 2 story building near Melbourne, Australia as having an incredible 212 floors (we think it’s this commit). The rest of his edits seem legitimate enough, so it’s a safe bet that it was simply a typo made in haste. The sort of thing that could happen to anyone. Not long after, thanks to the beauty of open source, another user picked up on the error and got it fixed up.
But not before some script written by Asobo Studio went through sucked up the OpenStreetMap data for Australia and implemented it into their virtual recreation of the planet. The result is that the hotly anticipated flight simulator now features a majestic structure in the Melbourne skyline that rises far above…everything.
The whole thing is great fun, and honestly, players probably wouldn’t even mind if it got left in as a Easter egg. It’s certainly providing them with some free publicity; in the video below you can see a player by the name of Conor O’Kane land his aircraft on the dizzying edifice, a feat which has earned him nearly 100,000 views in just a few days.
But it does have us thinking about filtering crowdsourced data. If you ask random people to, say, identify flying saucers in NASA footage, how do you filter that? You probably don’t want to take one person’s input as authoritative. What about 10 people? Or a hundred?
One of the more interesting ideas being experimented with in VR is 1:1 mapping of virtual and real-world objects, so that virtual representations can have physically interaction in a normal way. Tinker Pilot is a VR spaceship simulator project by [LLUÍS and JAVI] that takes this idea and runs with it, aiming for the ability to map a cockpit’s joysticks, switches, and other hardware to real-world representations. What does that mean? It means a virtual cockpit with flight sticks, levers, and switches that have working physical versions that actually exist exactly where they appear to be.
A few things about the project design caught our eye. One is the serial communications protocol intended to interface easily with microcontrollers, allowing for feedback between the program and any custom peripherals. (By the way, this is the same approach Kerbal Space Program took with KSPSerialIO, which enables custom mission control hardware at whatever level of complexity a user may wish to implement.)
The possibilities are demonstrated starting around 1:09 in the teaser trailer (embedded below) in which a custom controller is drawn up in CAD, then 3D-printed and attached to an Arduino, and finally the 3D model is imported into the cockpit as a 1:1 representation of the actual working unit, with visual positional feedback.
Unlike this chair experiment we saw which attached a Vive Tracker to a chair, there is no indication of needing positional trackers on individual controls in Tinker Pilot. In a cockpit layout, controls can be reasonably expected to remain in fixed positions relative to the cockpit, meaning that they can be set up as 1:1 representations of a physical layout and otherwise left alone. The kind of experimentation that is available today even to individual developers or small teams is remarkable, and it’s fascinating to see the ideas being given some experimentation.
This story started all the way back in September 12, 1981, when an F-15C aircraft’s landing attempt at Soesterberg Airbase during an airshow went completely FUBAR and the airframe was scrapped. The forward fuselage section was sold and eventually ended up with [Gene Buckle] who began work on creating a fully accurate F-15C simulator using these parts. He has blogged about his progress since 2009 over at the project website.
The F-15C was number 80-0007, which at the time of the crash had flown only 9.5 hours total, making it a very early retirement for an incredible fighter jet. But now the Eagle is back, or at least part of it: [Gene] managed to get the whole system into a state where the instrumentation and controls work again, using the original computer systems and instruments where they were still usable. You can find the YouTube video embedded after the break as well.
Detailed technical information on the F-15 series and this simulator build can be found on the project site, which is awesome both for F-15 fans and those who are into really accurate simulators.
Many people enjoy playing flight simulators or making the occasional orbit in Kerbal Space Program, but most are stuck controlling the onscreen action with nothing more exotic than a keyboard and mouse. A nice compromise for those that don’t have the space (or NASA-sized budget) to build a full simulator cockpit is a USB “button box” that you can plug in whenever you need a couple dozen extra knobs, switches, and lights.
If you’ve been considering building one for yourself, this incredible build by [nexprime] should prove quite inspirational. Now at this point, a box of buttons hooked up to a microcontroller isn’t exactly newsworthy. But there are a few features that [nexprime] packed in which we think make this particular build worth taking a closer look at.
For one, the powder coated 8.5” x 10” enclosure is absolutely gorgeous. The console itself was purchased from a company called Hammond Manufacturing, but of course it still took some work to turn it into the object you’re currently drooling over. A CNC machine was used to accurately cut out all the necessary openings, and the labels were laser etched into the powder coat.
But not all the labels. One of the things we like best about this build is that [nexprime] thought ahead and didn’t just design it for one game. Many of the labels are printed on strips of paper which slide into translucent plastic channels built into the front of the box. Not only does this allow you to change out the overlays for different games, but the paper labels look fantastic when lit with the LED strips placed behind the channels.
Internally, [nexprime] used a SparkFun Pro Micro paired with a SX1509 I/O expander. The electronics are all housed on professionally manufactured PCBs, which gives the final build an incredibly neat look despite packing in 68 separate inputs for your gaming pleasure. On the software side this box appears as a normal USB game controller, albeit one with a crazy number of buttons.