Hardware Architecture

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Pablo Edronkin

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A discussion or description of the hardware used in our flight sim cockpit should be divided in two parts: First, we should see the hardware from a strictly systems design perspective, as components of a network, and secondly, as aeronautical systems, from an aeronautical engineering standpoint. For a systems analyst, rudder pedals, levers, seats, etc. are computer peripherals, strictly speaking, while for a pilot or flight systems engineer, they are systems. The reason for this dual perspective resides in the way in which such components are treated: Programmatically they are dealt with drivers and configuration programs and each such peripheral is nothing else than another gadget connected using a given protocol - in our case, USB. Aeronautically speaking, however, these peripherals are completely different things.

So we will start describing the MLF simulator as a system firstly from the standpoint of a systems analyst and then, by means of all links contained in this page, we will discuss each peripheral or subsystem from the point of view proper of aviation.The MLF simulator was conceived with the idea of saving money whenever possible in mind. Many simulators use computer networks logically connected by means of programs such as WideView and WideFS, but we tried to save as much as possible in these systems because they can be counted among the most expensive in any such project, not to mention that having more networked PCs means that upgrading anything becomes a rather complicated proposition.

We think that it is also healthy to assume that the whole simulator will be upgraded in the future as a whole as software evolves (i.e. our flight simulation base software, MSFS, will come up in new versions) and so we should design our systems with some room, so to speak, to allow for future changes and expansions. So we decided to invest a little more to get a high end computer that we would use as a server in a two-PC network. The main one would do everything related to the simulator, meaning that it would handle al peripherals, modules and visuals, with ample RAM, a good video card and lots of USB ports.

The second computer would be used for instruction, general management and handling all external communications. We called this PC our CIV, for an acronym in Spanish meaning that it handles these external tasks. However, a third PC suddenly became available for free as we were just beginning with the construction and so we decided to save money on one of the two Triple Head 2Go units that we required so that the server would handle all internal and external visuals with one video card. The third PC (CVE) would then handle all external visuals while the server would manage the general logic, the peripherals as well as the three flat monitors that comprise the cockpit panel. The CVE is free to work as a dedicated computer that handles only one or more external views.

We easily connected the server, the CIV and the CVE by means of a small hub using TCP/IP as our local network protocol, installed Wideview and WideFS, configured MSFS as required by Wideview, and lastly began connecting all peripherals, modules and hardware to the USB ports.

In other words, the MLF simulator is a star-topology network formed by three computers. One of these acts as a server and the two remaining ones as clients. One of these client computers handles the external visuals while the other is used to manage the network and provide instruction services, while the server itself handles the simulation logic, the internal visuals as well as all peripherals.

On top the network server and below, a white PC that acts as the external visuals computer.
On top the network server and below, a white PC that acts as the external visuals computer.

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