Both my online and offline activity in 2021 has been a disaster. I recall a grand total of 4 times I played online. Hopefully, the new year will allow me more spare time (I’m still looking for a vSquadron with a schedule compatible to mine, btw).
It is with this hope in mind, and a look to the approaching modules, that I picked up again the soldering iron, spanners and screwdrivers and made some modifications to my good old setup.
Updated RIO Setup
Since the release of the F-14, I had my Virpil T-50 located on the left and the Virpil Throttle on the right, although it is meant to be mounted centrally. However, although it is surprisingly comfortable to use, the extension is too long for the purpose of emulating the HCU. Thus, I decided to retire it, building an ad hoc solution centred on my almost 20 years old CH Fighterstick. The result is simpler to use, quicker and provide more buttons and controls, since the ones on the Throttle are now usable.
The only annoying bit is the lack of a dual-stage trigger on the CH Fighterstick.
This is the result:
Although not in this image, the Fighterstick is angled ~15°/20° inwards, so the right hand rests in a comfortable position.
I am not particularly interested in the Apache, I find it quite dull and boring, like the F-15. Don’t get me wrong, they are both superior and amazing aircraft, but I feel they lack the challenge or an older or more limited aircraft, or the charm of flying something different. However, there’s no way we get a Ka-52, a Mi-35, or an Eurocopter Tiger in the short term, so we have to take whatever comes.
The bit of the AH-64 I’m interested in the most is the front seat. The Apache “RIO”, the co-pilot/gunner, can fly the aircraft and has dedicated controls for the weapon systems (which I know little about, I’m looking forward to the manual), and this pose a challenge in terms of controls. How do you get additional controls? Simple: by resuscitating old devices and using two throttles and two joysticks at the same time!
This is where my old Thrustmaster TWCS (recommended, I used ad interim until the release of the Virpil Throttle. Good stuff for 50£) and the CH Fighterstick come into play.
The only question mark is about the MFDs. The ones used by the AH-64 have more buttons than the Viper’s. Worst-case scenario, I can build one ad hoc, or break them down to three MFDs.
The placement of the TWCS is a tricky one. As silly as it looks, I found it works incredibly well if I slide the Virpil Throttle backwards, and place the TWCS between the throttle and the desk mount: it is angled downwards, making the usage very comfortable, plus the Virpil Throttle makes an excellent arm rest. However, it prevents the complete movement of the throttle, which defeats the purpose of having a separate device as the collective. I can move the TWCS out of the way, of course, but can you image such operations whilst flying? Eh, me neither.
A solution may be tearing apart the TWCS, then bolting the body to an enclosure, itself bolted to the bottom of the desk mount. I would lose the sliding axis, but I don’t need it.
The best solution would probably be a collective, then a Virpil Mini Desk Mount to place the TWCS almost at desk-level, and getting rid of the Virpil Throttle entirely.
However, I cannot justify the purchase, since I’m not interested enough in the module, at the moment.
Getting there: the work inside the enclosures
The following are the details of the work done, in case you are interested!
RIO Panel: New Encoders
When I put together the two new panels for the RIO a couple of years ago, I left behind four rotary encoders. Their functions were not implemented in DCS, nor are at the moment, but Heatblur is finally progressing on the CCM side; hence why they may come handy in the future. The second reason is that many functions still cannot be assigned, although tinkering with the LUA files is a workaround (looking at you, gain knob!).
I’m referring to the four knobs located in the left third of the DDD: PD THRLD, JAM/JET and ACM THRLD.
Undusting the CH Fighterstick
This joystick is still amazing almost 20 years after I bought it. The only issue, understandably, was the wear down of the potentiometers, which I solved in less than 10 minutes.
The other half of the job was building a stable support for this joystick, something that can make it feasible for different purposes: F-14 backseat, but also additional controls for the AH-64 and other future modules (and games. I prefer this for Star Citizen rather than the T50). Moreover, the Apache and other aircraft show an almost fully-fledged keyboard, rather than a simple numpad, and I really don’t see the point of building one. So, why not killing three MiG-23s with one Phoenix and incorporate a proper compact keyboard in the setup? (you see what I did here, uh? 🙂 )
The problem of having a fixed solution, is that the grip of the Fighterstick cannot be rotated and can quickly become uncomfortable after a short period of usage. The solution I found is very simple: use the “block” enabling the keyboard to be slewed and use it for the base that holds the Fighterstick in place.
The resulting franken-mount allows adjusting the angle which the Fighterstick is facing, but also slew it vertically if necessary, so it can rest on the chair for example, for greater stability. It also allows the keyboard to be “flattened” in case it is not in use, or if it is simply more accessible in this position.
As a matter of fact, I was temped to buy a Monstertech mount for the CH Fighterstick, but having multiple Virpil devices around since 2017, I know how flexible they can be, and I am very happy with the result.
Truth be told, I then reworked the position of the stick, as you have seen in the images above, to make it more comfortable in certain scenarios.
As mentioned, when is used for the RIO pit, the CH Fighterstick is angled inwards by 15°/20°. When it is used for the Apache, it is orthogonal to the desk.
The only detail that really bothers me is the lack of a dual-stage trigger on the CH Fighterstick. Besides this, it works like a charm!
The Old Setup
The previous article about my setup included an extended overview of each panel and device. In case you want to know more, this is the link to the article.