A year of Simchair MKIII

Today it’s been a year since I started this site =)

Because of your continued support and interest, I’ve been able to develop some cool new devices like the VRMax head, and improve existing ones to the point where they are really enjoyable!

Software-wise, we’ve started from the very basic non-i2c firmware and analog controller, and now have some pretty advanced stuff going on under the hood. Actually, we may be quite close to Simchair IV!

Here are some thoughts on what may be happening in the near future:

  • reinforced cyclic gimbal v2 – even better precision, improved stick mount, pneumatics support
  • reinforced collective hinge – with the cyclic gimbal v2 design elements adopted
  • return of the simple collective – for those of you guys who just need a compact and simple, yet good and reliable lever. Will be great for the Rotorway in FFS and Robinsons
  • pedals v2 – stronger frame, pneumatics support, toe brakes mod
  • Bell 206 style collective head
  • donation shop – you will be able to order magnets, springs, buttons, etc from me for a smooth building experience
  • guidelines page – it will help to choose from the variety of mods to create your perfect set of controls
  • simchair_models repo cleanup – I will be merging mods that I use for every lever I make with default models
  • controller upgrade – that will mark the beginning of Simchair IV

Huge thanks to everyone who supported the project, or built Simchair controls by theirselves =) Together, we make helicopter simulation better and accessible to everyone!

Single collective hotfix, reinforced gimbal v2 sketch

I’ve finally tested changes I made to the single collective to fix incorrect M4x80MM screw socket cut length in throttle frame p2. It worked perfectly:

I have also added a modified throttle grip with a texture, somewhat MI-8 style, you can see it on the picture =)

Another cool thing – I have tried to address the only problem of the current reinforced gimbal version – stick frame rotation when mounted under the chair. I have adjusted the structure to fit 2 M8 bolts instead of 1 to connect cyclic lever:

The housing diameter is increased by 15mm. This is just a sketch so far and files WILL be changed, but if you need them, these can be found in “dev” folder under peripherals dir.

An important master controller software bug fix for pedals and some news

Sadly, the more one works on creating and polishing controls, the less time it leaves for actually flying with them. Sometimes I only fly to test another thing I’ve just made and then proceed with other pressing matters at hand. Sometimes when I implement something cool I break something else 😀

I’ve just noticed and fixed an important pedals related bug in force trim – trim position hasn’t been resetting on FTCR button press. Please update the master controller firmware!

For those of you guys who’s interested in creating their own custom cyclic grips with more than 2 hat switches, please look at an example in “dev” folder. Note that with that particular example I chose to use the built-in Arduino read function, though it’s slower than reading registers directly, for the code to look cleaner – as hat pins happen to be connected to different registers.

Those files are in a separate folder because we’re at the limit of what Arduino Leonardo can do. I will be thinking of the best way to resolve it without losing compatibility with current devices.

Some news on latest updates

It’s been a while since the last post, for some reason I thought there was nothing big enough to write about. For the last few weeks, I was mainly busy with fixing minor bugs (like strengthening the throttle latch pin of the physical throttle latch mod), testing and applying improvements to the firmware code kindly offered by Pavel Fueyor (this process is sadly going really slow, and that’s a shame!), and then Connor noticed that there was a bug in the single collective, the M4x80MM screw was too short to reach the nut, pressed into the throttle frame p1. I have at first changed it in the manual and went shopping to buy an M4x100mm screw. Sadly, it turned out to be quite hard to find. That’s why I decided to implement some design changes, which I will release after some testing in a couple of days.

The bug is not super critical, as I have been using my copy of the lever for more than a year now without any issues, (that means, no need in fixing it in existing levers!) but it definitely has to be addressed, so if you’re building the lever right now, might be a good idea to wait for these changes to be applied. Models affected are throttle frame parts 1 and 2, so other stuff will remain untouched.

Looking for a better way to organize project files

Recently I noticed that the project has grown up quite a while since I’ve published it on GitHub and started this site, and thus initially chosen file/folder structure doesn’t work particularly good anymore. The problem is, we have a lot of optional mods, and it’s becoming hard to maintain and also hard for you guys to find what to print for your build. We also have a lot of repeating files: for example, all of the collective levers use the same base. Right now, if I design a better one (like the latest housing with a revision hatch mod), I have to either change it everywhere, in all related assemblies, replace STLs and re-orient them, or just publish it as a mod. The latter is what I actually do more often, as it takes less time to do so.

Now, that gives us a choice, and it’s good, but then a new user needs to know what to choose for his project. That’s why I want to add some “building guidelines” page with suggestions of what parts to choose for various applications.

But, this doesn’t solve the problem completely – we will still have quite a while of duplicated files. The answer may lie in splitting stuff into smaller assemblies – for example, collective levers may be divided into the common base and levers themselves. On the other hand, it’s quite convenient to develop stuff as a separate assembly, to avoid breaking other things.

So, to sum it up, what I want to achieve is:

  • it should be clear what parts are available (this may be achieved by publishing guidelines, but if it can be with some folder structure as well, that would be better)
  • reduce the number of duplicated parts across assemblies, as these parts become outdated and as their number increases become a pain to manage

If you guys have some thoughs and suggestions on this matter, please share!

VRMAX radio+ panel release

I am glad to announce the release of the VRMAX radio panel. Initially I thought it will be a separate device, but after actually building it and making some changes in the process, I decided that nothing prevents it from being a mod to the AB412 collective head. If you have one already, you just need to reprint and replace the bottom part of the housing, and tie and solder the radio panel combined i2c cable to that of the 412 head.

I have made a few changes since when the video from the previous post was filmed:

  • panel mode switch now respects the stack selector switch position; this means we now have 6 more button sets for 4 radio panel knobs to map to some useful functions.
  • I noticed that OBS and HDG knobs were way too slow to be operated comfortably, so a new continuous turn mode was added: it will be making a lot of short button presses on each knob step, resulting in OBS knob continuous rotation (up to around 30 degrees). Pressing the button of the knob switches between 1-press-per-step and continuous modes, a button press in the latter stops rotation. This works for OBS and DIR GYRO knobs.
  • After some thinking, I changed the behavior of radio panel knob pushbuttons: they are now mapped to 3 different joy button sets depending on the stack selector switch position. This allows us to use 2 top buttons for ACT / STBY buttons of the selected radio ( 1 for COM, 1 for NAV), and 2 other buttons – for audio panel mute / unmute buttons (for currently selected COM and NAV)! This is useful, when you have tuned some AWOS frequency in advance on your second radio, and want to mute it until you’ll be close to the airport, or when you want to make sure you’re tuned to the correct VOR and check that you’re actually receiving the signal from it.

To test the new panel, you can use this web based tool: https://html5gamepad.com/. It displays all of its 154 buttons properly 😀

Here’s how the head looks when installed onto the single collective:

You can find the assembling manual here. I will be making a tutorial and a flight video shortly.

Stay tuned!

VRMAX collective head is here!

I am happy to present a new device in the line – the VRMAX radio panel. That thing allows us to operate knobs in the aircraft, basically all of them. This device uses more than 90 joystick buttons at the moment!

It allows to operate the following equipment: NAV / COM radios 1 and 2, VOR indicators, transponder, ADF radio and its indicator, directional gyro adjustment, altimeters (radio and barometric), and has 2 more modes that map 4 knobs of the radio panel to yet another sets of joystick buttons, for generic functionality you may need.

I will add an option that will add 6 more radio panel knobs modes, by making the panel mode switch respect the stack selector switch position, that should cover pretty much everything you may need.

An important part: this head is called VRMAX because it is designed in a way that allows you to operate knobs without looking at them while wearing the VR helmet. All of the knobs are of different shape and are placed in distinctive positions. Positions of selector switches can be checked by simply touching them. All of the controls are packed in the tight space of collective head additional panels, and thus are always within reach, in a predictable place!

The assembly manual along with STLs and sources will be available in a couple of days. If you want them right now, look for them in dev folder!

Please take a look at this video for a preview of how it works in X-Plane 11:

Simchair VR MAX collective head

Which secondary controls do we use a lot when flying? When flying online of offline? Let’s think of it. When we start our “realistic” flight (the one where we don’t just fool around but fly somewhere, e.g. in VATSIM), at first, we always dial ATIS frequency. Then we hear our altimeter setting and dial it in. We set our transponder and dial some frequency on our COM radio, either UNICOM or some of larger airport ATC frequencies. We set NAV radios to VOR frequencies and set some desired radial with an OBS knob, maybe turn ADF and align our dir gyro.

In other words, we use KNOBS! Surprisingly, so far Simchair relied on mouse or VR controls to turn them, but I decided to do it in a better way. With this thing, we will finally have enough knobs for everything! A separate panel mode switch will allow us to map several functions per one knob, and a few most essential functions will have separate knobs. Note how everything is of different shape and placed in a way so we can easily distinguish where is what without looking at the device.

It will likely be released in a couple of weeks.

Bell 412 collective head “hardware related” bug found

Guys, there’s a slight change needed to the 412 assembling process. Legs of the bottom-left switch of the head must be cut short (see pic below) – otherwise, it shorts pins of the KY-083 board under it. I have updated assembly manual accordingly.

If you have problems with multiple button presses and/or hat switch only working in 2 directions, this is most likely the case, please update.