CH Multi Function Panel


posted 1/2/2007 by Dave Gamble
other articles by Dave Gamble
One Page Platforms: PC
Again, there may be an easier or more correct way of configuring the tablet (I, for one, welcome our new Google overlords, but in this case I decided to blaze my own trail), but this is the way that worked for me. After a few hours of mapping keys and printing a screenshot of the FSX G1000 panel, I had a configuration that let me set comm and nav radio frequencies, set the CRS and HDG bugs on the PFD, choose appropriate responses from the ATC menu (digits 1 - 4), and use the Direct and Menu buttons on the GPS. I then made a series of IFR flights in the Garmin G1000-equipped Cessna 172, Mooney Bravo, and Beechcraft Baron. The difference was astonishing! I could make the entire flight from engine start to landing without having to touch the keyboard once. I was able to manage all of the frequency changes manually much easier than I could have by using the mouse or keyboard, and it felt far more realistic. I soon regretted not having printed the autopilot panel and mapping keys to its functions too, though.
In order to test the ability to quickly reconfigure the panel, I printed a template with the Canadair Regional Jet's comm, nav, and autopilot functions. Before removing the keys and template for the G1000, I made sure to draw a map of the key mappings and locations so I'd be able to re-assemble it later without undue burden and confusion. Mapping the jet was much easier than my previous effort since many of the keys were already mapped and simply had to be moved to a different location on the tablet. I had to map the additional buttons required for the autopilot, however, and since this required changes to the map I had created for the G1000 I had to save a new map. I just have to remember to actvate the CRJ map when switching the control layouts to change planes, and that's not a big deal at all. I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that complete maps will be avalible for download at various sim-support forums around the web eventually, if not already.
I can see an opportunity for CH here, though. It seems that there are likely to be people that would like to keep a set of different templates handy for quickly changing from one configuration to another. CH could sell the transparent cover separately from the unit, and would likely garner additional sales of extra keys as well. The keys run about $3 each in sets of 25, so it wouldn't be super expensive to have two or three sets on hand and ready to go at a moments notice. [Update: I later visited the CH site and noticed that they now offer the clear tray cover for separate purchase. As much as I'd like to say they got the idea from me.... they didn't.]
I also couldn't help thinking about how nice it would be to have more complex keys. The push buttons are fantastic, but it would be ever-so-slightly MORE fantastic to have rotating knobs that send a series of identical key values to better simulate tuning knobs and the like, if I could be so bold. Flip switches would be pretty cool too as long as I'm wish-listing. As I mentally run through a typical flight in my real-world plane, it seems to me that button pushing is not nearly as common as knob twisting and switch flipping. The buttons are an admirable substitute for the keyboard and quite usable, but hey, these things can always be improved!
With a street price of nearly $200, the CH MFP clearly isn't for everyone. This is pretty hard-core gaming equipment and won't be of any particular use for just puttering aimlessly around the sky. Conversely, if you're into instrument flight or enjoy flying the heavy airline metal, the MFP is a great way to further blur the line between real-world controls and their electronic, virtual counterparts in the sim aircraft without breaking the piggy bank. The MFP was the final piece I needed to solve the full-immersion puzzle and now resides alongside the TrackIR system on my "must-have" list for flight sims. My only real complaint with it is now that I have tried one, I want three more!

The CH Multifunction Panel might be just what you need to finally enjoy virtual flying without having to use the keyboard/mouse. It takes some setting up, but it's well worth the effort.

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