I got into 3D printing very late in this project, so not much of it was designed or built with 3D printing in mind.
My first foray into using 3D printed parts was when I ordered some A-10C Knobs from a Shapeways store called A-10C Warthog Supplies made by ED forums user Deadman.
Shapeways is an online 3D printing service that is reasonably priced, and uses very high end printers that will give near perfect results. You can select multiple different materials, including metals. Anyone up for a $6000 USD solid gold knob in their cockpit? - Shapeways can do it.
I purchased only two of these 'Arrow Knobs' in 'White Versitile Plastic' to start off with and I was very impressed with what I received.
I eventually made more orders and ended up with:
They are great, and most of them above remain in my cockpit today.
I did however run into some setbacks when I installed them. They come with mounting holes sized for the real aircraft rotarys, which have a smaller shaft. This meant i had to drill them out to suit my cheap rotary switches or potentiometers.
Sounds pretty simple at the time, but even with a clamp and bench press drill, i found it very difficult to either get the hole perfectly centered, or to clamp it firmly in the press to drill the hole without damaging the knob.
Some failed and were unusable, but most made the cut.
I made another order, this time changing the material to translucent so I could backlight them.
Again, I was impressed with the stunning quality print, but had the same issue with drilling out the holes.
Here is a selection of A-10C knobs straight from shapeways. High quality prints that I simply can't match on my cheap Creality Ender 3.
Here is one of the Translucent 3D printed knobs from Shapeways before paint. They backlight perfectly.
Two of the knobs being painted. The translucent knob gets a very light coat of white paint, then the arrow is masked before it gets a few coats of grey. I experimented using modelling clay to mask the arrows, but i could never get a good result. Peeling the glay peeled the paint as well. I ended up using normal masking tape for better results.
Knob finished and ready for mounting. Hard to see in this photo, but on the right it's on a flashlight and illuminating the arrow white.
Shapeways was brilliant, but the cost start to get high when you factor in shipping to Australia. All up I spent around $300 AUD (OUCH) at Shapeways, and I realised I could just buy an entry level 3D printer for that amount.
Because I enjoy making things, and I like buying tools that require tinkering, I decided to get a Creality Ender 3. To read more about that, click here.
I first began by downloading some .STL files I found online here, and printing them out. I was impressed with what the Ender 3 could do, and with a little spray filler and paint they looked brilliant. FDM printers are limited by design, so they wont give you perfectly smooth items that the multi million dollar commercial printers that Shapeways likely use, but it was acceptable to me.
After printing those knobs, I again had issues with mounting them. For some reason I was unable to modify them in FreeCad to fit my needs, and I also found that they were slightly over-sized to fit my panels (or my panels were undersized)
Rather than doing new panel tops to fit the knobs, I decided to design my own knobs from scratch in FreeCAD.
They are not exact replicas, as I had no real ones to compare to, and they are sized based of measurements I found online and some edited just to fit my panels. I also rounded all the dimensions to the nearest millimeter. I have no experience in advanced use of FreeCad, so they were designed very basically using the Parts dashboard, just cutting and slicing with shapes.
The first knob I designed in FreeCAD. Pretty basic. It's the mode knobs for an ARC-210.
Another knob i designed in FreeCAD. This one is the larger Volume Knob for the Intercom Panel.
And one of the Knobs for the Intercom Panel. Six off these required, and the dimensions are made up to fit my encoders and panel. They are also not backlit.
Here is one of the first Knobs I tried printing. Not my design, but it came out well. FDM printers wont make them perfectly, but with a few coats of spray filler and paint, I think they look pretty good.
Here is a bunch of knobs for the lighting panel, printed in clear filament to allow the arrows to be backlit.
Masked up and ready for paint. There ones I tried leaving the arrows clear, so no coat of white paint first. They backlit better, but i didnt like what they looked like when the console backlight was off so didnt end up using these ones.
A group of knobs I tried. None of these made the cut. You cans ee some had no white in the arrows, some had white, and the infil was different in the clear. I found the less infil backlit better, as long as i sliced it so there was no support directly behind the arrow. You can also see how i munt the, with a slot in it for fitting an M3 nut to keep the grub screw in place.
Two panels. The one n the right was for when i had no know backlighting, and the left one was the newer version with engrave sections to allow the backlight to illuminate the know. I also added a few more LEDs under that section to make it brighter.
Here was when i realised I can Laser Engrave things that I 3D print! This came out much better than trying the 3D print them with the text inset, then hand painting the text. I printed them in white, painted black and engraved the text, just like a panel.
Knobs weather up with a little dry brusing and ready for install. The dry brushing makes them look weathered, and hides the error in the print. In fact, errors in the print actually make them lok like they are old and used!
One of the panels I had a lot of problems designing was the angled sections of console on the top left and right of the side consoles, that hold the seat and canopy panels, and the canopy jettison and emergency brake handles.
I had tried making them from pieces of laser cut acrylic, using cardboard templates, however I never liked the result. I ended up giving up and just designed some simple flat panels to go in the corners, with the plan to revisit this and make it more realistic in the future.
Once I got my Ender 3, and became slightly proficient in FreeCAD, I decided to give them another go.
These were my first large prints on the printer for the cockpit, and I am happy with the result.
Once the console corners were complete I needed to do the handles for the emergency brake and canopy jettison. The mechanism is nothing fancy, it is just 10mm diameter aluminum tube, that pulls outwards to hit a microswitch inside. The real canopy jettison handle has a physical stop button that is required to be pushed in to allow the handle to be pulled out. I did not include this mechanism, instead deciding to put a simple electronic push button on the end of it. The canopy wont jettison in game, unless i pull the handle while pushing that button in. I also drilled a hole in the button on the bench drill to allow a remove before flight pin to slide in.
Here is the temporary design of the corner panels, before I 3D printed more realitic designs. The emergency handles were just buttons and switches.
The design in FreeCAD. The yellow section is laser cut acrylic, and the two other parts bolt on. I did this to avoid wasting 3D printing filimant, and my Ender 3 bed is two small to print the entire thing as one unit. I only designed one, then just mirrored it in Cura to print both sides.
Printed upside down to minimise support material.
Both sides printed, filled and sanded and ready for paint.
Both sides painted and ready for install. The boarding ladder cover is the lid from a car cigarette lighter plug. The canopy jettison handle was an early prototype- way to thick.
And the canopy jettison handle design in FreeCAD. Free to download in the download section!
The HUD is a design I made from scratch, based on photos of the real thing, however using drastic artistic licence and blatently guessing the dimensions.
It is non functional and only for looks. I made it non functional for a few reasons:
I also 3D printed a more realistic looking case for my UFC, as well as a faux HUD camera unit.
The indexers are the same F-16C style ones i made earlier, and I made up some brackets so I could mount them F/A-18 style on either side of the HUD glass frame, slightly angled towards the pilot. This is because in the A-10C they are mounted on the canopy frame, and I dont have one of those!
3D printed the HUD frame in two sections as the complete thing wont fit on the Ender 3 small bed. No supports required.
Here is the first prototype of the UFC case. The printers bed is two small,m so printed in two parts and glued together.
Trial fitting everything before paint. I printed in red and white because its the only filimant I had at the time, but after paint they looked great.
Another view. You can see the join where the two parts of the UFC case combine. I connect them wityh a solvent cement that melts the plastic and welds them together, so after glue they are as strong as a sinlge piece. The lower section of the HUD frame is just a hole, however i will later 3D print some more detail so it looks like a proper combiner.
The HUD and UFC case glued, filled and ready for paint. I sprayed them with an Auto Body Spray filler, then samd them. It completly hides the joint, and the 3D printing marks. Looks like a solid cast unit after paint!
Painted and fitted. The Decals I made up in CorelDRAW, based on photos of the real thing. Printed on a normal inkjet printer on some packing labels. Not perfect buy it does the job!
Entire thing complete and fitted. Only thing missing in these photos is the clear 3mm acrylic I used for glass in the frame.
Another view. The cheap military style connectors will get some fake cabling added later on to make them look like the real jet.
Side view showing the box I added to the rear of the MIP to extend the glarehild and mount the HUD.
All it needs is the Occy Strap!
This is one of the latest additions to the cockpit. The original plans had these cut in the actual centre pedestal, but i removed them because i wanted to have them as seperate units, and i never really needed them so they were the last thing I did. I actually realiesd i did need them, after I copped a SAM in the left engine, lost hyrdaulics and couldnt get the gear down...
The mechanism is the same as the emergency brake and canopoy jettison handles above, simple aluminum tube with a bolt that activates a micro switch. Both handles were designed in FreeCad. The covers are one of the largest items i have printed, the exact size of the Ender 3 bed.
Decals were done recently on my vinyl cutter- more to follow on that later on.
The basic design in FreeCAD. Entire thing is 3D printed. The push button is not an actualy lock like the real thing, just on it for looks.
Printing the handles.
Handle and mechanism printed and ready for assembly.
Covers on the printer.
Both handles mounted on the sides of the centre pedestal.
There are other small details i have 3D printed for around the cockpit, just to have it look a little more realistic.
The Scorpion HMCD panel was one of the lastest additions to our DCS hawg. Its a simple panel, with a single 3 position toggles switch. The battery and plug covers were all 3D printed, based of the one in the game. They serve no purpose other thajn making it look good.
The completed panel with 3D printed details.
The VS1500 datat recorder does nothing in the game, and i made one only to make it look cool. The dead space inside i turned into a storage area. Designed in FreeCAD based of photos of the real thing.
The top panel and cooling fins are laser cut and glued acrylic. The latch and door are 3D printed in black and orange.
Door is designed to latch and work like the real thing.
I printed the box out of orange because its the filimant i had, but i actually ended up loving it as it makes it much easier to see anything inside.
Painted up and ready to mount. The connector is just one i had loose in my spare parts bin. No datat cartridge in here, just a storage area for random tools/bolts/thumb drives etc. The entire lid is press fit and just lifts off.
Weather up and ready to fit.
I designed and 3D printed a whole bunch (100+) of these DZUS replicas that just press fit on top of the M5 bolts holding the panels in. After paint and some weathering they camne out pretty good!
The DZUS covers finished and mounted on the Radio Panels. It's a small detail, but it's better than looking at M5 bolt heads.
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