5 Modifications for a DIY HOTAS Chair for Virtual Reality and More

The DIY Side Joystick Frame is one of my most popular projects, and it’s very versatile. Even though I published this project 6 years ago, the design has stood the test of time. Yet, as great as it is, I have recently made a few modifications to the design that you might find helpful for your project. Read on for 5 Modifications for a DIY HOTAS Chair for Virtual Reality and More.

A True HOTAS for your Flight Sim

The DIY Side Joystick Frame, Item #F311, makes a true HOTAS (Hands On Throttle And Stick) possible for your flight simulator because the project also includes rudder pedals. True pilots use rudder pedals, not joystick twisty grips so always remember that. I originally envisioned the F311 as useful primarily for jet fighter simulators, but now, many customers are using it for space sims like Elite Dangerous and Star Citizen.

Use the F311 in combination with a Virtual Reality headset. Remember, when you wear a VR headset, you can’t see your keyboard any more and any functions you have assigned to your keyboard keys are literally out of sight. You can also use the F311 with a traditional multi-monitor setup like the DIY Deluxe Desktop Flight Sim (Item D250). The F311 is delightfully versatile and useful. Use these 5 Modifications for a DIY HOTAS Chair to update the F311.

 

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5 Modifications for a DIY HOTAS Chair

I made five main modifications to adapt the F311 Side Joystick Frame for my current requirements. None of these modifications are difficult. If you can build the F311 in the first place, you can certainly make these modifications or include these changes during the initial build.

1. Wider Side Stand Platforms

First of all, I installed wider side stand platforms, cut from 1×8 boards. To be clear, the PVC pipe side stands did not change, just the the boards that attach to the top of the stands. I topped the side stands with 1×8 boards, 12″ long. The wider boards give you room for a trackball mouse next to the joystick and give you room next to the throttle to set down your phone or whatever. Most importantly, you can place the controls in a more ergonomic location. This means placing the joystick and throttle in line with the chair’s arm rests. This is so important! Place the joystick and throttle so that your arms sit straight on the chair’s arm rests. This will allow you to fly comfortably for hours.

In addition, I attached the joystick and throttle with wood screws instead of Velcro. I also trimmed the inside corners of the 1×8 boards by 1″ and sanded the edges so my legs wouldn’t get caught on the corners.

2. Longer floor boards

I use the Saitek Pro Flight Cessna Rudder Pedals, and I really like them, but they have to be positioned further away from the pilot. The rudder pedals attach to the Floor Boards with Velcro, but the original boards were too short. Therefore, I replaced them with two 1×6 boards, 22″ long. You might not need to make this change for your rudder pedals.

3. Raised center stabilizer

I also raised the center stabilizer bar to allow room for the Saitek Pro Flight Cessna Rudder Pedals. Specifically, the back of my ankles banged into the stabilizer bar, so I had to move it. It is now 6.5″ higher than it was before.

4. Self-drilling screws

I now use self-drilling screws in everything I build. Back in 2010 when I designed this project, I used Liquid Nails Project Glue to attach all the PVC pipes and fittings. This allowed for some cost-savings, but self-drilling screws are far superior. The screws allow for a simpler assembly with no overnight dry time. In addition, the screws create a much stronger frame. Lastly, you can remove the screws later if you decide to modify the frame. I absolutely recommend using 1/2″ self-drilling screws to build DIY Flight Sims from PVC pipe.

Video: Learn more about self-drilling screws for DIY Flight Sim projects

5. Cup holder

Don’t fly thirsty! I include a cup holder with almost every project I design. The cup holder is located next to the throttle and it’s easy to find it, even when wearing a VR headset. I use these inexpensive cup holders from Amazon.

If you’ve already built the DIY Side Joystick Frame, Item F311, or if you haven’t built one yet, these 5 Modifications for a DIY HOTAS Chair can enhance your home flight simulator experience for years to come.

 

5 Modifications for a DIY HOTAS Chair
5 Modifications for a DIY HOTAS Chair

Saitek Pro Flight Instrument Panel in a DIY Triple Screen Flight Sim

Our customer, Tom, sent in these pictures of his completed project. He installed a Saitek Pro Flight Instrument Panel in a DIY Triple Screen Flight Sim. Actually these are eight separate units that combine to work as a complete instrument panel, therefore he has the standard six flight gauges, plus two VOR displays. 

T440 Triple Screen Flight Sim customer completion
T440 Triple Screen Flight Sim customer completion

Saitek Pro Flight Instrument Panel

The Saitek Pro Flight Instrument Panel you see in the picture is eight separate flight instruments. Each unit can be set individually to display whatever instrument you choose, in addition, you have 15 different displays to choose from. The units cost $170 to $190 USD depending on where you purchase from. 

The instrument panel is the perfect addition to Tom’s DIY Flight Sim. He says: “Had great fun building this triple screen, with your instructions and videos even I couldn’t mess it up!”

T440 Triple Screen Flight Sim customer completion
T440 Triple Screen Flight Sim customer completion

Merchandise Shortage

But wait, can you even purchase the Saitek flight instruments right now? On mypilotstore.com they note a merchandise shortage with the following message: 

Out of Stock. There is a massive, world-wide, back-order situation on all Saitek Pro Flight merchandise.  All orders will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis.  Order now to reserve your spot in line. You will not be charged until the order ships and you can cancel at any time prior to shipment.  Orders placed now are expected to be shipped in 6 to 12 weeks.

MadCatz recently sold Saitek to Logitech. Gameindustry.biz reports that MadCatz purchased Saitek in 2007 for $30 million, but is now selling it to Logitech for only $13 million. We can only hope that Logitech can keep the Saitek product line in production and going strong for years to come. I’ve owned several Logitech products (keyboards, mice, etc.) and I’ve always been happy with their reliability and functionality. I know that there have been concerns lately about the workmanship in Saitek products and consequently I hope the sale to Logitech improves the reliability of the entire Saitek product line. 

X-Plane 11 Beta on Triple Screens, First Look

You can download the X-plane 11 beta right now. Configuring the X-Plane 11 Beta on triple screens with a full flight simulator cockpit is a challenge. I’m using the DIY D250 Deluxe Desktop Flight Sim for this evaluation. The D250 uses three 32″ HDTVs running from a single Nvidia GeForce GTX 950 SSC.

The download and installation was straightforward, and furthermore X-plane automatically spanned all three screens when it booted. The software detected my Saitek Cessna rudder pedals and provided a quick calibration. Unfortunately, it assigned the pitch and roll axis to the toe brake functions. Also, I was unfamiliar with the user interface so it wasn’t apparent how I would properly assign the functions to my flight yoke.

X-Plane 11 assigned pitch and roll to the toe brakes
X-Plane 11 assigned pitch and roll to the toe brakes

Immediately Airborne

The demo gets you into the air immediately. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to assign the controls properly so I stopped after a few minutes. Also, I wasn’t able to zoom out the view, so the virtual cockpit was unseen, except for the wet compass.

X-plane 11 control menu with options behind the bezels
X-plane 11 control menu with options behind the bezels

I found my way to the control settings menu to set up the yoke, throttle quadrant, and trim wheel. In addition I wanted to correct the rudder pedal assignments. On my triple-screen setup, some of the menu options are obscured behind the bezel. You don’t have the option to move the menu window around like you do in P3D. The only way to see these menu options would be to exit out of X-plane, turn off bezel correction in Nvidia Controls Panel, restart X-plane to run the menu, and then turn bezel correction back on afterwards. Or you can just guess what’s behind the bezel. I had some troubles with identifying which axis is which on the Saitek throttle quadrant.

X-Plane 11 graphics settings, some options hidden behind the bezel
X-Plane 11 graphics settings, some options hidden behind the bezel

X-plane allows you to manually set the screen resolution, which is a very nice option. I set it to the same screen resolution as my desktop with no trouble at all.

I’m using Air Manager to display the flight instruments in FSX and P3D. I think it requires additional configuration to use it with X-Plane 11. Air Manager has an excellent set of Beechcraft Baron flight instruments and I’m looking forward to using them with the Baron X-Plane 11.

I spent a lot of time stuck on the runway
I spent a lot of time stuck on the runway

Stuck on the Runway

I couldn’t get all my controls properly assigned and as a result, I spent a lot of time on the runway. I didn’t even attempt to set up the three Saitek control panels because they probably need an updated driver to work with X-plane. I’ll look into that.

The demo expired before I could set up the controls
The demo expired before I could set up the controls

And that was it. I ran out of time in the demo, in addition, I didn’t have any more time in my day to wrestle with the simulator settings. The message said that my “flight controls will no longer function.” To be clear, my controls never functioned properly because I couldn’t get them assigned. I will try X-Plane again and I hope to actually fly it next time.

 

 

Saitek Pro Flight Yoke Fix: Rubber Bands

This rubber band modification is the simplest and cheapest way to improve the feel of this particular yoke. Welcome to the Saitek Pro Flight Yoke Fix: Rubber Bands.

Before we start, we’re assuming you’ve already removed the pitch spring and swing arms as shown in the disassembly video. Also, I recommend leaving the roll return spring in place. This modification is specifically for the pitch axis.

NOTE: modifying the Saitek yoke will void the warranty. However, if you purchased the yoke over two years ago, the warranty has already expired.

 

The first issue we should address is the use of rubber bands. Some people won’t use them because they fear the rubber bands will break someday. Yes, there is that possibility, especially if you use old rubber bands. So buy new ones. This bag of rubber bands cost less than one US dollar and they should last a long time. They will definitely last longer than reusing old rubber bands you have sitting around your home or office.

Credit for this Saitek Pro Flight Yoke fix should go to Tom Gromko who published this method on the AVSIM forum.

Rubber Band Installation

As we get started, note the Saitek yoke has these two tabs that bridge the center shaft. Also locate these horns on the center shaft. I used five rubber bands for this modification, and here’s the first one. Wrap it around the horns and the front tab.

The second one goes around the rear tab and the horns. Try not to twist it much. The third is same as the first, and here’s the fourth. Also push down the rubber bands around the horn. The last rubber band will hold the others in place. Wrap it tightly around the horns.

Test The Control Tension

Now try it out. There is no abrupt detent in the middle of the pitch travel. You can make subtle pitch changed easily. Try the full travel of the controls. Notice it looks like the rubber band may slip off the rear tab. No worries. Recall that these tabs will fit into these slots on the bottom lid. This will keep the rubber bands secure. These tabs may be a little bent out of alignment because of the tension from the rubber bands. This can make it challenging to get the lid back on the control housing. You may need to wiggle the tabs a little to better align them with the slots on the lid.

You can try out the feel of the yoke now. Hold it down with one hand. Note how easy it is to make small pitch changes when you don’t have to struggle against that center detent. If you’re happy with the results, reattach the control housing. There are 14 screws.

And then go flying to test out your new modification!

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Saitek Pro Flight Yoke Modification Videos

Saitek yoke fix: Rubber Bands
Saitek yoke fix: Rubber Bands

 

Prepar3D with Triple Screens and More

What you’re seeing here is Lockheed Martin Prepar3D with triple screens and more. The software is Prepar3D version 3.4, the DIY Deluxe Desktop Flight Sim, the DIY Side Joystick Frame, Air Manager is running the instruments on the 4th display. The installation of P3D was straightforward and you’re looking at a stock installation with no add-ons (yet).

 

 

The three main displays are inexpensive 32″ HDTVs connected to a single Nvidia GeForce mid-level graphics card. The system specs are at the end of this blog post.

Prepar3D Installation

P3D recognized the Saitek X52 Pro and properly assigned its functions, which was very nice. For other flight simulator programs, assigning the controls correctly is an awful awful chore, but not for P3D. This is the first flight simulator software I’ve ever seen that correctly identified rudder pedals and successfully assigned them to the correct function. Including the toe brakes. So, kudos to Lockheed Martin. They also build spaceships, by the way. Just so you know.

It’s easy to combine the DIY Side Joystick Frame, (item 311), with the Deluxe Desktop Flight Sim project. I’m using the Saitek Pro Flight Cessna rudder pedals. Great rudder pedals. I updated the drivers for my Saitek switch panels that enabled them to work with P3D. That was easy.

You’ll notice that nothing here is expensive or exotic… or even new. For example, I’m using a second-hand computer to display the flight instruments. The second computer is so old it’s running Windows Vista.

Air Manager is the software that generates the flight instruments and it communicates through the local network connection with P3D on my primary computer. Air Manager also works with X-plane and Flight Simulator X.

System Specifications

DIY Deluxe Desktop Flight Sim, item #D250
DIY Side Joystick Frame, item #F311
Primary computer: Powerspec B634 with Intel i5-3450
Nvidia GeForce GTX 950 SSC
Windows 7, 64 bit
Saitek X52 Pro Flight HOTAS controls
Saitek Pro Flight Cessna rudder pedals

Secondary computer: Dell Inspiron 530s with Pentum E2200
Windows Vista

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Prepar3D with triple screens and more
Prepar3D with triple screens and more

Saitek Pro Flight Yoke: Replace Roll Spring

Welcome to the Saitek Pro Flight Yoke: Replace Roll Spring instruction video. This modification will replace the roll return spring with rubber bands. Most people don’t have an issue with the roll action of the Saitek yoke, but if you do, this mod is for you. Before we start, I’m assuming you’ve already removed the roll return spring as shown in this disassembly video.

NOTE: modifying the Saitek yoke will void the warranty. However, if you purchased the yoke over two years ago, the warranty has already expired.

Also be sure to use a new rubber band. This bag of rubber bands cost less than $1.00 USD. You’ll only need one, but it’s worth it to know your modification will last a long time.

 

 

Saitek Pro Flight Yoke: Replace Roll Spring

Let’s start by looking at a very interesting structure inside the Saitek yoke housing. Locate the roll return horns as shown in the video and the picture below. Notice as I roll the yoke from left to right, these two horns extend to the left or to the right. It should be pretty easy to loop a rubber band around these horns and let the rubber band provide tension. Select one rubber band. Loop it over three times. Now loop one mini zip-tie through, but do not tighten it all the way. Repeat with another mini zip-tie.

Now simply loop one zip tie over one of the horns. Make sure the zip-tie gets underneath this catch. Tighten down the zip-tie all the way. And repeat with the other zip-tie on the other side. Clip the excess from both zip-ties. The rubber band is now providing tension for the roll axis of the yoke. The rubber band should be secure in its place and should not fall off when we turn the unit over.

Replace the lid and carefully turn it over. Hold the control housing down with one hand. Try it out to see how you like the feel of the yoke now. The rubber band provides a slightly smoother feel. If you’re happy with the results, reattach the control housing. There are 14 screws.

And give it a test flight!

 

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Saitek Pro Flight Yoke Modification Videos

Attach a rubber band to the control horns - Saitek Pro Flight Yoke: Replace Roll Spring
Attach a rubber band to the control horns

Saitek Pro Flight Yoke Modification: Rubber Bands and Zip Ties

This modification to the Saitek Yoke Pro Flight Yoke uses rubber bands and zip ties. In some respects, it’s similar to the method I used for modifying the yoke from CH Products. This is the modification I personally use with my Saitek yokes. Notice that both yokes have this horn-shaped structure on the center shaft. That’s what we will be modifying. We will also be using these four screw posts. The Saitek Pro Flight Yoke Modification: Rubber Bands and Zip Ties only takes a few minutes to complete.

 


NOTE: modifying the Saitek yoke will void the warranty. However, if you purchased the yoke over two years ago, the warranty has already expired.

Before we start, we’re assuming you’ve already removed the pitch spring and swing arms as shown in the disassembly video. You can leave the roll return spring in place for this mod, or if you want less resistance, you can remove it.

Rubber Bands? Yes.

Should you really use rubber bands to modify the yoke? Some people won’t use them because they fear the rubber bands will break someday. Yes, there is that possibility, especially if you use old rubber bands. So buy new ones. This bag of rubber bands cost less than one US dollar and they should last a long time. They will definitely last longer than reusing the old rubber bands you have sitting around your home or office.

Let’s start by rotating the yoke so the back of the control housing is facing you. It’s best to prop up the yoke on some boards or something. Locate these horns on the center shaft. And specifically locate this small gap in the plastic structure. Use a drill and an 1/8” drill bit to make a hole right through that small gap. Repeat on the other side. A 1/8” hole should be large enough for these mini Zip Ties.

Next, select four rubber bands and four Zip Ties. Double over the rubber band like this and then loop through and attach a Zip Tie. Repeat for the remaining pairs of rubber bands and Zip Ties. I’ve sped up the video now, but feel free to take your time with this step. The only purpose for these four Zip Ties are to help you handle the rubber bands. They will be cut off later.

Install the Rubber Bands

Here, we have attached the rubber bands and zip ties to one side of the center shaft. Here’s how we did it. Select an additional Zip Tie and thread it through the hole you drilled. Take one of the looped rubber bands and put it over one end of the Zip Tie. Select another looped rubber band and put it over the other end of the Zip Tie, and then attach the Zip Tie to itself, but do not tighten it all the way down yet. Now loop one rubber band over the rear screw post. Loop the other rubber band over the front screw post.

We’re almost finished with the Saitek Pro Flight Yoke Modification: Rubber Bands and Zip Ties. Tighten the middle Zip Tie all the way. Carefully clip off the four extra Zip Ties and also trim the extra length from the middle Zip Ties.

Replace the lid and try it out.

There is no abrupt detent in the middle of the pitch travel. You can make subtle pitch changed easily. If you’re happy with the results, reattach the control housing. There are 14 screws.

And give it a test flight! I hope the Saitek Pro Flight Yoke Modification: Rubber Bands and Zip Ties worked well for you. Happy landings! 

 

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Saitek Pro Flight Yoke Modification Videos

 

Saitek Pro Flight Yoke Modification: Rubber Bands and Zip Ties
Rubber bands installed in a Saitek yoke
Flight Simulator Eagle Scout Project

Flight Simulator Eagle Scout Project

A young man named Ryan built this flight simulator for an Eagle Scout Service project. You might be wondering how a Flight Simulator Eagle Scout Project comes into being. If you are unfamiliar with service projects, the Scout must demonstrate that he has a plan for funding and building the project and he must also show that it’s a benefit to the community.
(Let’s be real: ALL flight simulators benefit the community, but I digress). 

Ryan reached out to me and requested a donation of the T440 Triple Screen Flight Sim project video/manual and I granted his request. He raised enough money or donations to build the DIY flight sim as you see in the picture. He also modified the design to match his resources and needs. After completing the project, Ryan donated it to his Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) classroom. This is the official JROTC for the United States Air Force and the cadets use this flight simulator to learn about flying and careers in the USAF.

Quote from Ryan:

“Thank you so much for your flight sim plan donation for my Eagle Scout Project. As you can see I had to make some changes due to the equipment and available space in the JROTC class room… Thank you for making this project possible through your donation and helping me make the Air Force JROTC program at my high school more fun for the cadets learning about flight.”

Charitable Donations

I get requests regularly from people asking for free stuff, but I rarely fulfill those requests, even from people claiming to represent charitable groups.

There are several reasons I rarely give away free stuff

  • My videos and instruction manuals are the least expensive part of your project. If you really want to save money, try getting discounts on your displays, computer, or controls.
  • I do not receive follow-up from the people I donate to 99% of the time. All I ask for is a picture of the completed project and a description of how it’s being used. I have received a follow-up message only two times in nine years and both times they were Eagle Scouts that completed their service projects.
  • It’s more work for me. I have to manually generate download emails when I fulfill a donation. On the other hand, regular purchases are automatic and instant.
  • I regularly offer huge sales on all my products. If you sign up for my monthly newsletter, you will be the first to know about upcoming sales.
  • Roger Dodger Aviation does not make enough money. As long as I have to work at a day job, I probably won’t have the time to seriously consider the donations requests I receive.

Am I wrong?

 

 

Virtual Reality for Flight Simulator

Virtual Reality for Flight Simulators, Is it Time? – Part 2

Is is time to take the leap into Virtual Reality and incorporate it into your flight simulator? Maybe not, depending on what you like to simulate. In this article I continue my exploration of Virtual Reality for Flight Simulator and discuss Flight Simulator X, War Thunder, some physical and financial issues, and system specs. In Part 1 of this article, I experimented with DCS World and Elite Dangerous in Virtual Reality. You can read it here.

 

FSX sample

Flight Simulator X with FlyInside and Leap Motion

This is the big one! FlyInside FSX is an ambitious project to make Microsoft Flight Simulator X compatible with VR. Leap Motion is an infrared sensor that can detect the location and position of your hands, so you can see your hands in Virtual Reality. Put FlyInside and Leap Motion together and you can activate airplane switches with your hands in the FSX virtual cockpit! If that is difficult to imagine, here is a video that demonstrates it.

Disclaimer: I discovered it’s really difficult to take good screen shots in Virtual Reality for flight simulator, so for this article I borrowed representative pics from other sources. This has no impact on the validity of my findings.

FlyInside FSX is a rather new project and even though it didn’t work for me, I still think it’s important to support the developer. The first flight I tried was the simple default flight around Friday Harbor in a Piper Cub. It was pretty cool to look around in VR, as long as I didn’t move my head too fast. Virtual Reality works best when the images are rendered at 90 frames per second or more. The stock FSX can’t consistently provide fps nearly that fast, but FlyInside has a trick to get around that. Unfortunately, it didn’t work well enough. When I moved my head, the images lagged. Lagging equals motion sickness, remember that. When the images you see with your eyes do not match your head movement, you can get motion sickness very quickly. I’m not prone to motion sickness, so I was able to do a few takeoffs and landings without barfing, but the experience is not nearly as good as VR in other flight sim software. On the other hand, I found that it’s easier, and it feels more realistic to land an airplane in VR.

I tried to trim the airplane during flight, and that’s when it all went sour. Recall that I also used Leap Motion, so I could literally see my hands while flying in the virtual Piper Cub. This is supposed to give me the ability to manipulate controls and switches in the cockpit, much like it’s possible now with the mouse. I reached out to adjust the elevator trim and…. FSX crashed. I re-booted and tried the same thing again… another crash. And that’s it. After two crashes, I’m done.

Conclusion: support this project. I did, but I won’t use it again until it’s more reliable.

 

WT sample

War Thunder

Combat in Elite Dangerous made me miss my old online squadron. I had never played War Thunder before, but it’s free to sign up so I enlisted and went back to World War 2 for the first time in several years. This game was much more menu-friendly to VR than DCS world was. I wasn’t familiar with War Thunder, so it took a while to get my controls and buttons assigned. Apparently, the game isn’t expecting many users to have rudder pedals, so that really throws it for a loop.

Once I had my controls set up, I launched into battle with my pathetic P-26 Peashooter (that’s how you start out). Even with my crappy plane, I had blast in War Thunder. I had a level of spatial orientation that I’ve never had before in a flight simulator. VR is a game changer for air combat because of the way I could look above, below, behind, and around the cockpit frame. Even though I was a rookie, most of the guys in the Arcade level don’t know anything about energy fighting so I was able to use that to my advantage and I leveled-up rather quickly, or at least I think I did. The flurry of levels and tokens and things are still a mystery to me.

War Thunder also has a Realistic mode that I tried, but I didn’t get my controls completely set up. A Saitek X-52 looks nothing like the controls you would have in a WW2 airplane, so this means I need to assign mixture, prop and some other functions to the knobs on the throttle, which I wasn’t all that excited about. I’m sure I’ll revisit that at some point.

I experienced my first strong physical reactions in Virtual Reality while playing War Thunder. My heart was pounding and I was sweating profusely during combat. I had to take breaks between sorties for my heart rate to come down and I pointed a fan at myself to cool off. This is serious fun!

Conclusion: I will only play War Thunder in VR. That’s how good it is.

Edit: the recent update of War Thunder failed because the sound no longer works. As a result, I won’t be playing this again until they fix it.

 

Matrix: Virtual Reality for Flight Simulator

Here is a summary of my findings with the flight sim software. Read on for financial and physical implications.

Virtual Reality for Flight Simulators Decision Matrix 2016
Virtual Reality for Flight Simulators Decision Matrix 2016

 

Virtual Reality: Financial Issues

The FlyInside developer recommends FSX Steam because it works better with FlyInside for some reason. I would like to try it, but I’m simply out of money. Virtual Reality costs real money. It is expensive. The Oculus Rift headset was over $600 with shipping, but I also needed a new computer to run it. I shopped smart but still spent over $1160 on a new gaming computer (specs below) and that still wasn’t enough. I’ll need to spend another $600 on a new graphics card before I can run the Rift at high definition 1080p. I bought Leap Motion on sale, but I can’t use it because of the problem with FlyInside FSX. I couldn’t afford to even try Aerofly FS2.

Notice that Virtual Reality did best with games, not simulators. Flight Simulator X was not usable and X-plane doesn’t support VR at all. Think long and hard about spending your money. VR is for gaming, not for simulating.

Virtual Reality: Physical Issues

You can’t wear glasses with the Oculus Rift. Well, technically you can, there is an awkward way to do it, but the headset will push the glasses against your face, which is very uncomfortable. Realistically, it’s contact lenses or nothing and that’s just the way it is right now. Maybe there will be helpful remedies in the future.

Motion sickness is a risk if you’re prone to motion sickness in general. If you typically feel nauseous in a plane or boat or car, you may feel the same in VR. Furthermore, if your computer can’t render VR in 60 frames per second (at least), you may feel nauseous in Virtual Reality for flight simulator. Luckily, motion sickness if easily remedied because you can just take a break and remove the headset for a while.

Pounding heart, sweaty armpits, residual headset heat, dry eyes. Clinical flight simulator research shows that pilots start to have involuntary physical responses to professional flight simulators when the images are rendered higher than 60 fps. In other words, their palms sweat. In my experience, my heart was pounding, I was breathing heavy, and my whole body sweat during combat in War Thunder. I took breaks between sorties to calm down, it was that intense. Sometimes my eyes would get dry in VR because I probably don’t blink as much as I should. Lastly, the Oculus Rift headset gets warm during use, so I needed a fan blowing on me to help me stay comfortable. That’s unusual for me, I typically have a lower than average body temperature.

Virtual Reality: Emotional Responses

I didn’t expect to have any emotional reactions to VR but I did. Virtual Reality for flight simulator wasn’t the only thing I tried, I also looked at some 360 degree videos. When you view these videos, it’s like you are inside the video and you can turn any direction to see what’s happening around you. Several little clips are included in the Oculus library.

One clip showed a young couple on a gondola ride in Venice. The camera was in the boat with them so it seemed like I was riding along with them too. It was a vacation I can’t afford in a city I’ll probably never visit and yet, I was there… virtually.

Another 360 video clip showed a family in Asia somewhere and their house was basically a little shack on stilts in the water and again, I was there… virtually. I was reminded of how lucky I am to even experience VR because my computer and VR headset probably cost more than their annual income.

Hardware Specifications

Oculus Rift CV-1
Cybertron PC: Intel i7-6700, 3.4 GHz
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970
RAM 16 GB
Windows10, 64 bit
Saitek X52 Pro Flight HOTAS controls
Saitek Pro Flight Cessna rudder pedals

 

Read Part 1: Computer and control upgrades, I try out DCS World in VR and blast off with Elite Dangerous

 

Virtual Reality for Flight Simulators, is it time?

Virtual Reality for Flight Simulators, Is it Time? – Part 1

Is a Virtual Reality headset worth the money if you are a flight simulator enthusiast? It depends on the type of simulating you do. In this article I’ll tell you about my first month with the Oculus Rift headset and Virtual Reality for Flight Simulators. I’ll discuss the four different flight sim platforms I tried with VR and also the physical and financial impacts of these experiments.

The first thing you should know is this: Virtual Reality is a game changer. Accent on the word “game.”  I’ll go into more detail in a moment.

The second thing you should know: Virtual Reality costs real money, plenty of it.

Upgrade the Gear

I started my maiden voyage into the world of Virtual Reality for flight simulators a few months ago when I ordered an Oculus Rift. They were on backorder at the time, but even so, I received mine a full month before I expected to. VR headsets need substantial processing power to work effectively, so I bought a new computer at Best Buy and the specs are at the end of this article. I also bought a Leap Motion sensor while it was on sale so I could experiment with FlyInside FSX. If none of that means anything to you, don’t worry, I’ll come back to that in a minute.

Upgrade the Controls

I also upgraded an F311 Side-joystick HOTAS by making the control platforms wider to better align the controls with the armrests of my chair. Furthermore, I added a trackball mouse and a drink holder (don’t fly thirsty). I also raised the reinforcement bar so I could use my favorite rudder pedals and attached all fittings with self drilling screws. I used this F311 frame with great success, I can’t VR without it.

For these experiments, I said goodbye to my trusty Saitek switch panels and keyboard mods… you can’t see them while wearing a VR headset. Now, come with me as we explore Virtual Reality for flight simulators…

 

Elite Dangerous virtual cockpit, sidewinder
Elite Dangerous virtual cockpit

Elite Dangerous

My first flight in VR was in space and it was breathtaking but just a bit disappointing. Everything worked correctly, but I found that my graphics card could not power the Oculus Rift at 1080p, so I’m temporarily stuck at 768 until I can afford a more powerful graphics card. Even so… I said the experience is breathtaking and it is. You have stereoscopic vision in VR, just like you have in real life. Your left eye and your right eye see slightly offset views of each object, so this is what makes close objects look close and far objects look far away. In Elite Dangerous, this means I could for the first time, sense the size of the spaceship’s flight deck. I could look down at my arms in the game and see how close they are and then look outside and comprehend the enormity of the space station.

The game isn’t on a screen any more, it’s all around you. You’re inside the game. This is most obvious in combat because you can look up and back and over your shoulder at your enemy. You also should be fully HOTAS so all aircraft functions are assigned to the buttons on your joystick and throttle because it’s too inconvenient to use the keyboard. That means you also have to memorize all your button assignments. One of the great limitations of VR is that you can no longer see real-world buttons and switches. However, you can use Voice Attack to simply speak commands to your spaceship. For example, you can verbally tell it to extend landing gear, and that is perfectly plausible in this futuristic environment.

Conclusion: from now on, I will only play Elite Dangerous in Virtual Reality. That’s how good it is.

 

DCS cockpit

DCS World

I couldn’t wait to try DCS World with the Oculus Rift, but unfortunately it didn’t go as smoothly as Elite Dangerous. First of all, the DCS menus were very difficult to use and in some cases, they just didn’t work at all. It was a time-consuming chore just to set up my Saitek X-52 HOTAS controls and rudder pedals. I flew several tutorial missions, but many of the lesson tasks required the use of keyboard commands, so I had to put my keyboard on my lap. I could kind of see the keyboard in the gap between the bottom of the Rift headset and my cheek, but this is not a reasonable option. Perhaps I could have assigned specific functions to HOTAS buttons, but there are so many of them and, again, navigating the DCS controls menu in VR is a crapshoot at best.

Disclaimer: it’s really difficult to take screen shots in Virtual Reality for flight simulators, so for this article I borrowed representative pics from other sources. This has no impact on the validity of my findings. 

I appreciate the realism of DCS World, but lifting the Rift headset repeatedly to look at a paper checklist or the keyboard is a no-go. I applaud the young man in this video for diligently looking at his checklist, but every time he lifts the headset with one hand, the Rift lenses come in contact with his forehead. Be very cautious with the Rift lenses, they are delicate! Repeated exposure to sweat or hair or grease can damage the Oculus Rift lenses.

DCS World looks astonishingly great, even if it’s not fully usable. One of the aircraft I selected was the TF-51 Mustang and I really felt how cramped the cockpit is. I also tried a few landings and found them to be a more realistic experience in VR than my previous experience. Instrumentation was a little hard to read because of the lower resolution required of my graphics card. I would love to try all of this again at 1080p.

Conclusion: I won’t play DCS World again in VR until there is some work around or fix for the menus.

 

Read Part 2: I give Flight Simulator X a check ride, go into battle in War Thunder, and discuss the physical and financial issues of Virtual Reality for flight simulators