Kick your keyboard out

Kick your keyboard out

The keyboard in home flight simulation is a necessary evil. It is required for most interaction with the simulator program. But, if you have enough simulation hardware, you may just be able to kick your full-size keyboard out of the cockpit.

My keyboard used to sit on top of my old Saitek Pro Flight Yoke, and since the Saitek had a wide base, it worked out pretty well. However, when I replaced the Saitek with my Simujabs Yoke, I had nowhere to put the keyboard. It ended up leaning against my throttle quadrant which is neither convenient, nor very good looking.

Where my keyboard would normally live while flying.
Where my keyboard would normally live while flying.

Since I now have most of the 737 hardware interfaces, I found myself only really using the keyboard to set up the initial flight parameters. After that, it was only used to communicate with ATC, control FSDreamTeam’s GSX, pause, change views, and toggle sound on/off. I figured I could do these simple things with something more efficient for the purpose and leave the full-size keyboard outside near the instructor station just for flight set up.

I originally purchased a Targus AKP11US wireless Bluetooth keypad on Amazon for about $22. It is small, lightweight, and includes an on/off switch, two AAA batteries, and a stowable USB receiver.

Targus AKP11US wireless numeric keypad. Image courtesy of Amazon.com.
Targus AKP11US wireless numeric keypad. Image courtesy of Amazon.com.

However, I soon discovered that the keys are always going to send as a numeric keypad. This poses a problem. I used FSUIPC to intercept the key presses and resend them as ATC_Menu_# FS control commands. While this worked OK, I could not choose options in the GSX menus. It expects the number keys at the top of the keyboard and cannot be changed. Also, with Prepar3D v3, the ATC_Menu_# commands from FSUIPC are ignored altogether. So, it was time to find another way.

I eventually found a company online called Fentek Industries who sells all kinds of custom keyboards, keypads, and other input devices. I looked around their site and decided on the KP24NKPU model, a 24-key fully programmable USB keypad.

24-key fully programmable USB keypad from Fentek Industries.
24-key fully programmable USB keypad from Fentek Industries.

It costs about $100 and arrived 2 days after ordering. Upon opening the package, I noticed that this is actually a CP24-USBHID from Genovation and is resold by Fentek with number keys installed. This leaves 12 custom buttons available for other functions.

I decided on which 12 custom buttons I wanted and got to work. The keypad comes with a CD that contains the Genovation Macromaster CPxx programming software and a couple of manuals. It did not take me long to figure out the pretty simple interface.

Genovation MacromasterCPxx programming software. Here assigning my GSX button to send Ctrl+12.
Genovation MacromasterCPxx programming software. Here assigning my GSX button to send Ctrl+12.

Using this method, I am simply sending custom keyboard commands instead of using FSUIPC or other translation software. The keypad can even do macros, complex keyboard operations, and use a shift key to double the available buttons to 48.

TIP: When programming using this software, it is best to select the button you want to program, then use your actual keyboard to chose what to program to it. For example, my GSX menu button in the picture above, it does require the Ctrl Up at the end. Else it will cause the Ctrl key to be held down indefinitely.

What is great about this keypad is that you download the configuration to ROM chip inside it. This means it retains its settings outside anything it is connected to. I can move it between machines and it always works.

This is the keypad layout I used, including the function and keystroke for each button:

ATC Menu (')Pause Toggle (p)Sound Toggle (q)GSX Menu (Ctrl+F12)
Virtual Cockpit View (F9)2D Cockpit View (F10)Follow Spot View (F11)Top Down View (F12)
789Zoom In (=)
456Zoom Out (-)
123Doors (complex macro)
Clear (Alt)0EnterJetway (Ctrl+J)

The most complex button, Doors, was needed to open/close all of the aircraft model doors to keep GSX happy. I created a much longer macro here to do all the Shift+E work for me. I also had to toy with the delays between keystrokes to get it working reliably. My Doors macro ended up looking like this:

L Shift Dn, E, L Shift Up, Delay 500ms, 1, Delay 1500ms,
L Shift Dn, E, L Shift Up, Delay 500ms, 2, Delay 1500ms,
L Shift Dn, E, L Shift Up, Delay 500ms, 3, Delay 1500ms,
L Shift Dn, E, L Shift Up, Delay 500ms, 4

The MacroMasterCPxx programming software also contains built-in templates for the button labels in Word, Excel, and BMP formats. I used Word to quickly print up the labels. Then, it was as easy as cutting them out, popping the clear button covers off, and dropping them in.

Fentek KP24 programmable keypad with my custom labels installed.
Fentek KP24 programmable keypad with my custom labels installed.

Finally, I stuck two self-adhesive strips of Velcro on the back and attached it to the side of my JetMax SKTQ above the tiller. It holds in place great, but allows me to remove it as needed, like when a Flight Officer wants to control things from the right side seat.

Overall, it works perfectly and lets me interact with the in-flight functions of FSX I used to keep my big keyboard around for. It is hardwired (6 ft cable), and not backlit, but that is OK. This was just a simple solution to a nagging problem I had, so I wanted to share as it may be an option for other simulator pilots.

Thanks for stopping by!

One thought on “Kick your keyboard out”

  1. Todd,

    Great posts and so informative and helpful !!! You have an amazing setup !! Thanks again for all the valuable info.

    Frank

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