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progress (October-December)

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December 31, 2011: Week 11 Build Session

More cabin lighting this week. Kirsten, cousin to Sam D and Joseph helped out this week (center). See also the Week 11 video:

December 24, 2011: Week 10 Build Session

Our talk with the fabricators left us with some new design challenges to think about. Today, David, Sam, and Tony discussed ways to implement an emergency exit for the pilot in case of fire or other hazard. Currently we are thinking the window opposite of the door will be held in with velcro or some other quick-release system, and the pilot will be able to push out this panel and crawl from the fuselage in case of emergency. Paul, Jessica, David, and John (top row right) refined a design for a possible motor linkage using solenoids and worm gears. Sam F (bottom row) finished the software for the engine-start-up panel using state machines (see video below) and Alex continued to work on the DC power supplies. Sam D (top row left) also started installing junction boxes around the fuselage, these will house all wire-nut connections so we dont get any sparks near flammable materials. Cindy provided wonderful lunch of tacos (top row center).

December 21, 2011: Off to the Fabricators!

Today, several of us went into the depths of the industrial district of San Rafael and met with two potential fabricators to discuss building the large structural elements of the project. The cradle, pitch frame, and A frame (left) need to be cut and welded by professionals to ensure safety, and both fabricators seemed pretty fit for the job. Paul and Jessica worked tirelessly through the past couple days to finish a set of fairly complete CAD drawings, showing the dimensions and design elements of each "level" of the motion armature. The drawings are available here.

December 17, 2011: Week 9 Build Session

Today Alex and Ryan (a college freshman back for winter break) converted a couple of old PC power units into easy-access power supplies which we can mount around the fuselage. With several Arduinos and over 300 LEDs, 12 volt DC will be in high demand! John, Jessica, and Paul kept refining their Inventor model, and once it is reasonable accurate David will take it to his fabrication friends who can hopefully give us a time frame and price quote for all of the heavy duty welding and steel work. Today David also finished the right armrest slide-bracket, marking the completion of the armrests and also giving us a sturdy mounting point for the instrument panel. Sam F re-wired the engine start up panel after several LEDs burned out (oops), and kept working with Tony on the Arduino code to control the engine indicator lights. Sam D finished the headliner cushioning and started mocking up some cabin lighting scenarios. Once again, bagels, coffee, and an assortment of baked goods were provided, and later Jessica and Paul treated  us to a freshly baked Amicis Pizza lunch! Check out the Week 9 Update video below and the Image Gallery for more photos!

December 10, 2011: Week 8 Build Session

It was cold in the shop today! Mark, Sam D, and David work on the right arm rest mounting point in the front of the cockpit (left). 
Cindy and Petra discuss the finer points of moments of inertia (second from left). Alex and Tony discuss the algorithm for performing servo control of the scale model (second from right).  Sam F works on the connectors for the engine start-up panel in preparation for development of the software control of the switches and LEDs. To see all the parts together, consult the Week 8 video update below.

December 6, 2011: Engine start-up panel

Each of the Viper's three engines has a switch and three LED indicator lights. RED means off or engine failure, YELLOW means selected or starting up, and GREEN means on and functioning. To turn all engines on, the pilot will have to select each engine by flicking the switches from the RED to YELLOW positions. Then, pressing the red momentary button will initiate the start up secquence on the engines selected. A sound effect will play and the yellow LEDs will flash. After that, the green LEDs will come on and stay lit as long as that engine is functioning.  This panel will be recessed into the foam cushioning above the pilot's head (shown above), and will require a ton of wiring because the 9 or 10 LEDs need to be under Arduino control, and the 4 switches have to be connected to Arduino inputs. 

December 4, 2011: The cockpit is coming along
This was a good opportunity to put Cindy "Latte" DeRose in the cockpit, suited up and ready to go!

December 3, 2011: Week 7 Build Session

John, Jessica, and Paul work on the Autodesk Inventor CAD model of The Viper (left). Alex and Sam F. continue to work on the software side (middle). Sam is compiling a list of controls that will need to be in the cockpit, either on the instrument panel or on the overhead panel. Alex is working on controlling the Lego scale model of the motion platform -- see the video below. Sam D., David, and Mark work on the cockpit interior (right).

November 26, 2011: Week 6 Build Session
We've finished both armrests -- the right one, the one that holds the joystick and has to rotate out of the way, uses an old Razor scooter for the locking mechanism (left). The arm rest bracket with the joystick and padding is show in the middle. The completed left arm rest (right) contains a button box that required an insane amount of engineering, both mechanical and electrical, to complete. Check out the schematic and the protoboard. The video below shows everything in context.

We also got a domain name (, and we submitted a pre-proposal to the Black Rock Arts Foundation for a grant. Fingers crossed!

November 22, 2011: NVIDIA Quadros arrived!
Thanks to our friends (thanks Eric!) at NVIDIA, we now have two bright and shiny Quadro 4000 graphics cards installed in the main control computer.

November 20, 2011: Left Armrest Version 1.0

Today Sam D began prototyping the fixed left armrest which holds the throttle control. The frame is made of 3/4 in square steel tubing topped with vinyl-covered 2" foam sections. It will be mounted on the central spar and rest about 18-21" off from the floor, providing a comfortable but sturdy support for the passenger's left arm. A similar design will be mirrored on the right side, but it will have to pivot up like a car armrest to allow for easy entry and exit.

November 19, 2011: Week 5 Build session

Today's meeting was focused around stripping out the rest of the cockpit and brainstorming about how to fill it back in with a custom interior. With the seat temporarily fixed in, we were able to rough out some dimensions for the instrument panel while the software team began planning out button placement for all of Flight Gear's controls. David found several more structural points within the fuselage to mount to, and now we have plenty of tie-in points for the roll-cradle, as well as convenient but strong places to mount the armrests and instrument panel. Also, John and his friend Zach from Marin Academy finished attaching motors and rotary encoders to the lego prototype. This will allow the software team to test their motor control code on real motors before moving the actual fuselage.

November 18, 2011: Bandsaw: ACQUIRED

The team now has a bandsaw! 

November 12, 2011: Week 4 Build session

Main points of progress today: the software team got three monitors working with FlightGear, and the mechanical team finished the temporary mounting of the seat and harness in the fuselage. Next steps are to track down why display updates are jerky when all three monitors are displayed full screen, begin work on adding motion control to the Lego prototype of the motion platform, and prototyping the instrument panel.

November 10, 2011: We have a seat!
Thanks to an amazing show of teamwork, with Larry doing incredible research to narrow down what we need, and Petra "Enzyme" Jacobson tracking down sources, we now have a seat and a 6 point harness.

November 5, 2011: Week 3 Build session 

Another productive build session. We decided on the seat we want, the theming of the exterior, how we're going to route the frame that attaches to the fuselage, specs for the on-board flight computer, and Sam F. figured out how to use FlightGear to export the dynamics of the simulated aircraft. We also decided to turn the lego prototype into a scale version of the motion platform that can be driven by an Arduino. That will allow us to begin work on the software component that turns flight dynamics into control signals for the motion platform motors.

October 30, 2011: Joystick Progress
Alex figured out how to use C++ to control the Joystick's LCD display and different lighting arrangements. These elements will be integrated into the final product. 

October 29, 2011: Second team meeting

We got a lot accomplished today. Jessica and Sam D. started to work seriously on the Autodesk Inventor CAD model of the motion platform. Sam F. (right), Alex, and John got the game controllers working with FlightGear. Sam D. and Tony completed most of the cleanup of the fuselage interior (left). Paul, Jessica, Tony, and Sam D. worked through rough calculations of the size of the pitch motor we'll need.

October 27, 2011: Delivery of the fuselage

Mark and David took a field trip to Sacramento to pick out an appropriate fuselage. They returned with this beautiful Piper 28.

October 22, 2011: Full Team Kickoff Meeting
Today was our first full team meeting. We're off to a great start!

October 17, 2011: Finding a Fuselage 
We are trying to find a scrapped fuselage to use as a frame for our cockpit. If we cant find one with the right dimensions we will have to fabricate one ourselves.

Some candidates: 

October 14, 2011: Prototyping the Cockpit
We took a seat out of our minivan and bolted it to the garage floor, then constructed a PVC frame around that to mock up the general dimensions of our cockpit. Our current guess is that it will be somewhere around 70x46x36 inches.