Something really unique about the Spitfire is that, in sharp contrast to the beautiful exterior, the interior was a jumble of what feels like almost ad-hoc add-ons. Controls have been placed where there was some space. Copper tubes and cabling lay everywhere in a steam-punk jumble. This in stark contrast with aircraft like the P51 Mustang or FW190. This photo of an unrestored Mk.VIIIe HF illustrates the point:
With all the auxiliary controls in our HFS cockpit having been fitted, ours still looks somewhat bare in comparison. However, once we connect all the electronics there will be many cables running through the cockpit , all adding to the atmosphere!
Here for your pleasure a few pictures of the interior before refitting the seat and doing some cabling and copper tubing refinements.
The last week and a half have seen most of the major components come together. The windscreen brow was cut out of its vacuum pull and fitted. It’s great the way it has made the whole of the windscreen structure quite rigid.
Marking the windscreen brow for cutting
Fitting of the brow
The rear glass was also cut and fitted. This completes all the glass component installation. The final fit-ups for the wing fillets were also done and the fillets painted.
All the aluminium 2mm Bend Diagrams were completed and bending done. This resulted in a flurry of spray painting 🙂
Work could then begin in earnest on the centre pedestal including the finalisation of the control column, rudder pedals and elevator centring mechanism, with these all having being in place today.
Thought I should share how we have progressed over the last week. The seat and support frame have been completed and it looks every bit the part. With it installed the cockpit shell has suddenly been transformed. Sitting in it, albeit without any of the controls mounted, one gets a sensation of what it must feel like sitting in the real aircraft. Soon, it will be almost indistinguishable from really being there.
Seat with support frame
Rear of support frame with height adjustment handle
View from the top
Assembly of the seat support frame
Painted the structure looks like something from a WWII tank!
The seat height lever operates as per the original. It is interesting to feel the different working heights of the cockpit and how it affects the view out to the front. I fitted two 350N gas struts (the original had spring cylinders), but the forces they introduced to the frame were a little unsettling so I decided to take them out again. I am not sure what the spring force on the original is but I think I will tune them down to 100N each and see if that is manageable. As it is, the seat moves easily without them if you press your back against the rear and move the handle. Only a minimum of leg input is required.
The door has been completed and installed. Again, the latching mechanism is as per the original, and operates very smoothly.
The column too is starting to take shape nicely.
I have received the double mould for the windscreen brow section and had 4 clear acrylic pieces pulled from that. Next I will be cutting that out for fitment.
Some things just require more work and attention than others. The assembly and installation of the windscreen and canopy being a case in point. First, having assembled the windscreen, you need to ensure that the canopy edge matches absolutely when it is closed. So you need to assemble and install the canopy before you can fit the windscreen. You can then line the whole lot up, mark off, offer a prayer that all is good, remeasure, check again and finally commit to drilling the coaming holes.
This week has been somewhat nerve wracking in that way…
Happy to say that all seems to have come out well though.
Here are some pics and descriptions of the build this week:
Trail fitting canopy liner strips
Assembly and riveting of canopy liner strips
Lining up the canopy
The drilling and trimming of the Plexiglass canopy is potentially a hazardous exercise, the plexi being very brittle and prone to cracking. Using a Dremel tool at 25000rpm+ however ensures that the material melts before any stresses are induced and makes the task a lot easier. I started off using screws for the assembly however this does not clear the rear of the cockpit, so had to revert to rivets. Great care needs to be taken here to apply only the lightest pressure as the canopy will crack if you don’t.
I used a system as per the original Spitfire which incorporated bronze slippers running in the canopy rail. As I could not find bronze I substituted this with brass. Regrettably the sliding action is not sufficiently smooth, so I will redesign the mechanism with nylon rollers as used in the popular Vans RV sliding canopies.
I could then line up the windscreen with the canopy in full forward position before doing the final drilling and fixing of the coamings. The windscreen is now firmly mounted. I am still missing the top eyebrow section of the windscreen. For this I have designed a mould and have assigned a plastics vacuum forming company to manufacture it and vacuum pull a few samples. Along with the canopy, coamings and some machined parts, this will be something that I will make available at reasonable cost to prospective builders.
Finishing off the windscreen rear
Canopy and windscreen in place
The instrument panel has been fitted to allow the final positioning of the internal coamings, gunsight carrier and gunsight dimmer bars. Again a painstaking process to ensure everything lined up correctly. I am very happy with the way this is coming together.
Work has now started on the door. The design needed some modification to ensure that the canopy rail remains unobstructed. The machined parts for the door latches are looking great.
Another busy week and the covering has been completed. New skills learnt were to scarf the covering plywood. I marked the scarf lines at 8 times the thickness of the flexi-plywood, being 3mm and lined them up before sanding them down.
Went rather easily and once the fuselage had been covered, the overlapping areas sanded down nicely to a smooth finish.
The balance of the 2mm aluminium parts has arrived, some of which had been bent by the supplier. All looking good.
2mm Al Parts
Seat frame sides
and the rest
The seat is back from the upholsterers and looking good.
Next up is the Malcolm Hood so that the windscreen can be fitted. Eight weeks to go to Aero SA and much to do!
As I stood watching the CNC Router carving the beautiful, almost organic looking Spitfire cockpit coaming casting I could not help but marvel at the evolution of man and his tools. I would never have thought that I, a relative dunce at handwork, could recreate the cockpit of the most elegant aircraft design ever devised. And make it look good.
Such is the wondrous world of the 4th Industrial Revolution. Twenty one months ago I set out to create this, inspired by having flown DCS World’s Spitfire Mk.IX in Virtual Reality and the possibilities offered by 3D Printing, CNC machining and laser cutting. I must also mention that having seen the great work of John Fall on GrabCad also was inspiring and hinted at the possibilities. I must also acknowledge AutoCad in this, without them making available Fusion 360 free for start-up companies, I would not have been able to progress as I have. If ever I reach a $100k per year turnover with my company, I shall gladly take a paid subscription to their software.
So as you will have noted from the featured image the Instrument Panel is complete! It has turned a thing of true beauty, every bit as wonderful as the rendered image posted what seems like ages ago (August last year I see!). I hope you will agree.
Completed Instrument Panel
The rendering from last year
Things are now really moving. I have received all of the laser cut sheetmetal, many of the fittings, the routed plywood covering and the waterjet cut Lexan or clear polycarbonate. I must say the later is the only order that disappointed somewhat. The cuts are pretty rough and very little care was taken in preventing the material from getting scratched. You live and learn. Next time I will try with Plexiglass which is more scratch resistant and I will have it CNC routed with a trusted supplier instead.
Real bullet proof glass… yeah right!
Hidden bits on the front
So back to the coaming casting… On the real Spitfire this was cast aluminium, designed to provide a streamlined connection between the Windscreen assembly and the fuselage. I routed it on my small CNC router after having stuck two layers of 22mm MFD together. It took 8 hours, demanding my full time attention as I was the vacuum hose operator. Hmm…got to get one of those extraction shoes before I try that again! Anyway, the intent was to use that as a vacuum forming mould with 3mm ABS plastic. I took it to a company to pull as many copies as they could from the mould. They indicated that given the finish and design, it was likely to only last one pull. Their forecast was correct. It does look nice though! I already have a modified design in mind for future use which will allow multiple pulls. After I have obtained a dust extraction shoe for the router..!
Coaming casting pulled in 3mm ABS
Not a happy mould….
After finishing the instrument panel I packed away all the bits I had put together so far in order to protect them from the dust to come. I started the covering of the fuselage! After much thought on the sequence of the installation of the cover panels, I marked the edges of the 3mm flexi-plywood back by 24mm for scarfing. This is to thin the edges down at an angle so that the thickness of overlapping panels remains constant at the join. The things you learn from YouTube!
Scarfed panel edge
Glued up coaming
More glued up coaming
Even more glued up coaming!
I have also been stapling the panels where it is not possible to clamp it to the frame. Seems to work ok, just need a small sliver of wood to prevent the staple crossbar from disfiguring the panel.
What else… Oh, been bending things and received the 2mm aluminium sheetmetal bits. Thats great because they were the last batch required and contain many of the brackets required to assemble the cockpit.
Seat support brackets
2mm Al bits
Seat side supports
Bag ‘o bits – the 2mm Al stuff
And so, back to work! So much to do, so little time….!!!
Watching our CNC router cutting out the Spitfire Mk.IX labels is a mesmerising experience. First the lettering appears as if by magic, gently carved out of the Romark Matte 2-Ply Black/White plastic laminate. Then suddenly little white chips are flying everywhere as the label contours are cut out. The end result looks fantastic and the labels add hugely to the realism and accuracy of the build. The G-Code file and laser engraved pdf format will be made available as part of the plan set, allowing you to cut these yourself or provide it to a local service provider for processing.
Having the labels allowed us to progress further with some of the items such as the Reflector Gunsight and various switches.
Reflector Gunsight Label
Switches from the starboard cluster
More switches from the starboard cluster
Starter and booster coil switches
We also installed the Hall proximity sensors and magnets in the covered switches. These clip into place really neatly. They will signal the simulator when the cover is opened or closed.
We are still waiting for quotes on the machine drawings but did manage to place orders on the fasteners and various fittings such as bearings, electronics sensors, plexiglass waterjet cutouts and the plywood cover panels. We should be receiving them this week.
Various bits and pieces are starting to arrive at the HFS workshop, most notably the Aluminium 4.5mm and 3mm Plate.
The laser engraving of the component numbers on each piece have come out nicely and will be hugely helpful in identifying their position in the build.
Various 4.5mm bits
Sorting the 3500 fasteners
We are still waiting for the bulk of the sheetmetal components, mainly made up of 0.9mm and 2mm aluminium sheet. We were however able to start some of the assembly with what arrived, like parts of the Chassis Control, Wobble Pump and Spade Grip Clevis joint.
First bits of the Chassis Control being assembled
Progress on the Spade Grip Clevis assembly
Bearings fit neatly in the Clevis
Wobble pump assembled
With most of the drawings complete and with many of the components arriving we will be able to focus on the build process. Hectic!
Another week and more important milestones achieved. We managed to complete machine drawings for the mild steel and aluminium components and sent them out on enquiry. Hopefully we will receive quotes during this coming week. We also placed orders for the sheetmetal laser cutting and marking and for most of the fittings. These include component such as clevis forks and the likes.
In between all of this we have completed the painting of all the SLS Nylon 3D printed components. We have also started assembling these as far as we can.
I am very pleased with the way the spade grip has turned out. The areas which represent metal were painted with standard fibreglass resin to provide the necessary smoothness. The Dunlop Crackle, the pattern of which has been beautifully crafted into the print, was coated with a paint on rubber insulation. This provides a wonderfully tactile feel and looks great.
The firing buttons have had their internal pushbuttons installed and while the central spring is still required, work very well. Pressure on the top gives machine guns, bottom the cannon and centre you can feel both are activated.
The gunsight is shaping up nicely too. I installed the mini potentiometers and the movement of the Range and Base dials are very smooth. The safety pad has also been coated with the liquid rubber insulation. There is still quite a bit of work remaining on this, including the glass components and engraving.
The wobble pump is coming together and was also first given a coating of resin. After painting in black some silver wear highlights were added and it is difficult to distinguish it from a real metal pump.
Its been two weeks since my last confes…ehm… post! and I thought I better just let you all know what’s been happening 😅. (how do you like the pic of the FlyingIron Simulations Spitfire for X-Plane 11? Alex and Dan have just released a fantastic update!)
I am happy to report that we finished all the sheetmetal DXF cutting patterns a week ago and got that off for a quote at our laser jet cutting supplier. It’s a major milestone and amounts to 330 pattern drawings, each with its engraved component number and where applicable bend lines and limits, also to be engraved. The sheetmetal is of different thicknesses and material, as per the following:
While waiting for the quotation we started the Aluminium Profiling Drawings. The Square Tube drawings have been completed and we also have completed the cutting and drilling of these of these profiles.
We have also managed to paint the chair and do a little further work on the painting of the SLS Nylon printed parts.
Exhibiting at Aero South Africa 4 to 6 July 2019
Exciting news is that we have booked a stand at Aero South Africa which is going to run from 4 to 6 July at Wonderboom Airport, Pretoria. Aero South Africa runs in partnership with Aero Friedrichshaven. We hope to be exhibiting our completed Spitfire Mk.IX Cockpit Simulator.
So….the challenge is on!
UK, Canada and US Tour
Further news is that we have arranged a promotional tour to coincide with Flying Legends at Duxford and the Royal International Air Tattoo in the UK and then on to Canada, EAA Airventure at Oshkosh, USA and also the Northwest of USA. We will be visiting various museums in these areas to discuss our project and give VR demonstrations. More on this in a next post…
Over the last week we have been having a great time painting. We started with the fuselage, first taping off with masking tape all the surfaces that will receive the fuselage covering. Using a white universal water based undercoat we sprayed the wooden frame. It was my first attempt at spray painting anything bigger than a model and, having watched various videos on technique (thanks Youtube!) I started with trepidation. My fear was unfounded as with a reasonable amount of care the paint applied very nicely.
I have used the Tamiya XF71 as my cockpit green colour. It seems to be closest to what I could find on original paints. This being a Mk.IX Spitfire, the shade is a little darker than the early models. I was able to take a painted sample of wood to my local friendly paint merchant and after much trail and testing came up with an exact match. I now have the formula for achieving the correct shade in a water based PVA (Latex) paint.
This paint was a little thicker than the undercoat but after thinning it with about 10 percent water it applied very nicely.
The painting has brought the sandwiched construction to its rights, the flat colour highlighting the details such as the lightening holes.
Of course, I had to trial fit the throttle quadrant…
We have also had a go at painting the Nylon components. The XT3 Resin turned out to be unnecessary. It is very thick and in future I will rather use a normal fibreglass resin should I wish to get something really smooth. The XT3 tends to cover up important detailing. That said, I found that the uncoated SLS parts take paint beautifully without any further coating. I use Tamiya water based acrylic model paints and the colours lay on very nicely and smoothly with a brush. The following images give an idea. Lots of fun being had with this (and in between the creation of the sheet metal cutting patterns continues!
The instruments and the compass have had their decals applied but still need their clear plexiglass covers. In spite of not being finished, they are starting to look really good 🙂