VR flying without a mouse (DIY hardware panel for finding the controls in the blind)

Using a mouse to operate the cockpit knobs, switches and buttons when flying is an immersion killer for me. The remedy – the hardware panel, built with VR in mind:

  • controls (knobs/encoders, switches, buttons) placed well apart to allow finding them in blind,
  • dual rotary encoders with pushbuttons (expensive but worth every penny) used, allowing 5 inputs in one hand position (outer ring CW/CCW, inner ring CW/CCW, pushbutton),
  • controls located left, right and bottom of the yoke to allow locating them easier, using both hands,
  • different shapes and sizes of switches and buttons used to allow identifying them by touch.

The panel (together with Honeycomb Alpha Yoke and Saitek throttle) covers most of the buttons and switches in light GA plane like C172 classic. However in my case the placement of controls is based on the Tecnam P2008 JC MkII I fly in the real world to allow muscle memory consistency between simulated and real world flying.

When flying in VR with Reverb G2 I bring my desktop (resolution lowered to 1280x720 for smaller size in the cockpit and better legibility) to my virtual cockpit (using Folow Me function in the WMR Cliff House) and I place it on my virtual knees as the oversized kneeboard with following apps:

  • SkyDemon VFR navigation app which I use also for real world flying,
  • pdf viewer for charts and checklists,
  • OneNote to make notes when flying with Wacom tablet and pen, Wacom tablet also doubles as touchpad allowing to operate the apps on the desktop by touch.

Pictures of the panel:

The shape of the panel is a bit weird, for purpose:

  • allows easy mounting and unmounting on the Alpha yoke,
  • allows addition of Behringer X-Touch Mini (8 rotary knobs with pushbuttons + 16 pushbuttons which can be multiplied x2 (two banks) when I need more controls to operate complex plane,
  • or allows addition of touch display with AirManager for non-VR flying (I’m still hoping to be able to use 3 monitor setup for non-VR flying – in my opinion better suited for IFR vs VR).

Panel with Behringer X-Touch Mini module:

Panel with AirManager on 10" touch display for non-VR flying:

The parts used:

  • LeoBodnar 64-button board:

http://www.leobodnar.com/shop/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=94&products_id=300

  • LeoBodnar dual rotary encoders:

http://www.leobodnar.com/shop/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=98_75&products_id=196

  • some switches and buttons from any electronics internet store.

LeoBodnar’s components are very high quality but also expensive as the customs + taxes must be covered separately (UK no longer a part of EU), in my case (Poland) the customs + taxes amounted for ca. 30% on top of the price.

FSUIPC is used for accessing some more exotic controls (e.g. transponder modes), with LUA script (available on FSUIPC support forum) allowing FSUIPC handling more than 32 buttons on singe HID device (e.g. joystick – In my case the LeoBodnar’s board).

Inspiration - real world Tecnam P2008JC Mk II

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Nicely done! :+1:
In the early days I would draw up the different radios using paint.net. I would have crosses where holes were to be drilled and cut. Then I would print it out on full page sticker sheets. Then adhere it to a piece of clear plastic. did a whole radio panel like that. I may have the original prototype here somewhere. Ill look for it.
Found it. It was mounted to a small monitor.

This time I focused on making the panel easy to operate when wearing the VR headset. I can’t see the panel then, so how it looks is not as important vs how it “feels” (sense of touch and muscle memory/proprioception).

My older panel with neat rows of encoders, buttons, switches and LCDs covering the rectangular panel didn’t work well in VR, I often reached for the wrong button, switch or single (vs. dual) encoder.

This inspired me to build this oddly shaped panel, utilising dual encoders with pushbuttons as the most important component. When I grab one I can set the whole and decimal part of the frequency and then swap it between standby and active without letting my hand go, just with one dual encoder with pushbutton. So the dual encoder replaces three controls: 2 encoders + pushbutton.

I’m hoping that muscle memory will help me with mine. I wanted it to cover pretty much everything in the steam gauge C172. You’re right about it being a bunch of knobs. I’m hoping that by grouping them and using different type knobs for each group will make it easier to navigate.
If worse comes to worse I’ll just sell it and start on a new one.

Yeah, sometimes I find more fun in building stuff vs. actually flying :wink:
The positive thing in VR when using hardware panels: elimination of issues with mouse focus movement between the sim (no need for the mouse to operate the sim/plane) and the virtual desktop moved to VR (mouse nicely operating the apps on the desktop). So no need for Alt-Tab to move between the sim and the apps on the virtual desktop.

Good stuff. Maybe someday I would like to build something like that for sure.
At the moment, I am getting very good using the keyboard while being VR blind.

The build time for somebody like me, with very limited DIY skills and tools:

  • Design - 3-5h
  • Searching for and ordering the parts - 3-5h
  • Building cardboard prototype - 3h
  • Building the wodden box - 5h
  • Installing the encoders, switches, buttons, controller board - 1h
  • Soldering (switch side) and terminating with connectors (board side) the cables - 6h
  • Determining the FSUIPC offsets and the way to handle under FSUIPC the buttons above 32 with adapting example LUA script (I never heard of LUA before) - 5h
  • Final controls assignment in FSUIPC or MFS2020 and testing - 1h

TOTAL build time: ca. 30h

TOTAL cost ca. 400 euro

The biggest cost components:

  • 6 x LeoBodnar dual concentric encoders with pushbotton, knobs and soldering board - ca. 150 euro - worth every penny - 5 functions in one hand position - great for VR
  • Shipment, customs and taxes for importing LeoBodnar components from UK - ca. 80 euro
  • LeoBodnar 64-button board - ca. 40 euro

Cheaper alternatives to LeoBodnar components are available but I wanted seamlees operation with dual concentric encoders, from single vendor with flight sim experience.

Given the result (flying without touching the mouse, easy accees in blind to all the controls) - I consider it a good investment.

How do you get the encoder signals into MSFS? What software has to be run to have the LeoBodnar show up as a control surface?

Encoders are not analogue control surfaces (axes). LeoBodnar’s board acts as HID device (e.g. joystick) with 64 buttons directly assignable in the sim. Each dual encoder is visible as:

  • button 1 - outer ring CCW
  • button 2 - outer ring CW
  • button 3 - inner ring CCW
  • button 4 - inner ring CW
  • button 5 - pushbutton.

Encoders have detents when turned, each detent equals button press.

For more exotic functions (e.g. park brake or transponder modes, carburator heat) I use FSUIPC offsets, but for main functions (e.g. radio frequencies) no additional software is required.

How did you integrate the Behringer X-Touch? As far as I know, this device only processes midi signals. How do you connect this to the Flight Simulator? Have a Behringer device here myself (BCR 2000). Would be cool to adjust the heading or frequencies …

Thanx

Thanx for this info + link :+1: Will test it …

In non-VR Behringer X-Touch Mini works nicely. For VR is a bit tough to identify the knobs in blind, by touch only - this is why I designed my own VR panel with dual rotary encoders (5 functions in one hand position) placed well apart.
If you would like to use Behringer in VR, consider adding some suff (velcro? glue some oddly shaped plastic?) to the knobs/buttons for a touch identification.

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The propwash dual encoders are less costly than the Leo’s. His stuff is pretty expensive overall.
3-5 hours design time??? It took me that long just to get a general idea of what I wanted and it’s rough placement on the panel. At least another 6 to “build” the faceplate for the laser and CNC work. Another 30 or so to design the underlying support structure and enclosure. 50 hours of 3D print time. 8 hours to program Mobiflight for 129 inputs. I won’t even be ready to wire the whole thing up until next weekend.
Sometimes I miss plain old wood and a drill…

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