Compact collective with VRMaxII pedestal checkride

Here’s my first attempt to film a complete short flight between airports for a demo of the hardware, and it hasn’t gone without some errors and weird maneuvers ofc lol (because 3rd take lol!), please excuse that =)

In the first part of the video, I show hardware up close, and then fly from 4S2 Ken Jenstedt to 35S Wasco state in XPlane 11 using KLICKITAT VOR for navigation, mainly to show the new radio panel of VRMaxII pedestal! =) You can also see how fun it is to fly with real VFR charts in PDF using Avitab plugin, rather than with a built-in map! Puts some extra workload on you during long (boring) straight flight legs =)

With a moving map, you only look out of the window because you’re bored. Without it, you have to constantly look for scenery highlights to check your position! I’d say try it, and you won’t regret!


Somehow so far I haven’t talked about pedestals yet except for a brief introduction in a recent video, so let’s look at the latest updates =)

At the moment, there are two pedestal devices available: the simple pedestal, and the VRMax II one. These devices are actually very similar to each other, one being the more advanced version of another:

Simple pedestal
VRMax II pedestal

One of these, in my opinion, is a must-have option for Simchair collective. Why? It allows you to use your left hand for operating switches, knobs, and other stuff in a helicopter, thus eliminating the need for letting go of your cyclic. When I first tried the simple pedestal, it felt like a major improvement to the flying experience.

I’ve been gathering feedback from the community for a while, and there were 2 popular opinions:

  • 1 knob for everything is cool – you can’t cover all of them anyway
  • having more knobs is better – on some helicopters, there are knobs that are placed in a way that looking at those would still be distracting

I, personally, liked the VRMax head and wanted to make something that will take its pros while dealing with its issues. So the VRMax II pedestal was born – which uses the straightforward and compact design of a simple pedestal while also adding the comfort of having 4 separate knobs for frequently used functions – and has a really nice rotary switch to map these knobs to 8 joystick button sets (of 10 buttons each – 2 per encoder + 2 green push buttons). An important thing is, it’s designed to be mounted onto the base of the lever, and that means, you can use it with a motion platform without worrying about its weight =)

Initially, I thought using a rotary switch might be confusing, but only until I mounted the device to the collective and tried selecting modes with it. The switch turns 3 clicks to the left and 4 clicks to the right, the shape of its knob can precisely tell you what position the switch is at now.

For the simple pedestal, its assembly manual, software, and model files are available, for the VRMax II one, radio panel firmware is in development at the moment. It’s model files, however, are already available in simchair4_models repo on GitHub.

Major master controller firmware update!

I have finally managed to rewrite some parts of firmware code I wasn’t particularly happy with, namely the collective head switch parser! It was a mess, used huge amounts of memory, yet only allowed using around 17 physical buttons.

I understood that with 2 more collective heads that will soon be added to Simchair collection, a major cleanup was needed, along with some changes related to use of flash memory to store configurations more efficiently. This allowed me to design a cleaner configuration structure that could be parsed more efficiently, and thus, I was able to add more buttons!

As of now, we can use up to 32 buttons of types 1 and 2, and up to 9 buttons of types 3 and 4 – buttons from 33 to 42 are reserved for to be assigned as middle buttons. With a mode switch support, this is 96 virtual buttons plus 33 available for middle switch positions. The latter are now defined explicitly, allowing for a wider range of configurations. These changes should allow for pretty much any collective configuration, with twice the buttons compared to what we had before.

Another good thing – all heads now have common data structures, that are populated in setup subroutines from corresponding configuration structures. This reduces chances of breaking something when adding features and makes things cleaner =)

Please sync with the repo and reflash, report bugs if you find any!

Here’s how new head switches configuration looks:

// 1: button
// 2: momentary press button
// 3: selector button (button + middle button press when switch is centered)
// 4: selector momentary press button (momentary press button + middle button momentary press when switch is centered)

//0 – disabled, 1 – button, 2 – 3 – selector_button, 4 – selector, 5 – slave
const sw_matrix ab412_switch_matrix[] PROGMEM =
// i t m is i – id, t – type, m – middle button for types 3 and 4
{1, 1, 0},
{2, 1, 0},
{3, 2, 0},
{4, 2, 0},
{5, 2, 0},
{6, 2, 0},
{7, 2, 0},
{8, 2, 0},
{9, 3, 33},
{10,5, 33},
{11,3, 34},
{12,5, 34},
{13,3, 35},
{14,5, 35},
{15,4, 36},
{16,5, 36},


New “scale” Bell-412 collective head cover

I continued experimenting with white paint marker and acetone and made a “scale” version of a top panel for a 412-style head requested by a friend. In my humble opinion, it looks great, white paint adds some “aging”, and it looks more like it was taken off from a real helicopter. It differs from the original slightly, but has a disctinctly recognizable look overall!

Realistic throttle latch operation for all collective levers

When I added support of sending a button press at zero throttle position for new throttle latch, I thought that nothing actually prevents me from doing the same thing for levers with tactile idle stop mark!

So, I have added a similar mode for Huey-style lever (which still looks better with a tactile mark design, as in the real Huey the idle stop latch is driven by a solenoid). So, to press the cutoff button (throttle latch button in Dreamfoil 407 for Xplane11) with a turn of the throttle grip, in case of the tactile mark lever, one has to press the assigned idle release button on the head before moving throttle grip past the idle stop detent. This pretty much makes all levers very similar in the sense of realism, the only thing absent in tactile mark levers being the actual detent of the idle stop. Not a big deal tbh!

For levers with physical latch, the button will always be pressed when the throttle grip reaches its zero position.

Here’s how it looks in the configuration:

#define BUTTON_PRESS_ON_THROTTLE_CUTOFF 1// this feature will send a joystick button press when the throttle is fully closed
#define THROTTLE_LATCH_MODE “TACTILE” // PHYSICAL for physical latch mod or TACTILE for levers with tactile marks
#define PHYSICAL_LATCH_MOD_JOY_BUTTON 32 // joystick button number as seen in joy.cpl for the 1st Leonardo in the list
#define THROTTLE_MIN_AXIS_VALUE 0 // check this if the default doesn’t work, print raw_throttle value in e_single_collective.ino and set this line to its value, corresponding to a fully closed throttle

News on the latest updates

I have been working on the 206-style collective lately, and here’s what it looks like so far:

A few notes about it:

  • it works!
  • it will be released as a mod to the single throttle lever.
  • it uses 3 parts (one of which is an assembly of 3 small parts itself) that are different from the original lever, so any existing single throttle lever can be modified without too much effort
  • 1st test video showing an assembled lever will probably be released on this weekend =)

I have also added a mod (part 1 and part 2) for the collective housing that allows access to the magnet from the left side of the lever:

And look at this really great 407 head design sketch by Connor P. Bourque (I hope you don’t mind me posting it for everyone to see mate)!

Hopefully, I will be able to assemble and try the lever on this weekend.

Stay tuned! =)

Collective pneumatic mod manual updated

A few good things happened in the last few days.

  • I have added a very detailed step-by-step manual for the collective pneumatic mod. Some minor improvements were made.
  • I’ve been able to test the twin collective with it, works flawlessly
  • MAL-16-100 cylinder has been tested, and it works as good as the MAL-16-150 one, but is shorter (this is the shortest one that will work, MAL-16-50 is incompatible!)
  • some minor tweaks has been made to the software configuration to fit new manuals.
  • the helicopter controls set is now completely documented (and very polished)!

We now have quite a detailed documentation with photos for:

single and twin collective levers;
collective heads (switch panels);
reinforced cyclic gimbal with its stick frame;
B8 stick grip;


A better XTrident 412 support

It’s been a long time since I added the XTrident 412 startup and shutdown support (for some weird reason it doesn’t have key assignments for starter and idle stop buttons) by request of my friends and I’ve been pretty much concentrating on polishing the hardware lately. I never liked that script, as it was pretty glitchy and written in an anal way, and it may have possibly been eating up some hard – earned FPS. But finally, I’ve gotten some time to read the docs and came up with a much cleaner script, that just adds a few entries to XPlane’s controls menu. It works perfectly and does not disable starter and idle stop switches from sending joystick button presses, unlike the old one, so you can use them when flying something else, and that’s cool =)

An old compatibility mode is now deprecated and will probably be removed (for being anal!) from the firmware. Please let me know if you guys need an option of sending keyboard presses with head switches (you can always do it with software like Joystick Gremlin btw).

To the new script, install FlyWithLua plugin, and put the script under XPlane11\Resources\plugins\FlyWithLua\Scripts folder. Start the sim, and you will find new key assignments for XTrident 412 under Simchair MKIII/412 tab. However, you will notice that there are 3 keys for each switch: left, right, and middle positions. That’s where 412 head’s special switch modes come in handy!

You can either get the latest master controller firmware from GitHub, or make the following changes in switches configuration for the 412 head:

  1. Remove button numbers from ab412_coll_head_idle_stop_buttons[] and ab412_coll_head_starter_buttons[] arrays:

    byte ab412_coll_head_idle_stop_buttons[] = {};
    byte ab412_coll_head_starter_buttons[] = {};

  2. Remove these buttons from ab412_sw_mode_button_switches[] array as well:

    byte ab412_sw_mode_button_switches[] = {1,2,17};

  3. Add these buttons to ab412_sw_mode_selector_button_switches[] array:

    byte ab412_sw_mode_selector_button_switches[] = {9,11,13};
  4. Reflash the firmware.

Universal throttle quadrant page added

I have accidentally noticed yesterday that I’ve actually forgotten to add a throttle quadrant page after I finished working on it and built a prototype!

This is now fixed, and the quadrant finally has its own page with a humble description. Consisting of only 4 different (stackable) parts, the thing is probably the easiest one to make, so doesn’t require much of a manual to assemble mechanically. Regarding the software, its current version supports 3 main axes and 3 secondary (reverse or smth) axes, and can be easily changed to support 6 main axes. If you need more and are in doubt about how to do it, please feel free to contact me, I will advise the best way to tailor the software to your needs. This quadrant design can be used to drive any axes number, so you can fly pretty much anything from a Cessna 182 to a B52 with it! =)