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Mission Statement 

The purpose of FLAPS-2-APPROACH is two-fold:  To document the construction of a Boeing 737 flight simulator, and to act as a platform to share aviation-related articles pertaining to the Boeing 737; thereby, providing a source of inspiration and reference to like-minded individuals.

I am not a professional journalist.  Writing for a cross section of readers from differing cultures and languages with varying degrees of technical ability, can at times be challenging. I hope there are not too many spelling and grammatical mistakes.

 

Note:   I have NO affiliation with ANY manufacturer or reseller.  All reviews and content are 'frank and fearless' - I tell it as I see it.  Do not complain if you do not like what you read.

I use the words 'modules & panels' and 'CDU & FMC' interchangeably.  The definition of the acronym 'OEM' is Original Equipment Manufacturer (aka real aicraft part).

 

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Journal Archive (Newest First)

Entries in Annunciators (3)

Friday
Mar112016

BRT / DIM Functionality - Lights Test Switch

The annunciators in the Boeing 737 are very bright when illuminated, and the reason for the high intensity is justified - the designers want to ensure that any system warnings or cautions are quickly noted by a flight crew.

However, when flying at night for extended periods of time the bright lights can be tiring on your eyes.  Also, during critical flight phases such as during a night-time approach, the bright lights can become distracting.  At this time, the flight deck is usually dimmed in an attempt to conserve night vision. 

For example, the three green landing annunciators (Christmas tree lights), speed brake and flaps extension annunciators are all illuminated during the final segment of the approach.  At full intensity these annunciators can, at the very least, be distracting.

LEFT:  Lights Test switch.  The three way switch located on the Main Instrument Panel (MIP) Captain-side is used to toggle the intensity of connected annunciators.  The panel label reads TEST, BRT and DIM.  The switch in the photograph is an OEM switch which has been retrofitted to a Flight Deck Solutions (FDS) MIP.

To help minimize eye strain and to enable night vision to be maintained as much as possible, pilots can select from two light intensity levels to control the brightness output of the annunciators. 

Anatomy of the Lights Test Switch

The switch (a three-way toggle) which controls the light intensity (brightness level) is called the Lights Test switch.  The switch is located on the Main Instrument Panel (MIP).  The switch is not a momentary switch and whatever position the switch is left at it will stay at until toggled to another position.  The switch has three labelled positions: Lights Test, BRT and DIM. 

(i)           UP controls the lights test (labeled Lights Test);

(ii)          CENTRE is the normal position which enables the annunciators to illuminate at full intensity (labeled BRT); and,

(iii)         DOWN lowers the brightness level of the annunciators (labeled DIM).

OEM annunciators have a built-in Push-To-Test function, and each annunciator will illuminate when pushed.  The brightness level is pursuant to the position the Lights Test switch (DIM or BRT). 

The Lights Test will always illuminate all the annunciators at their full intensity (maximum brightness). An earlier article explains the Lights Test switch in more detail.

Special Conditions

When the Light Test switch is set to DIM, all the annunciators will be display at their minimum brightness.  The exception is the annunciators belonging to the Master Caution System (MCS), which are the master warning, fire bell and six packs, and the Autopilot Flight Director System (AFDS).  These annunciators will always illuminate at their full intensity because they are construed as primary caution and warning lights.

Variable Voltage

There is nothing magical about the design Boeing has used to allow DIM functionality; it is very simplistic.

Annunciators for the most part are powered by 28 volts; therefore, when the Lights Test switch is in the neutral position (center position labeled BRT) the bulbs are receiving 28 volts and will illuminate at full intensity.  Moving the switch to the DIM position reduces the voltage from 28 volts to 16.5 volts with a correspondingly lower output.  In the real aircraft, the DIM functionality (and Light Test) is controlled by a semi-mechanical system comprising relays and zener-type diodes that vary the voltage. 

Two Controlling Systems - your choice

The DIM and Lights Test functionality can be achieved in the simulator by using one of two systems - software or mechanical.

Software Controlled

The avionics suites developed by Prosim-AR, Project Magenta and Sim Avionics have the ability to conduct a full Lights Test in addition to allowing DIM functionality.  However, depending upon the hardware used, the individual Push-To-Test function of each annunciator may not be functional.  The DIM functionality is controlled directly by the avionics suite software; it is not a mechanical system as used in the real aircraft.

In ProSim737 the DIM function can be assigned to any switch from the configuration/switches and indicators menu.  In Sim Avionics the function is assigned and controlled by FSUPIC offsets within the IT interface software.

Mechanically Controlled

I have chosen to replicate the Lights Test and DIM functionality in a similar way to how it is done in the real aircraft. 

There are no benefits or advantages to either system – they are just different methods to achieve the same result.

Two Meanwell power supplies are used to provide the voltage required to illuminate the annunciators.  A 28 volt power supply enables the annunciators to be illuminated at their brightest intensity, while the less bright DIM functionality is powered by a 16.5 volt power supply (or whatever voltage you wish).

A heavy duty 20 amp 28 volt relay enables selection of either 28 volt or 16.5 volts.

DIM Board

A small board has been constructed from ABS plastic on which is mounted a 20 amp 28 volt relay and a terminal block. The board, called DIM is mounted behind and beneath the MIP. This facilitates easy access to the required power supplies mounted within the Power Supply Rack (PSR)

LEFT:  The DIM Board is surprisingly simple and comprises a single terminal block and a heavy duty 28 volt relay.  Wires are coloured and tagged to ensure that each wire is connected to the correct terminal (click to enlarge).

An important function of the DIM board is that it helps to minimise the number of wires required to connect the DIM functionality to the various annunciators and to the Lights Test switch.   

Interfacing and Connections

Prior to proceeding further, a very brief explanation is required to how the various panels receive power. 

Rather than connect several panels directly to a power supply, I have connected the power supplies to two 28 volt busbars - one busbar is located in the center pedestal and other is attached to the rear of the MIP.  The busbars act a centralised point from which power is distributed to any connected panels.  This allows the wiring to be more manageable, neater, and easily traceable if troubleshooting is required.

Likewise, there is a lights test busbar located in the center pedestal that provides a central area to connect any panel that is lights test compliant.  Without this busbar, any panel that was lights test compliant would require a separate wire to be connected to the Lights Test switch in the MIP.  To read more about this feature, navigate to the page that deals with the lights test busbar.

The below mud schematic may make it easier to understand.  To view the schematic at full size click the image.

A 28 volt busbar located in the center pedestal is used as a central point from which to connect various panels to (lower pale blue box).  

The busbar is connected to the terminal block located on the DIM board.  Wires from the terminal block then connect to a 16.5 and 28 volt power supply located in the PSR (orange boxes). 

The 28 volt relay is also wired directly to the terminal block on the DIM board and a single wire connects the relay with the Lights Test switch located in the MIP (green box). 

From the Lights Test switch, a single wire connects with the lights test busbar located in the center pedestal (pale blue box).  The purple box represents any panel that is Lights Test compliant - a single wire connects between a panel and the lights test busbar.

Although this appears very convoluted, the principle is comparatively simplistic.

How it Works

When the Lights Test switch is toggled to the DIM position the relay is closed.  This inhibits 28 volts from entering the circuit, but allowing 16.5 volts to reach the 28 volt busbar (located in the center pedestal); any annunciators connected to this busbar will now only receive 16.5 volts and the annunciators will glow at their lowest brightness level.  Conversely, when the switch is toggled  to BRT or to Lights Test, the relay opens and the busbar once again receives 28 volts.

Which Annunciators are Connected to DIM Functionality

The annunciators that connect with the DIM board are those in the fire suppression panel, various panels in the center pedestal, the forward and aft overhead, and in the MIP.  If further annunciators in other systems require dimming, then it is a matter of connecting the appropriate wires from the annunciator to the 28 volt busbar, and to the and lights test busbar, both of which are located in the center pedestal.

BELOW:  A rather haphazard video showing the two brightness levels.  The example shows the annunciators in the OEM Fire Suppression Panel (FSP).  The clicking sound in the background is the Lights Test switch being toggled from BRT to DIM and back again.  Note that the colour of the annunciator does not alter - only the intensity (brightness).  The colour change in the video, as the lights alter intensity, is caused by a colour temperature shift which is not visible to the naked eye but is recorded by the video.

Glossary

Annunciator - A light that illuminates under set conditions.  Often called a Korry.
Busbar - A bar that enables power to distributed to several items from a centralised point.
Mud Schematic - Australian colloquialism meaning a very simplistic diagram (often used in geological mapping / mud map).
Push-To-Test Function - All annunciators have the ability to be pushed inwards to test the circuit and to check if the globe/LED is operational.
OEM - Original Equipment Manufacturer aka real aircraft part.
Panel/Module - Used interchangeably and meaning an avionics panel that incorporates annunciators.
Toggled - A verb in English meaning to toggle, change or switch from one effect, feature, or state to another by using a toggle or switch.

Wednesday
Mar252015

OEM Annunciators Replace Reproduction Korrys in Main Instrument Panel (MIP)

A task completed recently has been the replacement of the reproduction annunciators located on the Main Instrument Panel (MIP) with OEM annunciators. 

LEFT:  There can be little doubt that OEM annunciators shine far brighter than their reproduction counterparts.  The korrys are lit during the lights test.  Flaps gauge yet to be installed.   (click to enlarge).

The reason for changing to OEM annunciators was several-fold.  First, anything OEM is superior to a reproduction item.  Second, I wanted to reproduce the same korry annuciation  lighting observed in the OEM panels in the center pedestal, fire suppression panel, and when fitted, the forward and aft overhead panels.  Additionally, it was also to enable the push-to-test functionality and to provide better illuminance during daylight.  Certain reproduction korrys are not that bright when annunciated and are diffiucult to see during the day.

This post will explain the anatomy of the annunciators that are fitted to the Main Instrument Panel (MIP).  It will also detail how the annunciators are wired and configured in ProSim737, and provide incite into some of the advantages and functionality that can be expected when using OEM annunciators.

Anatomy of a Annunciator

An annunciator is a light which is illuminated when a specific function occurs on the aircraft.  Annunciators are often called by the generic name of a ‘korry’, as korry is the registered trademark used by a company called Esterline that manufactures annunciators.  

There are two types of annunciators used in the Boeing aircraft, the 318 and the 319 which are either a Type 1 circuit or a Type 2 circuit.

The 318 and 319 korrys are not interchangeable.  Each Korry has a different style of bulb, differing electrical circuits, and a different method of internal attachment (captive hex screw verses two blade-style screws).  The only similarity between the 318 and 319 korrys is that the hole needed to house the korry in the MIP is identical in size - .440” x .940”.  

The circuit type refers to the electrical circuit used in the Korry.    Both circuit types require a ground-controlled circuit to turn it on, however, Type 1 circuits are ground-seeking while Type 2 circuits are power-seeking.    Typically, a Boeing 737 uses Type 1 circuits.

Annunciators have five parts that comprise:

(i)     The lower assembly and terminals (usually four terminals in number);
(ii)    The upper assembly;
(iii)    The outer housing/sleeve which has a lip to allow a firm connection with the MIP;
(iv)    The push-in light plate which includes the bulbs; and,
(v)    The legend, which incorporates a replaceable coloured lens.

The four terminal connections on the rear of each annunciator are specific to the functionality of the unit.  Each will exhibit a differing circuit dependent upon its function.  Likewise, each annunciator is individually indexed to ensure that the upper assembly cannot be inadvertently mated with the incorrect lower assembly.

LEFT:  A disassembled annunciator showing the main components (click to enlarge).

Annunciators typically are powered by 28 Volts, use two incandescent ‘push-in style’ bulbs, and dependent upon the korry’s function, may have a light plate coloured amber, white red or green.  The legend is the name plate, and legends are usually laser engraved into the light plate to ensure ease of reading.  The engraved letters are in-filled with colour to allow the printing to stand out from the light plate’s lens colour.

Specialised Korry

The Next Generation series of aircraft use a korry, a type 318, that is slightly different to the standard Korry. This Korry enables the functionality for the BELOW G/S – P-Inhibit function.  

The Type 318 differs from other korrys used in the MIP in that it has a dry set of momentary contacts which are controlled by pressing the light plate.  Pressing the illuminated light plate extinguishes the annunciator and cancels the aural ‘Below Glideslope’ caution.

Reproduction Verses Original Equipment Manufacture (OEM)

The four biggest differences between reproduction and OEM annunciators are:

(i)     The ability to depress the light plate in the OEM unit for Push-To-Test function;
(ii)    The ability to replicate specific functions, for example the Below G/S P-Inhibit korry;
(iii)    The hue (colour) of the lens and crispness of the legend; and,
(iv)    The brightness of the annunciator when illuminated (5 volts verses 28 volts).

Reproduction Korry Shortfalls

Two areas lacking in reproduction units is the brightness of the annunciator when illuminated, and poorly defined legends.  

For the most part, reproductions use 5 volts to illuminate two LEDS located behind the lens.  Whilst it is true that the use of LED technology minimises power consumption and heat generation, the brightness of the LEDS, especially during the day,  may not be as bright as the two 28 volt incandescent bulbs used in an OEM annunciator.   Moreover, 5 volts does not allow the successful use of DIM functionality.  

It is unfortunate that many lower priced annunciators also lack well defined engraved lens plates making the ability to read the annunciator legend difficult at best.

Shortfalls notwithstanding, most high-end reproduction annunciators are of high quality and do the job very well.  

Table 1: provides a quick reference to determine the main differences between OEM and reproduction annunciators. Note that the appearance of the annunciator can alter markedly between different manufacturers of reproduction units.

Installation, Interfacing and Configuration of OEM Annunciators

Replacing a reproduction annunciator with its OEM counterpart is straightforward if the Main Instrument Panel (MIP) has been produced 1:1; however, reproduction MIPs are rarely exactly 1:1 and in all probability you may need to enlarge the hole that the annunciator resides.  If this is the case, ensure you use a fine-grade aluminum file and gentle abrade the hole to enlarge it.  When enlarging the hole, ensure you continually check the hole size by inserting the korry – if the hole is enlarged too much, the korry will be loose and will require additional methods to secure to the MIP.

Disassembling a Korry

It is important to understand how to disassemble the annunciator.  

LEFT: The individual indexing can be observed on the top surface of the upper assembly.  To separate the two assemblies a hex screw must be used to loosen the hex screw located inside the brass-coloured circular fitting.  Note that this is a new style LED korry which does not support the older incandescent bulbs (click to enlarge).

First, the light plate has to be gently pried loose from the upper assembly.  Once this is done, the upper and lower assemblies must be separated to allow the outer/sleeve to be removed.  The Type 318 annunciators have a hex screw, located in the lower assembly unit, which needs to be loosened with a 5/64th hex wrench to allow separation, while the Type 319 annunciators are secured by two standard screws that require a small blade screwdriver.  

Once the two parts are separated, it should be noted that the upper assembly has a flange at the forward end; this flange enables the annunciator to be firmly connected to the MIP.   

Attaching a Korry to the MIP

Insert the upper assembly into the MIP flange facing forward.  Next, slide the housing over the rear of the mechanism from the rear of the MIP.  Rejoin the lower section and tighten the hex screw.    If the MIP is 1:1, the annunciator should now be firmly secured to the MIP wall. The light plate can now be pushed into the mechanism.

LEFT:  Is your MIP 1:1 and will it fit OEM korrys without further to do?  Click the diagram to see the dimensions of korrys (with thanks to Mongoose for diagram).

If the annunciator does not fit firmly into the MIP, it can be secured by using silastic or a glue/metal compound.  (I do not recommend this.  It is best to ensure the hole is the correct size or a tad too small.  This will guarantee that the annunciator will have a firm fit).

Provided the mechanism is not faulty or does not break, the chance that it will need to remove it is very remote.  If the bulbs fail, they are easily replaced as they are contained within the light plate.

Wiring - Procedure

Wiring the MIP annunciators is a convoluted and repetitious process that involves daisy-chaining the various annunciators together.  Because wiring is to and from four terminals, it can be difficult to remember which wire goes where.  As such, it is recommended to use coloured wire, label each wire and keep meticulous notes.  

Each annunciator has four terminals located on the rear of the unit that corresponds to:

(i)      Positive (28 volts);
(ii)     Logic for the function of the korry;
(iii)    Lights test; and,
(iv)    Push-To-Test.  

To crosscheck the above, each Type 2 korry has a circuit diagram stenciled on the side of the assembly.

Figure 1: A schematic of the three types of korrys used in the Boeing 737.  The left diagram is from the 318 push to inhibit korry.

For the OEM korrys to function correctly, they need to be connected with an interface card (I/O card).  An example of such a card is a Phidget 0/16/16 card.

(i)    Designate the annunciator closest the I/O card and power supply as the lead annunciator (alpha).  

(ii)    Terminal 1 and Terminal 4 are the power terminals for each korry.  Connect to the alpha korry the positive wire from the 28 Volt power supply to terminal 1 and the 28 Volt negative wire to terminal 4.  The wires from these two terminals are then daisy-chained to the identical terminals on the other korrys in the system.

(iii)    Terminal 2 controls the logic behind the function for each korry.  A wire must connect from terminal 2 of each korry to the output side of the I/O card.  To close the loop in the I/O card, a wire is placed from 28 Volts negative to the ground terminal on the card (input).

(iv)    Terminal 3 controls the logic behind the light test toggle.  A wire is daisy-chained from terminal 3 of the alpha korry to all other korrys in the system.  A wire is then extended from the final korry to the lights test toggle switch.  This switch has been discussed in detail in a separate post.

Quite a bit of wire will be needed to connect the thirteen or more annunciators and it is a good idea to try and keep the wire neat and tidy by using a lumen to secure it to the rear of the MIP.

Mounting and Brackets

Every simulator design is different, and what is suitable for one set-up may not be applicable to another.  

The I/O card that is used to control the MIP annunciators is mounted within the System Interface Module (SIM).  To this a straight-through cable is securely attached that connects to a D-Sub connector mounted on an aluminum bracket.  The bracket and two terminal blocks are strategically mounted on the rear of the MIP and enable the various wires from the korrys to connect with the straight-through cable.

Interfacing and Configuration Using ProSim737

To interface the annunciators, follow the directions on how to wire your I/O card.

This article provides information on the Phidget 21 Manager (software) and how a Phidget interface card is used.

If the annunciators have been correctly daisy-chained together, only the wires from terminal 2 of each korry will need to be connected to Phidget card.  When power is applied, the Phidgets software will automatically assign outputs to any device (korry) attached to the 0/16/16 card.  

To determine the digital output number for each annunciator, open the Phidgets 21 Manager, push the light plate on a chosen annunciator and record the allocated output number.  The output numbers are used by ProSim737 to allocate that annunciator to a specific software command line.  

Configuring the MIP annunciators in ProSim737 is a two-step process.  First, the annunciator must be assigned as a switch (for the puhs- to-test function to operate), then as an indicator (for the annunciator to illuminate).  Before commencing, check that Phidgets have been assigned in the driver section of the configuration section of the main ProSim737 menu.  

Open the configuration screen and select switches and scroll downwards until you find the appropriate switch that corresponds to the annunciator.  Assign this switch to the output number assigned by the Phidgets software (If you have multiple Phidget cards installed ensure the correct card is assigned).  

After this has been completed, continue the configuration process by assigning each annunciator to the appropriate indicator in the configuration/indicators section.

Lights Test

A lights test is used to determine whether all the annunciators are operating correctly.  A lights test can be accomplished two ways. 

The first method is to press the light plate of an annunciator which operates a momentary switch that causes the light to illuminate (push-to-test).  This is an ideal way to determine if an individual annunciator is working correctly.

The second method is to use the MIP toggle switch.  Engaging the toggle switch to the on position will illuminate all the annunciators that are connected to the toggle switch.  This is an excellent way to ensure all the annunciators are operational and is standard practice before beginning a flight.

It should be noted that for all the annunciators to illuminate, each korry must be connected to the toggle switch. 

An earlier post explained the conversion and use of a OEM 'Lights Test' toggle switch.

Korry Systems

This post has discussed the main annunciators on the MIP which is but one system.  Other systems include the annunciators for the forward and aft overhead annunciators, fire suppression panel and several other panels.

LEFT:  The fire suppression panel annunciators are also korrys.  Like their MIP sisters, the korrys are very bright when illuminated as they are powered by 28 volts (click to enlarge).

To connect additional systems to the enable a full lights test to be done, an OEM aircraft high amperage relay can be used.  

Depending upon the type of relay device used (there are several types), it may be possible to connect up to three systems to the one relay.  This is made possible by the unique multi-segment system that the OEM toggle switch provides and the ability of the relay to handle high amperages from multiple aircraft systems.

LEFT:  OEM multi-relay device.  The relay from a Boeing aircraft is not necessary; any aircraft relay will suffice.  It's wise to choose a relay that has multiple connection posts as this will enable different systems to be connected to the relay.  The relay is easily fitted to the rear of the MIP or to the inside of the center pedestal.

A benefit of using an OEM relay is that it provides a central point for all wires from the various systems to attach, before connecting to the lights test toggle switch.  Note that 28 volts bmust be connected directly to the relay for correct operation.

The relay will, depending upon the throw of the toggle switch (lights test), open or close the circuit of the relay.  Opening rhe relay circuit (when the light test toggle is thrown) enables 28 volts to flow through the relay and illuminate any annunciators connected to the system.

Availability

Fortunately, apart from a few functions, there is little difference between older style annunciators used in the classic series airframes and those used in the Next Generation aircraft - an annunciator is an annunciator no matter from what airframe (200 series, Classic or Next Generation).

Annunciators are relatively common and are often found ion e-Bay.  However, to acquire a complete collection that is NG compliant can be time consuming, unless a complete panel is purchased and the annunciators removed.

Lineage

The annunciators used in the simulator came from a B737-400 airframe.   This aircraft - serial number N843BB and construction number 25843 had a rather interesting lineage. 

LEFT:  25843 B737-400 in service with British Airways (click to enlarge).

It began service life in March 1992 with British Airways as G-DOCM before being transferred to Fly Dubai and Air One in 2004.  Late 2004 the airframe was purchased by Ryan International and the registration changed to N843BB.  Between 2005 and 2010 the aircraft was leased to the Sundowner LCC who at the time was contracted to the US Dept. of Justice.   The aircraft was returned to Ryan International mid 2010 and subsequently scrapped.

Acronyms

OEM - Original Equipment Manufacturer (aka real B737 aircraft part)

Friday
Mar142014

Boeing 737 NG Master Caution System ('six packs') Installed and Operational

In my opinion, many simulators fall short when it comes to replicating the Master Caution System (MCS).  Most companies offerings are cheesy-looking in appearance, exhibit the incorrect colour hue, and lack the brightness seen is the OEM unit.  

LEFT:  There is no mistaking the clarity and brightness of an OEM unit.  This is the Captain-side Master Caution System (MCS).

This post will examine the use of Master Caution System and explain how the OEM items were fitted to the simulator and interfaced with ProSim737 avionics suite.  It will also briefly compare the real unit to the reproduction unit.

Click images for larger view.

Boeing Master Caution System (MCS) - Overview and Use

The Master Caution System (MCS) was developed for the Boeing 737 to ease pilot workload as it was the first Boeing airliner to be produced without a flight engineer. In simple terms the system has been designed to be an attention getter - the brightly illuminated version of a flight engineer’s 'barked' out commands…

The MCS comprises four annunciators (warning buttons) and two System Annunciator Panels (six packs) located on the Main Instrument Panel (MIP) in the glareshield on both the Captain and First Officer sides.  

The location of the annunciators and the intensity of illumination is important.  If an annunciator should illuminate, the positioning and brightness is such, that there is minimal possibility of a flight crew ignoring the warning.  Whilst the warning buttons are duplicated on both sides of the MIP, the annunciation panels provide different 'cautions' for the Captain and First Officer.  

Fire Warning (Fire Warn) Annunciator

If a fire is detected in the APU, main gear well, cargo compartment or during a fire warning (or system test) in either engine, the Master Fire Warning annunciator (button) will illuminate RED.  The fire bell, and if on the ground the remote APU fire warning horn will also activate.  

LEFT:  Fire Warning and Master Caution annunciators.  The detailed engraving on the legends is readily observed.

Depressing the button from either the Captain or First Officer's side with a firm push will extinguish the button’s light and silence the audible fire bell and APU warning horn, in addition to resetting the system for additional warnings.  Pushing the fire warning bell cut-out switch on the overheat/fire protection panel (fire suppression module or fire handles) accomplishes the same action.

Master Caution Annunciator

The Master Caution annunciator (button) is coloured AMBER.  The button will illuminate when a system annunciator (six pack) has been triggered indicating a fault has been detected within the aircraft systems.

Depressing the button with a solid push (Captain or First Officer side) will extinguish the button’s light and reset the system for additional master caution conditions.

System Annunciator Panel ('six packs')

There are two System Annunciator Panels, one on the Captain side and one on the First Officer side.  Each light plate has six different AMBER coloured 'cautions' which are arranged such that the 'cautions' are in the same orientation as the overhead panel.  For example, FUEL is bottom left.  

The display annunciations relate a specific aircraft system.  The following are displayed on the Captain-side panel: FLT CONT, IRS, FUEL, ELEC, APU and OVHT/DET.  The displays for the First officer side panel are: ANTI-ICE, HYD, DOORS, WNG, OVERHEAD and AIR COND.

LEFT:  Components of the Master Caution System:  Two duplicated Fire Warning and Master Caution buttons and the two System Annunciator Panels (six packs).  The diagram shows the various “cautions” that a flight crew can expect to observe (image copyright FCOM).  The MCS is identical for all Boeing series airframes 600 through 900 including the Boeing Business Jet (BBJ).

If a master caution condition exists, the Master Caution light will illuminate AMBER along with the appropriate system annunciator.  Likewise, if a 'caution' exists and is displayed on either 'six pack' the Master Caution button will illuminate.

To extinguish the System Annunciator display, the Master Caution button should be firmly depressed.

Self-Test and Recall

The System Annunciators have a self-test and recall function.  Firmly pressing and holding either light plate will cause all annunciation lights to display (self-test).   To recall the last displayed 'caution', the light plate is pressed once and released.  After release the system annunciator will display whatever "caution" was last detected.

Reproduction Verses OEM

Broadly speaking, there is a large gap in quality between reproduction MCS units and the OEM version.  

LEFT:  There is little argument that the OEM Master Caution System exceeds the quality of reproduction units.  Pictured here is the MCS from a "top shelf" manufacturer.  Compare with the the OEM unit in the first image of this post.  Reproduction units could be easily improved if they utilised high luminance LEDs that had better light coverage.  Click to enlarge.

For the most part, reproduction annunciators are very easy to depress - a tap of a finger will deactivate a warning or recall a ‘caution’.  The legend is printed rather than lazer engraved and the colour of the light is often an incorrect colour hue which lacks the brightness of the real unit.  The last point is caused by low voltage LEDs which are not bright enough and do not have an adequate "throw of light" to illuminate all of the legend.  Furthermore, reproduction units are for the most part made from plastic, rather than longer lasting aluminium.

This said, some highly priced units do replicate the OEM part very well but they do cost upwards of $450.00 USD (see Fly Engravity).

In contrast, the OEM unit has engraved legends that are very distinct and easy to read, require a firm press to engage, and are very bright.  OEM units use 28 Volt bulbs which burn very brightly.

Not Just A Finger Tap - Firmness in Operation

An OEM annunciator requires a bit more force to depress the button in comparison to a reproduction unit.  I'm uncertain if this is due to the strength or weakness of the internal spring mechanism or as I've been lead to believe, is a built-in safety feature; thereby minimising the chance of a flight crew accidentally depressing and cancelling an annunciator ‘caution or warning’ with a light tap or brush of the of the finger or hand.

Classics Verses Next Generation (NG)

Both airframes incorporate the Master Caution System; however, the classics use different display 'cautions' for the system annunciators. I believe there are five 'cautions' on the classic in contrast to six on the NG (600, 700, 800 & 900).  The fire and master caution annunciators are identical on all Boeing airframes.

Interfacing and Power Requirements

To interface the unit requires a Phidget 0/16/16 interface card while the power to illuminate the bulbs is from a 28 Volt power supply.  A 0/16/16 card provides 16 inputs and 16 outputs which allows complete coverage of all functions remembering some functions duplicated on the Captain and First Officer-side have wires placed into the same input terminal. The duplicated items are the fire and master caution annunciations.

Each of the four annunciators has three terminals.  A multimeter set to conductivity or beep mode is used to determine which terminal connects to which button press.  To learn how to use a multimeter in this mode read my earlier post.

The System Annunciator Panel ('six pack') is a little more convoluted as it has a recall facility and has different “cautions” between the Captain and First Officer units.  However, with a little diligence it’s possible to work out the terminal and wiring sequence.

Anatomy of a System Annunciator (aka six pack)

Each unit is made up of three parts:  the actual annunciator, the light plate (which incorporates the legend), and a rectangular housing that I call the cigarette packet. The housing is attached to the annunciator by two hex screws.

Studying the photographs you will observe that the light plate has a number of pins that connect with the annunciator unit, and on the rear there are eight terminals (lower image). 

LEFT:  Light plate removed from housing and rear terminals.  Note individual pins for specific display cautions and "clam shells" for connection.  Click to enlarge image.

If you remove the outer casing, a circuit diagram has been stenciled to the unit.  It’s “trial and error” using this diagram to determine the correct pin outs for the terminals, but once known it’s only a matter of connecting the various wires from the the terminals to the 0/16/16 card.

It’s important to note that if removing or loosening the outer cigarette-style housing, a hex screw located at the corner edge of the unit will need to be loosened. 

LEFT:  Eight terminals.  The outer edge of the hex nut can easily be observed on the upper left side of the annunciator (click to enlarge).

Phidgets 21 Manager

The Phidget 21 Manager is provided by Phidget and can be downloaded from their website.  This software will, when a Phidget card is connected, register that card and its distinctive number. 

Opening the Manager and then selecting the card number ID tag will allow you to see what inputs and outputs you have wired and assigned to whatever item you have connected.  You will also be able to easily test any output.

Configuring in ProSim737

Once the pin outs have been correctly determined, configuring in ProSim737 is very easy.  Open the configuration tab and select the indicators menu (tab).  Next find the appropriate names (DOORS, ELEC, APU, ANTI-ICE, etc) and in the drop down box assign the correct Phidget card and output number.

Installing to the Glareshield

Main Instrument Panels (MIPS) manufactured by different companies are rarely identical; each MIP has subtle differences – some are easier to install OEM items to than others.

Reproduction annunciators are usually secured to the glareshield by screws; however, OEM parts often require retrofitting to allow the item to be fitted correctly. 

LEFT:  Detail of Master Fire Warning annunciator showing manufacturer name and threaded button with hexagonal attachment nut.  This is one style of annunciator, other types can be found with a more rectangular architecture.

In the case of the FDS MIP, a backing plate made from ABS plastic was crafted to fit into the gap where the fire warning and master caution buttons reside; the plate was secured to the glareshield by self-tapping screws.

Two holes were then carefully drilled at the correct distance to allow the circular shaft of each button to be fitted through the plastic.  Once the button was sitting proud in the correct position, the screw and nut assembly was tightened against the backing plate.  

The annunciators are not designed to sit neatly side by side in the glareshield; they can be twirled to any orientation; therefore, it’s not necessary to be perfect in the alignment of the drill hole – just very close!

Securing the system annunciators to the MIP was slightly more problematic and involved using a spacer between the outside of the housing and the gap in the glareshield.  The spacer expands as you push the 'six pack' into the hole and it’s a matter of enlarging the spacer to secure the unit in the correct position.  This said, the method used is not optimal and a more secure method needs to be fabricated.

Video (Captain-side only)

Although there are several photographs in this post and in the image gallery (conversion of genuine OEM 737 parts), a short video will provide greater insight, especially in relation to the  brightness of the buttons and display “cautions”. 

The annunciator light plate displayed in the video is not in the best condition (it's common place for some airlines to place clear tape over the legends to protect them).  This did not concern me as 'six packs' are scarce to find. 

I have been fortunate in that this unit will soon be replaced with another unit in much better condition.  'The sim Gods are being kind to me' !

NOTE:  To silence the fire bell in the video, I used the bell cut-out switch on the fire suppression module rather than depressing the Fire Warning Annunciator, which would have accomplished the same task.

Acronyms and Glossary

Annunciator – A single coloured light or group of lights used as a central indicator of status of equipment or systems in an aircraft. Usually, the annunciator panel includes a main warning lamp or audible signal to draw the attention of operating personnel to the annunciator panel for abnormal events or conditions.  To annunciate means to display or to become audible.  Annunciators often are called 'KORRYS' as KORRY is a manufacturer of annunciators
Cautions – Annunciations from the System Annunciation Panel in amber colour.  For example, DOORS, APU and ELEC.  An annunciation 'caution' triggers the Master Caution Warning light.
FDS – Flight Deck Solutions
Light Plate - the actual forward portion of the annunciator separated from the rear section and the housing.
Legend – The portion of the light plate that includes the engraved display (for example, ELEC or DOORS)
MCS – Master Caution System incorporating: Fire Warning, Master Caution Warning and two annunciator panels (six packs)
MIP – Main Instrument Panel
OEM – Original Equipment Manufacture (real Boeing part)
Phidget 21 Manager – Configuration software to use a Phidget card
'Six Pack' – Nickname for System Annunciator Panel
System Annunciator Panel (SAP) – Light plate with six 'cautions' and recall facility (NG only).  Also known as 'six pack'