Beginner panel build, CJ4

Hi all,

has anyone built panels for the CJ4?

I fancy increasing my immersion a bit and although I have two touch panels with Airmanager and a couple of Knobsters I think the best option is real physical buttons etc

I mainly use the CJ4 so I thought as a beginner project to build the main AP panel here…

It seems fairly easy as there are no displays etc. I have a 3d printer and various hand tools etc and I’m good with electronics.

I’m after general advice really - what value do panel builders place on making the buttons look 100%, it seems many use standard panel switches/push buttons so you still gain the operational result but lose a bit on the aesthetics I guess?

I can find buttons with removable lenses where you can fit legends and back light them but it appears the real ones are rubber maybe?

Any tips would be very welcome, especially recommended sources for parts of course and what type of interface board to use, especially as a beginner :slight_smile:

I was just looking at something like that myself this morning. Thingiverse has a few options under “Autopilot” Give that a shot for a starting point

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I made an autopilot panel akin to a 737 about 20?? years ago in the FSX days. Interfacing was much more tricky back then. I even designed and fabricated some breakout boards for the IOcards parallel interface boards. I found some surplus momentary push buttons with clear, removable covers and they were independently backlit. They were still pretty spendy back then. Now there’s Amazon and other Asian vendors that are pretty cheap.

These days it’s way easier with Air Manager and other interface software for an Arduino. I’ve used a few Arduino Megas in recent iterations of my MSFS 2020 cockpit. And these DIN rail mountable breakouts are awesome.

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Thanks, the breakout board is excellent and I would use something like that as it makes alterations so easy. An Arduino Mega is only around £16 so thats pretty good too.

I can source affordable, backlit buttons which can take custom decals easily and I guess for a starter project, not worrying about trying to match the real-world buttons is a major assist.

I’ll put together a parts list to see how it adds up.

Is there a recommended Arduino Sketch for this type of interfacing?

Air Manager has a way to integrate an Arduino (or some other types of microcontrollers too). You can read/write directly from a lua script or you can do a more generic Arduino sketch if you need extra flexibility. Most likely your AP will work well with direct integration in the lua script.

Check out their wiki.

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That looks very useful, thanks for the link

Have a look at MobiFlight. And their Discord server has 6,000 members that offer all kinds of advice on how to make buttons and panels.

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Thanks, I have a feeling AirManager will work as I already have that connected.

I’m just putting together some bits to make a mock-up of maybe one knob and a switch or two - If I can get that working then I should be good to go.

I have the Arduino already and have begun learning a little C++ which looks easy enough even if its not really used when AirManager hookup is used I think? I like learning new stuff so it’s all good.

Maybe someone can confirm but from looking at the original plane pictures and messing in FS2020 with a Knobster, all the rotary encoders on the AP control panel are single-action encoders with push-button i.e. no dual-axis encoders?

That’s right, single encoder w/push, although CRS1 CRS2 and SPEED have a collar at the base that makes them look similar to the dual encoders. I’m currently building the Flight-Guidance Panel for use with MobiFlight and an Arduino mega clone. No coding required just matching offsets, which the latest MobiFlight ui makes very simple (relatively speaking). Just waiting for a shipment of lighted momentary tactile buttons from China to finish the cad model and final prints. Buttons are a hard plastic composite material. I’m using my resin printer for those since they’ll need to have a smoother finish.


That looks great, did you print the panel in one piece? I only have an Ender 3 so it will likely be three parts joined.

I’ll be using AirManager hopefully as I already have that running.

Buttons I’m still looking for, without a resin printer I’m thinking it will be easier to just use some illuminated buttons that can take custom wording. It won’t be as authentic but will at least give me a starting point to play with.

Thanks Dave. I have an Ender 3 as well and yes it was designed in three sections to fit the E3. I’m curious about AirManager’s ability to control screen dimming on the four displays. When I pop out the two pilot’s displays using MSFS right ALT + left mouse, I can’t control the dimming of the pop out, only the non-popped display.

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I helped with the Simstrumentation CJ4 instruments but it’s been a while since I’ve used them. I think we added an overlay with adjustable opacity in the bezel instruments that mimics screen dimming. If not, it wouldn’t be very hard to add it. I’ve been thinking about doing that for the TBM 850 instruments we just released as well.

Interesting work around using opacity. :thinking:

That’s how I did all of the panel/instrument lighting stuff in the TBM instruments and it’s how the CJ4 ambient dimming and lighting works as well. It’s not perfect but it works pretty well.

Very nice :slight_smile:

By extrapolation from various pics, if I leave off the co-pilots FD button and the CRS2 knob, the panel would be around 20" long and 2.75" high??

I did try the panel dimming in AirManager and couldn’t get it to work, not yet anyway.

The panel dimming in native Air Manager is only for X-Plane. I think.

For dimming/ambient effects in the CJ4 use the generic ambient dimmer instrument. It’s on our Simstrumentation GitHub and I’m pretty sure it’s on the SI “store” as well.

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Thanks, I forgot to check that :slight_smile:

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Mine is 19 3/8" long and 2 3/8 high for the full Flt Guidance Panel. I think my left and right panels are slightly wider than they should be by maybe 1/4-3/8" each. So the full panel may be less than 19".

Thanks, thats pretty close really, I was extrapolating based on the dimensions of the Collins FMC panels as that was the only known dimension I could find :slight_smile: