Inside The Machine
Ending just past the glare shield, the flat gray paint and smooth panel lines beckoned to me, almost daring me to jump in. Removing the glare shield to reveal the heart of this $68,000 piece of hardware, Miller proudly showed off his handiwork. “I wired this one myself.” he beamed. The F/A-18E Cockpit has more than 400 different switches, knobs, and levers, all of which are fully functional and can be jumpered to perform different commands via the red wires you see in the picture.
These terminated in two USB connectors that ran into a laptop computer running the software. This is accomplished by using the Plasma V2 card, built by Beta Innovations, a Canadian company specializing in simulation interfaces. The Plasma V2, although analog, can be wired for 148 commands, but is capable of performing only 33 at a time; however, you can wire more than one in sequence to give you more commands to program using their proprietary software, Keyboard Studio.
Beta makes a real monster, the Gamma Ray 256, which as the name implies, can manage 256 different commands on one card and it is a digital input card. Miller envisions the next cockpit carrying two of these so that every little switch you flip in the cockpit will actually do something. Both of these cards interface with USB 2.0 and the proud designer eventually wants a single USB cable coming from the unit that controls everything. Miller has chosen to shy away from using the RS-232 standard in PC connectors, and solely use USB for the purpose of making the cockpit as simple as possible to use. The software to program every switch in the cockpit literally takes five minutes to learn. Another nice aspect with this ease of use is that anyone with zero flight training can, with the patience needed to learn the simulation title from a desktop perspective, use the cockpit effectively and get the full use of all the functionality it offers.
The computer that he intends to drop in the next one will use dual-core Xeon processors each with 2.6GHz of raw computing power and the latest and greatest nVidia graphics card. The panels are completely backlit and green fluor tubes are recessed under the canopy railing and cast an eerie glow over the panels, especially with the lights in the room off.