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Interview: CPflight - Claudio Azimonti


Interview: CPflight - Claudio Azimonti

Conducted by Raymond Andersen



About CPFlight And You

Tell us a little bit about yourself and the sorts of things you have done or enjoyed besides flight simulation?


I'm 55 years old and I live on Como Lake in the north of Italy. My work history began many years ago. Following the technical school, I started straight to work at a multinational company, initially as a "field" technician, later as electronic designer in the intrinsic safety equipment for process control. This experience lasted for many years; afterwards I was employed for a few years at a company that specialized in electronic design for third parties. Still I worked as an electronic designer, but in these circumstance I have had the opportunity to operate on the product engineering and production process too. Subsequently, with my partner Paolo, the CPflight venture has begun.






My interests have always been many. I love the music in all its forms, from classical to the jazz, to the wild rock. For many years I played the piano (although the results were not excellent), but now due to commitment in the workplace I no longer have the time to dedicate to this instrument.


I have practiced some sports rather thoroughly, mainly skiing and swimming. I like sailing (I have a small boat on the Como Lake); I like travel; diving (I have a CMAS second degree patent) while, in contrast to the majority of Italians, I do not follow and I never practiced football.


When did you first get involved with flight simulation and what got you interested in it?


The interest for flight simulator has begun at the time of FS4 back in the 90s. The initial approach was intended as a videogame, then I began to consider a little more serious than just a game. Unfortunately, always for the reasons above, I no longer have the time to dedicate to flying and the rare sessions on FS are essentially for testing products. I'm no longer able to make a decent manual landing...


Do you have any real world aviation experience, fly any planes, or own any aircraft?


My real world aviation experience has been limited to the ultralight, many years ago. An accident as a result of a stall due to a lack of engine during the takeoff (fortunately, with minor consequences) it drove me away from this activity. That was just the beginning of ultralights and the equipment at that time was really "pioneering", sometimes I still wonder how did we fly on those jalopy. Now I still like very much to fly, but only as a passenger... and on reliable aircraft.


Tell us about CPflight - who founded the company, when, where, why, maybe a little history?


During my time at the electronic design company I met Paolo. For some years we worked in close contact, I took care of the hardware while Paolo of the software.


During our cooperation we discovered a common interest for FS and, along with this, the limits of controlling all the avionics with the mouse.


In 2002 we made our first MCP for our own use. This thing had aroused some interest among FS enthusiasts and, as a result of numerous requests, in the 2003 we began to produce the MCP for other people establishing the "CPflight".


How many people does CPFlight employ and what are the key rolls?


We are a very small company, four people: I take care of the hardware design, purchases/sales and most of the management. Paolo takes care of the software/firmware, the customer support and oversees the production (internal and contractors). Luisa carries assemblies and Laura carries the paperwork (invoicing, shipping and so on) and helps me a bit in the relations with customers.


Lately we are moving internally many of the activities that were committed to the contractors, so we'll have to employ someone more in the next months, but this is not a good time for these choices in Italy.










Our history has always been characterized by heavy brakes, we are in Italy and this is a substantial limitation for anyone who wants to undertake business.


We have a saying here, I do not know if I can well translate in English, substantially the content is:


"In any country two young men come together in a garage with an idea and in few months their company is listed on the stock exchange. In Italy two young men come together in a garage with an idea and in few days it comes the USL and makes them shut the company" (USL is one of the tens of authority that oversee assets).


What is CPflight's mission and vision?


We started CPflight with the intent to provide to simmers a minimum of hardware to add to the classic joystick to minimize the use of the mouse. In a few years the market needs have grown a lot in terms of product variety, functionality, reliability and quality.


Our aim is always to comply the requirements of customers. From our first MCP in 2003 many things have changed, our mission is to do all the possible to meet the demand.



How do you choose your next project - inquiry from flight simmers, market research or other?


There is not a real choice; there is a big waiting list that lies from long time. The intention is to reach to produce the more parts as possible as regards the avionics and wherever there is an electronic. Unfortunately we don't succeed to dedicate much to the design. The production, procurement of components and parts, the customer support and the whole management absorbs all the resources.


What do you find to be the most challenging and interesting aspect of a project and why?


Each project is characterized by multiple challenges. In this case the complication is that you cannot freely decide about how to set a layout, whether to use a knob or a button for a certain function or where to place a certain switch or knob for a certain function. You have to respect as much as possible the original. This is not always easy considering that you cannot use the original parts because in most cases they are unavailable or, if available, they have unaffordable cost. So it is necessary to find the technical solutions to reproduce the original with cost and methods applicable for our target.


Another challenge is related to the scale economy. Even if this field has a fairly significant growth, our yearly production is in the order of a few hundred of pieces and in some case only a few dozen. This has a major impact on the final cost. A component it comes to cost as well five or even ten times if you buy a few hundred pieces rather than the tens of thousands.


More so, this has an impact in custom parts. If there is the necessity to realize a mold for an injection molded part, you have to consider to share the investment on a low quantity of pieces, so the cost of the single pieces it become ten times its value.


This involves a great effort to find different production methods trying to not lose the quality of the final product.










What is your favorite development and why?


Maybe there is a connection with the fact that it was the first product that we have achieved, but my favorite development is the MCP (Mode Control Panel). Even if in ten years it has been heavily modified (like it should be for the constant improvement of any product), it is the part on which we made the initial main choices like the daisy chain strategy, the firmware upgrade capability and all the choices that have made this product pliable and always current. At a distance of ten years there are customers that perhaps have changed so many phones, but that still continue to use the "old" RS232 MCP with satisfaction.


For all your hardware there is also needed some software - do you make this in-house or is it external people who does that?


The most important part in this area is the firmware (for people who are not familiar with these things, is the part of the software that carry inside the hardware itself).


Regarding the software, all what we need is the drivers to allows the communication with FS and the used simulation software add-on.


Both the two are made in-house, this because we must have a full control in this area to be independent in case of upgrade. There are changes on the operating system, on the simulation software add-on or simply we need to add a new function or a new module; we need to be free to do this.


Of course, to do this we need information about the specific variable by the software add-on developer when this variable is not included (or different) in SimConnect or FSUIPC. This has sometimes been a big problem as, especially in the past, these things were not considered (or sometime kept hidden) by some developers. Luckily things have changed and lately the developers make available an SDK for their software.


A different speech is related to some simulation software that integrates a built-in driver for CPflight (like Project Magenta or PROSIM); in this case we provide the SDK and are the software owner that takes care of the communication, eventual upgrades and so on.


Your newest product, the Boeing B737NG overhead panel in scale 1/1 is a pure masterpiece - how do you start the process when wanting to create such a complex unit?


In truth, we produce the B737NG overhead panel from at least two years, but it has been released only recently. This is due to two main reasons: the first is that when we started with the OVH project, we already had a list of demands, and others have accumulated during the development, so there were many overhead already sold before it was announced.


The second is related to the cost. During the developing they have appeared on the market some overhead with a price that, with our quality standards, does not even cover the cost of the components. Many people base their opinion only on the internet photos and compare products as if they are the same thing. This has put in doubt the development of this product because people have began to ask for a certain price range that we could not have.


We do not want go down to compromise because our target is not the price, but the product, so, after a certain period of hesitancy we had resumed the project.


In any case I want to remark that I do not want to criticize other products or other manufacturers. It is right that there are products of different kinds and price ranges, much worse and much better than ours, simply I do not agree that they are compared like if they were the same product.


Which add-ons does the A320 FCU support with standard CPflight drivers - I am thinking about maybe the Airbus from either Aerosoft or Black Box Simulations or other?


You support most flightsim platforms, but are there any that you don't support and if yes, then why?


I would want to answer the two questions together. The compatibility with the various add-ons has been a sore point since the beginning.


My hope has always been that it is defined an official standard for all those who develop software and hardware for FS. Unfortunately this has never happened, in some cases they are used the SimConnect commands, in some case the FSUIPC offset, in some case a software add-on require its own data format and in some circumstances a mix of the above. To develop the compatibility requires that the software developer provide an SDK that allows access to the data. This does not always happen or, in some cases, the low diffusion of the add-on does not justify the engagement.


If there was an univocal standard, the compatibility with any add-on would be intrinsic. Unfortunately it is not so.



Which product is your flagship and why?


What are your top three selling products and why do you think they are the top the?






The MCP737. It is the core of the system and it is the first piece that a cockpit builder acquires. A greater predilection is for the PRO version, but the EL version is much appreciated too. Usually when a customer purchases the MCP, afterwards he buys one or two EFIS, then NAV and COM radios and so on. However there are also customers that do not build a cockpit and only need a minimum of hardware to accompany a joystick, so in this case the choice is the MCP737 with one EFIS737 and the desktop bracket. So the best-selling products are the MCP and EFIS, both versions, PRO and EL.










What makes your products unique from other hardware on the market?


Our experience comes from the industry, so our approach to the project is intended to create a product which can be manufactured in a certain quantity. Naturally in this area there are no numbers comparable to a consumer product, but wherever possible our study extends to the production methods, to the component reliability and to any factor oriented to give a good product at a reasonable price.



Are you planning on also making the overhead panel for the Airbus since you already have the A320 FCU?


At the beginning we had good intentions about to produce many modules for both the 737 and the A320. Unfortunately we had underestimated the effort required for the customers support, the requests for compatibility (initially our target was to support the default FS aircraft and PM only). Often we have provided support more related to the Windows OS or FS problems rather than to our products. Sometimes we have provided technical support anew to the third or fourth person that have purchased the same RS232 MCP in the various steps in the used market.


This has taken and still continues to subtract resources which could be used on the projects, on development and on the product improvement.






In what ways do you see development changing in the future?


I believe that, like in every area, changes are continuous and gradual. Products, development process and production methods begin their growth since the first piece. What I hope is what I mentioned above, a standard unique for all the data involved, so that anyone can develop anything, hardware or software for the flight simulation environment using the same language. This would greatly simplify things.


What would you like people to know about you, your work or products that we have not covered?


What I would like people to know is not about me or CPflight products, but it is something related to all this product area. Sometimes people approach the building of a cockpit armed with a great enthusiasm, but without adequate information. This implies in these cases an excessive support request that cannot be sustained.


We always try to do everything possible, but I would like people to know that each hour dedicated to this subject is an hour subtracted from the development of new products or to the improvement of existing products.


Ours products (and like ours, the products of other similar manufacturers) cannot be considered as a consumer product like a phone or a TV, but as a component which inserts in a field still wide open and devoid of standard, so the use is totally left to the customer predisposition and skill.


Claudio Azimonti

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