• How To...Make A Helicopter Joystick From A CH Yoke

    How To...Make A Helicopter Joystick From A CH Yoke

    By Steve Lowe (31 October 2006)

    Before describing why I took the hacksaw to my CH Yoke, I would first like to say what a fantastic piece of equipment the CH Yoke is in the way nature intended it to be. My yoke is now two years old and was bought for the sole purpose of helping me to gain my PPL, which I have now achieved. I am about to begin difference training on a Piper Cub which has a conventional stick and also, if I get the chance, I'd like to fly a helicopter (if I win the lottery).

    Therefore I needed a stick which had a bit more weight and realism. I was fortunate enough recently to have had two flights in helicopters, one of which was a Lynx Gazelle and the other an R44. I couldn't help but notice in the Gazelle how little movement the pilot exerted on the stick in all modes of flight. The end of the joystick was loosely held between the pilot's thumb and first two fingers, his wrist was laying casually on his right hand leg just in front of his crown jewels. I noticed the way the stick came up from the cockpit floor under the chair curving tightly round the pilot's seat. This is crucial to getting the right movement from the joystick. It's no good sticking out of the floor by your feet in front of the pedals. Due to the cost of anything available on the market which would emulate this it seemed a good idea to chop up the CH Yoke I had and adapt that.

    The only things I had to buy which weren't already in the shed were 6 x 90 degree angle brackets bought from the local hardware shop for a few pence. The tubing used to make the other parts is just standard UK 15mm household copper plumbing tube and compression joints, and a 12 inch piece of 22mm copper pipe for the base section of the stem, which was put in a vice in the middle and slightly flattened before drilling a 6mm hole for the bolt through the middle to start the whole thing off. As for the cables, the one for the hand piece came from an old modem cable (it had 7 single strands, I needed 6), and the one from the base was an old hi-fi separates cable - two pairs of co-ax, which gave me the four wires needed. The wiring on top of the box looks a lot busier than it really is. There are only actually four cables to be extended, and the rest of the wires between the two pots just needed extending and I just cut them in the middle and extended them with some thicker cable (purely because it was the only thing I had to hand). I then just drilled a few random holes in the wood and poked the soldered ends of the cables into the holes just to hold them apart and in place. When looked at it gives the impression, though, that the wires are going through the top of the box somewhere, whereas in actual fact the two wires are one and the same.


    When cutting out the plate at the top for the brackets, mark out your plate and leave two bits not completely cut so you can bolt on all your brackets, cut holes, etc. Then just cut the tabs out and you should have a nice tight-fitting gimble. You will then need to remove the center section and trim off approximately 10mm each side for clearance. I then bent two pieces of steel to make two stops, one for each side. Don't make the elongated center hole larger than it needs to be - this stops forward and aft travel exceeding what you require (which is about 3 inches each way from center). I used steel washers as bearings although nylon would be much better if you have some, and I've yet to put some silicon grease on them (I just used olive oil). You can tighten the bolts or loosen them as you wish. Due to the long leverage on the joystick there are no sticky points. Mine works very smoothly.

    Next, the most time consuming and awkward part. Once you've dismantled the old yoke (being sure you're never going to use it again), you're going to have to cut and tag roughly 22 different coloured wires. If you don't get this bit right you'll spend hours trying to sort out where you went wrong when you come to trying to connect it all up. There are somewhere in the region of 44 connections which need soldering and the liklihood of finding cables with matching colors are highly remote. I tagged all mine using masking tape and double checked everything before taking the soldering iron to it. And I only had half a bottle of wine instead of a whole one.


    The bending of the copper tube to go round the seat is easily done with a pipe bender, though I didn't have one so I did it over my knee (and it looks a bit the worse for wear for it). Removing the potometers was simple enough and just a bit of conjuring was needed to mount them in the same manner as they were being used in the CH Yoke up against the joystick (see photos).

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