ICP - INTERGRATED CONTROL PANEL (NATO VERSION)
The Integrated Control Panel works with all games which support Microsoft DirectX. It comes in NATO MLU version. They only differ in the aluminum backplates and an optional IR sensor. The ICP can both be mounted on a standard Head-Up Display unit.
This ICP is built as a USB Plug-n-Play game controller.
It has 19 buttons and 2 rocker switches on the front panel. The ingraved symbols on the panel, buttons and rockers are back lit with full color LEDs. Apart from the front panel, the main controller board also accepts a DCS switch, 2 toggle switches and 4 thumwheels as peripheral inputs.
The profile of this product is kept at minimum by utilizing a breakout box which helps fan out the USB cable and two external power supplies through an ultra-thin RJ45 cable.
Color and brightness of the backlight is adjustable from either an external voltage soure or the new RSW Console software. Which also allows advanced configurations with the thumbwheels, the toggles and DCS switches. The software currently supports shared memory of Falcon BMS and it's capable of detecting mission start in the game. All the buttons and switches work perfectly well with Falcon BMS, DCS World and most other games which support DirectX. Future support for in-game synchronized backlight dimming will be available once Falcon BMS starts providing backlight data through shared memory, or DCS F-16 becomes available. The functionality has already been built into the hardware, all it takes is an upgrade of the RSW Console software.
Anatomy of the Integrated Control Panel by oue electronic engineer.
We could've talked all day about the making of the ICP, but a picture is worth a thousand words. It'd be a shame for us to keep these details hidden behind this appearance forever.
We've taken care to make sure no light is leaked from where it's not supposed to be illuminated.
We are no fighter jet pilots, but we figured the hemispherical bumps beneath numbers 2 and 6 work just like the bumps on your F and J keys, they offer great help with blind entries. Same goes with the extra thick ENTR button. Once your fingers get the hang of it, you will no longer need to re-focus your eyes twice every time you try to press the right buttons on the ICP.
We haven't always been fascinated by the level of ingenuity found in aviation engineering. In the beginning, like most folks, the first thing that popped up in our mind was: "This could have been done so much more simply. It's just a mock-up, why bother the overkill?"
But then as we moved on. Every attempt to make stuff work just right, or look just right within the given shape and space kept killing off our initial assumptions and immature solutions. Our respect to the original engineers had only grown considerably after we've stumbled upon every problem they faced in the first place. And we've also had great fun coming up with our own solutions.
Figured multiple layers of paint in different colors from all directions on those buttons should be enough.
Couldn't be further from the truth.
It got really exciting for me when I did this. Partly because I love working on electronics. But the biggest bonus is I could get to completely redesign the wiring part for computer gamers. I loved the way those wires are bundled up on real aircraft. But having a high-density circuit board sitting there feels equally badass to me.
I think they've always soldered the wires to those thumbwheel pins on real aircraft. You could still do it with our ones if you prefer....
I picked this CAT6 cable partly because it's shielded which keeps my USB connection more stable, but mainly because it's ultra-thin with extra short grip which fits perfectly inside the HUD housing.
There's a complete microcontroller system sitting inside this tiny wheel. We could have had a custom potentiometer made by a pot factory, but that actually doesn't help reducing the cost. We'd be missing the point here if we thought so. I thought if we had to spend so much making the wheels, I'd rather put more effort in here with modern electronics and make it more durable.
I'm not showing off my eyesight by hand soldering those 0402 resistors during testing. They had to be this small to fit in the wheel. Those pins are custom-made and gold plated.
I thought the main controller board had more space to indulge those traces once the three big connectors were moved over to the breakout box, but it turned out to still be a rather dense board in the end.
A layer of silicone helps dampening the click of those dome switches, contributing to the muffled click. It also seals them in local air pockets away from ambient moisture and further oxidation.
The gold finish on those pads and barcode isn't the point here. It's getting those countersunk screw holes chamfered that cost some fortune, especially when there are dozens of them on each board. We've done our asking around.
It took some original ideas to make two mirrored versions out of the same group of parts. A catch-ball screw and a hole in the steel sheet is all it takes to get the mechanical click. But to get the resistance right was proven to be tricky. I'm sure there are other ways. But I'm satisfied with mine.
The thumbwheel cap, the nylon base, the brass collar are all CNC milled.
Each thumbwheel has 36 grooves around the cap which is chamfered both around the top and the bottom perimeters. The grooves have to go deep enough to make the friction match the resistance. There are 31 black scale marks within the grooves per thumbwheel, each with a unique length. They increment either clockwise or counterclockwise depending on the version. Each ICP has 124 such scale marks which have to be engraved centered inside the grooves, to the right length. One mistake would ruine the whole part. It's a very serious question to think about even if we wanted to have as few as 10 ICPs made. Not to mention a much larger batch.
Front Panle x 1 (Including all the buttons, rockers and backlight PCB)
Main Controller Board x 1
Breakout Box x 1
M2.5x18 Countersunck Screww x 4 (For mounting controller board to the back plate)
M2.5x3 Brass Standoff x 4 (For mounting controller board to the back plate)
M2.5 Nut x 4 (For mounting controller board to the back plate)
USB Cable, 1.5m x 1
DC 12 VOLT - 5.0mm Main Power Cable - 1.2m x 1
DC 0-5 VOLT - 3.5mm AUX Power Cable - 1.2m x 1
RJ45 Ultra-thin Cable 1.0m x 1
PH2.0 3Pin Wire Harness x 4 (Each with rea, white, black wires, for thumbwheel)
PH2.0 3Pin Wire Harness x 2 (Each with black & white wires, for toggle switch)
PH2.0 5Pin Wire Harness x 1 (Black & white wires, for DCS switch)
Low-Profile Nylon Cable Tie x 20 (Black)
It may appear intimidating at the first glance, and it's common if you have doubts and questions at this point. The following FAQs should help you with most of them.
I'm not a DIY kind of guy, just want a full ICP. Do I have to read all this?
You still need to decide between a U.S and a NATO version and whether you need the IR sensor if you want the NATO one. The product will be fully assembled and tested when you get it. However, we still recommend you read through this FAQ so you won't miss important stuff.
What is a back plate, and why do I need it?
The back plate is the chassis of the ICP. It has mounting holes for the front panel, the main controller board, the thumbwheels and the switches at the bottom so they can be held together with screws. More importantly, it has a hole in each of the four corners so the entire unit can be mounted onto the real F-16 Head-Up Display, just like how it's done on the real jet.
What's the breakout box for? And why is there an RJ45 cable, does this thing work with Ethernet?
No it doesn't take Ethernet and please don't plug that RJ45 cable into your ordinary Ethernet devices. The ICP requires two power supplies and a USB connection to make full use of its functions. It takes three bulky connectors which can't fit inside the confined space between it and the HUD. The RJ45 cable is used to relay power and signal further outside of the HUD with the help of the breakout box. There's a tab with a slot on either side of the breakout box so it can be easily mounted anywhere on the framework of the home cockpit if you wish.
What are all the "modules" and why are they divided in this way?
There are lots of hard-core cockpit builders who have gone through great lengths over many years to collect bits of parts from the real jets and they may already have the back plate or even a set of thumbwheels. That's why we've made the back plates and the thumbwheels two separate packages, or "modules" mentioned above. The main controller board - though separated by the back plate from the front panel - must come with our front panel in a same module because they are designed with a pair of special board-to-board connectors and cannot work with other solutions. As a result, we've ended up with a basic module, the back plate and a thumbwheel module.
Are the 4-way DCS switch and those toggle switches included in any of the modules?
No, it is known by many resourceful pit builders that those switches have always been hard to get by. Otto makes them, not us. We may help you source them if it's really difficult for you to get ahold of any. And we may help you solder them to the wire harnesses for free. But we are not like Mouser or Digi-key who are dedicated in reselling components. If you require those switches, then you cann add them to your configuration when you order your ICP.
How many thumbwheels do I need?
A complete ICP requires a total of four thumbwheels. Two on the left and two on the right. The ones on the left look and function differently from that on the right, they are not interchangeable. In Falcon BMS, the bottom right side thumbwheel hasn't been simulated yet. But on our ICP hardware, the bottom right thumbwheel works as a regular joystick axis. And you may assign it to anything or leave it unused.
What's the IR sensor for? Why do I need it?
Frankly, we're not sure what purpose it serves on the real jet. Some say it's an IR emitter for the NVG system, some say it's a sensor for automatic dimming of cockpit/display brightness. Anyway, we've built this part to make the NATO version look more realistic. Just consider it a 1:1 scale model. You will need it if you feel like having an extra eye-candy with your NATO ICP.