Monday, 24 September 2012

How to make a lighting panel using toggle switches

I did this for FSX but it should work for FS9 as well. No promises though, as I haven't tried it.

To simplify the instructions I'm going to assume that you are using SPST toggle switches similar to these, and red and black coloured wires (although they can be any two colours, as long as they're different).

Shopping List

  • A Leo Bodnar BU0836X interface card - £49.99 + £4.99 delivery
  • An A to B USB cable to connect the card to your PC - £4.97
  • A registered version of FSUIPC - 28.56EUR
  • Some simple SPST (Single Pole Single Throw) ON-OFF toggle switches (10A Toggle SPDT A, Order Code: JK27E) - £3.49 each (much cheaper on eBay)
  • Two lengths equipment wire (any gauge), of different colours. I use red and black.
  • A drill with a suitably sized bit for your switches (I believe 12mm holes are pretty standard for toggle switches) - £10 for the bit (I already had a drill).
  • A piece of hardboard, plastic or thin MSF to use as the panel. I used offcuts cut to 7.25" x 2", the same size as GoFlight panels. (You could get away with using thick cardboard to practice with, then you wouldn't even need the drill.)
  • Electrical tape.


First plan the layout of a simple panel. I did a lighting panel first (top one).

Mark out the material you will be using for the panel and drill a hole for each switch.

This is actually my engine management panel. The holes are a bit wonky but it's not too bad when the switches are in place. Try to be as accurate as possible when drilling though.

Fix the switches in the holes and figure out how long you need your wire to be to reach the BU0836X comfortably. Cut a length of each coloured wire and connect the red wire to the terminal for the ON position on the switch, and the black wire to the OFF position terminal.


I use switches with male Lucar type spade connectors on the back, which means I can connect the wires using female Lucar connectors which makes it easy to disconnect them and move them around if required. You can always just wrap the wire around the terminal and secure it with electrical tape, but this isn't an ideal long term solution as the wires will work loose over time. Soldering is another more permanent solution.

Choose an input on the BU0836X card (I started with 32 and worked backwards, as I have seen a report of input 1 interfering with Saitek devices). Push the other end of each wire into the connectors on the card. Make sure you strip a short (5mm) length of the insulation from the wires first to ensure a good connection. I had a little trouble getting the wire in at first. There's a particular angle that works well, but if have trouble try gripping the wire with pliers until you get the hang of it. If you need to release the wire just press down on the top of the connector and it will come free.

Assuming you're using input 32 the red wire from the ON position on the toggle switch should go to the B32 connector, and the black wire to the ground (GND) next to it.

Plug the BU0836X card into your PC using the USB cable, and fire up FSX.

Start a flight and hit Alt to bring up the menu. Choose FSUIPC from the Add-ons menu item, and select the Buttons & Switches tab.

Now for the fun part. Click one of your switches and it should appear in the Joy# and Btn# boxes. Then check the box on the right labelled Select for FS control and the dropdown labelled Control sent when button pressed will activate. Choose the function you want your switch to perform from the dropdown menu. For example, to have your switch toggle the beacon select Toggle Beacon from the list. (If you can't find the entry for an item try looking under T for Toggle, as many of them are in there.)

Next select the same toggle command from the Control sent when button released dropdown, so that the switch will toggle off when released. (See A note on SPST vs SPDT switches below.)

Click OK to return to your cockpit and observe the virtual version of your switch. Flick your real life switch, and the one on-screen should toggle as well. Switch to an external view and and watch the result :)

Note: If you are doing this on FSX's default Grumman Goose like I was, the lights are all messed up and need fixing. I'll post a tutorial on how to fix this.

Rinse and repeat for the rest of the switches on your panel.

This will give you a functioning switch panel for under £100, which increased my immersion levels considerably. After the initial outlay you can create more panels with very little outlay (I've started getting switches on eBay now for a fraction of the Maplin price). I have 3 panels and counting now, and lots of inputs left on my BU0836X card.

Of course, the panel itself looks grim - bare wood with pencilled in labels. There are a number of ways of tarting them up which I'm currently looking at, so I will post the results of my attempts when I have something worth looking at.

If you're still reading you might be interested in my tutorial on how to create an engine start panel using rotary switches, coming soon.

Happy switching.

A note on SPST vs SPDT switches

Because of the way these switches work you need to tell FSUIPC to do something when they are released. The drawback of this is that you need to start each flight with the switch in the same position as those in the on-screen cockpit. If you start with the beacon light off on your RL panel and on in the cockpit, then when you click your RL one on the on-screen one will switch off. This isn't a problem as long as you always start with a cold and dark cockpit like I do, and remember to shut down after each flight (or use a checklist).

If you use a SPDT (Single Pole Double Throw) ON-ON switch instead you will have 3 terminals, one for each ON position and one for ground. This means you can assign a specific switch position to each (eg beacon on and beacon off, instead of toggle beacon). The downside here is that it uses two of your precious  BU0836X inputs instead of one, effectively halving the number of switches you can have before needing to buy another card.

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