Exchanging landing gear lever wheels

Boeing landing gear lever after installation of FDS NG-style smaller wheel knob.
Boeing landing gear lever after installation of FDS NG-style smaller wheel knob.

Having previously installed my original Boeing landing gear lever, I decided to remove the old, yellowed ‘large’ wheel typical of the -200, -300 and -400 models, and exchange it for a smaller one more typical of the NG series.

For the small one, I decided to use the wheel and bracket from an FDS landing gear lever that I had left over from the disassembly of their MIP.  This was easily separated after removing four hex screws.

Drilling out rivets from original Boeing landing gear lever with large, classic style wheel knob.
Drilling out rivets from original Boeing landing gear lever with large, classic style wheel knob.

The Boeing bracket holding the wheel was riveted in place, fortunately with solid rivets instead of blind rivets, which are generally much harder to remove. I was able to quickly drill out the rivets and remove the old bracket/wheel combination .

Tapping Boeing landing gear lever to accommodate FDS smaller, NG-style wheel knob holder.
Tapping Boeing landing gear lever to accommodate FDS smaller, NG-style wheel knob holder.

Installing the FDS bracket/wheel required tapping some threaded holes to accept the hex screws. This was a quick modification that looks really good in the end, even if replacing the rivets with screws is not completely authentic.

Avionics installation begins

Main instrument panel (MIP) after final installation and alignment of primary flight displays. Empty space at the bottom is for FMC/CDU pedestal.
Main instrument panel (MIP) after final installation and alignment of primary flight displays. Empty space at the bottom is for FMC/CDU pedestal.

Happy New Year! It’s been more than six months since my last blog entry, but I have kept very busy fitting avionics into the shell. At the beginning of this phase of the project, I had a general idea of where the various pieces (main instrument panel, mode control panel, EFIS modules, glareshield, and FMC/CDU bay) would wind up, but had to work out a large number of details about how the major components would fit together.

The dimensions of a 737NG cockpit are virtually identical to that of the classic model, with one major exception: the FMC/CDU bay of the NG model is almost two inches wider than that of the older models, to accommodate the lower EICAS screen between the two CDUs. The rudder pedal bays are slightly smaller to accommodate this change.

I had two FMC/CDU pedestals, a narrow Boeing one that came with my cockpit and a wider, NG size model made for the simulation market by Flightdeck Solutions.

The problem could not be easily solved. The FDS pedestal was too wide to fit into the available space without rubbing against the rudder pedals, and the Boeing one was too narrow to accommodate all of the components. So I decided to use the top of the FDS pedestal mated to the bottom of the Boeing unit.

I would have to be fairly precise with the cuts. The mated pieces would have to be high enough at the forward edge to meet the main instrument panel (“MIP”) at the right place, and low enough to join up with the throttle quadrant at the aft edge. Furthermore, the rudder pedals needed to be able to clear the enlarged pedestal at the aft end of their travel, and the top, FDS portion would also have to be deep enough to accommodate the FDS CDUs, which sit on wedge shaped bases to allow them to be used as freestanding units on the desktop.

My original plan was to mount the MIP first, so that I would know exactly where to mount the FDS top onto the Boeing bottom. The only problem with this was that the mode control panel (the “MCP” or autopilot control panel) and EFIS control panels needed to be mounted first so that the top of the MIP would be fitted correctly. As I plan to do for all avionics, this unit was first bench tested and fully configured prior to installation. Troubleshooting these units is so much easier before they are installed in the shell. 

FDS MCP undergoing testing prior to installation.
FDS MCP undergoing testing prior to installation.
FDS MCP undergoing testing prior to installation.
FDS MCP undergoing testing prior to installation.

The FDS MCP/dual EFIS units are beautifully constructed, sturdy pieces that are faithful to the originals, with precise dimensions on the front faces. In spite of this, the units do not fit on to the Boeing mounts without significant modification. The original mounting brackets are relatively thick given the importance, weight and cantilevered configuration of the autopilot system in the real aircraft.

ClickBond fastener after applying adhesive to the inside of FDS MCP. When the adhesive is finished curing, the orange silicone form is removed, leaving a replaceable #10 nut plate.
ClickBond fastener after applying adhesive to the inside of FDS MCP. When the adhesive is finished curing, the orange silicone form is removed, leaving a replaceable #10 nut plate.
FO side FDS EFIS module after fitting with ClickBond floating nutplates. After mixing adhesive, the nutplates are held in place with silicone forms that are pulled out after adhesive has cured.
FO side FDS EFIS module after fitting with ClickBond floating nutplates. After mixing adhesive, the nutplates are held in place with silicone forms that are pulled out after adhesive has cured.

In order to fit the FDS units into the mounts, I cut openings in the sides of the FDS MCP. To take advantage of the Boeing angle brackets, I mounted two #10 nutplates on the inside of the MCP case to allow the mounts to be squeezed together and the screws attached, all without opening the MCP case. For this application I chose an aerospace fastener made by ClickBond, a brilliant, mil-spec system that allows the nutplates to be attached with a two part epoxy, thus avoiding riveting. I also drilled holes in the FDS shelf that holds the MCP and dual EFIS units. I used two large clamps to hold the assembly together while inserting screws from the bottom. Each screw went through the FDS shelf, then through the Boeing angle bracket, and finally into the nutplate mounted on the inside of the FDS MCP.

Large trigger clamps used to install FDS MCP and dual EFIS units onto Boeing mounts.
Large trigger clamps used to install FDS MCP and dual EFIS units onto Boeing mounts.

In each of the FDS EFIS units I mounted two additional floating nutplates, used to fix the units into proper position on the shelf. After mounting these units, I was able fit the FDS glare wings and glareshield and the result was a very clean install that looks great.

Test of under glare shield lighting after installation of MCP and dual EFIS units.
Test of under glare shield lighting after installation of MCP and dual EFIS units.

The MIP as originally received from FDS was assembled in their factory as a complete unit and fully wired, including the glareshield, MCP/dual EFIS units, MIP lower EICAS screen and FMS/CDU bay. It was also designed to be a freestanding unit, with easy access to the backside.

In order to be able to handle the MIP frame easily, I would need to strip all the avionics out. This required making the avionics much more modular than they came from the factory. I repurposed several AMP cannon plugs salvaged from the Boeing cockpit, splicing them into several large wire bundles connecting the various components. This allowed me to separate the glare wings from the MIP, and also to remove all of the MIP panels from the frame in groups of 3 or 4.

Original Boeing MIP frame in grey, right. Custom fabricated mount for FDS monitor shelf in black, left.
Original Boeing MIP frame in grey, right. Custom fabricated mount for FDS monitor shelf in black, left.


FDS uses a shelf that spans the full width of the MIP to support the monitors used for the displays. These are typical LCD computer monitors with their plastic cases removed. Fortunately this shelf was the exact width of the Boeing opening, so I simply needed to fabricate some brackets to hold the shelf onto the Boeing structure. I built an aluminum support for the Boeing landing gear lever to help support the FDS shelf.

Real Boeing landing gear lever in new position to fit FDS MIP. Aluminum block at the bottom is bolted to FDS monitor shelf.
Real Boeing landing gear lever in new position to fit FDS MIP. Aluminum block at the bottom is bolted to FDS monitor shelf.
Main instrument panel (MIP) in the process of installation.
Main instrument panel (MIP) in the process of installation.

After mounting the shelf, I attached the monitors and started a cycle of repeatedly dry fitting the now bare FDS MIP frame to figure out the right angle for the monitors and the proper place in space for the MIP. 


 

Adding the aft portions of the outer shell

Adding the final aft portion started with the floor. The spar at the bottom of the photo is marked "Station 277." For now the spar is propped up with pieces of 6x6.
Adding the final aft portion started with the floor. The spar at the bottom of the photo is marked “Station 277.” For now the spar is propped up with pieces of 6×6.

Having finished setting up the forward structure, I decided to scale back my project slightly. As I had the galley and the lav, I had planned to use the full length of the remaining floor to extend out the back. When I saw how much space the forward section occupied, I decided to stop the sim at station 277, which is about 8  inches behind the cockpit door frame. This will leave space for a combination of shelves and remote displays mounted aft of the circuit breaker modules on either side of the door. I plan to leave some of the Boeing structure exposed so that visitors can appreciate the engineering.

Side and top sections of the aft portion of the outer shell ready for assembly.
Side and top sections of the aft portion of the outer shell ready for assembly.

Station 277 turned out to be about 18 inches aft of the section I had set up, so I spent a few days cutting the aft section pieces down to this uniform length. I reassembled the previously divided floor with screws and nuts, then built up the ceiling in four sections. The reassembled structure came within about 2 inches of my basement ceiling, so it was definitely a good place to stop.

Assembling the aft 18 inches of the outer shell started with the sides.
Assembling the aft 18 inches of the outer shell started with the sides.
Four out of five sections of the aft 18 inches.
Four out of five sections of the aft 18 inches.

I had a lot of leftover aluminum structure that was aft of station 277, so cut it into small enough pieces to fit in the bed of my pickup, and drove off to the scrap metal dealer, who gave me 40 cents per pound. I’ve decided to sell the galley and lav on eBay. It will be interesting to see if there’s some other person crazy enough to want these things.

No longer needed for the project, the last 4 feet meets the scrap heap  some 27 years after it came off the assembly line. Destined to be turned into soda cans, this aircraft aluminum is worth about 40 cents a pound.
No longer needed for the project, the last 4 feet meets the scrap heap some 27 years after it came off the assembly line. Destined to be turned into soda cans, this aircraft aluminum is worth about 40 cents a pound.

The next phase of the reassembly involves shoring up all the structural connections in the cockpit shell. In total there are eleven major sections, and I took advantage of existing rivet holes whenever possible to allow for precise realignment. For the connections between the sides and flight deck, I used steel mending plates of various sizes found with the hinges at Home Depot. The resulting assembly is very solid, with virtually no movement between pieces.

The aft 18 inches, fully assembled and secured. Red milk crate serves as a temporary step onto the flight deck.
The aft 18 inches, fully assembled and secured. Red milk crate serves as a temporary step onto the flight deck.

The real test of the fit will come when I mount the circuit breaker walls and the cockpit door, but that point will probably not come for several months yet as I have to mount a lot of avionics before I close up the back. Next up: fitting the main instrument panel and mating the bottom of the Boeing FMC bay to the top of the FDS one.

On to the next challenge: modifying the top of the FMC bay to fit two CDUs and the lower EICAS screen.
On to the next challenge: modifying the top of the FMC bay to fit two CDUs and the lower EICAS screen.

Converting an original landing gear lever

Red lights indicate gear in transit or abnormal condition, green lights indicate gear down and locked. After replacing four burned out GE 387 lamps, the "test all" lights up all six annunciators. The right gear down indicator at bottom right needs to be re-surfaced, but the others are in pretty good shape.
Red lights indicate gear in transit or abnormal condition, green lights indicate gear down and locked. After replacing four burned out GE 387 lamps, the “test all” function lights up all six annunciators. The right gear down indicator at bottom right needs to be re-surfaced, but the others are in pretty good shape.

In this post I will describe how I figured out the wiring diagram for a real Boeing 737 landing gear lever mechanism, including the solenoid and  Korry lights.

I’ve seen (and even owned) several landing gear levers that were designed and marketed for the home simulation market, but they just don’t have the heavy tactile feel of the real thing, and I’ve never seen any that have a working solenoid or override lever. The cockpit I bought fortunately still had the original gear lever still in place, complete with the six Korry annunciators that serve as gear position/transit lights.

Sturdy Boeing landing gear lever. 28 volt solenoid at the bottom releases the lock when energized. In the real aircraft this happens when logical conditions are met indicating the aircraft is not on the ground and therefore safe for gear retraction.
Sturdy Boeing landing gear lever. 28 volt solenoid at the bottom releases the lock when energized. In the real aircraft this happens when logical conditions are met indicating the aircraft is not on the ground and therefore safe for gear retraction.

The solenoid is a 28 volt device that, when energized, allows the lever to be pulled up to initiate a gear-up cycle. In the real aircraft, a number of logical conditions must be met for the solenoid to be activated, which prevents the gear from being raised while the aircraft is on the ground. The gear handle itself is equipped with an override trigger that allows to pilot to raise the handle in the event that the solenoid fails.

Lever position switches. The two gold-colored lever position switches are visible at bottom left. Thin tube at top right carries power and ground to the solenoid. All wires feed into a cannon plug on the far right.
Lever position switches. The two gold-colored lever position switches are visible at bottom left. Thin tube at top right carries power and ground to the solenoid. All wires feed into a cannon plug on the far right.

The solenoid wiring was easily determined as there were only two wires, one of which had to be 28 volt and the other a ground. The position switch wires were also easily traced back to the cannon plug. I was surprised on initially removing the assembly that only the gear down position had a switch installed. Although holes were present for mounting a gear up switch, the switch itself was missing. I can only assume that in the real aircraft the up position is read somewhere along the cable that runs to the actuator.  For my simulator I just added an identical switch scavenged from another part of my project.

There are several manufacturers of annunciators for the home simulation market, but once again, there’s nothing quite like the real thing which have the press-to-test function available.

The wiring of the model 319 type 1 Korry annunciators have been described by David Allen. These are ground-seeking type circuits with 4 terminal lugs. Terminal 1 is the 28 volt input voltage. Ground terminal 2 to illuminate the indicator. Terminal 3 is grounded for a ‘test all’ function that lights the indicator, but extinguishes the light when pressed. Terminal 4 is grounded for a press-to-test function.

The wiring scheme is as follows:

24-pin cannon plug:

  • Pin 3: common to all terminal 3’s (test all function)
  • Pin 4: nose red terminal 2
  • Pin 5: nose green terminal 2
  • Pin 6: right red terminal 2
  • Pin 7: left red terminal 2
  • Pin 8: right green terminal 2
  • Pin 9: left green terminal 2
  • Pin 10: common to all terminal 4’s (press-to-test function)
  • Pin 14: +28v to the reds
  • Pin 16: +28v to the greens
  • all other pins: unused

12-pin cannon plug:

  • Pin 1: ground
  • Pin 2: +28v
  • Pins 4 and 5: gear up switch
  • Pins 6 and 8: gear down switch
  • all other pins: unused

 

 

 

Mounting the sides and top

Now that the floor is level, it’s time to start building up the cockpit structure. The second forward level consists of three sections: left, right and center, with the vertical  divisions roughly in line with the inboard rudder pedal linkage on each side.

Left to right: Peter Wu, Elmer Choi and Andy Schwartz. Just after hoisting the top onto the sides.
Left to right: Peter Wu, Elmer Choi and Andy Schwartz. Just after hoisting the top onto the sides.

All three pieces are made of aluminum, but there are thick spars that Boeing designed to protect the pilots, and the sections are bulky and heavy. So I enlisted the help of Elmer and Andy, who came over to help me hoist these pieces into place. The sides were easy enough, but lifting the top onto the structure required some planning.

And to think it only took two years from when it was disassembled to get to this point. Once the floor was back on the ground, we were able to move quickly to set up the rest of the structure. Cables on the ceiling are for projectors for the visual system. Amplified USB cable intended for the overhead is seen in the lower center part of the photo. Red and black cable at the aft end of the captain's side is for overhead AC power.
And to think it only took two years from when it was disassembled to get to this point. Once the floor was back on the ground, we were able to move quickly to set up the rest of the structure. Cables on the ceiling are for projectors for the visual system. Amplified USB cable intended for the overhead is seen in the lower center part of the photo. Red and black cable at the aft end of the captain’s side is for overhead AC power.

For some reason I must have been in a hurry on the day that I cut these some three years ago, because I completely neglected to make any indexing brackets. Not really a problem because the windows are structural, and I have an almost complete set of Boeing windows. By mounting these windows and using an awl to line up the bolt holes, I aligned not only the left/right/center sections but also the top to the sides.

 

At this point in the build I am rediscovering many items that have been in storage for a few years. I had an unwelcome surprise when I pulled out my windows to find what had been advertised as a full set actually consisted of two FO side P1 windows, a matched set of P2 slider windows, and only one of the P3 windows that I needed. Luckily there was a captain side P1 window for sale on eBay at a reasonable price, but the only source of an FO side P3 window is for new old stock at a somewhat less reasonable price. Through one of these window deals I wound up with an extra pair of P2 slider windows, so hopefully these will fetch a good price online and allow me to purchase what I need. For now, I plan to use the captain side P3 as a template to make a plywood insert for the P3 window opening on the FO side. Even the full-motion level-D sims black out these rear windows, so I don’t feel like I’m detracting from the experience by doing this.

Placing the flightdeck in horizontal position

Existing Boeing brake mechanism fitted with slide potentiometer to measure brake excursion.
Existing Boeing brake mechanism fitted with slide potentiometer to measure brake excursion.

Having overcome the major hurdle of implementing dynamic force feedback, I have been busy performing other tasks that will be most easily accomplished while the floor remains in vertical position. These include wiring the brakes and stick shakers, as well as rewiring the throttle quadrant with salvaged AMP cannon plugs that allows the interface cards to easily detach from the mechanical parts of the unit. I used a 55 pin plug for the switches and pots,  and a separate plug with larger 16 gauge pins for the power connections.

The floor section just prior to flipping back to horizontal. Various cable bundles are visible for connection to components above the floor. Kill switches for dynamic control loading motors are seen just inboard and forward of the FO control column.
The floor section just prior to flipping back to horizontal. Various cable bundles are visible for connection to components above the floor. Kill switches for dynamic control loading motors are seen just inboard and forward of the FO control column.

I spent at least a week going over the underside, testing all the functions and tidying up cable runs. Once this section is put down into its final horizontal position, there will be only 20 inches between the flight deck and the floor of the basement, so I will still be able to get in and work on things, but it will be a lot less convenient and probably a lot more likely to induce neck and shoulder pain. Twenty inches seems like a lot, but that’s the distance from the flight deck to the floor, and there are a lot of mechanical parts in between, such that there won’t even be room for a creeper.

The floor, finally back in normal horizontal position after years of configuration. Various cable bundles come up from below the floor, to be used as components are added above. All cables below the floor run forward, where computers and power will eventually be located.
The floor, finally back in normal horizontal position after years of configuration. Various cable bundles come up from below the floor, to be used as components are added above. All cables below the floor run forward, where computers and power will eventually be located.

The day finally came, and after one final cleaning, I cut the heavy cable ties holding the floor section to the ceiling joists above, and started sliding the section as far forward as it would go in the room. I called my buddy Adrian, a senior F/O at jetBlue, to come over and help me lower it. I figured it would be pretty easy for two of us to lower it down, as it seemed to me that most of the weight was concentrated in the yoke and rudder mechanisms located fairly far forward. It wasn’t that hard, but the aft end was quite a bit heavier than I thought. Luckily Adrian’s fiancee Kelly, herself a Captain and check airman at Frontier, was there to help place the aft floor supports, which I had made from short sections of 6×6 and 2×6. Once we got it down, a quick check revealed that the flight deck was perfectly level in all directions. Looks like my cuts and indexing were precise enough!

The cuts must have been precise enough: a perfectly level floor with no shimming required.
The cuts must have been precise enough: a perfectly level floor with no shimming required.

Dynamic force feedback implemented and tested

I know, I know…it’s been over a year since my last update. I have been working on implementing dynamic force feedback, a slow but steady process that required designing, and sometimes redesigning, custom made transmissions for driving all three control axes.

I am happy to report that I now have all three axes working after a great deal of calculation, consultation, and trial-and-error experimentation with various transmission designs intended to mate the BFF do-it-yourself force feedback interface cards to the original Boeing flight control structures. There were several examples of such implementations out there on the web, most of which involved expensive custom gearing and none with an original 737 mechanism.

The designer of the BFF cards is extremely helpful with the installation and operation of the cards themselves, but leaves it to the simulator builder to come up with the proper mechanisms for driving the controls. My first step was to consult my pilot buddy Andy Schwartz (of the mechanical engineering firm SSA Engineering) for some badly needed help with the engineering. Armed with some actual Boeing flight control tension specifications from David Allen, Andy confirmed that the specified motors, gears and belts that I had dreamed up would supply the required forces at the man-machine interface.

The BFF card designer specified a particular motor from an Italian manufacturer, which does not accept credit cards, Paypal or Bitcoin and required an international wire transfer for payment. The motors themselves arrived almost a month later, and only then was I able to start designing custom motor mounts to fit onto the existing Boeing structure. One of these was fairly simple but the other two were complex shapes that required some time to fabricate using my old friend, the electric 4.5 inch angle grinder. After cutting the shapes from 3/16 inch steel plate, I cleaned up the sharp edges with a polishing disc attached to the same tool. As the steel was not stainless, I applied several coats of gray primer to prevent corrosion before installing into the floor structure. The motors themselves were mounted through a hole drilled in  each plate. A rubber/cork gasket cut from a sheet obtained at my local auto parts store was used to help reduce noise and vibration from the motors.  A large number of fasteners was used for each mounting plate with the same goal in mind. The largest plates, the one used for the pitch and roll axes, serve double duty as structural supports since they cross the midline and connect and maintain the proper spatial relationship between the two halves of the divided flight deck floor.

Custom fabricated plates (painted Boeing grey) for dynamic force feedback and interface cards. Top plate, left: a total of seven interface cards, mostly for controlling the throttle quadrant and control yoke buttons. Top plate, middle: Meanwell S-350-24 24 volt DC power supply. Wires in recycled AMP cannon plugs above connect to the throttle quadrant. Top plate: right: elevator motor, planetary gearhead, and pulley/pushrod connected to original Boeing elevator torque tube at top right. Bottom plate, left to right: Meanwell 24v power supply, solid state relay for activating 28 volt devices with 12 volts signals, Phidgets 8/8/8 interface card to measure brake excursion (by sliding potentiometers) and stick shaker activation.
Custom fabricated plates (painted Boeing grey) for dynamic force feedback and interface cards. Top plate, left: a total of seven interface cards, mostly for controlling the throttle quadrant and control yoke buttons. Top plate, middle: Meanwell S-350-24 24 volt DC power supply. Wires in recycled AMP cannon plugs above connect to the throttle quadrant. Top plate: right: elevator motor, planetary gearhead, and pulley/pushrod connected to original Boeing elevator torque tube at top right. Bottom plate, left to right: Meanwell 24v power supply, solid state relay for activating 28 volt devices with 12 volts signals, Phidgets 8/8/8 interface card to measure brake excursion (by sliding potentiometers) and stick shaker activation.

Having finished mounting the motors,  I was able to start the task of wiring the cards. Ian provides extensive instructions with the cards, and suggested an inline circuit breaker for each axis to use as a ‘kill’ switch in the event of undesired behavior. I happened to have about ten 28-volt circuit breaker switches lying around  as a result of the circuit breaker switch airworthiness directive that became effective for piston Beechcraft aircraft in 2010. The FAA forced operators of these aircraft to replace thousands of these switches with newer models after a few reports of failures and resultant smoke in the cockpit episodes. So I chose three of these with appropriate amperage ratings and installed them in an existing structural support under the FO side left rudder skid. I left enough slack in the wiring to allow them to be repositioned to the underside of the main instrument panel after that component is installed later. These switches are not airworthy per the AD, but perfectly functional for this purpose.

Beech circuit breaker switches re-purposed as kill switches for dynamic control loading motors.  For now they are mounted below the FO side left footrest. I left enough slack to allow them to be repositioned below the FO side of the main instrument panel later.
Beech circuit breaker switches re-purposed as kill switches for dynamic control loading motors. For now they are mounted below the FO side left footrest. I left enough slack to allow them to be repositioned below the FO side of the main instrument panel later.

I would have preferred to have mounted all three BFF interface boards somewhere above the flight deck to facilitate their maintenance, but practical concerns prevented me from doing so. Because the motors have integrated position sensors, the signals carried by the small gauge wires back to the interface boards are very low voltage and Ian recommends not extending the shielded wire bundles coming from the motors. The cable bundles are short, no more than three feet. As there are also large heat fins on the cards, they could not be located in an enclosed part of the cockpit without complex cooling systems including ducting. So I had no choice but to mount the cards underneath the floor in areas that would be relatively accessible with a mechanic’s creeper.

Custom fabricated plates (painted Boeing grey). Top: initial yaw axis motor mount, left in place to add structural stability. Middle: three BFF BLDRV-12/24 cards for dynamic force feedback. The plate also has two fans for heat sink cooling.  The middle of plate has the roll axis motor, with two pulleys for setting the correct tension on the timing belt. Bottom: original Boeing elevator torque tube, painted in zinc chromate green.
Custom fabricated plates (painted Boeing grey). Top: initial yaw axis motor mount, left in place to add structural stability. Middle: three BFF BLDRV-12/24 cards for dynamic force feedback. The plate also has two fans for heat sink cooling. The middle of plate has the roll axis motor, with two pulleys for setting the correct tension on the timing belt. Bottom: original Boeing elevator torque tube, painted in zinc chromate green.

The BFF cards can be daisy chained together in order to allow the use of a single USB interface cable. This is advantageous because the boards were designed to use a specialized USB PICAXE cable that uses a 1/8 inch mini stereo jack that costs $30 and must be ordered from the UK. The software identifies the different control axes by the use of jumper pins that are set on each board. Ian recommends that all three interface cards be co-located, so that each length of daisy-chain serial cable between boards are no more than eight inches to eliminate noise. I could have achieved this by mounting one card above the roll axis motor mount plate, but this would have made it very difficult to access from the underside, so I elected to purchase a second PICAXE cable to allow me to locate one interface card about 12 inches away from the other two. As also recommended by Ian, I installed two cooling fans, one for the pitch axis and one that is shared by the roll and yaw axes.

It took a few weekends to cut, crimp and run all the wire between the wall outlet, power supplies, and interface boards. I took advantage of some existing Boeing light fixtures used by mechanics when accessing the forward flight control bay, using another old Beech circuit breaker switch in the process. I will be happy to have these lights operational the first time I have to venture under the flight deck on the creeper.

When I first applied power and fired up the BFF test software, all three axes moved, but not very much. After a few emails exchanges with Ian, I got the pitch and roll axes moving but it was clear the yaw axis, with the belt-driven design that I came up with initially, was never going to work because the motor needed to make at least 120 degrees of revolution in order to achieve initial calibration. So I elected to relocate the yaw axis motor from the midline to a place just outboard and forward of the rudder crossover linkage. I was hoping to build a transmission with spare parts on hand, but a brief experiment with direct drive with a pushrod and the largest gear I had in stock resulted in the same problem: not enough rotation to pass the calibration routine. So I ordered two additional timing belt pulleys, fitting the small one to the motor and the large one to a custom fabricated shaft/plate assembly that attached to the Boeing mechanism. This replaced an original autopilot component made out of plastic, which was apparently designed to shear in the event of a control jam.

The small silver timing belt pulley on the right is mounted to the motor shaft, while the large silver pulley to the left is mounted to the Boeing mechanism. The black pulley in the middle sets the proper tension.
Yaw axis drive mechanism. The small silver timing belt pulley on the right is mounted to the motor shaft, while the large silver pulley to the left is mounted to the Boeing mechanism. The black pulley in the middle sets the proper tension.

The roll axis is controlled by a motor mounted in the midline, fitted with a timing belt pulley and long belt with a number of flat pulleys to correctly set the tension. I was able to find some blocks online that were cut with the timing belt pitch, through which the ends of the belt were sandwiched. I then drilled a hole through the end of each block, passing an existing Boeing cable already connected to the aileron/spoiler controls.

This axis initially had too much slack to calibrate the motor. A call to David Allen revealed that there is a spring inside the FO side aileron hub that allows the Captain and FO side aileron/spoiler controls to decouple in the event of a control jam. Conveniently, there was a rigging pin hole in the mechanism used to immobilize the spring. After testing out what David promised me was true, I simply tapped some threads with a 3/8-16 tap, cut a countersink, and inserted a screw, locking the aileron and spoiler hubs together, resulting in a much smoother mechanism.

The pitch axis motor is mounted to a custom fabricated plate that crosses the midline to help index the two halves of the flightdeck floor. A thick aluminum block moves the motor close enough to the elevator torque tube to use the existing Boeing mechanism.
The pitch axis motor is mounted to a custom fabricated plate that crosses the midline to help index the two halves of the flightdeck floor. A thick aluminum block moves the motor close enough to the elevator torque tube to use the existing Boeing mechanism. The pushrod seen connected to the large silver pulley to the right is connected to a tab on the Boeing elevator torque tube.

The pitch axis motor is fitted with a NEMA 34 planetary gearhead with a 10:1 reduction ratio, a simple, cost effective alternative to building a custom transmission. The planetary gearhead was then fitted with a large pulley which was then attached via a pushrod to a pair of existing tabs on the elevator torque tube.

Contemplating force feedback

After reinstalling the control columns and re-linking the rudder pedals and brakes, I started mounting springs and heavy duty drawer slides to implement static control loading like that provided by the excellent gear made by Northern Flight Sim. While searching online for parts I came across Ian Hopper’s force feedback site, where he sells hardware and software for implementing force feedback for mid size (think a heavy duty control yoke, like a CH Products yoke made out of metal parts) and larger cockpit setups.

After discovering this I became obsessed with adding this functionality to my simulator. My basement is fairly big, with nine foot ceilings, but I know I will never have enough room for full motion. Adding force feedback would lend a great deal of realism to my setup. Force feedback adds two characteristics simultaneously: dynamic control loading, so that the pilot feels the aerodynamic effects of turbulence and configuration changes, and autopilot functionality, so that flight controls move appropriately when the autopilot is engaged.

This may turn out to be the most challenging hurdle in the project. Ian has created an excellent, highly cost-effective solution to this problem, but he leaves it up to the buyer of his products to properly construct the mechanisms that connect to this controller cards and specified motors.

I have an advantage in that my flight controls were built by Boeing to withstand years of abuse, so all I really have to do is design three transmissions each using this small motor to create realistic forces on a larger scale. It is this particular problem that has had me stumped for the past three months, trying to specify the proper transmission in the most cost effective way. I know it can definitely be done, the question is how?

 

 

The reassembly process begins

The forward floor, finally in the basement
The forward floor section, reassembled in the basement. To allow access above and below the floor, the section halves were positioned vertically. To prevent the sections from tipping over, eye bolts were screwed into floor joists and secured to airframe structure with heavy duty cable ties.

After reinstalling the exterior door into the basement and securing the forward floor section to the ceiling, I re-joined the two halves by mounting more of my custom fabricated brackets onto various structural ribs. I had pre-drilled the holes for these brackets using cleco fasteners while the section was still in one piece in the driveway. I discovered early on that the metal fabricator who made the brackets did not punch the holes in identical positions, so each bracket had to be marked in order to match up to a specific location later on.

The throttle quadrant and radio pedestal sit on a large sturdy bracket that covers the big hole in the middle of this section. Luckily for me this bracket also crossed the centerline and was easily removable. Replacing the bracket added a great deal of structural stability to the reassembled floor section.

The next step was to reinstall the flight controls. The rudders and brakes were easily reconnected with control rods and hardware, and the roll axis was re-linked by connecting the threaded control cables.

Reinstalling the control yokes proved a bit more challenging as they are connected to the pitch crossover tube, a large heavy piece with a three inch beveled gear on each end. I had neglected to index the columns in any way, so when reinstalling I used two adjustable  sawhorses and a bubble level to make sure that each yoke was indexed to the same position.

Having neglected to make index marks on the control columns, they were lined up with adjustable sawhorses and a bubble level to make sure there were engaged to the same tooth on either side of the torque tube.
Having neglected to make index marks on the control columns, they were lined up with adjustable sawhorses and a bubble level to make sure there were engaged to the same tooth on either side of the torque tube.

Into the house

The forward section, reassembled in the basement.
The forward section, reassembled in the basement.

Once again it’s been a long, long time since I wrote an update, but work has continued over the past year.

Over the past three years I have had unbelievable luck in a complex cat-and-mouse game with the ninnies at Manassas Regional Airport. I always planned to bring the project home, but my hand was forced one rainy day last summer when I pulled the trailer over to Skyworks for an early morning rearrangement of the disassembled pieces. I finished this task around 7:30 am, and figuring that government employees probably wouldn’t be at the office that early, I drove my pickup with the project in tow up into the semicircular driveway leading to the secure gate onto the ramp. Standing next to the terminal enjoying morning cup of joe was none other than the airport director himself! One glance at the look on his face told me that there was no way to put the project back into the hangar as planned without getting busted, so I just kept driving, and ninety minutes later the trailer was safely parked in my driveway.

In the driveway, divided
After removing the control columns, throttle quadrant and dual-control linkages, the forward section was divided along the centerline to prepare for the move to the basement.

The trailer remained there for another two months while I spent days in sweltering heat removing the control columns and yokes, throttle quadrant, and all control linkages crossing over the centerline. All of this was done in preparation for moving the pieces into my basement.

Having finished the prep work, I gave the entire project a good bath with soap and water, then divided the forward floor section along the centerline with an angle grinder and reciprocating saw. This yielded two sections that were not particularly heavy but very bulky and awkward, so I bribed three friends with promises of burgers and beer to come over and help move everything into the basement. This was made easier by temporarily removing the sliding double door.

The two halves of the forward floor just after arrival into the basement.
The two halves of the forward floor just after arrival into the basement.