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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 B737-800 Flight Simulator (45)

Thursday
Aug232018

Adding Liveries to ProSim737 Flight Model

Flight simulator enthusiasts enjoy flying the livery of their choice, whether it be a cargo carrier such as FedEX, or a livery from one of the many passenger airlines that fly the Boeing 737 airframe.  

LEFT:  The livery for the JAL TRANSOCEAN Air, which depicts a whale shark is spectacular.  Why would you not want to use liveries when some look like this.  The whale shark inhabits the waters that this particular airline fly to (southern Japan) - © DavE-JetPhotos.

Airlines have unique liveries that identify the carrier.  Often the design is specific to the country or to a particular motif unique to the airlines.  For example, QANTAS depicts a red kangaroo on its tail and Aeroflot always depicts the Russian flag on its tail wing.  Some liveries relate to airline branding, others can be nationalistic (those carrying flags on their tail wings), and others can be just for fun - such as Taiwanese airline's Eva Air 'Hello Kitty' liveryWikipedia has an interesting list of airlines that have liveries that relate floral emblems, animals, flags and the like.

Some software companies, for example PMDG, have developed livery add-ons that can be installed by a self-extractable.exe file;  it’s only a matter of clicking the .exe file and following the prompts, and the information, textures and changes are automatically installed behind the scenes by the software.  

The ProSim737 flight model (developed by ProSim-AR) does not at the time of writing provide a self-executable file for add-on liveries; users must install liveries manually.  Thankfully, the steps to install a livery are generic, and have been more or less the same since FS9 and FSX.

This article will address how to install an aircraft livery to the main aircraft folder for ProSim737 using the ProSim737-800-2018 Professional aircraft (Version 3 flight model) using Prepar3D (P3D).

Note that ProSim-AR produces two flight models – Version 2 and Version 3, and unfortunately, the liveries made for Version 2 (of which there are many) do not work with Version 3.

For those users who use the ProSim737 Version 2 flight model, the process of installing liveries is similar, however, the ProSim737 folder structure is different.

Back-up

Before proceeding with any amendment to the aircraft folder, make a backup of the ProSim737 aircraft folder BEFORE making changes.  It’s also wise to copy the default aircraft configuration file.  This can easily be done by right-clicking the file and saving as a copy.  The copy can reside in the same folder, as it will have the word ‘copy’ annotated to the file name.

It’s good policy to do this just in case a problem is experienced.   If a problem presents itself, it’s an easy matter of deleting the aircraft folder and replacing it with the original, or replacing the aircraft configuration file.

The Basics

We are interested in three components:  

(i)      The ProSim737 default aircraft folder;
(ii)     The add-on livery texture folder; and,
(iii)    The aircraft configuration file (aircraft.cfg).

Note that the default ProSim737 aircraft is installed via a self-executable file that installs the default 738 aircraft to the correct folder.

File and Folder Structure

The ProSim737 aircraft software installs the aircraft to the following folder: D://Documents/Prepar3D V4 Add Ons/ProSim-AR/Simobjects/Airplanes/ProSim737-800-2018 Professional.  

This folder falls outside the main P3D folder architecture, however, various files are automatically linked to P3D so they aircraft can be flown and seen in the game.  In my setup I have two drives, which is why the Prepar3D folder is located on D Drive rather than C Drive.  Your dirve may feature a different drive letter.

LEFT:  One interesting livery is British Airways (BA).  All BA aircraft depict the Union Jack on their tail.  In the 18th Century, England had colonies throughout the world and it was often stated that ‘the sun never set on the Union Jack’.  With the loss of her colonies the sun definitely now sets on the Union Jack, however, it probably never sets on British Airways as there is always a BA aircraft somewhere in the world.  Screen grab of ProSim737 BA livery. © Matthew Fitzjohn (click to enlarge).

Livery Texture Folder

An add-on livery is usually downloaded from the Internet in zip file format.  Once the zip file is extracted, you will see a number of folders and files.  At the very least there will be a texture folder, in which is stored the various bitmaps and images necessary to amend the default aircraft with that livery.   There may also be a thumbnail image of the livery and a ‘read_me’ file.

The ‘read_me’ file is important, as this often will contain the correct edits for the livery that need to be added to the aircraft configuration file.

Non-mipped Images

The developer of the livery may also have included additional folders such as non-mipped images.  Opening this folder will reveal an alternate texture folder.  

Textures developed from non-mipped images are displayed differently by P3D and often provide slightly better detail that standard textures.  This may be advantageous if you often zoom into the aircraft to view close-up detail.  There are many variables that affect the appearance of non-mipped textures, including graphic card settings, computer specifications, and P3D settings.  For most users, the use of non-mipped textures in not necessary.  However, ‘horses for courses’, so test and choose whatever is appropriate to your circumstances.  

If you open the ProSim737 aircraft manual (found with the original default aircraft download) there is a section that addresses the differences between mipped and non-mipped textures.

Aircraft Configuration File

The aircraft configuration file is important as it contains, amongst other things, the necessary instructions to display whatever aircraft has been selected from the P3D aircraft list.  

The configuration file is set out logically with higher-level entries (top of page) identifying the various liveries that have been included in the main ProSim737 aircraft folder.  By default, the ProSim737 flight model installs a number of liveries to the aircraft folder and automatically amends the entries in the configuration file.

BELOW: Text that relates to an aircraft livery in the aircraft configuration file.  Bolded sections need to be edited for each livery.

[fltsim.XX]
title=Prosim_AR_737_800_PRO_2018_Virgin_Australia
sim=Prosim738_Pro
model=
panel=
sound=
//sound=cockpit
texture=VIRGIN
atc_heavy=0
atc_flight_number=209
atc_airline=Velocity

atc_model=737-800
atc_parking_types=GATE,RAMP
atc_parking_codes=VOZ
ui_manufacturer="Prosim_AR"
ui_createdby="ProSim-AR"
ui_type="737-800"
ui_variation="PROSIM_AR_Pro_2018_Virgin_Australia"
ui_typerole="Commercial Airliner"
atc_id=PS209
visual_damage=0

Installing Textures to ProSim737 Aircraft

A: Copy the aircraft texture folder for the livery (from the download) and paste the folder into the ProSim737-800-2018 Professional folder located in simobjects/airplanes.

B: Open the aircraft configuration file (for editing). This file is located in the main aircraft folder.  Make sure you back-up this file or copy it BEFORE making changes.  This will enable to you to revert to the original file if a mistake is made.

C: Copy the aircraft details from the downloaded 'read_me' file and add them to the configuration file.  The correct place to add the details is below the last aircraft listed.  If the ‘read_me’ file does not have this information, then it will be necessary to add the information yourself.

By far the easiest method to do this is to copy/paste the last aircraft listing, and then re-name the segments accordingly.  In the example above, I have bolded the sections that need to be edited.

The most important edits are the texture= ?, title= ? and ui_variation= ?. These three entries directly influence whether you will see the livery in the P3D aircraft list and in the game.  It’s very important that the texture= ? be the exact name of the texture file in the aircraft folder; your livery will not be able to be seen if this is not done.  In some instances, the name of the texture folder may be an airline’s name (texture.virgin) or a three letter aircraft code such as texture.ual (United Airlines).  

D: The FLTSIM number also needs to be edited to reflect the correct sequence order in the configuration file. Make sure each aircraft has a sequential number. If you have three aircraft liveries, the files will be [fltsim.01], [fltsim.02], [fltsim.03].  Be especially vigilant to copy all brackets, equal signs and commas (syntax) as these are necessary to see your aircraft in P3D.

Problems and Troubleshooting

By far the easiest way to troubleshoot a problem, such as the aircraft not being visible in the P3D aircraft folder, is to delete the aircraft configuration file and reinstall the original backed up file.  Then redo your work ensuring there are no mistakes.  If your mistakes relate to the actual texture folders, then delete the complete folder and reinstall the original backed up folder and start again.  Most problems relate to typo errors such as forgetting to include the correct syntax (punctuation marks).

Setting Up the P3D Aircraft Folder for Ease of Use (favourites and type)

When you open P3D to select an aircraft, a graphical user interface (GUI) screen displays  the aircraft and liveries that are installed to the aircraft folder. 

LEFT:  Screen capture showing the P3D aircraft selection folder.  Note the ‘show only favourites’ star, which when selected, will cause that livery to be displayed in the list at the expense of liveries not selected by the star.  Also, note the additional identifier in the vehicle type column (737-800 CARGO) - click to enlarge. 

This list can be long and unwieldy to navigate with the mouse, not to mention time consuming - you want to be able to identify your 738 liveries quickly and not wade through several versions of the aircraft you do not use.  To prune the number of aircraft you need to sort through, you can delete the unwanted aircraft from the aircraft folder, however, an easier method is to use the favourite functionality.

Select the favourite star for those aircraft/liveries you want to be see displayed in the aircraft list.   Once an aircraft /livery has been allocated as a favourite, it will always be displayed in the list, while those aircraft not ‘starred’ will not be displayed.  

If you have both cargo and passenger aircraft (or military versions of the B737), you may also want to segregate these aircraft by type.  This makes it easier to find a particular aircraft type.   This can easily be done by editing the title= ? and the ui_type= ? for that aircraft in the aircraft configuration file.  

BELOW:  An example in which the type has been edited to reflect the aircraft is a cargo aircraft (Aloha Air Cargo).  Editing the title is obvious as this changes the name in the P3D aircraft list.  However, editing the ui_type= ? enables you to change the aircraft type.  In the example below, I have included the word CARGO to differentiate cargo liveries from passenger liveries.  I have bolded the entries that need altering.

[fltsim.XX]
title=Prosim_AR_737_800_PRO_2018_Aloha_Air_Cargo
sim=Prosim738_Pro
model=
panel=
sound=
//sound=cockpit
texture=AAH
atc_heavy=0
atc_flight_number=211
atc_airline=Aloha
atc_model=737-800
atc_parking_types=GATE,RAMP
atc_parking_codes=AF
ui_manufacturer="Prosim_AR 2018"
ui_createdby="ProSim-AR"
ui_type="737-800 CARGO"
ui_variation="PROSIM_AR_Pro_2018_Aloha_Air_Cargo"
ui_typerole="Commercial Airliner"
atc_id=PS211
visual_damage=0

Livery List

Liveries for the Version 3 flight model can be downloaded from the ProSim-AR website:  Version 3 ProSim737 Liveries and Version 3 ProSim 737 Liveries.

Final Call

Adding various liveries can be fun and adds a element of realism, especially if you fly in different regions and enjoy looking at the aircraft, or are a videographer that creates flight simulator videos.   Paring down the aircraft list in P3D to display only the aircraft and liveries you want to see, and then segregating aircraft based on type, can save considerable time and mouse use.


ABOVE:  The livery for the JAL TRANSOCEAN Air – another viewpoint.  There is also a pink coloured livery.  Japan is one of my favourite regions to fly.  © Keishi Nukina - KN Aviation
Sunday
Jul152018

String Potentiometers - Are They Worthwhile

A flight simulator enables us to fly a virtual aircraft in an endless number of differing scenarios.  The accuracy of the flight controls when the aircraft is flown manually (hand flown) comes down to how well the aircraft’s flight controls are calibrated, and what type of potentiometer is being used to enable each control surface to be calibrated.

LEFT:  Custom-made box housing Bournes string potentiometer.  Note cable, dog lead clip, and JR Servo connection wires (click to enlarge).

This article will examine the most common potentiometers used.  It will also outline the advantages in using string potentiometers instead of inexpensive linear and rotary potentiometers.

What is a Potentiometer

A potentiometer (pot for short) is a small sized electronic component (variable resister) whose resistance can be adjusted manually, either by increasing or decreasing the amount of current flowing in a circuit.

The most important part of the potentiometer is the conductive/resistance layer that is attached (printed) on what is called the phenolic strip. This layer of material, often called a track, is usually made from carbon, but can be made from ceramic, conductive plastic, wire, or a composite material.  

The phenolic strip has two metal ends that connect with the three connectors on the potentiometer.  It’s these connectors that the wires from a control device are soldered to.  The strip has a wiper-style mechanism (called a slider) that slides along the surface of the track and connects with two of the potentiometer’s connectors. 

The strip enables the potentiometer to transport current into the circuit in accordance with the resistance as set by the position of the potentiometer on the phenolic strip. 

As the potentiometer moves from one position to another, the slider moves across the carbon layer printed to the phenolic strip.  The movement alters the current (electrical signal) which is read by the calibration software.

Types of Potentiometers (linear, rotary and string)

Potentiometers are used in a number of industries including manufacturing, robotics, aerospace and medical.  Basically, a potentiometer is used whenever the movement of a part needs to be accurately calibrated. 

LEFT:  Inexpensive rotary potentiometer.  This pot used to control the ailerons.  The pot was inserted into the base of the control column and held in place by a fabricated braket (click to enlarge).

For the most part, flight simulators use adjustable type potentiometers which, broadly speaking, are either linear or rotational potentiometers.  Both do exactly the same thing, however, they are constructed differently.  Another type of rotary potentiometer is the string potentiometer.

A linear potentiometer (often called a slider) measures changes in variance along the track in a straight line (linear) as the potentiometer's slider moves either in a left or right direction.  A linear potentiometer is more suitable in areas where there is space available to install the potentiometer. 

A rotary potentiometer uses a rotary motion to move the slider around a track that is almost circular. Because the potentiometer's track is circular, the size of a rotary potentiometer can be quite small and does not require a lot of space to install.

Potentiometer Accuracy

The ability of the potentiometer to accurately read the position of the slider as it moves along the track is vital if the attached control device is to perform in an accurate and repeatable way. 

LEFT: A very inexpensive linear potentiometer ($3.00).  The tracks on this pot are made from carbon and the body is open to dust and grime.  They work quite well, but expect their life to be limited once they begin to get dirty (click to enlarge).

The performance, accuracy, and how long that accuracy is maintained, is governed by the internal construction of the potentiometer; in particular the material used for the track (carbon, cermet, composite, etc).  Of particular importance, is the coarseness of the signal and the noise generated (electrical interference). when the potentiometer has power running through it.

For example, cermet which is composite of metal and plastic produces a very clean low noise signal, where as carbon often exhibits higher noise characteristics and can generate a course output.  It’s the coarseness of the signal that makes a control device easy or difficult to calibrate.  It also defines how accurately the potentiometer will read any small movement.

Potentiometers that use carbon form the mainstay of the less expensive types, such as those used in the gaming industry, while higher-end applications that requite more exacting accuracy use cermet or other materials. 

Essentially, higher end potentiometers generate less noise and produce a cleaner output that is less course.  This translates to more accurate calibration.  This is seen when you trim the aircraft. 

A quality mid to high-end potentiometer, when calibrated correctly, will enable you to easily trim the aircraft, insofar that the trim conditions can be replicated time and time again (assuming the same flight conditions, aircraft weight, engine output, etc).

Simulators, Dust, Grime and Other Foreign Bodies

Flight simulators to control a number of moving parts, generally use a combination of linear and rotary potentiometers.  For example, a rotary potentiometer may be used to control the flight controls (ailerons, elevator and rudder) while a linear potentiometer may be used to control the movement of the flaps lever, speedbrake and steering tiller. 

Any component that has a current running through it will attract dust, and the location of the potentiometer will often determine how much dust is attracted to the unit.  A potentiometer positioned beneath a platform is likely to attract more dust than one located behind the MIP or enclosed in the throttle quadrant.

A rotary potentiometer is an enclosed unit;  it is impervious to dust, grime and whatever else lurks beneath a flight simulator platform.  In comparison, a linear potentiometer is open to the environment and its carbon track can easily be contaminated.  Once the track has become contaminated, the potentiometer will become difficult to calibrate, and its output will become inaccurate.

Sometime ago, I had a linear potentiometer that was difficult to calibrate, and when calibrated produced spurious outputs.  The potentiometer was positioned beneath the platform adjacent to the rod that links the two control columns.  When I removed the potentiometer, I discovered part of the body of a dead cockroach on the carbon track. 

This is not to say that linear potentiometers do not have a place – they do.  But, if they are to be used in a dusty environment, they must have some type of cover fitted.  A cover will minimise the chance of dust adhering to the potentiometer’s track. 

I use linear potentiometers mounted to the inside of the throttle quadrant to control the flaps and speedbrake.  The two potentiometers are mounted vertically on the quadrant’s sidewall.  This area is relatively clean, and the vertical position of the mounted potentiometers is not conducive to dust accumulation.

Ease of Installation

Both linear and rotary potentiometers are straightforward to install, however, they must be installed relatively close to the item they control.  Often a lever or connecting rod must be fabricated to enable the potentiometer to be connected with the control device.

String Potentiometers (strings)

A string potentiometer (also called a string position transducer) is a rotary potentiometer that has a stainless steel cable connected to a spring-loaded spool. 

LEFT:  Cross section diagram showing internals of string potentiometer (click to enlarge).

The string potentiometer is mounted to a fixed surface and the cable attached to a moveable part (such as a control device).  As the control device moves, the potentiometer produces an electrical signal (by the slider moving across the track) that is proportional to the cable’s extension or velocity.  This signal is then read by the calibration software. 

The advantages of using string potentiometers over a standard-issue rotary potentiometer are many:

(i)        Quick and easy installation;

(ii)       Greater accuracy as you are measuring the linear pull along a cable;

(iii)      Greater flexibility in mounting and positioning relative to the control device;

(iv)      No dust problems as the potentiometer is enclosed;

(v)       No fabrication is needed to connect the potentiometer to the control device (only cable and dog clip) and,

(vi)       Greater time span before calibration is required (compared to a linear potentiometer).

The importance of point (iii) cannot be underestimated.  The string can be extended from the potentiometer within a arc of roughly 60-70 degrees, meaning that the unit can be mounted more or less anywhere.  The only proviso is that the cable must have unimpeded movement. 

Attachment of the string to the control device can be by whatever method you choose.  I have used a small dog lead clip.  As the potentiometer is completely enclosed dust is not an issue, which is a clear advantage in that once the potentiometer calibrated, the calibration does not alter (as dust does not settle on the track).

I have used string Potentiometers to calibrate the axis on the ailerons, elevators and rudder (one potentiometer per item).  I have also used a dual-string potentiometer in the throttle quadrant to calibrate the two thrust levers.

Fabricate Your Own String Potentiometer

Whilst you can purchase ready-made string potentiometers, their cost is not inexpensive.  As a trial, a friend and I decided to fabricate our own string potentiometers.

LEFT:  String potentiometer.  This pot connects to the ailerons.  The stainless cable can be seen leaving the casing that connects with the aileron controls.  An advantage of string pots is that they can installed more or less anywhere, as long as there is unimpeded access for the cable to move (click to enlarge).

The potentiometers used are manufactured by Bourns (3590S series precision potentiometer).  These units are a sealed, wire-wound potentiometer with a stainless steel shaft.  According to the Bourns specification sheet these potentiometers have a tolerance +-5%. 

LEFT:  Diagram showing spring-loaded spool (click to enlarge).

The potentiometer is mounted in a custom-made acrylic box in which a hole the size of the potentiometer's end, has been drilled into the lid.   Similar boxes can be purchased in pre-cut sizes, but making your own custom-sized box enables the potentiometer to be mounted inside the box in a position most advantageous to your set-up. It also enables you to place the mounting holes on the box in strategic positions.

Another small hole has been drilled in the side of the box to enable the stainless steel cable to move freely (see image at beginning of article).  If you want to allow the cable to move through an arc, this hole must be elongated to enable the cable to extend at an angle and move unimpeded. 

The cable (string) is part of a self-ratcheting spool (also called a retractor clip) which is screwed to the inside of the box and connected directly with the stainless steel shaft of the potentiometer.  The cable when attached to a solid point is kept taught by the tension of the self-ratchet spool (an internal spring controls the tension).   Ratchet spools are easily obtainable and come in many sizes and tensions.   Three standard JR servo wires connect the potentiometer to a Leo Bodnar BU0836A 12 bit Joystick Controller card.  A mini dog lead clip is used at attach the cable to the control device.

One of the major advantages when using string potentiometers is that the actual potentiometer does not have to be mounted adjacent to, or even close to the device it controls.  The line of pull on the cable can be anything within roughly a 70 degree arc. 

Additional Information

This website (no affiliation) has an excellent overview on potentiometers.  The video is very interesting.

http://www.resistorguide.com/potentiometer/

Final Call

Previously, I used inexpensive linear and rotary potentiometers to control the main flight controls.  I was continually plagued with calibration issues, and when calibrated the calibration was not maintained for more than few months.  Furthermore, manual flight was problematic as the output from each of the  (cheap) potentiometers was course, which translated to less accuracy when using the ailerons and elevators.  Trimming the aircraft in any condition other than level flight was difficult.

Without doubt, the use of quality string potentiometers have resolved all the earlier calibration and accuracy issues I had been experiencing.  With the replacement potentiometers, the aircraft is easily hand-flown and can be trimmed more accurately.

Perhaps in the future I will ‘up the anti’ and purchase two commercial high-end string potentiometers and dedicate them to the ailerons and elevator, but for the time being the Bourne potentiometers suit my requirements.

Tuesday
Dec192017

Maintaining Backlighting Brightness Across OEM and Reproduction Panels

Many enthusiasts are now using Original Aircraft Equipment (OEM) panels in their simulators.  These panels are connected to Flight Simulator using a variety of interface cards.  Unless the flight deck uses all OEM panels, or all reproduction panels, there will be a difference in backlighting when the light plates are illuminated.

LEFT:  FDS-IBL-DIST-DIM.  A card that makes diming backlighting very easy.  Potentiometer is not shown (click to enlarge).

Reproduction panels, with the exception of expensive very high end types, will have exceptionally bright backlighting.  Manufacturers of reproduction panels want their panel to look good and appeal to a prospective buyer – this is why they have bright backlighting.  In contrast, OEM panels do not have  bright backlighting, and in some cases, depending upon the manufacturer of the panel, the backlighting will appear rather dim.  

Therefore, the brightness of the backlighting when using ‘run of the mill’ reproduction panels is not realistic in comparison to that observed in a real aircraft.

So how does a cockpit builder solve this conundrum of brightness if he or she has a mix of reproduction and OEM panels.  The solution is very simple – install a dimmer switch into your flight deck.

Dimmer Control

There are a number of 5 volt dimmer switches on the market and some are better than others.  For those with electrical knowledge it’s relatively straightforward to make your own dimmer switch, but what about the rest of us?  An excellent solution is the distribution board with built in dimmer control manufactured by Flight Deck Solutions (FDS).  The board keeps with the principle of KIS (keep it simple).  

FDS-IBL-DIST-DIM

The distribution board is well made, small, is fuse protected, and have the capability to connect up to 14 accessory LEDS or bulbs via propriety board connectors.  The board also can be used as a slave, meaning it can be daisy-chained to another board to increase the number items attached.

The distribution board includes a pre-wired metal potentiometer which allows all the LEDS/bulbs attached to the board to be dimmed from on to off or anywhere in-between.  The potentiometer is a standard size and fits the hole located in the panel lights panel on either a reproduction panel or an OEM panel.

One limiting feature that should be noted is that each distribution board will only support 10 amps - the rating of the fuze. 

Of more importance, the board operates flawlessly and is a very easy solution to maintaining an even brightness across reproduction and OEM panels; adjust the brightness of the reproduction panels to the same level as the OEM panels.

Connection

Connection is straightforward and requires +- 5 volts to be connected to the board.  Each LED (or bulb) that requires dim control is then connected to the board connectors.  If using an FDS panel this is very easy as the FDS panels already use the correct female attachment plugs (FDS also use bulbs and not LEDS).  Failing this, a little extra work is required to source the correct plugs and wire them to the +- wires that connect to the light plate.

Bulbs and LEDS

On another note, with the exception of late model airframes, the Next Generation B737 use 5 volt incandescent bulbs in their panels for backlighting.  This is in contrast to reproduction panels that, for the most part, use LEDS.  

The difference between bulbs and LEDS, other than construction, is the temperature they generate when turned on.  A bulb will generate considerable heat and the colour of the light will appear as a warmer hue.  A LED does not generate heat when turned on.  Therefore, an LED will have a cooler temperature and the colour of the light will be colder and more stark in its appearance.

However, before changing out all your bulbs or LEDS to maintain colour consistency, study the flight deck of a real aircraft.  Panels on all aircraft fail or need upgrading from time to time.  Therefore, it is not unrealistic o have a flight deck consisting of both LEDS and bulbs.  Airlines are in the business of making money, and pilots fly.  Neither are particularly interested in whether the ADF radio has a bulb or LED.

Additional Information

Soar-By-Wire has also discussed this subject.  Although his information relates to the Airbus, the same proceedure can be done for Boeing OEM panels.

Disclaimer

I do not represent Flight Deck Solutions or any other manufacturer and have no received any fee or reward for discussing one of their interface components.

Further information pertaining to the distribution board can be found on the Flight Deck Solutions website.

A fellow enthusiast has written more information on his website about the distribution board as it relates to Airbus - Soarbywire.  What he has written is well worth the time reading.

Monday
May152017

MCP and EFIS By SimWorld - Review

This article will review and evaluate the Mode Control Panel (MCP) and Electronic Flight Instrument System (EFIS) produced by SimWorld in Poland.  It will also briefly examine the use of the CANBUS controller system (SimBox). 

LEFT:  Mode Control Panel (MCP) by SimWorld.  The image looks impressive and the looks do not deceive as this MCP has many advantages over other panels. (promotional photograph © SimWorld (click to enlarge at super size).

The MCP will be discussed first followed by the EFIS and CANBUS system.  Where some areas overlap they will be discussed together.  I use the word panel to denote either the MCP or EFIS.  Also, OEM is an acronym for Original Equipment Manufacturer (aka real aircraft part).  

This review is not endorsed by SimWorld and is entirely my view based on first-hand experience using the MCP and EFIS.  

Background

The mainstay for several years has been the MCP and EFIS produced by CP Flight in Italy.  For the most part, these panels have delivered consistent and reliable performance, despite their rather dated design and engineering.  

However, there are several distinct differences in aesthetics and functionality between the CP Flight units and OEM counterparts.  Furthermore, many CP Flight panels had connection problems caused by the nature of how the MCP was connected to the server computer (using a virtual communication port).  

Reason for Updating MCP and EFIS

Until updating to the SimWorld MCP and EFIS, I had used the panels manufactured by CP Flight (2015 Pro USB interface model), but technology is not idle.  The use of high-end CNC machines and electronics has enabled many parts to me made, that are in many respects indiscernible from the real item.

Initially, I attempted to find OEM panels.  Although the older non-Collins style MCP could be found, it wasn’t possible to find the newer Collins unit at an affordable price.   

SimWorld provides, at the time of writing, the closest resemblance to the OEM panels.  Furthermore, the use of the CANBUS enables trouble-free connection.

Pre-Sale

The MCP and EFIS are not inexpensive; add to this Government import charges and UPS freight and you have spent a considerable sum of money.   With an increased price comes the expectation of higher quality, reliability, robustness, and attention to detail; let’s examine how SimWorld shapes up to this maxim.

The SimWorld website provides considerable information, including photographs and a video demonstrating the MCP and EFIS.  Although imagery can save a thousand words, questions usually need to be asked.   Filip and Piotr spent considerable time answering my specific queries and e-mails were replied to in a timely manner.   Their customer focus has been top shelf in every respect.

Aesthetics, Manufacture and Detail - MCP

The Mode Control Panel (MCP) and Electronic Flight Instrument System (EFIS) are the main avionics panels used in a simulator, and most enthusiasts strive to replicate the appearance and functionality of these panels as closely as possible to the those in the real aircraft.  

Quick List Main Advantages (SimWorld MCP):

(i)         1:1 in comparison to the OEM MCP;
(ii)         Correct Boeing-grey colour;
(iii)        Screws located in the correct location on the front panel;
(iv)        Flight Director thumb stops;
(v)         Use of externally protected printed circuit boards (PCBs);
(vi)        Motorised autothrottle arming switch with automatic release to off;
(vii)       Ambient sensor (2017 MCP model, not functional);
(viii)      Does not use seven-segmented displays;
(ix)       Ability to accurately display +- and other specialist fonts;
(x)        Push to engage annunciators are backlit in green (when depressed) and are separate to the colour of the backlighting;
(xi)       Integrated backlighting uses a built-in PCB for reliable dimming control;
(xii)      Correct styled knobs made from painted aluminum;
(xiii)     Correct smoky-coloured display windows positioned in frames identical to the OEM MCP;
(xiv)     Functionality that replicates the OEM MCP (depends on avionics suite used); and,
(xv)      Use of commercial grade rotary encoders.

Internal Components

The components for the MCP and EFIS panels are for the most part machine-made; however, the components are assembled by hand on a market-demand basis.   To ensure production repeatability, SimWorld use a number of printed circuit boards (PCBs) sandwiched together to provide core functionality.

LEFT:  External casing removed showing multiple Printed Circuit Boards PCBs).  Click to enlarge.

A PCB contains numerous ‘tracks and pads’, that are used for input and output devices, memory chips and processors, and various electrical components such as resistors and capacitors.  An advantage of using PCBs is that troubleshooting can be done via a tethered computer, and if a problem is detected, a board can easily be replaced.  This is because, theoretically, each PCB for each panel is identical in design, layout and population.

System Logic and Functionality

The MCP and EFIS are a hardware-user interface that has been designed from the outset to provide full flexibility in relation to functionality.   However, although the panels may have the appropriate hardware in place, the logic to enable the functionality to operate is supplied by the avionics suite in use (for example, ProSim-AR).  

MCP Light Plate

The light plate has been professionally made and the various precut holes (cut-outs) are well finished.  The laser-engraved lettering on the light plate is precise, evenly cut, and does not differ across the unit.  Additionally, the colour of the paint is the correct Boeing gray and does not differ in hue between the MCP and EFIS light plates.

The manufacture of a light plate is quite involved, and an individual plate or batch will take on average 3 days to complete.   Prior to cutting, several thin layers of paint are applied to the light plate.  A laser is then used to engrave the required letters down to the white-coloured base layer.  The base layer is transparent to light, and when backlit, the lettering can easily be read.

SimWorld use the same technology (or very close to it), that is used to manufacture the OEM light plate.

Exterior Casing

The light plate is attached to a series of printed circuit boards (PCBs).  The PCBs and electronics are protected by a 1 mm thick exterior casing.  The casing is made from aluminum and measures 3 inches in depth perpendicular to the front of the light plate.  The casing is powder coated and coloured black.

On the rear of the panel is a female 12 Volt DC power connector, and a connection for the plug that connects the MCP to the CANBUS system.

Knobs

The appearance and colour of the knobs is very similar to the OEM knobs.  Each knob, with the exception of the vertical speed wheel, is made from machine-cut aluminum and is the correct colour.  The knobs are well finished with no sharp edges, or left over metal from the milling process.   One or two metal set screws secure each knob to the shaft of the rotary encoder.

LEFT:  Detail of heading knob and bank selector pointer.  Note the detail in the window bezel and the well defined laser engraving on the lightplate (click to enlarge).

The heading knob incorporates a functional bank selector pointer (made from plastic), and the vertical speed wheel is produced from high grade molded plastic.  There are no injection holes in the plastic and the end finish passes scrutiny.

The knobs are tactile (feel solid to touch) and when rotated generate a well-defined audible click (similar to the OEM knobs on the MCP).  

Rotary Encoders

Not all rotary encoders are made equal: a high-end encoder is constructed to an exacting standard predominately using metallic components.  To rotate such an encoder requires a mild effort; there is resistance – it isn’t difficult, but you can’t move it left or right with a flip of a finger.   

In comparison, hobbyist-style encoders are considerably cheaper to purchase, are made to a less exacting standard and usually have a shaft and body produced from plastic.  The encoders are easy to rotate and can also wear out prematurely with extended use.

SimWorld use quality Swiss made rotary encoders, rather than using low quality encoders from China.  Each encoder has a cylindrical metal shaft.  A metal shaft is important as a plastic shaft can wear prematurely, in addition to becoming damaged from overzealous tightening of set screws (which hold the knob in place).

I have been told that military specification (MilSpec) encoders are available, however, SimWorld use these encoders only for high-end commercial simulators.

Resistance When Rotating Knobs - Comparison With OEM Honeywell and Collins MCP

Resistance when rotating the knobs will depend on the MCP model.  The knobs on the older Honeywell models are very easy to rotate - A finger with just a ‘tad’ of pressure will move the knobs, however, the newer Collins model has more resistance, but the knobs are still very easy to rotate with minimal force.   As one First Officer stated: ‘You can definitely hear a soft click as you move the encoders - especially on the Honeywell models’.

By comparison, the resistance felt when rotating the knobs on the SimWorld MCP, although difficult to quantify, is similar to the resistance felt when rotating the knobs on the OEM MCP – It is realistic and does not feel ‘toy like’.  

Backlighting

The backlighting is controlled by a number of 5 Volt light emitting diodes (LEDs).  Each LED has been strategically located in the light plate to ensure even coverage and intensity of light.  

However, the MCP does exhibit slight light bleed along the join between the light plate and the protective casing.  This is not a problem as when the MCP is mounted into the MIP, the stray light is not noticeable.  If necessary, cloth tape can be placed over the join to eliminate any stray light.

LEFT:  The stray light is at the interface where the exterior casing joins the lightplate.  This area is covered by the MIP when the panel is mounted (click to enlarge).

Backlight Dimming - Dimmer Interface Card (DIC)

The MCP and Captain-side EFIS can be dimmed together, while The First Officer EFIS is capable of being dimmed independent of the Captain side EFIS.  This is how it occurs in the real aircraft.

To enable the panel backlighting to be dimmed, SimWorld have used a dedicated PCB (DIC).  The use of a PCB ensures that dimming is reliable, accurate, and highly controllable.   The PCB is standalone, is roughly the size of two credit cards and can be mounted anywhere.

The DIC is connected to the CANBUS system via the custom wiring harness and then to the appropriate potentiometer that controls panel backlighting.   Panel backlighting can be dimmed from off to any brightness level.  

To enable dimming, a potentiometer must be wired to the PCB (DIC).  

Power

The MCP requires 12 Volt power, while the backlighting uses 5 Volt power that is connected to the DIC.

MCP Annunciators

The annunciators are not glorified micro-switches, but are push on/off buttons that when depressed emit an audible click.  The resistance felt as the button is pressed, is slightly less than the pressure required to engage an OEM annunciator.  The square push button and frame is made from plastic, and the cylindrical shaft that the button connects with is made from metal.  

SimWorld have replicated each of the square-shaped buttons exceptionally well, and for the most part their external appearance is identical to the OEM counterpart.

Each annunciator is connected to the primary MCP PCB, thus eliminating the use of wires.  If an annunciator is broken during the course of its life, replacement is relatively straightforward and involves soldering the connection of the replacement annunciator to the PCB.

Status Checkerboard and Legend

Each annunciator on the MCP comprises a square push button, a rectangular-shaped checkerboard, and a legend.

The checkerboard is made by engraving a number of holes that, when the annunciator is pressed, enables green-coloured light to be transmitted through the checkerboard.  The checkerboard is similar to the OEM panel and has the same number of engraved holes.

Each annunciator has a legend that uses multi layer technology (proprietary to SimWorld).  Multi layer technology is what enables the backlighting of the checkerboard and legend to be a different colour.  The name of each annunciator (speed, VNAV, N1, etc.) has been engraved into the legend.   

Unfortunately, the engraved letters are not as defined as you would expect; the lettering is slightly jagged in appearance (enlarge above image). 

LEFT:  The detail of the annunciators is very good and the jagged appearance of the lettering only becomes apparent when they are backlit.  The backlight intensity is set to 100% (click to engage).

This is noticeable only when observed very close-up; from a normal distance (seated) this is barely noticeable and therefore, not really an issue.   However, the ability of the legend to transmit light evenly through the cut-out lettering is noticeable as the jagged appearance causes the names to appear slightly ‘furry’ (brighter or dimmer) depending upon the amount of light that can travel through the lettering, and your viewing position.

The annunciator legends and the checkerboard, are illuminated by strategically-placed LEDs.  

Window Bezels and Liquid Crystal Displays (LCDs)

The two main differences that separate an OEM MCP from a reproduction MCP are the design and appearance of the bezels that surround the display window, and how the actual characters (digits) are displayed.

SimWorld have used a black-coloured bezel that surrounds each of the display windows.  The bezel is identical to the bezels in the OEM MCP, and the join between the bezel and the display frame is seamless.

Equally, the use of custom-made Liquid Crystal Displays (LCDs), with each display backlit by one LED, is what causes SimWorld’s design to stand-out above its competition.  

The combined use of LCDs and LEDs enables each character (digit) to be displayed in the correct shape, colour and size.  This is in addition to displaying the specific characters used in the speed window (under and overspeed conditions) and the +- symbols displayed in the vertical speed window.

LEFT:  The checkerboard is identical in appearance across all annunciators.  Note the ambient sensor and + character in the vertical speed window.  Also the very slight difference in the illumination of the + sign  Backlightng is set ~50% intensity (click to enlarge).

Although appearing rudimentary, this is similar to how the OEM displays are illuminated.  To my knowledge, all other manufacturers of reproduction MCPs use seven-segmented displays.

While the use of this type of display is a positive step forward, it is not without its negatives; if the LEDS are incorrectly positioned, or the throw of light is not even across the rear of the LCD, then the characters will not be evenly lit.  This may cause some of the characters in a display to be brighter or dimmer (hot or cold spot).

To counter against this, quality assurance (QA) must be exceptionally thorough.  I will discuss QA later in this article.

LCD Brightness

As discussed earlier, each LCD is backlit by a single LED (this is how the characters (digits) are illuminated).

LEFT: Backlighting at full intensity is excellent (click to enlarge).

The brightness of the digits is linked to the intensity of the backlight dimming.  Therefore, as backlighting is dimmed, the brightness of the LEDs behind each LCD is lowered.   Although this is exactly how dimming operates in the real aircraft, I find that during the day in bright conditions, with the backlighting turned off, it’s difficult to read the digits as their intensity is not very bright.  At night and in low light conditions this is not an issue as the digits can easily be read. 

A solution to this issue is for SimWorld to enable an alternate method (although not as done in the real aircraft) to allow the brightness of the LEDs to be independent of backlighting.

Autothorttle (A/T)

The A/T toggle, controlled by a solenoid-release mechanism, resembles the OEM toggle.

The system logic SimWorld use in the toggle is slightly different to other reproduction MCPs, in that the toggle can only be engaged when certain conditions are met (system logic).

If the correct conditions are not met, then the toggle cannot be engaged; the toggle will not stay in the engaged position (up) but flick back to the disengaged position (down).  Be aware that for this functionality to operate, the avionics suite in use must also have this capability.

Electronic Flight Instrument System (EFIS)

Disregarding OEM panels, the SimWorld EFIS is probably the best on the market (at the time of writing).   Each EFIS replicates its OEM counterpart in both appearance and functionality, and is the correct size (1:1).

LEFT:  Captain-side EFIS panel with backlighting at full intensity.  The lightplate is well made and the laser engraving is well defined enabling even illumination of backlighting accross the panel.  The BARO STD knob has purposely been left slightly left of center.  When the BARO knob is released it will spring back to the central position (click to enlarge).

Two noticeable positives are the concave-designed push in/out function buttons on the lower portion of the unit, and the use of independent duel rotaries that are centrally spring-loaded.  

Quick ListMain Advantages (SimWorld EFIS):

(i)      Correct size and dimensions (1:1);
(ii)     Use of externally protected printed circuit boards (PCB);
(iii)    Correct Boeing-grey colour;
(iv)    Accurate aluminum knobs with set screws;
(v)     Independent backlighting between Captain-side and F/O side EFIS units;
(vi)    Two speed rotary encoders which auto-center (BARO and MINS);
(vii)   Well defined laser-cut lettering on light plate; and,
(viii)  Concave-designed push buttons.

Manufacture and Detail - EFIS

The EFIS has been manufactured and assembled in a similar way to the MCP.  The EFIS panels are 1:1, are the correct shaded grey colour, include the appropriate screws located in the correct location, and have the correct styled knobs.  As with the MCP, the EFIS use printed circuit boards which are then protected by an exterior aluminium casing.

LEFT:  First Officer side EFIS.  Knob length, functionality and detail are as per the real aircraft as is concave function buttons and well defined lettering and even backlighting accross the lightplate (click to enlarge).

EFIS Light Plate, Backlight Dimming and Exterior Casing

The laser-cut lettering on the light plate is crisp and sharp, and when the EFIS is backlit the light is evenly spread at the same intensity across the panel. 

Both EFIS panels are dimmed through the same dimmer interface card (DIC) used for the MCP, however, the F/O EFIS panel can be dimmed separately to the Captain-side panel (as it is done in the real aircraft).  

The protective casing that each EFIS resides measures 5 inches in depth perpendicular to the light plate.   On the rear of the unit is a female 5-volt DC power connector, and a connection for the plug that connects the EFIS to the CANBUS system.

Knobs

The manufacture of the knobs is similar to the knobs used on the MCP, with the exception that a centrally-placed disc has been laser engraved to enable the function name to be backlit.  The lettering on the discs is crisp and sharp.  The knobs are held securely to the rotary shaft by two metal set-screws.  

LEFT:  First Officer side EFIS.  The lettering and black disc is well made.  The metal set screw that attaches the upper knob to the dual rotary can be observed.  The upper knob is self centering (click to enlarge).

The pointer (black & white line) on the function selector knob is a transfer that has been glued to the outside of the knob.  The adhesive has been solidly applied and I doubt the transfer will come loose.

Rotary Encoders

The rotary encoders are similar to those used in the MCP and have a metal cylindrical shaft.  Each of the encoders is a double encoder meaning that it has dual functionality.

Specialist Functionality - BARO and MINS

The barometric pressure (BARO) and radio altitude/pressure (minimums) function exactly as those in the real aircraft.  The outer knobs are spring-loaded, and when rotated and released, self-center with the label resetting to the horizontal position.  The knobs also are push to reset.

Each knob has two speeds: a slight turn left or right turn will alter the single digits, while holding the encoder left or right for a longer period of time will change the double digits, and cause the digits to change at a higher rate of speed.   

The below video, taken inside the flight deck of a B73-800 aircraft shows the operation of the OEM BARO and MINS (courtesy Shrike 200).  The SimWorld BARO and MINS knobs operate the same way.

 

Concave-shaped Function Buttons

The function buttons on the EFIS are concave in shape and made from plastic (this differs to the rubberized buttons seen on several OEM EFIS panels).  Each button has the name of the function engraved into the button.  The engraved letters are crisp and sharp and when the panel is backlit, the letters are evenly illuminated without hot or cold spots.  

Each button’s mechanism is made from plastic, and while the use of plastic is understandable, metal probably would increase the mechanism’s service life.  

Minor Problem - Sticky EFIS Button

A minor issue developed after installation of the EFIS into the bracket.  Two function buttons when pressed, would not automatically reset themselves (click in and click out).  The problem only presented when the panel was mounted into the bracket faceplate.

After carefully examining the bracket and protective casing, it was found that when the EFIS was mounted into the MIP, the casing was compressed against the button.  This caused the button to remain pushed in.

The problem was resolved by slightly bending the aluminum external casing so that it did not rub against the button’s mechanism. 

Functionality

The functionality of the EFIS is identical to the OEM EFIS.

MCP and EFIS Bracket

SimWorld provide a sturdy bracket that is used to mount the MCP and EFIS panels to the Main Instrument Panel (MIP).

LEFT:  SimWorld propriety bracket to mount MCP and EFIS into the SimWorld MIP.  The bracket is solid and very well made (click to enlarge)

The bracket consists of a front faceplate and a rigid bracket framework.  Both items are made from 1 mm thick, black-coloured, powder coated aluminum.  The faceplate is precut to allow fitment of the MCP and EFIS.  The framework provides stability to stop the EFIS panels from wobbling in the precut hole.  

Mounting The Bracket To The MIP

The bracket is designed to be used with SimWorld’s propriety MIP, however, the bracket can be used with other MIPs.  Take note that, depending upon which MIP is used, the bracket/MIP may need to be modified.

I retrofitted the bracket to a Flight Deck Solutions (FDS) MIP which was not without its problems. 

Problems Retrofitting The Bracket to the FDS MIP

The FDS MIP, the distance between the Captain-side and F/O-side glarewings did not allow enough room to enable the bracket faceplate to be fitted; the bracket was approximately 1 mm too long, and the bracket framework was too deep to easily slide into the recess of the FDS MIP.

These shortcomings were rectified by shaving away a small portion of the inner side of each glarewing.  This enabled the bracket faceplate to fit snugly between the glarewings.  

To use the bracket framework (which is quite deep), the internal structure of the FDS MIP has to be cutaway, an act that may affect the structure of the MIP.  Therefore, the framework was discarded and only the bracket faceplate was used.  

Without the framework to provide stability, the EFIS panels wobbled somewhat in the bracket faceplate.  To stop the EFIS from wobbling, small wedges made from wood were fabricated and installed between the EFIS and the inside edge of each glarewing.  Once the wedges were installed, the EFIS did not wobble.  The MCP is secured to the bracket faceplate by four screws which inhibits any movement.

A facsimile of the piece of metal that covers the underneath portion of the MCP was made from thin metal, painted black, and the appropriate screws added.

Wiring Harness

SimWorld supply a high quality wiring lumen that consists of four colour-coded wires with connectors.  The wires connect to the MCP and EFIS, and then to a 5 and 12 Volt power supply, dimming interface card (DIC), and the CANBUS system.  The power connections are standard push pull plugs and the wires that connect the MCP and EFIS with CANBUS use wire tap connectors (T-taps).   The length of supplied wire approximately 12 feet and SimWorld provide a basic wiring diagram.

LEFT:  T-taps can damage wires causing connection issues, so should be viewed as a temporary set-up (click to enlarge)

Wire Connectors

The use of wire tap connectors (wire chomper), although very convenient, should probably be looked at only as an initial connection when testing the panels.  For a more permanent connection, soldering the wires is preferable.  Soldering will remove the possibility of any troublesome connection.  

Let me explain,  the act of pressing the wire into this slotted metal piece bludgeons the wire. The concept behind this is fine – it’s supposed to strip back the insulation on the wire to make contact with the wire itself. The problem is that there is no guarantee that you won’t accidentally catch some of the wire in this process and tear some of the individual wire strands.  Additionally, if the insulation is broken over a wire, there is a possibility of corrosion (oxidation) occurring.  

Push-Pull Power Plugs

Although the use of a push/pull power plug is standard to many appliances, the connection is not tight.  If pressure is applied to the power cable, it is easy for the plug to become dislodged and loose connection with the MCP or EFIS.  

LEFT:  Power plug and CANBUS connector.  Each panel is connected to CANBUS by one of these connectors, and then to the dimming interface card (click to enlarge)

On a simulator with motion control, vibration could cause the plug to be dislodged.  An easy matter to rectify, the security of this connection should be improved in future designs.

CANBUS Controller System

The CANBUS system (also called Simbox or CAN controller) enables communication between the server computer and the MCP (and specific SimWorld panels) and is a vital part of the SimWorld architecture.

CAN is an acronym for Controller Area Network and is a bus standard designed to allow micro controllers and devices to communicate with each other.  Simply put, CANBUS translates the CANBUS signal, allowing for control and communication through the computer.

The CAN controller system (printed circuit board) resides in a ribbed-aluminum case with two connectors at each end of the case; one side connects with the computer via a standard USB cable while the other side connects, via a specialist connection, to the wiring harness, and then to the MCP and EFIS panels.  The CAN controller does not require a dedicated power supply.

LEFT:  CANBUS module.  Made from aluminium and housing a Printed Circuit Board (PCB), the CAN controller is what connects the MCP and EFIS tot he server computer.  During all trials, CANBUS performed flawlessly with no drop outs, lags or failures (click to enlarge).

CANBUS is small and light enough that it can be mounted anywhere between the MIP and server computer.  I have the CANBUS unit secured to the rear of the MIP via a Velcro strap.

Connection and Drivers

CANBUS does not require any drivers to operate as it’s detected by ProSim-AR when the software is turned on.  Connection is immediate, and whatever configuration is needed is done automatically through Windows the first time CANBUS in connected to the computer.  

There should not be any connection or communication issues provided you have checked (ticked) the enable SimWorld drivers within the configuration/drivers tab of the ProSim737 software.  

Compatibility

At the time of writing, CANBUS is compatible with ProSim-AR (plug and fly).  A dedicated driver for iFly and PMDG is under development.  Prior to purchase, I would seek the advice of SimWorld to whether CANBUS is compatible with the avionics suite you are using.

Reliability of CANBUS

In one word - 'perfect'.   I have not had the MCP, EFIS or CANBUS disconnect during a flight simulator session.  This is using FSX and ProSim-AR (version 1.49).  As a test, I disconnected the CAN controller during a flight, then reconnected it.  The flight was not disrupted and the reconnection occurred effortlessly.

Robustness and Service Life

The life and serviceability of a product has a direct relationship to how the product is used (or abused) and the duration of use.   Modern electronics are very forgiving, and electronic problems (if any) usually develop soon after an item begins its service life.  If problems are not detected after first use, then it is not unusual for an item to have a considerable service life.

Some of the more common problems that occur with reproduction panels include; failing encoders, damaged plastic encoder shafts, worn out set screws, slippage of knobs, and faulty switches and buttons.  Additionally, knobs may wear out with use, and paint on the lightplate may chip.  

SimWorld have countered potential problems by using printed circuit boards, commercial metal encoders, aluminum knobs, metal set-screws, and by replicated, as much as possible the same processes used in the manufacture of OEM light plates.  

The above said, it's wise to remember that reproduction panels rarely replicate the robustness and exacting standards of an OEM product; therefore, they should be treated with respect and with care.   I expect that in time the paint on knobs will chip and wear thin with use - this is normal wear and tear.  I don't mind this 'wear and tear' look as it is very seldom you a knob that is shiny new - unless the aircraft is new.

Quality Assurance (QA), Customer Service, and My Experience

Put bluntly, when anything is done by hand there must be a very high level of Quality Assurance (QA) to ensure that design specifications and tolerances are met.  QA can be an expensive process as time is needed to inspect each individual panel and then, if imperfections are noted, make required alterations/repairs.

There is a direct relationship between the price that an items costs and the amount and level of QA that is performed.  You would not expect an inexpensive item mass-produced in China to have high QA – and it doesn’t, which is why many Chinese-produced products fail after a short period of time or have obvious defects.   However, if you are purchasing a high-end product with a high price tag then the expectation is that this product will meet specification, will not have problems, and be sold with an excellent warranty and support.

SimWorld realize that enthusiasts demand quality and strive to meet this requirement.  However, not everything passes muster first time around and sometimes products are released that are not quite up-to-standard.   Whenever this occurs the reputation of the company is tested.

To ensure transparency, I have documented the issues below not to provide negative criticism of SimWorld, but to highlight their dedicated customer support and strong company ethics.  

My Experience

The first MCP and EFIS sent to me from SimWorld did not meet my expectations and had several issues.  Namely:  

(i)     Uneven brightness of the characters (digits) across the five LCDs with some characters presenting as hot spots;
(ii)     Rotary encoders cross-referencing values;
(iii)    A/T arming toggle not locking into the arm position (UP position);
(iv)    Crooked LCD in the course display window; and,
(v)     The light plate on the EFIS was not mounted parallel to the backing plate (crooked).

I contacted SimWorld and they requested that I return the panels to Poland (at their expense) for repair.  

The problems experienced were caused by:

(i)     The positioning of the LED behind the LCD was slightly off center.  This was rectified;
(ii)    The rotary encoders were faulty and had been tracked to a bad batch released from the manufacturer.  They were replaced;  
(iii)   The autothrottle toggle was not aligned correctly with the magnetic plate mounted behind the light plate. This was fixed by moving the toggle very slightly to the left;
(iv)    The crooked LCD was straightened.  As the LCDs are mounted by hand, careful attention must be paid to ensuring they are straight; and,
(v)     The misalignment of the F/O EFIS panel was rectified by making it straight against the backing plate.  

Repaired MCP and EFIS

Unfortunately, following receipt of the repaired MCP, the Captain-side course display would not illuminate.

Piotr at SimWorld organized for my computer to be tethered to their technician’s laptop to enable bench testing.   Unfortunately, the technician could not determine what was causing the problem, but thought it may be a faulty capacitor.  

Rather than attempt to repair the MCP again, Filip arranged for a replacement MCP panel to be sent to me by UPS.  

Replacement MCP Panel

The replacement MCP, by chance, was the newer panel manufactured in 2017.  I have not had any problems with the replacement 2017 model MCP and EFIS.  Both panels function flawlessly and the attention to detail on the panels is beyond reproach.  

Warranty and After-Sales Service

The MCP and EFIS is covered by 12-month unconditional warranty.

The after-sales service and warranty cannot be bettered, and I cannot stress the advantages of dealing with a company that treats its customers with respect and places customer service as a priority.  

In relation to the issues I had with the MCP and EFIS, SimWorld responded to my e-mails within 24 hours, followed up on my questions, provided reasons for the problem, and kept me updated with regard to repairs and/or replacement.   The after-sales service and support provided to me has been exemplary.  

Negatives - MCP and EFIS

It’s difficult to find any major negatives.  However, if pressed they are:

(i)    During the day, the digits displayed in the LCDs are difficult to read if the backlighting is dimmed 100%;
(ii)    The power connection on the rear of the MCP and EFIS is not secure.  If any pressure is applied to a cable, then it’s very easy for the connector to become dislodged from the panel;
(iii)    The laser cutting on the annunciator legends (Speed, V/S, RNAV, etc.) could be more precise (this really is not an issue unless you inspect your panel with a macro lens); and,
(iv)    The non-use of D-shaped shafts on the rotary encoders.  If used, this would minimise the chance of any knob slipping on the shaft of an encoder.
(v)   The brightness of the digits displayed in the LCD's, although more or less even accross all characters, does show slight intensity differences.  This is caused by the positioning of the LED that sits behind each LCD. 

Pictures and Videos

I have not included many photographs in an attempt to keep the footprint of the article to a reasonable size. 

Several images can be viewed in the image gallery - SimWorld MCP Version 2.  I have posted several 'very average' photographs in this gallery in an attempt to show you the appearance of the panels.  Promotional images and videos are fine, but they are always professionally made to show the product in its best light.  You will also see a few images of OEM panels in the gallery to compare.

Below are three professionally made videos courtesy of SimWorld.

The panels displayed in the video accurately reflect the appearance, detail and functionality of the MCP and EFIS.  Equally, CANBUS is as straightforwrd to connect as shown in the video.

Photography

A quick word about photography.  Detailed and close-up photographs will always show unwanted blemishes.  The better the lens the more blemishes will become obvious.  It's important to remember that you do not fly the simulator looking through a magnifying loop, but view panels from a moderate distance.  Even OEM panels show inconsistencies when viewed with a macro lens :)

Titbits

This article has taken several months to complete.  Originally it was three times the length and it's taken some time to condense the information to a length that is readable without it being bound in a book!

Final Call

The price paid to own the SimWorld MCP and EFIS is not inexpensive, however, it is nowhere near the price demanded of a OEM Collins panel, or a panel used in a commercial simulator trainer.

SimWorld's use of liquid crystal displays in lieu of seven-segmented displays, the resistance felt when turning the various knobs that closely match the OEM panels, and the close attention paid to detail: for example, the small tabs beside the Flight Director switches, detailed display bezels, ambient sensor, and realistic push to reset barometer and minimums knobs, is what separates this MCP and EFIS from its competition. 

If you want the appearance of the MCP and EFIS to be as close as possible to the OEM equivalent, and want accurate functionality, then you should not discount the panels produced by SimWorld.

Friday
Apr072017

Alternate Use for OEM Rudder Pedal Circuit Breakers

The picture at left is of an OEM circuit breaker that has been removed from an OEM rudder pedal control mechanism.  The front plate of the control mechanism has several circuit breakers on the Captain and First Officer-side of the flight deck.

LEFT:  OEM circuit breaker switch.  The two connectors on the rear of the switch are very easy to connect to an interface card for push/pull functionality (click to enlarge).

Although connection of the circuit breakers, to the original functionality that was assigned to the switch in the aircraft, is not necessary (unless wanted), there is no reason why the circuit breakers cannot be used for additional functionality outside of the simulator environment.   Many enthusiasts have specially made panels that reside in the center pedestal to address such a need. 

The circuit breakers are basically an on/off push/pull switch.  Each switch can be easily wired to a standard interface card, such as a Pokeys or Leo Bodnar card, and then configured in ProSim-AR to a particular function.  If using FSUPIC, the functionality of the switch can be assigned to any on/off function.

For example, using FSUPIC (buttons) it is possible to assign each circuit breaker to a simulator function such as: pause, sim acceleration, jetway extension, etc.  The list is almost endless.

In my simulator, I have the Captain-side circuit breaker switches configured to simulator pause and simulator time acceleration.  These commands are readily accessible within the FSUPIC framework.

The circuit breaker switches are aesthetics, therefore, configuring the switches to regularly used commands is a way to minimize keyboard usage, and declutter the flight deck.