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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).

 

All funds are used to offset the cost of server and website hosting (Thank You...)

No advertising on this website - EVER!

 

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If you see any errors or omissions, please contact me to correct the information. 

Journal Archive (Newest First)

Entries in B737-800 Flight Simulator (41)

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.

Wednesday
Mar082017

OEM B737 CDU Conversion - Introduction

One of the slower projects is the conversion of two B737 CDU units.  The two units were purchased from an aircraft scrap-yard in the US and were formally used in a Boeing 737 operated by United Airlines.  

LEFT:  Straight from United Airlines to me.  Two OEM CDU units.  The rear unit has already had its CRT display removed and is partially  'gutted' (click to enlarge).

The two CDUs came from an airframe of a B737-500, which in 2008 was retired along with other Boeing classics, due to United Airlines decision to adopt the Airbus A-320.

The rear of each unit has a chronometer showing the hours of use - one unit has 5130 hours while the other has 1630 hours.

The CDU presently used in the simulator is manufactured by Flight Deck Solutions (FDS) and although I have been pleased with its operation and reliability, there is little resemblance, other than appearance, to the OEM unit.

LEFT:  Detail of the keyboard and DIM knob.  Interestingly the DIM knob dims the actual screen and not the backlighting (click to enlarge).

The prominent difference is external build quality and the tactile feeling when depressing the keys on the keyboard; the keys don't wobble in their sockets, but are firm to press. 

There is also a strong audible click when a key is depressed.  Furthermore, the backlighting is evenly spread with each key evenly lit.

The OEM CDU is large and VERY heavy.  I was surprised at the weight - a good 6 kilograms.  Most of the weight is made up by the thick glass CRT display screen and other components that reside within the sturdy aluminium case.

LEFT:  The casing removed to show the electronic boards that are secured by lever clips.  Like anything OEM, the unit is made very well from solid components (click to enlarge).

Like the casing, the internal structure is also made from aluminium and has four rails to enable the electronic boards to be installed and secured into place. 

Whenever I look at anything OEM, I am amazed at the workmanship that has gone into producing the item; the CDU does not fall short in this area.

A myriad number of small screws hold together the aluminum casing that protects the internal components.  Not only screws are used, but also special miniature DZUS fasteners than enable the side of the casing to removed easily for maintenance.

Nomenclature

When discussing the CDU there are three similar terms that are often used interchangeably: CDU, FMC and FMS.  In this website, I use the terms CDU and FMC interchangeable which is not quite correct - let me explain.

LEFT:  Protective cover removed to show the main pin-out board, rear of the CRT display, power supply, and electronics.  These parts cause the CDU to be quite heavy.  The two Canon plugs  are just visible at the right of the picture enable connection to the aircraft. (click to enlarge to see detail).

The Control Display Unit (CDU) is the interface that the flight crew use to interrogate the data from the Flight Management Computer (FMC); it's basically a screen and keyboard.  The FMC in turn is but one part of a complex system called the Flight Management System (FMS).  The FMS is capable of four dimensional area navigation.  It is the FMS that contains the navigational database.

CDU vs. MCDU

The older units used in the classic airframes are always referred to as a CDU, while the NG units are called a MCDU.  M stands for multipurpose or multi-function.  Basically, the MCDU has a different key called a menu key.  This key, when pressed, accesses another layer of information that is not available in the earlier CDUs.

For those more military-minded, the CDU in military parlance is called a mission computer.

Aesthetic Differences

The CDU dates from 2008, therefore; it is not exactly identical to the CDU used in the Next Generation airframe, however, it is very close.

Main Differences - 500 series to NG

(i)    The dim knob is a slightly different shape;

(ii)   The display screen is rounded at the edges (the NG is more straight-edged);

(iii)   The absence of the horizontal white lines located on the inside edge of the display frame bezel; and,

(iv)   The display screen is different - cathode ray tube (CRT) verses liquid crystal display (LCD).

(v)   Two of the keys are different.  The NG has a menu and space key whilst the older CDUs have a DIR INTC and a blank key (no lettering on key). 

Other differences, not important in the simulator environment, are the colour of the fonts used; older units have black and white or green font while later model NG units use multi-coloured font.

To a purist, these differences are probably important, and if so, you will have to contend with a reproduction MCDU or pay an exorbitant amount for an NG unit. 

Software

The software used in the OEM CDU is not used in the simulator.  The CDU functionality is dictated by the avionics software (ProSim-AR) in use.  This is also true for the font type and colour.

LEFT:  Completely gutted.  All unnecessary and unusable electronic components have been removed.  These two CDU units will soon operate flawlessly with ProSim-AR and flight simulator (click to enlarge).

Converting the CDU

I am liaising with an Australian company that specialises in converting avionics components used in commercial flight simulators.  This company has had considerable experience converting B747 avionics and is keen to see if their expertise will similarly work with the B737.

In a second article, I will explain in more detail how the conversion was done, and examine some of the problems that needed to be resolved.  I also will discuss the mounting of the unit into the CDU bay. 

More photographs of the CDU are located in the image gallery.  Additional images will be added to the gallery in due course.

Glossary

OEM - Original Equipment Manufacture (aka reral aircraft part).

Friday
Jan202017

Magnetic Declination and Navigation Database Update

There's little point using real aircraft parts (OEM) when the underlying databases in flight simulator, that provide aeronautical information, are out-of-date.  A commonly encountered problem is: 'Why is the approach course on the simulator different to that published in the approach chart'

If wanting to achieve a high degree of realism when flying flight simulator, then up-to-date aeronautical information is vital. 

Navigraph strives to maintain the accuracy of their charts and database sets by releasing quarterly updates.  However, up-to-date data is pointless if the baseline navigational data in FS9, FSX or P3D is dependent upon outdated datum points, incorrect ILS data and runway identifiers, and various misplaced VORs and NDBs.  

The baseline navigational data that flight simulator uses is based on information that was available in 1988, and matching this dataset with any up-to-date dataset can cause navigational problems.  Furthermore, magnetic declination changes each year and after several years there is a major discrepancy in the accuracy of the data.  This discrepancy reports as incorrect approach course directions.  

File Location and 2017 Datasets

Flight simulator stores the aeronautical information as a. bgl file usually located in the scenery/base/scenery folder in the flight simulator route directory.  The file name is MagDec.bgl.  Replacing this file with an up-to-date MagDec.bgl file is very straightforward.

In January 2013, I wrote a similar article concerning this topic.  To review this article click here.  Since this date, the data has been updated.

Herve Sorrs (o-la-la)

No this is not a French dish served with snails (laughing). 

Herve Sors is well known for his work developing programs and add-ons that enhance the accuracy of the datasets that flight simulator relies upon.  His website is a treasure trove of information that explains the reasons why datasets should be maintained; in addition to being a platform from which to download programs.

Correcting Magnetic Variation

The Magnetic Variation Data (MVD) package provides an updated set of magnetic declination (Magdec) .bgl files as of January 2017.  Replacing the default magdec.bgl file with the one provided in this package will result in a much better fit between displayed headings and current documentation data (runway, ILS and procedure headings).

The MVD package can be downloaded from his website for free (PayPal donation welcome).  

Installation

Installation of the new MAGVAR.BGL files (copied from text file in the MVD).

(i)    Close FS9 or FSX/P3D, since you will not be allowed to replace the file while the simulator is running.
(ii)    Locate the MAGDEC.BGL file which is in the \SCENERY\BASE\SCENERY\ sub folder of your FS9/FSX-P3D install directory.
(iii)    Keep a copy of the old file.  Rename it MAGDEC.BGL.BAK (do not use a bgl extension if the file is kept in the same directory).
(iv)    In the provided package, select the updated file you want to use, either FS9, FSX or P3D.
(v)    Copy the new MAGDEC.BGL file in the \SCENERY\BASE\SCENERY\ sub folder of your FS9/FSX-P3D install directory.

Flight Simulator will rebuild its index at first launch and the new magnetic variations will be applied.

Updating NavAids (FSX and P3D)

To update the various NavAids, Herve has created a program called World Navaids (installer version 8.00).  This program comes with a self-extracting installer that provides an an easy to use interface to select, amongst other things, which NavAids you wish to update or install to which geographic region.  The interface also cross references the data and provides a conflict report if there is a discrepancy between the default and add-on scenery datasets.  Prior to any update occurring, the program will make a back-up of the existing dataset.

Final Call

Herve Sors has taken it upon himself to maintain the accuracy of the flight simulator database and to provide, free of charge, many small programs that enhance out simulation experience.  Thank you Herve for your contribution.  His website is Flight Simulator Aircraft Dynamics and Navdata.

Friday
Nov182016

TaxiSigns HD - Review

A small add-on program which may interest some is TaxiSigns HD.  Essentially this software replaces all the default taxiway signs in flight simulator (FS) with a selection of several higher resolution 3D images with enhanced lighting effects.  For those that spend considerable time taxiing the aircraft this program is sure to please.

LEFT:  Example of the high definition sign showing night lighting which creates a pleasing  illumination in front of sign.  This feature is missing in the default textures (click to enlarge).

Installation and Features

Installation is via a wizard installer which will ask where you wish to install the program and also ask which directory flight simulator is installed. 

Once installed, a sub menu (TaxiSigns HD) will be placed within the flight simulator Add-Ons menu.

TaxiSigns HD works be adding its own scenery area, called TaxiSigns HD layer, to the FS scenery library.  The default textures are not overwritten or deleted and outside of its own scenery area, the program does not modify any flight simulator files.  To uninstall the product, and restore the default signs, use the Windows Control Panel to uninstall the program.  

The program has a user interface screen accessible from the FS Add-Ons menu.  The interface enables the user to easily alter the 3D model, daytime and night textures, and whether the signs illuminate the ground at night.   

One of the main advantages, other than appearance (the signs actually look like signs), is the night lighting effects.  Each sign can be front lit to allow the ground in front of the sign to be illuminated.  

The following outlines the features of the program:

•    3D taxiway signs instead of default rectangles 
•    Crystal clear text and FAA mandated font (high resolution textures) 
•    Choice of several 3D taxiway sign textures and shading effects (day and night) 
•    Illumination of the ground in front of each taxiway sign 
 

Evaluation of TaxiSigns HD

If you spend considerable time taxiing or take photographs and video within flight simulator then this program is well worthwhile. 

LEFT:  The user interface in which various options can be selected.  Note the posts that hold the sign (click to enlarge).

The textures are very sharp and the signs are much easier to read than the default textures.  They are also much more attractive to look at in comparison to the default signage.

A problem observed in flight simulator (FSX) is the slight blurring of the signs as the aircraft taxis past the sign.  The replacement textures remain sharp and do not blur as do the default signs.  Furthermore, I could not discern any appreciable drop in frame rates.

Compatibility an Support

TaxiSigns HD is fully compatible with both DirectX 9 and DirectX 10 modes of FSX, and also with FS9 and Prepar3D (versions 1.0-2.2).  

A succinct manual is provided with the program and although the program is very simplistic, a support forum is available.

The program can be downloaded from the developers website and tested for a period of 10 minutes.

TaxiSigns HD

Note I do not have any affiliation with the software developer.

Friday
Aug262016

Assembly of Forward Overhead Panel

Construction of the simulator began in 2011.  It is now 2016 and I am perplexed to why the build has taken so long to complete.   Of course, opting to try and use OEM (Original Equipment Manufacture) parts whenever possible has added significant time to the project -  especially the procurement of parts.

LEFT:  Forward overhead using OEM parts (click to enlarge).

Most of the parts that make up the forward overhead have now been obtained and assembly of the components is well advanced.   Very soon the wiring from the panels to the Phidgets cards will begin.  This will be followed by several hours of testing to check correct functionality and to ensure perfect harmony between components and systems. 

A basic frame has been constructed to enable the overhead to be easily positioned to enable the wiring to be done with a little more ease.  After the forward overhead is completed, work on the aft overhead will commence.  Rome, it seems, was not built in a day.

Certainly, completion of the forward overhead will be the major project over the next few months.