Build-002 Update: Looking fantastic!

I am very pleased to be able to share some update photos of Build-002. One of the first builds to actually start, the builder/owner has been making steady progress and his cockpit is almost complete. The quality of craftsmanship is superb and he has been meticulous in every detail.

One of the options presented to builders of the HFS Spitfire is cladding over the plywood fuselage cover with a thin 0.5mm aluminium plate. This has the advantage of the strength inherent in glued wooden frame/cover construction, where the cover provides great rigidity, while lending the visual appeal of aluminium plating. The result was envisaged in the following graphic:

The HFS Spitfire MkIX Cockpit envisaged with 0.5mm aluminium cladding

While some builders have elected to go directly with a 1mm aluminium sheet on the plywood frame, Build-002 is the first build following the originally recommended method. It has been further enhanced with accurately positioned riveting, achieved very simply with an appropriately sized hollow punch. The result is outstanding!

The superb Build-002 nearing completion.. love the stair design!

The builder has also created a minimalist stair to make access easier. It could have come from a Scandinavian design house, it is so impressive!

Some more photos of the build in progress:

The BIG 50!!

This week we reached a major milestone when we sold our FIFTIETH HFS Spitfire Mk.IX Build Licence and Plan Set!

The cockpit has been a remarkable success story, placing the most immersive Spitfire flight experience in the world within reach of many. This is borne out by the huge popularity of our simulators at commercial operations such as the Pivka Museum in Slovenia and at our very own The Hangar in Ireland.

Flying the HFS Spitfire in The Hangar, Ireland

We would like to extend a huge thanks to all our customers for helping us reach this amazing milestone!

Dawn Patrol

..as flown in the HFS Spitfire Mk.IX Simulator..

Biggin Hill is just starting to wake when I lower myself into the welcoming confines of the cockpit. The gentle rain of the evening has given way to scuddy clouds. Having strapped myself in I pull up the hatch and latch it firmly into place. I check that all the switches are in their off position, working carefully left to right in my now familiar routine. Set altitude and check alignment of the magnetic compass.

I move the throttle forward and the electrics come on, lighting up the undercarriage indicator and fuel pressure light. Fuel cock to open position and with 11 pulls of the wobble pump the fuel light goes off. Unlocking the primer pump I give it 4 cycles before locking it back in place. I crack the throttle open, flick the left and right magneto switches up, open the starter and boost coil switch covers before shouting “Prop Clear!”. With the stick pulled back between my knees I push the starter and boost buttons with my right hand, resting my left on the closed mixture cut-off lever.

The giant four bladed prop starts to churn around with a whine, swirling a chilly blast into my face. There’s an explosive blast as one cylinder fires, then another, sending shudders through the airframe. The peace of the morning is shattered by the monstrous roar of the Merlin. I move the mixture cutoff lever to full forward position and bring the throttle back to a steady 1000rpm. The mad vibrations become a steady throb. Checking that the oil pressure gauge comes alive I close the starter button covers and wait for the temperatures to rise.

The peace of the morning is shattered by the monstrous roar of the Merlin

This mornings’ mission is just to check out this particular aircraft prior to it being sent to a frontline unit. One of those rare days where you can just take it a little more easy and enjoy the beauty of flight.

A gentle gust from the north tugs idly at the windsock as I line up on runway 03. Final checks on the temperatures and trim before I start opening the throttle gently. The diminutive airframe jumps forward, pulled recklessly by those massive swirling blades and 1600hp of raw power. Keeping all of that aligned on the runway demands intense concentration and before I know it we are hoisted into the air. The pressure on my right leg starts pushing me up in the seat before I hastily center the rudder trim. Switching hands deftly I raise the undercarriage and pull the canopy closed. There is instant relief from the blast of wind, providing some room to clear one’s thoughts.

Biggin Hill – DCS World Channel Map

A shaft of golden sunlight to the north illuminates the Thames where it curves through London. Behind that hangs a dark murk. I start a climbing turn towards the lighter south-east. It looks set for a beautiful spring day as I pass through the first of many layers of scattered cloud. In the distance the Channel gleams a dappled bright silver and I can just make out the darker French coastline at the edge of visibility. I pull the airscrew control lever back, reducing the engine revolutions from 3000rpm to 2600rpm. Adjusting the throttle to a boost reading of 8psi the craft settles into a steady climb at 180mph.

At 14000ft the second stage supercharger kicks in. I open the oxygen cock and turn on the fuel tank pressurisation. She’s climbing like a homesick angel..

Suddenly a shudder and a loss of rpm. I glance at the gauges and see everything is normal, yet the big motor is faltering, gasping for fuel. We are just over 21000ft. Damn! I forgot to turn on the fuel pump after startup again! I reach under the big elevator trim wheel and flick the switch just in time to have the motor burst into life again! Shabby.. got to keep a clear head..

Incredibly immersive DCS World

In our steep climb to 30000ft we have passed over the coast and find ourselves over the Channel. Time to head back. I can not resist however to dive towards Calais, thinking I will just zoom over at high speed before they realise I am there. All looks very quiet from here and it feels like I am the only one out today. I bring the throttle back and dip the nose to a point just north of Calais. The airspeed indicator rushes around before settling at 450mph. The French coastline draws rapidly closer and I start pulling the Spitfire gently out of the dive using elevator trim, curving south over Calais. The port lies quietly with a few small ships in the harbour. I flash over the coastal defences, grateful that I must have caught their AA batteries napping.

A sudden flash of a yellow nose bowl catches my eye. I am not the only one out here! I crane my neck to see a Bf109 taking up a quarter rear aspect. He must have been tracking me, going at least as fast as am now. I roll to the right, pushing the throttle through the gate and start pulling towards him. He tries to stay on my tail but overshoots. As we start circling I can see I am gaining angles on him. We still have plenty of energy and he decides to pull into the vertical. I follow and he starts running out of speed before I do, turning into the cross of my gunsight. I manage a quick burst, the 20mm Hispano’s and .303 Brownings shudder through the airframe, but there is too much deflection and I miss. I flick back and am diving after him, gaining across the turn he has started. Another chance but he disappears under the long nose. I give another short burst, knowing he will be hit if he has not jinked left or right. I roll to see where he has gone. There he is, off to the right, starting another turn. Again I follow him, keeping outside his turn but making up the angles. Once more he goes vertical before I can get him into my sights, and once more I follow him. This time he misjudges his return and almost stalls as he flicks on his back. Another burst as he passes through my sights and I can see flashes as the cannon rips through his fuselage. I zoom past and roll onto my back before heading back down. I can see he was not been able to pull out of his dive and smoke pours from the hole where he disappeared in the rolling green countryside. Keeping the throttle wide open I head low over the waves back to the English coast. I keep jinking left and right while craning my neck to make sure no one else is following me. Once I am sure no one is I bring the boost pressure back to 4psi and bring down the RPM to 2600. The temperatures are high but not yet critical.

Another burst as he passes through my sights and I can see flashes as the cannon rips through his fuselage

Passing over Dover I head towards Folkestone and start gaining some altitude. The circuit at Hawkinge is empty and I bring the speed right down, entering a lazy turn left downwind. Canopy open and the wind lashes at my face again. Gear down. They lock in place with a thump. Flaps down and the nose dips markedly until I compensate with elevator trim. We curve in to the grass runway at 120mph, decreasing to 100 over the hedge. Keep her steady and don’t close the throttle yet.. We float 2 feet over the grass and I take care not to give too much elevator and risk a balloon. As the speed drops I keep the same height by gently and gradually continuing to raise the nose until we settle down onto the grass at stall speed in a perfect three point landing..Satisfaction! But we’re not there yet! Keep flying until she stops! She slows down gradually over the bumpy field and I keep on the rudders to keep her nose straight, only adding a few dabs of brake at the very end when all rudder authority has been lost. We turn off to the dispersal before I come to a halt before shutting her down. What a beautiful morning!

Taking off the VR headset I am returned to the atmospheric surroundings of The Hangar. Amazing, how immersive it is to fly in a real cockpit with force feedback, wind, vibration and virtual reality..!

The HFS Spitfire in The Hangar – Opening at the end of this month!

A core part of this experience is flying in the incredible DCS World using the WWII Assets and Channel Map. You are cast into an utterly convincing world at war 80 years ago. The fidelity of the Spitfire simulation is absolutely stunning. Developed by the team of Nick Grey of The Fighter Collection and Flying Legends Airshow fame, it speaks volumes to the inputs received from his corps of real world Spitfire pilots. No other simulation of the Spitfire has reached this level of accuracy, period..

Nick Grey of The Fighter Collection and Eagle Dynamics, creators of DCS World

This has been the deeply satisfying culmination of my effort over the last five years. I am now looking forward to being able to share this experience with anyone wishing to visit us here at The Hangar in Ireland!

The screen captures from DCS World here are off their website.

So.. What is “The Hangar”?

Background – Heritage Flight Simulation

Flying has traditionally been the domain of the fairly wealthy and hardcore enthusiasts. Flying of old warbirds is the domain of the very wealthy and governments. The pilots that get to fly these machines are a select few.

The mission of Heritage Flight Simulation is captured on our web pages’ byline “Making historical flight accessable

We have done this by designing an exact replica of the Spitfire Mk.IX cockpit in materials that allow the average home builder to achieve their dream of owning and flying in their very own Spitfire cockpit. Developments in Virtual Reality technology have made this experience incredibly real but for a fraction of the cost of owning and operating your own real warbird. As an added bonus …. you can always walk away from a bad landing or misjudged manoeuvre!

The Hangar Flight Experience

We have created The Hangar as a physical facility here in Ireland not only as an extension to our offering of “Making historical flight accessable” but also to make available the experience of flight to a much wider audience. We recognise that not everyone wishes to build their own Spitfire Cockpit but would still like to experience what it would be like to sit in and fly. Our Spitfire Mk.IX cockpit simulator now affords this possibility to anyone who wishes to visit us in Blackwater, Co. Wexford, Ireland.

In addition, we have expanded the offering to include a general aviation and a helicopter VR simulator.

As such we offer three installed simulators with different pricing options:

  • The HFS Spitfire Mk.IX – for a basic flight experience, dogfighting, landing, take-off or systems training
  • a basic Helicopter Simulator with cyclic, collective and torque pedals based on the Robinson R44/22 layout. This provides an opportunity to better understand the complexity of these machines and the skills required to fly them. Also ideal for hover training.
  • a basic General Flight Simulator where the type of aircraft can be selected from ultralight, basic trainer, complex twin or airliner. You can choose in what weather, where in the world and at what time.

So who would our offering appeal to? Except for Spitfire and warbird aficionados that is?

  • Weather in Ireland can be challenging for general aviation pilots to get their “fix”. Come fly our simulators and feel infinitely better 🙂
  • Anyone who wishes to experience what it is like to fly an aircraft
  • Anyone who wishes to build knowledge and skills around flight

Specifics

While we are still finalising the details with a targeted opening towards the end of March 2022 I can share that there will be essentially three different packages associated with our three simulators; 

  1. General Aviation VR experience flying anywhere in the world (choose whether you would like to fly a microlight, single engine trainer, light twin or airliner), the cost of which will be €20 for 20 minutes. This will be very suitable for beginners through to experienced pilots while providing a stunning aviation experience. You would need to reach the controls so not for small children.
  2. Helicopter VR experience. Flying a helicopter is complex and this provides a safe environment in which to build up your understanding and skills. Perfect for hover training, aspiring helicopter pilots and just those curious to find out more about them. €30 for 20 minutes. Suitable for ages 14 and up.
  3. Spitfire Mk.IX VR Flight Experience. This is the ultimate experience for those wanting to feel what it was like to sit in the cockpit of a Spitfire and to fly it. The cockpit is painstakingly recreated from original drawings, incorporating all 78 controls, switches and levers found on the original. All of them work and have a function in the simulated world. 
    1. For those just wanting a taste of it we offer a 20 minute session for €40. You will start in the air and be given 5 minutes to get used to the handling and can then sightsee or move on to dogfighting. (A session in the GA simulator using a single engine trainer is recommended before tackling the Spitfire.)
    2. A little more advanced offering where you will receive basic instruction on the essential controls first. You will then have the experience as in 1) above but after 20 minutes or when you are ready for it move to take-off and landing the Spitfire. (Here some previous simulator or real flight experience is recommended to truly enjoy the experience. At a minimum training for take-off and landing in our GA simulator single engine trainer is required.) Total flying time 40 minutes but overall allow an hour to get settled in, briefed and debriefed. Cost €80
    3. A full hour flying with briefing on all the controls and systems and start-up, take-off, flight, dogfighting, landing and shutdown of the Spitfire. Requirements as per the above. Allow just under an hour and a half. Cost €120. Booking should be 2 weeks in advance to allow us to send you the official Pilot Operating Handbook for self study prior to the in-cockpit training.

Our recommendation for number 3 above is to do each session seperately (so three sessions of €40 each) to be able to absorb all the new information and experiences before going to the next level. This will enhance your enjoyment and greatly enrich the experience. 

  1. We will likely set up a (just for fun, its not officially recognised) certificate course which will consist of two GA sessions and three Spitfire sessions to earn your Heritage Flight Simulation Spitfire Wings. You can do the sessions individually over time with an ultimate cost of €160.

Requirements

  • Generally the experience is not suitable for small children under the age of 10.
  • Requirements for the Spitfire: Ages 14 and up, must be big enough to reach the controls, less than 100kg, less than 6’2” and fit and dextrous enough to be able to get into the confined cockpit space and haul yourself out again without any assistance.
  • We will require the signing of an indemnity for anyone using the facilities. VR may not accord with everyone and can lead to motion sickness in some individuals.
  • Covid health protocols will be strictly adhered to protect our staff and clients. This includes the wearing of a mask and proof of full vaccination.
  • Bookings must be made on-line on our TheHangar website (still under construction). We will try to accommodate making bookings over the counter at The Hangar but only if it’s a quiet period and time allows.
  • Payment by card only when booking online or over the counter, no cash accepted.

2022: The future is here!

The year has started on a very firm footing with exciting news from various quarters. These new developments in Virtual Reality, simulator software and our own hardware will push the boundaries of our experience.

LiDAR and Augmented Reality

First off and most notable must be integration of LiDAR technology into VR headsets. LiDAR (or Light Detection and Ranging) is a method for determining ranges by targeting an object with a laser and measuring the time for the reflected light to return to the receiver.

The cost and size of the technology is reducing significantly, we now have it available in consumer products such as the iPhone 12 and 13 Pro.

By incorporating it into Augmented Reality headsets it allows objects within a certain range to be excluded from the VR world and overlaying it with the real world. The real world image is shown by use of stereo vision(thus 3D) video cameras.

What this means to our HFS cockpit builders is that you can see the physical cockpit and your hands and body while, with the distance set to just outside the cockpit, you have the the virtual world outside your canopy.

This can already be done using the VARJO XR3. It provides pixel-perfect real-time occlusion and 3D world reconstruction. The cost of this is currently prohibitive at around €6500 (with the required base stations) plus an annual subscription fee of €1495. The point though is that costs will come down as the technology is incorporated into other headsets. The Apple AR HMD is mooted to have this already and will be releasing either late this year or early next year. No doubt others will follow soon.

Implications for our Spitfire Mk.IX Cockpit

We will be providing our Build License holders with a design modification during the course of the year which will allow them to retrofit working gauges into their cockpits should they wish to do so. These gauges will work with the DCS World Spitfire Mk.IX and with the FlyingIron Spitfire Mk.IX for X-Plane. With suitable AR enabled headsets they will allow you to view the Real World cockpit while the Virtual World will be seen outside the canopy.

This also opens up the opportunity of running the HFS cockpit with a full surround screen, however that washed out 2D projected technology now becomes distinctly outdated.

View your real world cockpit inside the virtual world with LiDAR enabled headsets

Merry Christmas!

We would like to wish everyone a joyous and safe festive season and thank you for your support over the year.

What a year it has been! Having just moved our operations to Ireland we managed to find, procure and prepare reasonably priced kits to smooth the way for our builders: https://heritageflightsim.com/kits/

With the use of our kits it was possible for AFormX to complete their stunning Spitfire for the Pivka Museum in just over 3 months! https://heritageflightsim.com/2021/04/21/third-hfs-cockpit-complete-and-what-a-beauty/

It has been a tremendously popular attraction providing 300 to 400 Spitfire experiences per month to visitors over the last 8 months. It is a testament to both the workmanship of AFormX and the fundamentally sound HFS design that it did so with minimal problems.

The HFS Spitfire arrives at Pivka Museum

The year also saw the number of Build License holders rise to 48. They are based as follows:

  • Europe (24)
    • UK – 12
    • Ireland – 1
    • Netherlands – 3
    • Belgium – 1
    • France – 1
    • Czechia – 1
    • Slovenia – 1
    • Norway – 4
  • Middle East (2)
    • United Arab Emirates – 2
  • Africa (1)
    • South Africa – 1
  • Australasia (15)
    • Australia – 9
    • New Zealand – 6
  • Americas (6)
    • Canada – 2
    • USA – 4

Our builders have graciously shared pictures of their progress and I cannot help being amazed by the fantastic craftsmanship inevitably displayed. These latest photos from one of our builders in Australia:

During this time we have settled in to our new headquarters in Blackwater, Ireland. We look forward to being ready for opening the flight experience facility in early Spring.

Check-in for a First Class experience!

We look forward with great excitement to 2022. Until my next post, stay safe!

Control of 2-way switches in DCS World

With much of The Hangar interior now decorated I have (at last!) been able to work on the HFS Spitfire prototype cockpit again. It has been hugely satisfying to see her come back to life. It’s also gratifying to know that the move from South Africa by road and on the high seas, with a further 8 months in storage, have not had a detrimental effect. Everything still works beautifully!

My first task last week was to change the two Arduino Mega boards to two Leo Bodnar Joystick (LB) cards. Previously I had used the two Arduino’s to run DCSbios. That program works very nicely but exclusively with DCS World. The LB’s are necessary to give the flexibility to run the simulator cockpit in other simulation programs, notably the HFS/FlyingIron Spitfire in X-Plane and MSFS2020.

The co-developed HFS / FlyingIron Spitfire in MSFS2020

For this I had to redo the wiring from the terminal block in the front to go into their assigned positions on the LB’s. What I had not anticipated was the 2 way switches, which I had managed to get working so nicely in DCSbios, were no longer being seen properly. It is unfortunately the case that DCS World cannot judge by itself whether a switch is on or off. It requires a signal to tell it that something has happened. This means that when a switch is ON and then turned OFF, nothing happens. Only when a switch is turned from OFF to ON will it pick up the change. So if you start up the simulator in “Cold and dark” format with for instance the Magneto switch in the ON position, it will show the switch as Off. Now if you switch the switch OFF, it will still show Off in the sim. Switch to ON and the sim now knows the switch is On. Switch it OFF and the sim still shows ON. In order to show the switch as OFF you now need to switch to ON again and so forth. HORRIBLE!

In order to cure this I tried various offerings, including vJoy which creates a virtual joystick which then needs to be controlled by something else again for the correct keypresses, in my case I tried Joystick Gremlin. In spite of some excellent tutorials in the DCS World user groups, for which I am very grateful, and some careful programming, I could not get it to work properly.

I am therefore most grateful to Avantar for having created RS Mapper! It runs in the background and recognises the current switch position and provides a very simple way of assigning keyboard presses to the change of a switch status. In DCS World it is possible to assign keyboard commands for say that magneto switch used in the example above. So within RS Mapper I would set Button 7 on the Leo Bodnar card 1 to [RCtrl-R] when the button is released (the switch is switched OFF) and [RCtrl-T] when the switch is switched to ON. In DCS World for the Spitfire control settings I would assign (RCtrl-R] to the keyboard action of “Magneto No.1 OFF” and [RCtrl-T] to the keyboard actions of “Magneto No.1 ON”.

As you can see you still need an action to determine the key position within DCS World. So if the switch is OFF and you do a cold and dark start the switch is also off in DCS. Turn the switch ON and you will see it turn On in DCS. If the switch happens to be OFF when you start off in flight, the switch will be On in DCS. If you then switch ON the switch will at least remain On in DCS and from there get back into sync.

Hopefully someday EagleDynamics will be able to take the hint and have a chat with Avantar to ask him how he did his code, it would be so much nicer having the functionality built into the sim than always having to find workarounds. In the meantime, I hope this helps others.

That said, it’s great to be back in the air in the HFS Simulator!

Builders Update, Windscreens, Canopies and Force Feedback

Build 012 Progress

Really nice to see this excellent build coming together from one of our builders in Australia!

New batch of Malcolm Hoods

Last week the batch of 6 canopies from a UK supplier of real world Spitfire Malcolm Hoods arrived. We managed to procure these at a good price point and are very pleased with the result. What is particularly gratifying is that the canopies match our tooling exactly, proving the accuracy of our own model. Five of the canopies are already spoken for but we have one available. Contact us for further details should you be interested.

Malcolm Hoods all in a row…

Windscreen Brows now ready

Our batch of 50 new windscreen brows have finally arrived. The quality of the new mould is superb and really vindicates the time, effort and cost to get there. They are available at €70 each to Build License Holders.

New windscreen Brows in 3mm Plexiglass (two to a panel)

Force Feedback – Let it blow!!

One of the elements that hugely increase immersion in VR is wind. We have been working on and completed the design of a wind blower system that will work on two fronts, one external and one internal. The external units are two 140mm high efficiency fans mounted either side of the windscreen. They will blow once the engine starts up and while the canopy is open. The wind force will increase as a function of propeller revolutions. There will also be a yaw effect in that the side towards which the tail is yawing will have a higher velocity blow. The external units will be mounted on swivels so can be moved out of the way when not being used.

When the canopy is closed the external units will shut off and only the internal unit will work.

The internal blower will also work off the prop revs and be powered by a 60mm fan. The design mimics the vent used in the real Spitfire, being positioned just under the forward right cockpit coaming, in our case though the vent blows toward the pilots face. We have already produced the units and will be fitting them to the prototype in the next few weeks, so I hope to report on their efficacy in the next post!

New Windscreen Brow Mould

This week saw the arrival of our new Spitfire Mk.IX Windscreen Brow mould. That’s the clever little curved glass screen that sits above the Armoured Windshield.

Our previous mould was very nice but did not survive the journey by ship to Ireland, the MDF base having picked up moisture and developed a hairline crack in the finish. Not serious, but enough to create a light mark on the vacuum pulled clear acrylic.

Hairline crack visible on original mould

It presented an ideal opportunity to relook the original design and see if improvements could be made. We were assisted in this by Brett, one of our build license holders who also runs an amazing prototyping and restoration outfit near Melbourne, Australia called RRET (Restoration Reverse Engineering Technologies). Brett has an original complete windscreen and did a scan for us by which we were able to make a comparison of our design to the original.

Brett’s build with original Spitfire MkIX windscreen

While there is obviously some difference in functionality between a wartime cast armoured window and a replica for an Augmented Virtuality cockpit, the scan proved the accuracy of our design.

As a result we were able to refine our design before having a new mould made.

We commissioned a specialist tool and die maker in the UK to fashion a new one out of aluminium. This was cast in rough form before being CNC machined and mounted. The result is a work of art.

The finished new brow mould

The mould has been sent to our vacuum forming supplier and we are very excited to see the result in acrylic in the next week or two!