2000+ Poster - Never Leaves the Sim
MyCockpit November Builder of the Month
MyCockpit ™ Presents the November Featured Builder of the Month, John Miguez.
Thanks for agreeing to the interview John. You have a very interesting T-38C build going on now. Much different than most builders on the site.
I'd like to start by asking you a little of your professional background, any family you'd like to mention, and how you started in the hobby.
Well, my background has been either flying for the USAF or in the oil and gas business, mostly as a sales engineer in rotating equipment. For the last eleven years I have been owner and now senior partner in my own company. I have been married for 30 plus years to an academic Librarian who is also a known expert in children’s literature. She is on the faculty of the local university. We have two boys together and I have a daughter. Only one is interested in flying.
I got started in the hobby on returning to flying after a ten year layoff. One of my sons had a copy of FS95 and I started using it to pre-fly business trips. I was impressed how accurate FS95 was in depicting terrain. If the airport was north of a lake in FS95, it would be north of the lake in real world flying. During the actual flight I often felt like I had actually flown the route before.
I later purchased a Go-Flight 166 radio and the multifunction radio along with a CH Products yoke. I build a small panel with Gear, flaps, etc. that was run through PI Engineering matrix keyboard emulator. That was the start of my sim building. I later made a throttle, mixture, prop control like the one in the Cessna I was flying and used it to fly instrument approaches.
What is your philosophy on cockpit building and flight simulation?
My wife often uses the term “suspend disbelief” in commenting on a children’s book of fiction. Is the story believable enough that you can lose yourself in it, suspending your disbelief that it is fiction? That is my philosophy of flight simulation.
I am not by nature a detail person. It is not important to me if every switch and knob is accurate down to the color lot. What I look for is the illusion of flying. In other words can I suspend my disbelief that I am in a wooden cockpit on the ground? That is my goal.
Thus, my simulator doesn’t have to be only one airplane. It is alright for me to add a switch to operate the refueling doors or tail hook, even if they don’t exist in the model I am building. It is alright for me to fly the F-18 or T-6 or even a Piper cub in my simulator.
What is important is that you can imagine you are actually flying the aircraft you are simulating. Anything that can add to this illusion is what I will attempt to achieve in my cockpit.
Could you tell our membership where you are in your build right now and how long you've been working on this particular simulator?
I am at least 90% done. The simulator has been flying, more or less, for almost a year. I have been actually working on it for about two years. Another year or so went into planning and thinking. The cockpit is currently in the depot for a rework and upgrade on several systems. I currently am using a test system to try out parts and code before they go into the cockpit
I also have to build the Up Front Control Panel (UFCP). This is a box with a series of buttons used to input the radio frequencies, update the INS, etc and LCD readouts. It is similar in function to the FMC. I will use an Opencockpits’ keyboard card and will be able to use it as a keyboard.
Aside from your experienced real world background, why did you choose to model this aircraft and not an airliner? Was it for nostalgic reasons, something you were already familiar with and knew how it was supposed to feel and fly, or...?
There were several reasons for choosing to build the T-38C. I am a fighter pilot. I like to work alone and be responsible for my success r failure. Once I experienced the freedom of flying 360 degrees nothing else is satisfactory to me. I will give you a short story to explain my last statement. When I was in pilot training, one of our controlled routes back to the base flew us right over a small girl’s college. One afternoon, my instructor and I flew over the college when he said, “Look down there.” I looked, didn’t see anything and told him so. He said, “There!”, and rolled the airplane upside down so I could look through the canopy. There were several girls sunbathing on the roof of the dorm. That is flying to me.
So, any cockpit I built was going to be a plane that I can roll and yank and bank. I loved flying the T-38. It is like a fine sports car, sleek and beautiful. I later was privileged to fly the RF4C. While the F-4 is brute power and muscle, the T-38 is the graceful ballerina. It is also a simple airplane without the complex weapons systems of the F-15, F-16 and, F-18 aircraft.
My goal is to eventually put it into a trailer so I can bring it to Civil Air Patrol, BSA meetings and maybe air shows. In it young people can get an idea of what it is like to fly a high performance fighter type aircraft.
As a builder of an unsupported aircraft could explain a bit how you fabricated the rudder control and the stick mechanism? This has to be unique to this type of aircraft build.
The rudder petals and control stick resemble the actual controls. The control stick head comes from a Suncom F-15 joystick and throttle system. I gutted the controls and rewired the buttons to work with I/O cards. The stick is made from a 1 inch copper tube with a smaller tube soldered to it surface. Two 90’s make the bend and the stick has been built up with Bondo to look like the T-38 control stick. The dimensions are the same. There is a small 12 vdc motor with an offset weight in the 1” tube to work as a stick shaker.
The rudders were a challenge. I had never welded before. Being in the O&G industry, I always had professional welders to do any welding I might need. I had to learn. My welds still look horrible. However, they hold and don’t have to pass any ASME code or FAA inspections.
The pedals are adjustable, just like in the real airplane. You pull on a T handle and push them to one of six different detents. Springs will push the pedals forward when released.
What were some of the problems you had to solve along the way with this control setup?
The adjustable setup of the rudders was a challange. I am still not happy with the brakes. They tend to drag and give uneven braking. Part of the redo will be the braking setup. I want them to be smooth and even. I also want them to release completely
Could you tell us a bit about the artificial feel system?
The control stick uses a metal tube with four compression springs for pitch. There is a piston in the center of the tubing connected to the control stick. One inch springs handle the feel for the first two thirds of the throw. At that point a smaller and shorter spring inside the larger spring provides added loading to the stick. This only comes into play on full back or forward stick. The springs can be pre-compressed to allow adjusting of the feel.
I calculated the spring values and the stick moments to get an approximate spring size and wire diameter. I then bought several pairs of springs that bracketed this range from Century Springs. Using a fish scale and my memory of what the controls felt like, I adjusted the spring tension until it felt right. This design is the third rendition of the design. I am working on number four; a hydraulic/pneumatic setup that should allow real life trimming. But that is down the road.
The roll controls are a cable and spring setup, similar to real aileron cabling. Turnbuckles allow the tension to be adjusted. Because of the long moment and weight of the control stick I had trouble with it returning to center. So I added two centering springs.
Tell us a bit about the throttle setup in your T-38. Any future improvements or changes with this equipment?
The throttle is from the Suncom setup that I got the stick handle from. It too is wired directly to the I/O card. Someday, I may make metal throttles to get the afterburner detents. But, that is not a priority. These look close enough to the real ones and work fine.
With the proliferation of FS add-on aircraft on the freeware and payware markets, I don't believe I've ever run across a T-38 simulator. What are you using for your flight model? Does it perform as it should according to the real aircraft?
That is a problem. There is no T-38C model. There is an excellent T-38A made for FS9 by FSD. There are several F-5 versions for FSX. None are perfect. One IMO is horrible.
However, as I stated in my philosophy, I do not need to fly a T-38C. I can fly any airplane with the cockpit.
What sort of computer are you using for FS? Are you running the sim on a network? Any upgrades planned for FSX?
Currently, I use an Intel Core duo E6750 with 4 GB 1066 DDR2 RAM and a GeForce 8800 GT 512 KB RAM graphics card. I run FSX on XP Pro. I have a couple of older computers which I tried running FsXpand for the instruments. However, I wasn’t happy with the speed. Early next year I may build a new computer and use this one for secondary tasks.
Could you tell us how you are interfacing your T-38 to FS? What sort of cards are you using and what had you considered prior to choosing what you did?
This is one of the reasons I am rewiring and upgrading. When I envisioned the sim, I planned on using Leo Lacava’s Beta Innovations’ cards. Half way through he dropped FSX support and is now out of business. So, I had to switch I/O cards. I now use Opencockpits cards. Their grounding setup is different from Leo’s and the changeover has caused me problems. So, I am rewiring a lot of the sim. I also purchased a couple of Leo Bodnar’s cards and I am experimenting with them to operate the Throttle/Stick HOTAS and axis.
What is your exterior visual system? Monitors or projectors? Tell us a bit about the system you use.
Currently, I use a Matrox TH2GO with three 19" Sumsung 940 BX monitors. I also use an IR Track 4. I plan on buying three projectors and going that route in the near future. The projector visual system will be the next phase.
Because of the absence of off-the-shelf T-38 parts, how are you fabricating your panels? What material are you using?
I use two layers of Acrylic plastic with a paper insert that I draw up in TurboCAD and print out on a laser printer. The top sheet is 2-3mm with the bottom twice as thick. I spray paint the bottom layer black. I don’t have any backlighting. However, the T-38 has eyebrow lights that provide good elimination of the panels. I have yet to add the cockpit lighting. I haven’t decided to use LEDs at 5vdc or go with a 12vdc bulb setup.
If you had your choice, would you use the real panels from the aircraft if available? Is there one particular piece of the aircraft that you would like to have for your simulator for authenticity?
I might, if they were inexpensive enough to be a good value. I enjoy building things. The creative process of planning, building and seeing it come together are important to me. I get as much joy from building the sim as flying the sim.
A real gear handle or throttles would be nice. Also a seat survival box and cushion would add a touch of authentic military jet. I have bid on a few parts, seat cushion, oxygen hose, etc. However, I am not willing to spend as much money as they are going for. So, I have lost every bid. I did purchase a map light from the Historic Airliners group.
I don’t feel the need for 100% authenticity or accuracy in the cockpit. I am looking for the flying experience. That I want to be as accurate as it is possible.
What has taken the most time to build for your sim?
Rudders and control stick. The cockpit and seat were easy.
I have to ask this: Where are you going to find a canopy for this aircraft? I know DRMO has auctions frequently, but I don't think I've ever seen a T-38 canopy on the block.
I don’t plan on using one. If I did have one, it would be too heavy for the structure to support the hinging mechanism. I built a canopy bow and the open and close handle works with the sim through the I/O card.
Before choosing the T-38, had you considered any other training, attack, or fighter aircraft?
I may have but not seriously. It has always been the T-38. I went to the “C” model because of the glass cockpit. Originally, I was going to build the “A” model. However, the 5” ADI and HIS analog gauges were major stumbling blocks.
FS9/FSX is not a combat simulator. The F-16/F-18 are weapons systems. However, none of the weapons, aside from a few light effects, will work in MSFS. Why go through the expense and trouble to build something you can’t use? The T-38C does have a simple weapons panel which I have included. I plan on using the switches for other functions. However, they will be available.
Could you offer a few words of advise for someone contemplating a single-seat military aircraft build? Things to watch out for or difficulties particular to this type of build?
The main thing to consider is, unless you are building an F-16, there isn’t much out there by way of commercial products. You will have to do it alone. Also, because of the military not wanting certain countries to get spare parts, many things are not available to us builders.
Lastly, the gauges will be a problem. There is no Project Magenta for fighters. PM did have an F-18 set but discontinued the line. So, you will have to make compromises.
If you had to do it all over again, would you still choose this aircraft to build? Why?
Probably! The simplicity of construction and versatility make this aircraft a lot of fun. I have flown the Acceleration/Captsim F-18. A2A P-51 and Real air’s Spitfire in this cockpit. They all seemed real. With the bass shaker under the seat, going in afterburner while flying the Alphasim F-105 is literally a kick in the butt.
What are your future projects for your T-38 and what are your long-range plans with this simulator? Any motion planned down the road?
My long term goal is to trailer mount it and allow young people a chance to fly it. Short term will include projectors for the outside views. I have to get the gauges to work right and hopefully find some software that is more military fighter like than the airliner packages offered today.
I am also considering a rear seat of sorts for an IP. This would allow me to instruct a young person in flying the jet.
A motion platform is a consideration. It would fit in with my philosophy of simulators. At the time however, it is not an active consideration.
What else do you do for fun to take a break from the simulator for awhile?
My wife and I travel. She always comes up with “projects” around the house. Then there is my business. ? Always something to do there.
Is there any particular builder on- or off-site that has given you the inspiration and drive to keep going on your build when things seem to be going slow or no where?
I have been to a lot of sites and gotten ideas and inspiration from most of them. I think that visiting the various sites like Mycockpits can help the fledging builder get ideas and advice.
This place www.mycockpits.org has been unbelievable in encouragement and ideas. Michael Carter and Gwyn Perrett “Westozy” have inspired me with their quality of craftsmanship and provided ideas that can be adapted to my sim.
Thank you John.
I will also send thanks to my friend Mike Powell. He and his site www.mikesflightdeck.com should be a must see for all would be builders. Mike has given a lot to our hobby. Both of his books, Building Simulated Aircraft Instrumentation and his upcoming book should be on every cockpit builders’ shelf.
John, thank you for taking time out of your work schedule to answer these many questions. Your simulator reflects a great deal of work and ingenuity on your part. We're proud to have you as a member of MyCockpit.
Congratulations on being chosen Builder of the Month for November 2008.
Last edited by Trevor Hale; 11-03-2008 at 11:59 AM.
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