History of my F-16 simulator

It is interesting, but allmost everyone that is the proud owner of a simulator, had to go through different stages before reaching his point of aim. You might find that there are several similar stages and developments in the history of my simulator and yours. The idea of this chapter is to show, that all of us have the same dream, similar ideas and have to make the same efforts to have finally our cockpit. This way I want to encourage all builders to help each other, as a project of this magnitude can't be achieved just by "cooking your own soup". I have very good friends that allways support me with informations, ideas, links, software, etc. and thanks to these friends I have been able to get closer to what I wanted: A high fidelity simulator of the F-16

The saga begins
SIM Ver. 0.0
SIM Ver. 1.0
SIM Ver. 2.0
SIM Ver. 3.0

 The saga begins

After being a pilot myself (around 10.000 hours experience) and having flown many different planes, from propeller (during flight training) to jet-engines (most of the time) I switched after around 10 years to an other activity, which I still have right now. I am an Ophthalmologist and do my living this way. After my last patient leaves my office and I go home, the need of flying arises again. Once you had control over one of these aluminum-birds, you cannot live without it. It is like a disease.

Flying a small aircraft requires the same knowledge as a big one, but the need of feeling the power of a jet engine is something that allways was a special need to me. Sorry, but I just feel safer if I have a turbine powering my bird, instead of one prop, two or four. Therefore flying became a very expensive thing for me, and for some time I just grounded myself for this reason.

About 1979 a friend invited me over his place. Among others, he was very proud to have a new PC which he used for his architecture drawings. Of course you could also find a file called "games".. everyone that has a PC has this file; so we just had a look into this file and among others I found a file called "Jet - Plane.exe".

This special file of course was very intersting for me to see. Was there a software that could simulate flying at your own place??? I knew simulators for a long time, as I hat to take the "hell-ride" in one of those 1 to 2 times a year. By the way, we used to call it "The humillator". I think no further comment is required, as everyone of us that had the "pleasure" to have a sim training will tell you, that flying a sim. often is much more difficult than flying the real thing. I want to mention, that at the very beginning I also flew one of the old Link-Trainers (the picture be shown later on), but the newer sims, which had a nice visual approach screen and moved around all axis were a real night-mare. (due to the trainig we had to take) You had not finished yet to buccle in, when allready an emergency situation was giving you the first overload.

Anyhow, I really want to thank all my instructors that gave me those "hell-rides", as the knowledge that was given to me, gave me the feeling to be able to become a better average pilot. I talk about average pilots, as the grave-yards are just filled either with very bad pilots or very good pilots. The average pilots are usually still among us. Sorry if I left the theme for a while, but I think it is allways important to know its own limitations.

 SIM Ver. 0.0

Coming back to "Jet-Plane.exe" it was a simulation (floppy 5 .. can you remember this???) First of all, the colours: pink, light blue and green. Well at that time EGA, VGA etc. was just a matter hidden in the future (allthough it was near). The plane was supposed to be something like an F-5 (I guess). I could never tell, as the plane showed on the screen was just a series of colored lines and had something like a canopy. Anyhow, you could "fly" this thing using the keyboard. You also could fire missiles at something (they were supposed to be fighters ???) and suddenly it happens: nothing moved any longer, a beep from the PC was all you could hear, and the words "GAME OVER" appeared on the monitor. So far the first simulation I flew at home.

Anyhow, I still kept on trying to fly this thing for a time. Using a lot of phantasy it could be a Jet-Plane (at least I suggested this to myself).

Then some time nothing happened. Jet-Plane got somehow grounded but the need to fly was still there. Then EGA appeared. No more pink - blue and green, but real colors !!! Also the joystick made his appearance. Now you could finally "fly" by having a control in your hand and not only a keyboard. The software was also improving and you could find simulations of the old WW2 birds. Also some intruments gave you some flight information and you could get into dog-fights. Of course, lots of key-strokes were still required, but after a while you could live with this fact. Still no good simulation of a jet was available.

I allready had given up the idea of having a jet to fly at home, when my PC broke down. So I had to go to a computer-store to get some parts to have my PC repaired and while waiting I just had a look around a new PC that was there to sell. AT, EGA and 16 Mhz. of speed.. that was a real "cannon ball", but even more interesting, there was a software installed called "Falcon 1.0". This was the first time that the instruments like the horizon, vertical speed, radar etc. gave usefull infos. I allready had about 25 different simulation-softwares at home, but they did not provide what I needed. This one looked quite neat!!!!!

Once at home my first jet-sim. was built up. At that time ThrustMaster came along with their first FLCS, WCS and RCS. The stick looked like a real one and had the coolie hat which could be used in many ways. Price was also high, but having the chance of getting ridd of hitting the keyboard constantly was worth it.

So Sim ver. 0.0 looked like this:
  Left side WCS
  Right side FLCS
  Floor RCS
  Middle Keyboard
  Front 15 inch monitor
  PC AT, EGA, 16 Mhz, Hard disk 20 Kb (don't laugh at that time it was just SUPER)

All this onto my desk, sitting in an office-chair.

I was really good fun, except for the fact, that the chair rocked and turned so that keeping the feet on the pedals was difficult, sometimes I just found myself holding the FLCS so hard to turn myself into the right position, and still lots of keyhits were required.

A normal sortie would have looked like this: During this process rocking, turnimg, aligning my chair, hitting the keys (mostly the wrong one) and lots of dirty words, as nothing worked the way it should. Therefore, all over again.

Start right away in the cockpit, aligned with the runway. Apply max power, then go to afterburner Rotate aprox 15 then gear up... Hit G on the keyboard.... Etc, etc. etc Result: same as before!

What was the problem that made flying impossible, even though I had real experience (just 10000 hours were not enough???) The position sitting in front of a monitor on a rocking and moving chair was the problem. So Sim. Ver 0.1 was built. Use all the above mentioned things, but get a rigid chair, install some wood on the sides where to place the WCS and the FLCS and there you go! so far the theory...fact was that there was no big difference. I needed something that provided the right position and controls without using the keyboard. Well I grounded myself again for some time. Falcon 1.0 was ok, but I could not control it the way I wanted.

Christmas time came, lots of snow outside, long nights and a present of a friend: F-15 Strike Eagle !!!!! Well, this was really something! Allthough the terrain was not realistic and the mountains were just some blocks around there, you had several MFDs, operating radar, you could actually see the bandid and most important, the geography was ok. I several times made some cross-country to places I knew and which were in the software and was happy to see that airports were located on the right place, towns and cities were also correctly placed, mountains were also on the right place, etc. Now some navigation could be made and that was fun. The rocking and twisting was still there, as I just had thrown away the rigid chair I had built.I think I was frustrated at that time, but simulation was much much better. Allthough I wanted to fly the F-16. Nothing against the WO, but I rather prefer to control my plane by myself. The F-15 was the two-seater version, and therefore had the WO also. Sometimes you just had to switch from front to rear and back again, which made the simulation kind of unreal.

Well I flew this virtual bird some time, got the new Thrustmaster controls and had fun with it. This time I started to fly the plane, as many functions could be controlled by these new system and keyboard was not as necessary as before. As I said before, it was fun. So far Simulator Version 0.0.

 SIM Ver. 1.0

The Raptor appeared around the virtual world. The F-22 looked just great and was the ultimte fighter. I bought the software and flew it, but could never be really enthusiatic on it. The manual had allthough a very interesting thing: at the back-cover a picture titeled "Need the real thing?" was showing a cockpit in which you could sit in and fly!... This was interesting, but for now I had no time, as work at the office was taking all my efforts.

After grounding myself for a longer period, as work and othe things took my time, X-Mas came one more time and this time a present for me was also under the tree. Falcon 4.0. In the meantime (aprox 2 years) I tried Falcon 3.0 but never was convinced about it. I flew it a couple of times, but was not having the fun I expected. Even though F-15 was an older sim, I flew it sporadically here and there, but no consistance.

Now Falcon 4.0 looked interesting, and once I had a look at the software I was really amazed to find a simulation that might match my expectations. Instruments were neat, MFDs, touch on screen controls, etc, and nice performance during flight. This might be it. Now I remembered the cockpit that I had seen on the back-cover of the F-22 Software manual. Might they have also a cockpit for the F-16???? So I wrote those guys and got some info. about who was building these pits.

To make it short:
I bought one of these cockpits. The construction is made out of wood, the skin is carton paper and the center console, as well as the panels and the glare-shield are made out of carton. The seat is made out of wood and was just placed inside the shell. The instruments are just prints on a carton-board and are therefore just fakes as well as all buttons, lights, etc.

That what makes this sim. interesting, is the fact, that it is easy to build, relatively cheap and you can transport it easily, as weight is not high. I must say, that from the very first moment, I was kind of diappointed of what I had. Of course I could sit in it and had the flight controls more or less at the right position, but the complete lay-out did not match the software. The pit was a model A and the software had the C model. Differences are big, and therefore it did not take more than 24 hours for me to decide to modify what I had.

I have allmost no pictures of Sim. Ver. 1.0 to show, as I felt that this was not what I needed. Anyhow, it's a pit and for those who want to start its ok. - Remember, it is an A model!

Now we get closer to what we want! First of all, before making the same mistake again, I had to get all kinds of information about sizes, lay-out, knobs, switches, as well from the cockpit itself, as from the ACES II. I started to look around the internet, tried to contact people from General Dynamics, Loockheed, Grumann, etc. Very few gave me some information. (allmost none).

This way I just had to help myself, and taking data out of the Falcon 4.0 software, I could more or less have a lay-out of the block 50. Then I bought all kinds of switches and knobs to use in my sim. To have some way to control some functions of the simulation, I found the "MFDs" made by Quick Shot. These devices could be programmed, looked more or less like MFDs and were not too expensive. Using 2 of them and with the HOTAS (which by the way now was the F-16 FLCS, TQS and RCS) provided allready a good capability to have the functions inside the pit, instead of a keyboard. The idea of building the skin using carton was something I liked and therefore used also. Some other parts, like glare-shield and instrument panels, as well as the center console and side consoles were made using wood covered by plexi-glass, which when properly painted looked like metal and were rigid enough to hold the switches.

Sim. Ver. 1.0

- Pic.1 Shell and ACES II (?????)
- Pic.2 "Allmost" a Viper, right?
- Pic.3 From this distance it looked quite ok (I thought)

These switches, potentiometers, lights, gauges and buttons were just fakes. They looked good, but had no function at all. Everything was controlled either by HOTAS and the QS MFDs.

Sim. Ver. 1.0

- Pic.1 Left aux. console
- Pic.2 Center console
- Pic.3 Front left - Note: QS "MFD"

Sorry about the poor quality of the pictures shown, but at that time I had no digital camera and took the pictures with a 35mm. camera. What I am showing here, are pictures from some prints I have. I thought they might give you a better idea of my Sim ver.1.0.
By the way, at that time I was very proud about it ;)

Now the pit was better. After modifying the ejection seat (I used the wooden one) I had something that looked like something between an ACES II and a Martin Baker. (Honestly I cannot tell what it was, but looked good and dangerous)

Then I started to look around for people who shared the interest of building a sim and found the page of Martin "Pegasus". Finally there was another freak around, who might help me. So I contacted heim, asking him for information about sizes, dimensions, and a lay-out for my project. I sent him some pictures (at that time I had no Home-Page) and asked for his comments and advice. WOW!!!!! That guy answered very soon and affered lots of help !!!! Finally I knew, that there were at least two guys around with the same idea. By the way, his cockpit looked just great! That was what I wanted to have also!!!!

After Martin sent me a lay-out of the Blck 50 I could see, that there were still many things I had to change in my sim. This way the project of Sim. Ver. 2.0 was born!

As you see, Sim. Ver. 1.0 really consists of the Ver.1.0 and a Ver.1.1

 SIM Ver. 2.0

Using again plexi-glass, wood, carton and paint, the project was started October 1999. Thanks to the help of my new Friend Martin, this time I could get a big step nearer to the real thing. Still I was planning to have just fakes inside the pit.

NEVER think, that your present project is the definitive one! This I learned when Martin told me to install an EPIC in the sim to have all the switches, lights, buttons, leavers, gauges and instruments active. When he mentioned that, a complete new horizon opened to me, as I had no idea of electronics (at this level), I had to learn how to do all the necessary electrical and electronic work, and that meant lots of hours learning and making mistakes. At the beginning I did not want to get into these phase, as I was afraid that this would mean too many things to do, which I had never done before. Afterwards I knew it was really like this. Being honest, I was afraid to fail!

Now based on Sim. Ver. 1.0 and 1.1 and with the help of Martin, I started to build the shell of my new sim. Materials used were still the same, but this time I tried to keep the right dimensions. By the way, later we found plenty of mistakes both of us had made and that is the reason for my present project: Sim.Ver. 3.0 ! -But more information about this later.

February 2000 my sim was ready!!! It had a neat copy of the ACES II, allthough with some smaller differences, as at that time we did not have all the infos. The EPIC System was installed and finally I could control about 90% without the keyboard. In the meantime some very clever guys modified constantly the software of Falcon 4.0 and therefore right now we have a simulation that is very very accurate. Making a comparison between the original F4.0 and what we've got right now, is more or less the same as the difference between a bycicle and a Ford Mustang!! Thank you very much guys for the great work!!!

Sim. Ver. 2.0

- Pic.1 Well, not perfect yet, but one step closer to the aim-point
- Pic.2 This allready resembles the ACES II, but is still far from a good copy
- Pic.1 Front console and the screen for the projector (it was the first experiment)

Instruments are just fakes, but MFD buttons, leavers, handles, and ALL switches are active. Also all lights and warning-lights are functional.

Sim. Ver. 2.0

- Pic.1 Left aux. console and left console
- Pic.2 Right aux., right side console and center console
- Pic.1 Some of the electronics (EPIC)

You may wonder why there is a fire-extinguisher installed on the sim... well, inside I am using 220V AC, 12V DC, 6V DC and 3V DC to power different circuits and light-systems. If there is a short (what I do not hope to have), a fire-extinguisher might become very handy, right?? ;)

Since our first contact with Martin, many things have developed, software, hardware, etc. and we get often together to discuss about the posibility to go a step farther. The simulator Ver. 2.0 is a low to mid fidelity and means lots of fun flying online with other guys, sharing experiences and dreams so far made the project worth it.

 SIM Ver. 3.0

Well, as I mentioned before: Once you have started with a project like this, tha saga will continue. There is no way to stop it. For that reason one time when Martin and I were having a drink, we decided to build a cockpit which this time should be HIGH FIDELITY. The electronics can power allmost everything, the software is still being developed even farther, so that we wanted to use all this for our new project SIM. VER 3.0.

This time we are using different materials, many parts are manufactured by simulator building companies, friends that have the knowledge of working with metal are building some parts for us, electronic engineers, software writers, freaks, etc, etc. and of course, this time the sim.-building is much more expensive. You can build a sim with about US$ 250,oo, and have something to play around with, but let me tell you, that I am sure, that this will be not enough after a while, and you will start to design and build newer versions of your sim until you reach the same point where we are at this time.

There are plenty more of stories I could tell you about Sim Ver. 0.0, 1.0, 1.1, 2.0 and now 3.0, but the idea was to show, that different stages had taken place before reaching the actual project.

Information about Sim Ver 3.0 can be found on this page in the following chapters. You can be sure, that the information you will find here, will never be the last one, as we continue to develop some features and the only way to reach a final point would be to have the real F-16 right in the middle of your living room.

I am not showing pics about Sim.Ver.3.0, as for now it is still in the project-phase. If everything works the way it is supposed to, I hope to have the first pictures published around June 2003. So please be patient. - (I have to be patient too, but I would just love to have my new sim right away ! ;) As soon as I have something to inform about, I will include it in this section of my site.

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