Flight controls encompassing the flight yoke and column, throttles and rudder pedals are vital pieces of equipment that are often overlooked. A well designed yoke and throttle quadrant and will instill an enormous amount of enjoyment and provide a greater level of realism. In my opinion, these two items are the mainstay of flight simulation. If it's possible, its best to not scrimp in this area.
I've used several yoke and throttle set ups beginning with the keyboard (FS1), migrating to a desktop joystick and then to a CH Yoke and throttle. Eventually I purchased a yoke and throttle combination manufactured an distributed by Precision Flight Controls.
B-737 Yoke & Column (ACE Engineering)
I initially decided to purchase a B-737 Yoke manufactured by Ace Engineering, a Canadian-based company. Every review I read on the Internet about this yoke was positive.
The main reasons for deciding on this particular style yoke were:
- Column height above the floor identical to that of a real Boeing 737 yoke
- Excellent construction (brushed aluminium with powder coating)
- Plug & play functionality
- Accurate replica of a 737 series Yoke including stencils
- Inclusion of a 737ng checklist plate - accurately sized and attached to the yoke at the correct angle
- Wide base plate allowing attachment to the simulator floor
- Potentiometers (pots) rated to military specifications (5 million duty cycle pots).
The final point in relation to potentiometers I thought very important, as my previous yoke from Precision Flight Controls had failed due to wear of these essential devices.
I've posted a review of the ACE yoke and column in the Journal section.
B737 Yoke & Column (genuine item)
Soon after I purchased the ACE yoke, I came across a "near perfect condition" Boeing yoke and column that was removed from a Boeing 737-500 series aircraft. I'd read and spoken with several individuals who had used genuine yokes with their simulators and the idea of a real yoke and column interested me.
LEFT: Twin B737-500 yokes & columns previously used by Croatian Airlines (before retrofitting).
The two yokes and columns, which included: yokes, chart holders, trip indicators, column pod shoes and stick shakers were refurbished and retrofitted to operate with Flight Simulator.
The retrofitting of these yokes is documented in the journal section.
B-737-300 Series Throttle Quadrant (a real one)
Apart from the yoke, the next important piece of equipment used is the throttle quadrant. There are many differing throttle units commercially available for use in flight simulator and selecting one is predominately based on what level of realism you are seeking.
LEFT: My first TQ - B737-300 throttle quadrant.
At an early stage I was moving towards a reproduction throttle quadrant produced by one of several companies such as ThrottleTec or Revolution-Sim. Without going into great detail, I wasn't convinced that the reproduction throttles provided consistent reliable service for the amount of expenditure required (over $5000.00 USD). The more down market throttles, such as that produced by ThrottleTec did provide consistent operation, however, lacked realism and authenticity. It didn't take much imagination to finally decide on a reconditioned genuine 737 throttle from a real aircraft.
I was very lucky in this regard, as I discovered a throttle quadrant for sale in a tear down yard in Arizona. The throttle came from retired Boeing 737-300 series aircraft and included the full throttle quadrant and center pedestal complete with DZUS rails. The TQ belonged to a South West 737 that plied the continental US for many years.
The throttle has been refurbished by Art May-Alyea, the owner of Northern Simulations based in Florida. Art is a very knowledgeable person and has converted many throttle quadrants for use in flight simulator.
My Perspective -Throttle Functionality - Motorized or Non-Motorized?
Many cockpit builders have had problems when using either reproduction or converted real throttles in flight simulator. Most of the issues centre around the degree of automation and motorizing of the throttle unit. Before I decided to purchase a real throttle unit, I spent considerable time researching motorized throttles and I spoke to several people who have used motorized throttles; they all had difficulty to some degree or other.
At the present time (October 2011), I don't believe the sophistication of a modern automated throttle can be accurately reproduced when using an add on hardware device (throttle). No doubt, with time and expertise many of the current issues will be solved. However, I like to fly and tinkering with a non working throttle is not my idea of a fun evening.
As such, I decided to have my real 737 throttle only converted to non motorized use. This means that there is no automation attached to the workings of the throttle. If at some stage I wish to change to a motorized throttle, this can be done relatively easily with the installation of a DC motor and additional software programming. I enjoy flying the aircraft manually, so automation is not really what I am searching for.
The functionality within FS when using a real throttle is exactly identical that of any other commercial add on throttle quadrant; everything works, with the exception that the throttle handles will not move automatically when the auto throttle command is activated on the MCP.
Full Throttle Automation - November 2012
Technology is not idle and improvements have been developed in methods to simulate throttle automation.
Therefore, I have decided to convert the B737-300 throttle to full automation.
Rather than retrofit my existing 300 series throttle, I have sold this unit and purchased another late model 737 throttle and three-bay center pedestal (everything is easier the second time around). It's envisaged full conversion will be accomplished by May 2013. The conversion will enable full automation of the speed brake, throttle levers, trim wheels, trim tabs and several other functions.
Phidgets & DC Motors
To ensure accuracy and functionality, various SYS boards are used that connect real movements of the throttle (inputs) to virtual movements in FS (outputs). Phidget cards have been used to ensure that the electric trim switches, located on the yoke, change the trim tab indicators on the throttle.
To allow for the movement of the trim wheels (when the aircraft is being trimmed) a Phidget card controls a two-stage DC motor installed within the throttle compartment. The motor causes the trim wheels to automatically move, at differing speeds, when the electric trim switch is activated on the yoke. Other interface cards have been used to replicate the correct B737 functionality of the speed brake, park brake release and several other functions.
To read more about the throttle quadrant, read the various posts in the Journal section (use the search box). Any post from 2013 onwards deals ONLY with the new quadrant.
The rudder pedals I am using are custom made by Northern Flight Sim in Florida and use genuine B737 parts (recycling is fun). The pedals have toe brakes, however, they have not been configured using a joystick controller to be read by FSX as an axis. Rather they use a "button" to connect directly to an interface card and FSUPIC. As such, they are either on or off. Each pedal has a button; therefore, there is differential braking.
To improve realism, the rudder pedals have been designed to use heavy duty springs that provide realistic and accurate push pressures similar to that of the real B737. If you are landing in a crosswind and have the rudder deflected for a period of time, your leg muscles certainly begin to feel it!
Whilst the pedals and links come from Boeing, the remainder of the assembly is custom made to specification. Aluminium and heavy duty plastic were used as they are easy to cut and look aesthetically pleasing to the eye. The crack handle and circuit breaker panel are exact reproductions of the real unit and do not operate. In the future I may look at replacing these with genuine items. Although the pedal assembly does not have the ability to move forward aft "on the fly", the pedals can be easily positioned forward or aft to cater to individual leg length.
To see additional images of flight controls navigate to the Image Gallery (Flight Controls).