E-mail Subscription

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Syndicate RSS
Welcome

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!

 

Find more about Weather in Hobart, AU
Click for weather forecast

 

 

 

 

  FEEDBACK:  

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

Journal Archive (Newest First)

Entries in Flight Simulator (53)

Friday
Mar242017

OEM Rudder Pedal Mechanism and Handles

The OEM rudder handle mechanisms have been sitting in storage for considerable time, and I thought it was time to add them to the simulator and replace the very poorly made and ‘cheesy’ reproductions that I was using.

LEFT:  OEM rudder handles and mechanism installed to Captain-side kickstand.  The stick shaker can be seen in the foreground (click to enlarge).

The rudder mechanism is not a small item that you can easily screw to the kickstand.  Each handle attaches to a 8-inch-long box, that houses the various circuitry, cabling and a dozen or so aircraft circuit breakers. 

Connection to the aircraft’s system is via two Canon plugs at the rear of the unit, while movement of the pedals forward or aft is facilitated by a long metal cable that connects to the rear of the handle.

The mechanism is not light-weight and weighs in at just over 1 kilogram.

The rudder handles do nothing other than add to the aesthetics of the simulator.  However, if wanted the various circuit breakers can be connected to an interface card (something I will not be doing).

LEFT:  Rudder handle mechanism (prior to cleaning).  The long metal cable that connects to the rear of the handle (enabling the forward and aft adjustment of the pedals) has been removed.  The white handle hangs loose and needs to be attached to the box using plastic fasteners (empty holes).  The black circular pull on/off circuit breakers can be seen below the white handle  (click to enlarge).

Installation to MIP

There are several methods that can be used to install the mechanism to the Main Instrument Panel (MIP).

If you are using an OEM MIP, then connection of the mechanism to the kick-stand is a matter of using the existing bolts and placement holes.  Fitment to a reproduction MIP is accomplished differently and depends upon how the MIP is constructed. 

I fabricated an aluminium cradle (saddle) that is attached by two nuts and bolts to the lower portion of the kickstand (under the kickstand out of sight).  The rudder mechanism slides into the cradle and a small screw holds the mechanism in the correct place.  A similar assembly could easily be made from wood and painted Boeing grey.

Read about an alternate use of the circuit breakers.

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
Feb102017

Troubleshooting Power Management Settings and Solving USB Disconnects 

Remember when all that was required to run flight simulator was one display monitor, joystick and a keyboard – those days are long gone.   

LEFT:  High-speed 5 volt powered USB hub.  This hub resides in the Throttle Interface Module (TIM).  Note ferrite choke. (click to enlarge).

Depending upon the level of system complexity, a flight simulator may require a dozen or more ports to connect peripheral items to a server or client computer (s).  Historically, connection of peripherals has been via USB.  

USB is an acronym for Universal Serial Bus and, generally speaking, if only a few peripherals are attached to a computer, there usually is not a problem with communication between the computer and the attached device.  However, as interface cards and peripherals become more complicated and numerous, there is a propensity for disconnects to occur more frequently.  A USB disconnect usually announces itself by the sound card playing the ‘ding-dong’ sound as the peripheral disconnects itself from the computer.

Guidelines (golden rules)

There are several ‘golden rules’ to remember when using USB.

(i)      Try and keep all USB cables as short as possible;
(ii)     Do not join USB cables together;
(iii)    Always use quality USB cables with quality connectors;
(iv)    Do not ‘kink’ the USB cable or wrap the cable so tightly that the wires are at a 90-degree angle;
(v)     Do not lie USB cables beside one another so they are touching, but maintain some space between them;
(vi)     Use a USB cable fitted with noise limiting nodes (NLN);
(vii)    Use a USB cable/port that is rated at the highest output (USB 3 or above); and,
(viii)   Where possible for multi USB connections use a quality powered USB hub.

Noise Limiting Node (NLN)

A noise limiting node (NLN), also known as a 'ferrite choke' is a small cylindrical node that sits at each end of a USB cable.  Briefly explained the nodes are made from a solid ball of ferrite which is magnetic and therefore quite heavy.

LEFT:  Ferrite choke on USB cable.

The purpose of the NLN is to stop electromagnetic interference (EMI) transferring from the peripheral to the computer.  EMI can be produced from any number of peripheral items and a USB cable running between the peripheral and the computer acts as an antenna, picking up and transmitting EMI current.  The current can, but not necessarily always, cause havoc with either the operation of the peripheral or the computer itself.  

Adding USB Ports

As the number of add-on peripherals increase, the number of available ports falls short and additional USB ports need to be added to the computer.  Additional ports can easily be added to a computer via a PCE card which enables (on average) an additional 4 USB ports to be added to your computer.  A PCI card is attached to your motherboard.

Power Requirements

One of the main reasons that USB disconnects occur, relates to the power that is available to the computer’s USB port.  Often the power requirements of the device will be greater than that provided to the USB port; this causes a disconnect.  Additionally, depending upon your computer, it is not uncommon for power to fluctuate between USB ports as the computer’s motherboard directs power to various processes.

Depending upon how your system is set-up, when several devices 'come on line' a minor spike can be generated.  Often, this spike can momentarily exceed the amperage rating of the USB port.  This can cause a disconnect to occur.

It’s important to understand that not all USB ports are made identical.  In general, the ports on the rear of the computer are part of the computer’s motherboard; these ports are rated as high power ports.  However, USB ports that are not part of the motherboard, and usually located on the front of the computer may not receive the same power rating.  

Often a supply company will provide a computer will a dozen or so USB ports, however, to save money will choose to use what is called a ‘front panel USB header’ which has a small piece of circuitry that acts as a hub.  In this case, the power to the front panel USB is reduced.  Furthermore, it is probable that these ports may not be USB 3 and if used for a high-demand peripheral will cause a disconnects to occur.

USB Hubs

Another strong recommendation is to use a high quality powered USB hub rather than connecting several USB cables directly to a computer.  A powered hub should be used rather than an unpowered hub as the former provides its own direct power source which is usually rated at a higher amperage than the computer’s USB port.  

The interface modules that form the core of my simulation system have one or two powered hubs installed to the module.  The interface cards are then connected by very short USB cables to the hub.  A high quality USB cable (with a NLN) then connects the interface module directly to the computer.

Windows Power Management Settings (PMS)

Not all USB peripherals will be required at all times.  Often a device will not need to communicate with the computer until something is required – such as a change to a radio frequency, an input from the control column or a key press to the MCP or CDU.

LEFT:  Screen grab of Windows 7 PMS (click to enlarge).

Windows has a nasty habit of ‘putting to sleep’ a USB connection that is not being used.  It does this to save power.  It is very imperative that you ensure that all power saving modes are turned off with regard to USB.  

To do this open your control panel and search for device manager.  Scroll down until you find Universal Serial Bus.  Under this tab you will find all the USB ports that you have attached to your computer.  Open each in turn and check the power management settings and ensure they are turned off.

Troubleshooting USB Disconnects

It is paramount to try and discover which peripheral is causing the disconnect.  The easiest way to troubleshoot a disconnect issue is to remove ALL the USB cables from the computer, and then one by one re-connect the cables to the allocated port and test.  Make sure you switch your computer off and on as you add each of the cables in turn.  Hopefully, you will eventually discover which cable/device is causing the issue.  The problem device will ‘ding dong’ if a secure connection is not possible.

If USB disconnects continue, try swapping the cables between different USB ports on the computer.  The disconnect issue maybe caused by the USB port/cable combination you are using.  As mentioned, not all USB ports have the same amount of power/amps available to them. 

Try to place peripherals that require minimal power, such as a mouse or keyboard, on lower-powered USB ports, and place more energy-requiring peripherals on powered hubs; perhaps only a few devices on the one hub.  Doing this will ensure that the hub will always have enough power (amps) to power the devices attached (cancelling out possible spikes as discussed above).  

Final Call

Hopefully, if you apply the above-mentioned suggestions USB disconnects will cease.  However, you will eventually reach the limit of USB capability, and at this point the use of Ethernet should be investigated to augment, or to replace the reliance on USB.

This article is but a primer.  I am not an IT expert and welcome any comments.

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.