The switches used in each cockpit can be of different types, even in one particular cockpit there can be various switch combinations - simple toggle switches with two fixed ON-OFF states, toggle switches with 3 ON-OFF-ON positions, rocker switches, pushbutton switches with alternate (fixed) or momentary action.
Before you start building your home cockpit, you should do some homework - learn all about the systems and controls in the aircraft cockpit you want to build, clarify what type of switches you really need to have in your cockpit. Sometimes, for example, you may think you should use a momentary pushbutton to switch something on your overhead panel, but in reality it may turn out to be an alternate pushbutton swich with fixed states.
- Actuator - The outer part of the switch, which is moved by an external force (hand / finger) to operate the switch
- Terminals - The switch output/input leads to wiring/solderind.
- Every switch has two types of signal terminals - "Pole" and "Throw", at least one of each (SPST type). A switch is classified by the number of throws and poles.
- The poles are the "input" terminals and define how many independent circuits the switch can control.
- The throws are the output terminals and define the number of switchable output than can be connected to one pole input.
- Alternate/maintained switches can be OFF or ON, momentary switches return into normal position after you release their actuator.
Toggle switches with fixed (maintained OFF-ON) states in aircraft cockpits are used to switch between two (or more) stable states of different systems, for example, Taxi Light or Pitot Heat switch, Nav1/Nav2 DME source switch, etc.
The simplest toggle switch has only two terminals - one "Pole" and one "Throw", this is the SPST toggle switch type that has two fixed (maintained OFF-ON) states. There is no difference between pole and Throw for such switch in terms of electrical connection (you can connect it either way).
A very common type of switch is a SPDT switch with one pole and two “Throw” terminals that has two fixed states (ON-ON), connecting the input terminal (pole) to one of the two output terminals. In most cases, such switches are used as simple SPST (OFF-ON) switches, described above, when only one of the output terminals is used. The other output terminal remains free.
! Before using the switch, you need to find out where the pole terminal is located, most likely it is located in the center, but can also be located on either side (usually when the terminals are arranged asymmetrically ).
A 3-position (ON-OFF-ON) toggle switch has the same 3 terminals as SPDT (ON-ON) switch described above, but with additional fixed position in the center (OFF). Thus, it acts as 2-way toggle switch, connecting the input terminal (pole) to one of the two output terminals or disconnecting both. It can be also considered as two separate toggle switches that should not be turned on at the same time.
Note: In SimVimCockpit, a 3-position toggle switch uses only 2 inputs - the middle (OFF) terminal is connected to GND.
NOTE: In many cockpits, along with the toggle switches, alternate (not momentary) pushbutton switches are used, which have a locking mechanism to maintain the closed contacts position after releasing the button (such as "korry-type"). Another type of toggle switch is a rocker switch with two fixed positions, that is also used in some aircraft cockpits. All these switches work identically, having two fixed positions, but different actuators.
For example, a 3-position starter switch in King Air has two maintained positions (center OFF and upper mechanically locked ON) and one lower momentary "STARTER ONLY" position that is spring-loaded to OFF position.
Momentary push-button switch doesn't have a fixed actuated state - it remains in its operated position only while it is being actuated and held.
Push-button with momentary action is used for commands that executes once each time the button is clicked (push-release), such as Autopilot HDG mode that toggles between two states on each click, or repeating increment commands, set/reset parameter value, etc.
For some operations, you may need a toggle switch that has momentary action and works like a momentary button and keeps the contacts closed only while its lever is held in operated position that is spring-loaded to OFF position. It can be configured either as a button or as a switch in the configurator, depending on the function it actuates.
A simple momentary pushbutton has two signal terminals (SPST type). Actually, there is no difference between them in terms of electrical connection. The push-button type can be either normally-open or normally-closed.
Momentary pushbutton switch remains in its operated position only while it is being actuated and held:
- when you press the button actuator, the shorting contact moves to the operated position.
- when you release an actuator, the shorting contact returns to it's normal position.
In its normal position (when the button is not actuated) the contacts inside of the pushbutton can be either open-circuit or short-circuit - these are so called "normally-open" (NO) or "normally-closed" (NC) pushbutton types.
This single pole, double throw (SPDT) momentary pushbutton switch has both types of contact (NO and NC), also called a changeover switch. It remains in its operated position only while it is being actuated and held:
- when you press the button actuator, the pole-contact is shorting throw-contact #1 in operated position.
- when you release the actuator, the pole-contact is shorting throw-contact #2 in normal position.
Alternate push-button switch has an actuator locking mechanism to maintain it in operated position after releasing the button.- when you press the button actuator once, the internal circuit shorts the contacts and remains in that position when you release the actuator (the operating state is maintained).
There are two types of alternate push-button switches: one in which the actuator (button) returns to its original position every time it is released (both in closed or open position of the contacts), and another in which the actuator remains locked in a depressed state (like in the picture on left).
There are many such alternate pushbutton switches on the market, including "Korry-type" switches that are often used in overhead panels. Some of them can be too expensive for a home cockpit, especially those with LED option, but you can find enough cheap push-buttons on AliExpress or Ebay and make backlit cover caps by yourself.For example - Cheap Latching Push Button Switch ($0.4 a piece)
In the SimVim Configurator database you can see many 3-position toggle switches (ON-OFF-ON) that use only two inputs, not three like 3-position rotary switch that acts as 3 buttons. In this case 3-position toggle switch acts like 2 toggle switches as described above (section "Toggle Switch - 3" ). In the cofiguration data file this switch type has prefix "T" (T8.5 HSI_Source_3-pos).
Such switches may have 2 fixed ON states (Wiper_Speed_3-pos), one fixed and one momentary (APU_Switch_3-pos) or both momentarty, spring-to-off actions. In the latter cases it can be assigned as two momentary actions (buttons).
For some input functions it is not appropriate to use a simple 3-position toggle switch. In this case you can make suitable mechanics and use two buttons or toggle switches.
For example, a 3-position Fuel selector switch can be made using 2 toggle switches and an anker mechanism which guarantees that only one switch can be turned ON, in the left or right position of the handle: