Windows updates and maintaining a flight simulation system

After a recent Windows 10 update from Microsoft, many features of my flight simulator (running X-Plane v11.21) stopped working. Specifically, all of my Saitek Flight Instrument Panel (FIP) gauges stopped working, and my Buttkicker stopped as well.

To get the FIP gauges working again, I had to reset their USB power management settings. The Windows update reverts those settings back to their default state. Why does an operating system feel it has the authority to change user-managed settings like this? Turning their power management back to off is a tedious process.

The Buttkicker stopped working because the software that manages the sound signals stopped working and had to be reinstalled. It also changed the assignment of which sound device fed the Buttkicker its sounds. Again, why does Windows do this?

After a bit of tedious settings management and some more trial and error, I got everything working again. The simulator is running normally.

On the X-Plane side, after updating it, I noticed the Cirrus Vision default airplane starts off with its control surfaces defaulted to full-left, making it impossible to fly. Calibrating the yoke and rudder pedals doesn’t fix it. Finally, X-Plane 11.21 gives me a warning that my Reality Expansion Pack Cessna 172 won’t look right. I click the OKAY button and then fly it as normal. I can’t tell what’s different visually.

After going through all this, I’ve since disabled Windows updates. Having a tightly controlled system like this requires only modifying it when necessary, and random changes imposed by OS updates can cause a lot of headaches. I only use this system for flight simulation, and it is well protected behind dual firewalls, so I’m not concerned about security. I don’t even surf the web from that machine.

Using a Buttkicker Gamer 2 in X-Plane 11

To improve the sense of immersion in my home flight simulator, I purchased and installed a Buttkicker Gamer 2 transducer. This is a device that bolts to the base of an office chair and transmits vibrations into the chair based on sounds generated by the flight simulator. It’s like a subwoofer with vibration only, no sound.

Buttkicker Gamer 2
Buttkicker Gamer 2

I purchased the Buttkicker from FullCompass.com, with free shipping, and it left their warehouse the day after I ordered it. Many other vendors I researched were either out of stock or sold them at above MSRP (Amazon, what the hell?) The Gamer 2 edition comes with the transducer, a dedicated power amplifier, and all the cables you need to connect it to your flight simulator.

Installation took about a half hour, and most of that time was spent feeding the wires around and out of the way behind my simulator. After getting it plugged into the sound-out jack on the back of my PC, I fired it up and tested it out. It really startled me the first time it vibrated my seat. Even though I knew it was going to happen, the amount of vibration it can produce was startling. I reduced the sound levels and did some more testing.

Buttkicker amplifier
Buttkicker amplifier

From all I’d read on the forums, I learned that although the Buttkicker can be used directly with X-Plane 11, the experience isn’t as specific as it can be. The solution is a pair of software solutions working in tandem, one free and one payware. Simshaker for Aviators is the free part, and Simshaker Sound Module is the payware part (about $30 USD; it’s from a guy named Andre in Vologograd, Russia, so the exchange rate will vary).

Using these two apps, you can fine-tune the types of simulated events that produce vibrations and the amount of relative vibration for each event. Otherwise, without these apps, it vibrates generically with any low-frequency sound.

My flight simulator is located in a spare bedroom on the second floor of my house. There was some noticeable vibration in the room on the first floor. This was because the Buttkicker was attached to my office chair, which was sitting on its wheels pressed into the carpeted floor directly above. I needed some way to reduce or eliminate the vibrations being transmitted through the floor.

Sorbothane anti-vibration pads, 2 1/4 in. wide by 1/4 in. thick

I ordered some sorbothane anti-vibration isolation pads from Amazon. They are 2.25″ wide and about 1/4″ thick. I opened the package and let them air out overnight in the garage as they have an off-putting smell when you first open them.

The pads are very sticky and I read reports that they can stain carpet, so I cut circles of waxed paper and stuck them to one side of the sorbothane pads. I purchased some square furniture cups from the local hardware store and stuck the pads to the bottom of those. I tried sitting the chair’s wheels into these cups but the sides weren’t high enough to keep the wheels in place, so I removed the wheels from my chair entirely and placed them in the cups. (In the picture, you can’t see the sorbothane pads; they are pressed against the carpet under the brown furniture cups.)

Pads installed under furniture cups

This reduced the amount of vibration being transmitted into the room below by at least half. It was quieter than the noises generated by my forced air furnace.

Once I got all that set up and got the software installed, it was time for some test flying. I started in Boston and flew to Nantucket, then over to Martha’s Vineyard. The Buttkicker conveys a predictable engine vibration, along with other events like flaps going up or down. The most exciting vibration event is when the wheels first touch down while landing.

I still have a lot of experimentation to do, both with the amplifier settings and with the software settings.

So far I would say it was a worthwhile investment for those wishing to increase the level of apparent immersion in their home flight simulator.