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We were pleasantly surprised when we found out that the Cessna 310 fuselage that we got to build our home cockpit still had the Y column in working condition, the metal wires that led to the control surfaces and the rudder pedal system in place.
Initially we had programmed the purchase and installation of ready-made, commercial products like those that appear listed on the left column.
All these are excellent products that you could use in the construction of your own home cockpit but in our case we decided to go on with the already-installed, original Y column and cabling because we found them to be in perfect working order so it made a lot of sense to do so in order to get the most realistic simulation experience plus, as we knew as instructors that student pilots tend to over control and force the yoke, rudder pedals and so on, with the original parts we believed that we would get a very strong control system capable of surviving heavy use and abuse.
Our problem then was limited to transforming the whole thing in some sort of giant joystick capable of transforming the movement of the cables into software instructions. Plus, we found out almost at the same time that the crank used in real life for the manual extraction of the landing gear was also still operable. In this case, we had to consider how these emergency systems work in real life: The pilot has to turn the crank many times in order to get the wheels down. It is not a matter of flipping a switch but a mechanical job. So, some sort of potenciometer capable of producing a positive signal after a given number of turns was required, or at least some mechanical device that would do the same job.
Trossen Robotics is a company that distributes a collection of gadgets collectively known as Phidgets. You can attach them to any CPU by means of an I/O card that plugs into an USB port, and to which the Phidgets themselves are attached, operating like a network hub. With this arrangement and some software, any signal transmitted by each Phidget to the I/O card is transformed into an USB compliant code and that, in turn into instructions interpretable by the flight simulator software.
We purchased an I/O card known as 8/8/8, three linear potenciometers and a 3600° rotary, which means that you can crank ten turns before activating anything. It suited perfectly our requirements. Then, it was a matter of installing each Phidget. In our simulator every Phidget unit is located at the bottom of the cockpit, right on the side of the original control cable pulleys and guides. The linear potenciometers were attached mechanically to the cables, that in turn, had their ends attached to strong springs and tension regulators. The rotary potenciometer was directly attached to the existing crank..
Our custom-made yoke installed as the software tests went on.
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