A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, I was seated in my Obutto Ozone cockpit, with my cheap triple 24 inch LCD monitors and a Thrustmaster Warthog HOTAS. DCS A-10C Warthog was great fun, VR didn't exist, and life was good.
I fell in love with flipping the physical switches on the Thrustmaster HOTAS throttle, but I wanted more. After looking around on the internet, I couldn't find anything that was plug and play and easily available so I decided to build my own.
And down the rabbit hole I went...
Around 2013 I found a user on the ED Forums, Glider_UK, who was laser cutting and selling panels for the
A-10C. I can't remember the actual price, but it was very reasonable, so I bought his A-10C Fuel Panel and the Electrical Power Panel. I chose those panels because they are used every time I started the jet, and they only contained simple on-off toggle switches.
I bought a Leo Bodnar BBI-32 to get it to work with the PC and in the game. That same BBI-32 is still in the cockpit and working today!
The panels I bought arrived as layers of acrylic, the top one white and the rear clear so they could be back-lit. I researched how to back-light them, and eventually decided on placing 3mm LED's in holes I drilled in the rear panel behind the text. The panels were then placed in simple commercial conduit boxes.
Both of the panel boxes were then stuck with double sided tape onto the unused side stick mount on the Obutto Ozone.
I got it working, and life was were great.
Close up of the two panels I had purchased on the forums. You can see the clear rear layer so LED's could shine through.
My first back-light circuit. I still use this method in the cockpit as it is today. This is what it looks like from the rear. The LED's are placed in holes drilled in the rear, placed behind the text. I painted the back of it black to stop light bleeding from the conduit boxes.
The boxes complete. The back-lighting came out well, and matched the Warthog HOTAS Throttle perfectly. I was happy!
The Ozone Obutto Cockpit setup I started with. Three 24 inch BenQ LCD monitors, a HOTAS Warthog, and the two panels i had purchased from Glider_UK on the ED Forums.
The next thing I wanted to add was a main instrument panel. I had been reading on the forums about exporting the gauges to a second monitor, so I bought a cheap Acer 19 inch LCD and bolted it onto the Obutto with a cheap eBay VESA wall mount. I was surprised when it bolted straight up with only a couple of holes being drilled.
This was also my first experience with the program 'Helios', at the time developed by user Gadroc on the ED Forums and brilliant software that I still use to run my cockpit this day. Its also free!
I bought some Thrustmaster Cougar MFD's, and mounted them directly to the screen with adhesive velcro.
The Acer 19 inch LCD mounted and in flight, with the MFDs stuck on with velcro.
This is what Helios does- it exports the data from DCS and displays them on gauges on a seperate monitor. The same program is being used today on the monitor behind my Main Instument Panel. If you had a touch screen monitor, you could even use it to display and push all the buttons in the cockpit!
I decided I wanted to add more switches and buttons, which meant more panels. Instead of adding more boxes with individual panels in them, the plan was to build two large side consoles, that were to be attached to the throttle and side stick mounts already on the sides of the Obutto cockpit.
I used aluminium angle profile to attach the panels together (like a DZUS rail), then I used aluminium sheet to rivet some sides on it. It wasn't going to be full replica A-10C side consoles, it was only going to be one panel width instead of two, and with some unrealistic panels I made up myself that contained the main switches I needed to run and fight the A-10C.
The end game was to be able to start the jet keyboard free, and have the important things like the Landing Gear handle and Master Arm switch.
My idea was that consoles could just lift out of the cockpit, so when i wanted to play FPS shooters the cockpit could go right back to keyboard and mouse mode.
I had my two panels already purchased from Glider_UK on the forums, however all the others I planned to make myself, as cheaply as possible. I found these panel files in PDF format that were released on the forums by user reactorone. They were perfect for what I needed.
To make my first panels, I purchased 3mm thick plastic sheet from a hardware store in Australia (Bunnings). They still sell it today, its about 50 bucks for a large 1200mm sheet and used for pool fencing/screening etc, and comes in white or clear. Be aware that it is PVC and is not ideal for laser cutting/engraving.
I cut this by hand using a jigsaw, using the reactorone files I had printed out using a normal ink-jet printer as templates.
The printed out panel was then sandwiched in between two sheets of the plastic, white on the bottom and clear on the top, then 12mm holes drilled in it using a handheld drill to position the toggle switches. That was it!
No backlighting at the time, just plastic sheet, printed paper and toggle switches. It wasnt pretty but it did the job quite well.
The alumium profile I used to make DZUS rails to add extra panels to the Thrustmaster Warthog. It is bolted to the existing holes for desk mounting the Throttle.
I hand cut some plastic so I could have the fuel panel at a realistic angle in front of the throttle.
The design going together. No modification required to the throttle, and the bolts would pass through the bottom and go into the existing throttle mount on my Obutto ozone.
My first panels. White plastic rear because it was all I had, then ink-jet printed paper designed by forum user reactorone, with clear acrylic on top. No back-lighting was planned. Cheap eBay knobs.
The Landing Gear Panel and Armament HUD Control Panel (AHCP).
The plan was originally to mount these to the side of the front MIP monitor, but I later changed it so this would mount to the side console, forward of the Fuel panel.
My first landing gear lever. The handle is a castor wheel from a piece of furniture! Super complex design...
I changed the initial design of the front of the console to allow me to mount the Landing gear and AHCP panels. The right one has a non realistic panel for the fire handles and Master Caution button.
The consoles in place. Most are still paper templates in this photo, but i liked where it was going!
I decided I wanted to backlight the consoles, so that they matched the Thrustmaster Warthog throttle backlighting, but more importantly I wanted it to just look heaps cooler.
I edited all the reactorone PDF panels to fit my needs, which involved changing the position of some of the switches and using 12 position rotaries instead of expensive 8 position ones.
When I settled on my final design, I sent them off to a local CNC engraving company I found online to be manufactured. I paid an absurd amount of money (from memory about $400 AUD) to have the panels reverse engraved in 1mm thick 'Laser-max' acrylic.
This is a very expensive plastic, but it is very robust and specifically designed for engraving. It is manufactured as a sheet of black, then a layer of clear added to it as well.
The CNC engraving machine then removes the black material where you want your letters, leaving just the clear. 'Reverse engraving' means that the design was mirrored and the letters engraved on the rear of the material. The result is a perfectly flat front.
It's a very professional way of making panels, and I must say- the results were pretty good and I was happy at the time.
They backlit very well, and it did the job. Knowing what I know no I should never have spent that money and I could have used that $400AUD better elsewhere- but you only learn from experience.
The reverse engraved panels. You can see the results were very professional, but later I realised that they were not worth the cost.
Console overview with all the new reverse engrave panels.
The Landing Gear and AHCP mounted. You can see how the alumium profile extends from the front of the Throttle to hold everything in place.
The reverse engrave Landing gear and AHCP panels in place. You can see I also had a flaps gauge engraved as well, as I was planning to make funtional with a servo.
Here is the backlighting method i used to get the new panels illuminated. 3mm LED's placed in specific points behind the text.
A typical backlight ciruit. Its very simple, 3 LEDs in series with a resitor, then they are all connected in parallel. It stays in place when removed from the panel because I used solid core wire.
Here is the front of the panel illuminated, without the top engraved layer on. You can see the white layer i added to recess the nuts on the switches, and to diffuse the LED's.
I was very happy with the backlight results. Matched the Warthog throttle perfectly.
I spent a lot of time reading the forums and looking at other peoples builds, and I realised that I was going to a lot of effort to make these consoles, while still missing out on a lot of functionality.
I had crammed as much into the consoles as I could, but I still didn't have the room to fit everything. Remember, these consoles were only one panel wide, where the real A-10C has two complete rows on each side.
I decided I was going to make it more realistic, and whilst sticking with the same general design I was going to add another row on each side, and make the panels replicas of the A-10C.
I realised that to do that- I would be having to buy another set of very expensive laser engraved panels.
It was about that time that I started researching how to do it myself, and after tossing up between a cheap CNC or Laser Engraver, in mid 2014 I ended up purchasing my own laser on eBay.
There is a more detailed explanation of that thing here.
My K40 Laser in the early days. Click the link above to learn how I upgraded it and made it a very capable little machine!
I began playing around with the laser cutting and engraving MDF prototypes instead of acrylic to save on costs. Lots of panels went in the bin during a long trial and error phase.
This was one of the first times I cut acrylic. I was still using the purchased engraved front panel, however started laser cutting the other layers. It was MUCH more accurate than hand drilling all those holes!
Here is the first panel I successfully finished- the Caution Panel - totally designed by myself and laser cut on my own machine.
Both consoles side by side. The 7 segment displays in the radios were for looks only- remember DCS-BIOS didnt was in its very early days, I dont think I was aware it even existed yet. The CDU was cut from MDF and painted black- I had no idea how I was going to get that working!
After I started making my own panels completely, I soon realised that the Obutto Cockpit was just not sturdy enough to support the full size A-10C consoles. The result was flipping a switch and having the entire thing move, not to mention that when only one console was attached the entire cockpit was out of balance and could flip onto its side.
I decided to make separate consoles, like pieces of furniture, that could just push up against the side of the Obutto cockpit.
Basically, full size replica A-10C consoles. And I figured, while I was at it, I might as well do the full size Main Instrument Panel as well.
I researched and found some plans, and in January 2014 the Obutto Console project was officially retired and disassembled, and the Warthog Project began!
Final backlighting looked pretty good!
These are the last photos I have of the consoles before the panels were all removed and the new cockpit was started!
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