A New Office Chair

As a pitiable member of that great unwashed class of low beasts who will never have the opportunity to strap on a high-performance jet fighter, I will confess that during weak moments I have been known to seek the assistance of certain…artificial aids, for the purpose of experiencing some small fraction of that godly endeavor. Strictly for recreational purposes, of course. Personal use only, I have a prescription.

"I'm in here...working."

I speak, of course, of computer flight simulation. Several folks in our community have mentioned in another venue that they too have tried on the 3D-accelerated wings of Icarus. (Indeed, I believe that Lex himself was something of an aficionado of X-Plane, during that purgatorial period when he was forced to wallow with the unwinged.) Since we’re all friends here, I thought I would share my sordid tale as a cautionary note.

It all started, innocently enough, as an effort to clean my office. I wanted to separate my “work” computer station (a Mac laptop) from my “gaming” computer station (a PC). In years past I tried various keyboard/monitor switch arrangements that would allow me to flip from work to play, but the result was a hideous tangle of cables around my desk. I wasn’t gaming much, so I was getting twice the mess for none of the benefit. I resolved to unplug my PC and stick it in the closet.

Logitech G940 force-feedback programmable stick and throttle, which replaced my old TM Cougar. I primarily use a software package that simulates the F-16C, and so the "sidestick" arrangement works. Truthfully, although there is an available attachment for a center-stick mount, it's not so easy to climb in and out of the seat, and so I'll probably stick with the sidestick even if I upgrade the software into a different airplane. The 64th Aggressors ballcap is what I use for the TrackIR vector frame, which allows the computer to track my head movements. My SO has prohibited me from upgrading to an HGU-33 helmet.

Then I saw something on a hobbyist site one day — a separate computer seat/gaming station, originally designed for auto racing games, but also well-suited for flight simulations. It was basically a car seat bolted to a heavy metal frame that served as a monitor mount, with configurable extensions for a flight stick, throttle, rudder pedals, keyboard, and mouse. “This is exactly what I need,” I reasoned. “I have a PC I never use that is in the closet along with a lot of other flight-simulation equipment that I also never use. The precise thing that this situation requires is a home cockpit.”

The ugly brown seat covers are authentic GRU-7 ejection seat cushions that I found at an online aircraft parts supplier. The "desk" is an acrylic surface that rests on the frame and is removable. The blue plastic object is an iPad kneeboard, which I bought in a fit of utter madness. (Makes finding checklists much easier though.)

Very unexpectedly, one thing led to another. I have had many entertaining tool-filled hours bolting parts to other parts, tying cable-filled hoses to metal frames, and searching eBay for discarded ejection seat parts. I still am not doing much flight simulation but I do have a rather unique conversation piece in my home office, the exclamatory responses to which vary pretty consistently by gender.

Some photos below (still a work in progress).  For those fellow lunatics inclined to do something like this, it takes less space than you’d think.  The components are all reconfigurable for different gaming/computing tasks (including, um, work, right).  And the chair is actually very comfortable and excellent for napping.

The keyboard and mouse surface is mounted on a swiveling arm that rotates into place. The stick is bungee-corded to a similar platform that swivels in and out to allow easier access to the seat. Once I settle on a hardware configuration, I'll attach the stick more permanently.

Monitor is an old 24" Dell flat panel screen. There are side frame attachments available that permit a triple-monitor arrangement for better peripheral vision. Sound is an old Creative Labs sound card paired with an old, inexpensive speaker system. I have not upgraded any PC hardware yet.

TrackIR 5. This is a little infrared camera that sits on top of the monitor and stares at you. By wearing a hat or headset with a particular arrangement of reflective squares, the TrackIR calculates the precise motion of your head in 3D, and enables the simulation to smoothly change the view in response. The result is an astonishingly natural way to "look around", even within the confines of a 24" monitor.

23 Comments

Filed under Airplanes, Flight simulation, Idiots Among Us

23 responses to “A New Office Chair

  1. Hogday

    Amazing! What do the neighbours say when you eject eject eject bang?

  2. oldafsarge

    Okay. Here I am. In my cubicle. It’s Monday. It’s raining. And I see RJL’s set-up. I am now screaming in my head. Wishing I was anywhere but in my cubicle. Next the WSO will probably call to tell me all about her latest jaunt in the F/A-18F. My life doesn’t really suck, but dude you made it feel sucky today. All that aside, NICE set-up. I need to get me one of those!

    • RJL

      Aside from some decorative elements, it’s basically all built out-of-the-box. It took me about 3 hours to unpack and assemble, which means that the more mechanically-inclined among you will have it done in an hour. It’s worth looking into, if you spend any time with flight simulations. See a review here, and a 36-page thread with pics of the incredible work that some real simmers have put into it.

  3. Nice. I too am a frustrated pilot. I grew up wanting to be an astronaut and ended up settling for being a Green Beret. No pilot stuff for me except that it involves lamer versions of what you have there. That is a sweet setup and yeah, I can bet I know what the responses are along gender lines.

    How old is the software? Depending on how old it is, the newer processors run faster and there can be some timing issues. Make sure you haunt the forums for your software to see what others have encountered.

    Nice job, you’ve given me something to aspire to.

    mark

    • RJL

      For the moment, the software is the latest iteration of Falcon 4.0 (it’s the BMS 4.32 release). It’s the one with a new fully 3D cockpit (with the TrackIR you can duck your head and look at the inspection sticker underneath the up-front-control panel), so it’s modern enough to have neat features, but the basic engine is getting a little long in the tooth compared to DCS A-10C, Flaming Cliffs 2, etc. The community has done its usual obsessive job with systems simulation, so adding up separate totalizers for internal/wing tanks is part of the experience (and part of why I am eyeing a separate touchscreen display just for instruments).

      Thanks for the kind words…still working on it, piece by piece…

    • LT Rusty

      Man, I haven’t played F4.0 since … jeez, I think it was back about the time that the F4UT came out. 2003 maybe? I still have the 3-ring binder edition around somewhere, though.

  4. I have been trying for years to coax the Government into selling me one of the seats from a P-3 that I used to use. It’s been resting all cacooned up in the desert for about a decade now, and THEY don’t have a use for it, whereas I certainly have one in mind. Id just thought about using it as my computer chair, but after rwading this the mind wanders…….

    • RJL

      There’s a boutique market for furniture based on aircraft parts (see here for an example). They are beautiful pieces but very expensive. If I had the crafting skill and access to the necessary machine tools and facilities, I would seriously consider doing something like this. There are aircraft boneyard dealers online that sell all sorts of things.

    • RJL

      Here is a seat for sale, purportedly from an “early P-3.”

  5. Spencer

    Ejection handle. Awesome!!!

  6. Not sure exactly what the usual gender response is but .. Wow! Just Wow.
    I better make sure my brother never sees this – he’s a co-pilot for a regional airlines (so bugsmasher, I guess), fles all the remote control stuff and has some pretty nifty gaming and flight simulation stuff. But if he ever saw this … me thinks my sister in law would kill me!

  7. Thanks so much for sharing this–great job! Love the ejection handle!

    I used to do a lot of flit sim, too.I was absolute death on WarBirds for a few years. Gave it up when my RM F-22 went south. Interpreted that as a sign from God that I was to get serious about writing.

  8. jeopardyinmd

    Want. Just want.
    Any thoughts on how I get a buy-in for one of these from Mrs. Jeopardy?

  9. MPH

    If you haven’t been there already, I suggest you take a look at Viperpits. I had the opportunity to meet a few dudes from there at my last job. What they do is needless to say, impressive:

    http://www.viperpits.org/smf/index.php?topic=537.msg96649#msg96649

  10. Pingback: Jousting in the Dark with Flashlights | The Lexicans

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  12. Chelsie Ronnfeldt

    Office chairs that are made from solid wood are the best because they are very strong..

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