Interview: Total Controls, Discussing the Multi Function Button Box
Updated: Sep 23, 2022
At first glance, any flight sim enthusiast can tell you that the Multi Function Button Box has something unique about it. When considering control panels or button boxes to integrate into their rigs and onto their mounts, functionality (and a bit of style) is the driving factor. Designed by Total Controls, this upcoming button box is currently in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign and also has a Patreon. Skyward Flight Media reached out to Total Controls for an interview about the team and their current flagship product that has turned heads and raised eyebrows.
Hello! Thanks for taking time to participate in this interview during your ongoing Kickstarter campaign. Can I ask you to introduce yourself?
My name is Jonas Hernstig, founder of Total Controls and the designer of the Multi Function Button Box. I am a Swedish long time sim flyer and father of four. As you might imagine there is not much time for my hobbies, but sim flying is always a priority when the kids are asleep. I have flown sims since the 1990s and fell in love with the A-10A in LoMac: Flaming Cliffs 3. Today I spend most of my time in DCS World and preferably in the A-10C or the Hornet.
Who are the members of Total Controls?
The team consists mostly of aviation fans. Jonas brought skilled 3D-artist and fellow sim aviator, Otto, on board early in the process to bring life to the concept drawings. All renders are his work.
Later, technical engineer Lars was contacted to draw the electrical hardware. Niclas, who by the way works at SAAB with their Gripen simulator, is streamlining the software at this very moment. He has a lot of experience with sim aviation having designed a very popular controller card for sims a while back. Everyone in the team loves flight sims and all of us are very excited about this product.
According to the timeline on the Kickstarter project, Total Controls was founded in February 2020 but the idea for the company goes back earlier than that. How did the idea form in 2019?
Just like most great ideas, it grew from a need. I myself adapted to VR flight very early, but I found it hard to operate all inputs in the cockpit via mouse. It required me to let go of the stick and reach for the mouse. A member of our Swedish DCS community inspired me to build my own button box with the features I thought were needed. The result attracted some online attention, it was then when I realized that I was on to something. I had found a black hole in the sim hardware market.
Total Control’s Multi Function Button Box is certainly not the first button box or control panel designed for flight simulator use, but it does have some interesting design features. What are some of its key points?
Well, first of all, it features a full numeric keypad that to my knowledge is unique to all button boxes. The gear and hook handles make it stand out from the rest as well. The fact that the box is all metal makes it a robust piece of hardware with a long life span.
To me, the real game changer apart from the keypad, is the radio encoders. It has never been easier to scroll through radio channels. The same switches can also be assigned to most rotary functions in any aircraft, such as HSI rotation knobs or light switches.
The base plate of the Multi Function Button Box utilizes the same dimensions as the Thrustmaster Warthog throttle. Meaning it will fit most mounts already on the market. To make it even more compelling we have included some rewards in the Kickstarter campaign that features table or chair mounts from Monstertech.
At first glance, the most eye-catching part is certainly the keypad. It looks well lit with good button height, and has very audible button clicks. For people that do not use button boxes having “loud buttons” may sound like an inconvenience, but in your opinion, what is a benefit to these “loud buttons”?
To be honest, the box in the function preview video does not have the same buttons as the finished product. We have refined it quite a bit and the buttons on the final product will have less travel distance and will be a little less noisy, but they will have a distinct tactile feel to them. We have tried out a number of different buttons and the ones that will be on the box will be perfect.
There are some familiar parts in the design, though it still maintains a somewhat ambiguous look overall. Which aircraft does it take design cues from?
First of all, the F/A-18C Hornet of course. But there are some parts that are inspired from both the A-10C, the AV-8B Harrier and the F-16C Viper. The data rocker in the Viper is a quite unique piece of hardware and we wanted to incorporate it to make the box more versatile.
The positions and designs of the landing gear, hook and jettison buttons are very distinct. What was the concept behind this?
When I started developing the Multi Function Button Box my plan all along was to place it alongside my Warthog throttle. I wanted handles on it right from the start and that position seemed the most logical. It proved to be a perfect decision since all handles are easy to reach and operate at a natural angle. The jettison switch is guarded by the handles and you won't activate it by mistake. All buttons and switches can be assigned to any function in the simulator, meaning that you might want to use it another way. Maybe to pull the handle on the ejection seat?
The positioning of those three buttons is a simple, but effective way to prevent some regrettable in flight mistakes. As someone that has accidentally done this, I can really appreciate this design decision. While the Multi Function Button Box appears to be more oriented towards modern military aircraft, is it fair to say that even aircraft without a keypad in the cockpit could still effectively utilize this device?
Yes! All buttons can be assigned to any function in any aircraft, and with 40 buttons and switches and 7 axes you can make the Multi Function Button Box fit all aircraft. Your imagination is your limit. Just the gear handle makes sim flying much easier with the box.
For pilots that prefer aircraft from older eras, how can this device be useful for them?
I myself love to fly the old warbirds. In the [P-51] Mustang I use one of the axis knobs to adjust the target wingspan in my gun sight. The row of option buttons beside the keypad is great for switching radio channels. All lights can be easily controlled via the light knobs. In fact, most planes in any simulator will benefit from the Multi Function Button Box.
The decision to ensure this product works with existing mounts is a smart idea. Very forward thinking. Was this done in cooperation with the manufacturers that build the mounts or is this a decision made through consideration for flight sim pilots?
This was a decision from the design team to make it fit existing mounts on the market. We realized that it wouldn't be easy for mount makers to implement a new product onto their mounts. Therefore we adapted and the result proved to be perfect.
When using the prototype during testing what was the most notable improvement to your flight experience?
I don't have to let go of the stick any more! When I didn't use the box all UFC inputs had to be made by mouse and since I'm right handed I had to let go of my stick to input values. That messed up my situational awareness (SA) and formation flying. With the box, I can just let go of my throttle and quickly engage the autopilot, enter coordinates or change radio channels. And it works great in VR.
Can you talk about the Multi Function Button Box being designed with virtual reality in mind?
This is, as I said earlier, my goal right from the start. The sheer size of the box makes it easy to find, even in VR. We will include options to mark any buttons with tactile markings so that you will find it quick in VR. We have also made sure to give all switches different forms so you can locate them using only your fingers. This being said, the box will also work great for all sim pilots who fly with a screen.
Is this the first product that Total Controls has produced?
Yes it is, but it won't be the last. We have at least two more products in development that hopefully will change the way you look at sim flying.
Good luck on your Kickstarter and future development of this unique piece of equipment.
Right now we really hope for the Kickstarter campaign to succeed. There is a huge risk that the Multi Function Button Box never will become a reality if we can't get the funds for the project. If you believe in the project and want to be among the first one to get your hands on a box, back us on Kickstarter. Remember that no one will get charged if we do not reach our goal. There is no risk in backing us, just rewards. And to all backers, thank you!
Skyward Flight Media would like to thank Jonas Hernstig and the Total Controls team for taking time to participate in this interview. For more information and updates from Total Controls, see their Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Don't forget to check out their Patreon along with their Kickstarter campaign to join in early on their development
About the Interviewer
Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza
Co-founder of Skyward Flight Media. After founding Electrosphere.info, the first English Ace Combat database, he has been involved in creating flight game-related websites, communities, and events since 2005. He explores past and present flight games and simulators with his extensive collection of game consoles and computers. Read Staff Profile.