Flip Real Switches, Turn Knobs, Push Buttons!
GoFlight Brings Real World Cockpit Action to Your Flight Simulator
By Bill Greenberg
I had just departed my home airport, Minute Man Airfield (6B6), into heavy rain and low clouds after getting a void time clearance from ATC. I had already set my transponder with the squawk code given to me in my clearance and had Boston Approach all ready to go in the standby window of my Com 1 radio. So, I hit the flip-flop button to make it active and checked in with ATC. I knew I would be heading for the ILS 29 at Hanscom (KBED). I set the ILS frequency in my Nav 1 radio and spun the OBS dial to match up with the final approach course. I got vectored around a bit, but pretty soon I heard “N8385U, you are 14 miles east. Turn right to heading 265, descend and maintain 1800 feet. Cleared ILS 29. Maintain 1800 until established. Contact Hanscom tower on 118.5.”
I turned the heading knob on the autopilot to the correct heading, then turned the altitude knob down to 1800. I spun the knob on my Com radio to tune in the tower and hit the flip-flop button to make that frequency active. I was immediately cleared to land. I hadn’t flown in actual conditions in a while so I was a bit rusty. The autopilot really made things easy, at least until I intercepted the glideslope and started hand flying after pushing the disengage button on the autopilot.
GF-166 Versatile Radio Panel Module
Used to simulate radios in the sim cockpit, the GF-166 is designed to look and operate like many of today’s real-world NAV/COMM counterparts.
GF-LGT Landing Gear and Trim Control Module
Realistically controls your aircraft landing gear, pitch trim, and flaps settings. Gear position is shown on the panel using three dual-color LEDs, which illuminate green when gear is down and locked, red when gear is in transition, and turn off when gear is up and stowed.
GF-T8 8 Toggle Switch/Indicator Module
Has 8 programmable toggle switches and LED indicators. You choose the functions to assign, using GoFlight's GFConfig software, and label the switches using the MagLabels included with each unit.
GF-RP48 Pushbutton & Rotary Switch Module
The 8-button Switch Module allows the selection of popular functions using the buttons plus the ability to "dial in" functions such as altimeter, modes, ranges, etc... using the rotary knobs.
GF-P8 Pushbutton Control Module
Has 8 programmable pushbuttons and LED indicators. You choose the functions to assign.
GF-45PM Display Panel Module
Puts all the flexibility and power of the standalone GF-45 unit into a rack-mountable panel configuration. It can function as a COM, NAV or ADF radio, a transponder, a general-purpose instrument panel control, or a 6-function autopilot. Used with a GF-P8 module, any of these functions can be selected in-flight, making all avionics functions available using a single GF-45! Add more GF-45PM units to your GF-AC to build a complete radio stack.
GF-MCP Advanced Autopilot Module
Offers realistic simulation of a wide range of autopilot devices typically found in general aviation and commercial aircraft. Using the GF-MCP, it's simple to set the nav course, heading, speed, vertical speed, and altitude of your simulated aircraft. For sim pilots who fly the heavies, the GF-MCP has advanced features like airspeed hold, speed readout in either knots indicated airspeed or MACH number, autothrottle sync capability, and a disengage control bar. Seven lighted pushbuttons are used to control autopilot engagement and various modes of flight from takeoff to touchdown.
GoFlight's GFConfig software is easy to install and a breeze to use.
It recognizes all your GoFlight hardware and makes it simple for you to select the functions you want in your simulated cockpit. Drag-and-drop function labels and easy-to-recognize drop-down selections take the guesswork out of customizing your setup.
My heart rate went up as I kept the needles centered and anxiously peered through the clouds trying to get a glimpse of the runway. My palm got sweaty on the yoke as I was bounced around, seeing only gray in front of me. Finally, I saw the runway lights! I immediately throttled back and hit the flap switch to lower the flaps. I was just about to land when I heard what sounded like a telephone ringing. I glanced at the console in alarm, then realized that it actually was a telephone ringing. I wasn’t sitting in my Cessna Skyhawk – I was sitting in front of my computer and next to GoFlight’s Flight Deck Console.
With GoFlight's USB console and control modules plus Flight Simulator 2004: A Century of Flight -- sim flying really is as real as it gets. And, I'm speaking from real world experience. I'm an instrument rated private pilot with over 500 hours, most of which were flown in my 1965 Cessna Skyhawk. Despite that, I still have yet to consistently land a computer as smoothly as I usually land my Skyhawk.
A few days earlier, I had received a large box containing the latest GoFlight Flight Deck Console. I eagerly ripped it open to find several large pieces of black sheetmetal, 11 smaller boxes, and a 7-port USB hub. Assembly and installation is a breeze, and the configuration software is very easy to use. About 15 minutes later I had the shell of the Flight Deck Console together and it was time to start making decisions. The 11 smaller boxes contained the guts of the system:
- 2 GF166A’s (NAV/COM)
- 1 GF-P8 (Pushbutton switches)
- 1 GF-LGT (Landing gear and flaps)
- 1 GF-45 (Multi-function)
- 1 GF-MCP (Autopilot)
- 1 GF-T8 (Toggle switches)
- 4 blanks
Each component is nicely finished and well put together with excellent quality workmanship, fit and finish. The gear/flap and autopilot modules have some of the nomenclature printed on them while most of the other modules have spaces to stick the magnetic labels GoFlight provides so you can customize the functionality you decide to program into each switch. A pre-printed magnetic sheet can be easily cut apart for whatever you choose to use.
You get to choose exactly how you want to set everything up. The modules are interchangeable. Each one attaches firmly to the case using 2 thumbscrews. Each module connects to the computer through its built in USB cable. You connect everything to the multi-port USB hub that GoFlight provides. All of the cables are stored neatly inside the case with the USB hub with only the power cord and 1 USB connection coming out the back to hook up to the computer.
I decided to set up the modules in the order you see in the screen shot (right). That way, my NAV/COM’s were at the top with pushbuttons just below, all of which were mounted on the part of the case tipped back at a 45° angle. The landing gear and flaps module was then mounted vertically. On the horizontal part of the case, I put in one spacer to leave room for the landing gear handle, then I installed the GF-45, the autopilot, and the toggle switches. I used 3 blanks to finish off the case, but if I had any more modules I could have put them there.
After setting up the hardware I downloaded the latest version of the software from the GoFlight web site. The components came with diskettes, but I always like to ensure I have the latest version.. The software recognizes the installed modules and presents a nice graphic interface to program all of the buttons and switches. Each button or switch has a dropdown menu with options available. The only inconvenience is that it is not possible to program any module while Flight Simulator is running. If you decide to change something you have to shut down Flight Simulator, run GFConfig, then re-start Flight Simulator.
It took some trial and error to figure out the best way to program the switches, but I ended up with a console that very closely mimicked my 1965 Cessna Skyhawk. Well, I don’t have nearly as nice an autopilot as the GF-MCP.
The top GF-166 is programmed to be my Com radios and works just like the KX-155’s flip-flop radios installed in my Skyhawk. The knobs on the right tune the frequency; the button between the two frequency windows flip-flops the frequency into the active window. The second GF-166 is programmed to be my Nav radios and set up the same way as the first with one addition – the right button and knob are set to tune the OBS.
Below those are eight pushbutton switches on the GF-P8. After playing around with various functions I decided that the best thing to do with those was to program each switch as a response to ATC. That way I could tune the radios and “reply” back to ATC very easily. It sure beats hitting a key on the keyboard to respond. Each switch has a light and a space to put a magnetic label.
The landing gear and flap module didn’t require any setup and just worked out of the box. The trim wheel is a little smaller than the one in my Skyhawk, but it does the trick and is a lot easier to use than a button on my CH Pro yoke. The landing gear lever has a big round knob at the end and has nice action to it. There are 3 lights to the right of the knob to show the status of the landing gear. The flaps handle works the same way as my Skyhawk flaps work – hold it up or down for as long as you want the flaps to move and stop when the flaps are set where you want them. The switch springs back to the center when released.
The next module, the GF-45, is the most versatile and was one of the original modules offered by GoFlight. It consists of two LED readouts and two knobs. I decided that since I had modules to do everything else that I wanted I would use the GF-45 as my transponder. This works great and is again much easier to use than setting your transponder onscreen with your mouse.
The autopilot is amazing and far beyond anything I’ve used in a real airplane. Those flightsimmers who fly modern jets will find it familiar, as its features are very similiar to those of the FS2004 default airliners for example. You can set your course, heading, speed, vertical speed, and altitude. You can even do approaches with it. I have to get one of these for my Skyhawk!
Each autopilot function has its own LED window, knob, and on/off button. For example, to set my heading I just turned the knob until the LED readout matched what I wanted, then I hit the Heading Hold button. To turn, simply turn the knob to the desired new heading. There is also an autopilot on/off switch and a large “Disengage” toggle switch to quickly shut off the autopilot.
The last module I tested was the GF-T8 toggle switches. I didn’t find this module quite as useful as the other ones for my Skyhawk, although I used some of the switches to control the engine start and various lights. On other, more complicated airplanes these switches will have more uses. Each switch has a light and a space to put a magnetic label, just like the GF-P8 pushbutton module. This module will get a real workout for those of you who like to fly the heavies.
The GoFlight Flight Deck Console is a terrific addition to my flight simulator set-up. In conjunction with a good yoke and rudder pedals I don’t think you can get closer to the real thing without spending thousands of dollars on an FAA-approved Flight Training Device. It's a good way to stay current. And, for pilots who don't own their own airplane -- it's a lot less expensive than spending $150 per hour to rent an airplane.
Also, check out GoFlight's GF-TQ6 throttle quadrant in a separate review here