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Theoretical reflection | K8000 interface

How I build my own cockpit ?

The secret wapon behind the cockpit management.

I talked about it a number of times in previous articles or referred to it. How do you manage to connect your cockpit switches to the Microsoft Flight Simulator?
This was for me, when I first thought on building my own cockpit some two years ago, the biggest unknown factor. I didn't what so ever had any idea on how to connect a switch to the computer. That it could be done by means of a keyboard seemed logic for a big part. But what about keyboard combinations? Later on it would become clear it is possible with electronics. But at that time it was still unknown. I already heard about a EPIC card. But this was for me and still is a to expensive solution and above all it has also its limitations. I wanted to influence the variables in FS directly and use it to steer instruments in a second part.
So I wanted to have direct control over FS so that the position of any switch or lamp in the cockpit would have exactly the same position as in FS. Here for you didn't need any standard startup situation but you could start on any destination with whatever instrument setting. This was the ultimate goal, but of course it needed to stay affordable. This was a very big challenge.

That I succeeded in reaching my goal you can read in this article further on. In the mean time there are already other people who are using my idea. I don't mind very much, the only thing that offends me is the fact that they claim to be first who came up with this idea. I just wanted to put this straight.

A computer is in fact a machine build for office purposes. This means, it is perfectly adapted to write text and play with all kinds of data and store it. All input is done by means of a keyboard. There is no other way because that never was the intension. Of course later on some ingenious wizards came up with some solutions.
The first possibility to communicate with the computer is by keyboard. It is possible to dismantle the keyboard and connect some wires and pushbuttons on to the keyboard. But to me it is a bit clumsy and above all the pushbuttons are not realistic.

A some what more professional way is a keyboard emulator.
An example of this is the EPIC card. This is a very extended form of a keyboard emulator. This specific card is specially made for cockpit building and works as a programmable keyboard. Due to extra electronics and software it is possible to connect all kinds of switches, displays etc. But finally it only sends no more thane keyboard combinations to the computer. This is like they say only one way communication to the computer. This means there is no control on how correct the incoming information is. I mean, for example you have a switch for a light. The switch in the cockpit is in the on position when you startup FS, but in FS it is in the off position. When you now bring the switch in cockpit to the off position the light in FS is turned on. This can't be the intention. There is no solution on solving this problem with a keyboard emulator. The only way is to use a preflight checklist and putting all the switches in the write position according to the startup situation. A second and biggest disadvantages is the price ticket that is attached to it and you need to have some programming skills. Don't expect a lot of help from the supplier, so people I spoke with told me. The biggest advantages again is the speed to the computer. The keyboard is always given priority to the rest of the in- and outputs.

The second example of a keyboard emulator is developed by Wilfried Dengler and Jan Cuypers form the FSCB (Flight Simulator Club Belgium) It uses a Holtek chip and is being upgrade by Florent Van Vlasselaer. It is simply a print board with the win 98 Keyboard encoder and a circuit with a keyboard switcher. You simply plug in your existing keyboard into the emulator and the keyboard switcher automatically switches to the keyboard in use. The only thing you need to do is to connect the rows and columns to pushbuttons to generate a keystroke. If you want to connect a toggle switch to it you need some additional electronics to generate only one pulse. This is called a one shot. It is also possible to generate two or even three key pulses with one single switch. This additional electronic is also made by Florent Van Vlasselaer. With all of this it is possible to manage a small scale cockpit. But as said before it is only a one way connection with its disadvantages. You also need to adjust your FS.confige file to be able to make the best use of all the keyboard possibility's.  


The egg of Columbus.

If you really want to have control over all your switches and want two way communication to and from the PC to additional input and output devices (displays, DC motors for instruments,etc.) than you need something else. By doing the necessary research work I found out it would be possible to do so with a interface connected to the parallel or serial port. So digital data could be send from the PC and switches could be connected directly to the PC. Only all the devises I found at first were very expensive.
But by talking about it to my friends one of them said why don't you try the K8000 (I wont mention the name of the firm who sells this because I don't want to advertise for them) After a study in depth and the necessary e-mails to the manufacturer it seemed to me to be the right choice and it wasn't that expensive. It is a DIY kit to solder yourself and the necessary test program and software was included. This card has the following possibility's
This card has 16 optical separated digital connections, for input or output, free to choose. It also has 9 analogue outputs,on of them is a high precision output and 4 analogue inputs. If on card isn't sufficient enough you can add up to three slaves. All of this stays out of your PC and has a separate power supply. The software is in Turbo Pascal,Q basic, Visual Basic or C++. Now it is only a question of reading out data from FS or writing data to FS. I know this was possible because our dear friend Claude Hanssens made already a program called CH Devil. With this program its was possible to switch off and on all kinds of things and control the radar with it for ATC. It was with the in mean time legendary FS6IPC. Now replaced by FSUIPC form Pete Dowson. This is a program that you put in your FS../Modules and can communicate with FS. Through the FSUIPC.SDK it is possible to create Visual Basic programs that can read out and alter information in FS. By making now the connection between the program of the K8000 and FSUIPC it becomes now possible for switches to give a direct command in FS. Look here, the solution was born and I succeeded in my first goal to create a affordable cockpit management system. This didn't come over one night you can imagine. Certainly if you know that I'm not a software programmer and didn't know anything of Visual Basic at that time. I learned it all myself from a book and of course with the help of Claude Hassens and Wim Roscam. It took me months to write the complete program to manage the cockpit. Also the Throttle, Pitch and Mixture of the two motors are connected to the AD converters of the K8000. The only thing that isn't working yet are the displays and DC motors. We are working on this together with the FSCB cockpit team so the 7 segment display of the radio stack can be steered as well. It looks very promising and I hoop to show you the results very soon.

So this is in a nutshell, without going in to depth, how you can manage a cockpit. I hoop this article contributed again by giving you a inside view on how complex cockpit construction really is. It show also that you don't need to bay very expensive solutions to have good results. The only thing you need to know is how things work, look together with others for the right solution. I hereby want to thank all the people who helped me finding out how this very important matter works and help me find the write solutions.


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© Verley Jan 2007-2017 original text 2003 translation Jan Verley