Hardware - Controllers
In the second part of key.aero’s look at flight simulation hardware, we investigate the many different Flight Control systems available on the market.
When it comes to flying our virtual aircraft, I cannot over-emphasise the value of a good controller. The type of joystick or yoke you decide to invest in depends very much on your type of flying. For example, if you are mostly into combat simulation, investing in a good stick or HOTAS (Hands On Throttle And Stick) controller is more logical than a yoke. On the other hand, if civil aviation is more your cup of tea, a yoke would be a better choice. While both CH Products and Saitek have dominated the mainstream flight simulation market, we have also seen the release of some very exciting products from companies such as Elite and Pro Flight. Although these products are significantly more expensive, they are aimed at the professional and training market and are often built for specific aircraft types. For example, Elite produces a yoke that is available for the Mooney Bravo, Beech King Air or for a generic jet. These high-end controllers perform extremely well and if you can afford them, they are worth the price.
The Saitek Cyborg is a nice-looking joystick capable of satisfying your flight simulation needs if you are on a budget.Saitek Cyborg Evo
Starting with the budget controllers, the Cyborg is a futuristic-looking joystick featuring a fully adjustable hand-rest. You can twist the joystick around the Z-axis for rudder control and it comes with a throttle pad which operates smoothly and accurately. The self-centring characteristics are good and it performs very well on both fixed-wing and rotor-wing aircraft. For a basic all-round budget joystick it performs well in a variety of games and flight simulators.
The Aviator is a ruggedly built joystick consisting of a number of trigger buttons on the joystick itself. It also has four toggle switches on the base of the unit and the dual throttles give you the ability to fly twin-engine aircraft realistically.Saitek Aviator
If you are interested in a controller geared more specifically towards flight simulation, the Saitek Aviator is worth looking at. It consists of dual throttles for use with twin-engine aircraft and like the Cyborg, performs well on a wide range of simulators – both civil and military. One useful feature is that the throttles can be locked together when flying single-engine aircraft and while it hasn’t got the functionality of the more expensive HOTAS systems, it provides a very good alternative if you are on a budget. In addition to the x and y axis for elevator and aileron control, the Aviator, like the Cyborg, also has a Z-axis which you can twist to control the rudder.
The FlightStick from CH has been around for a long time. The feedback from the joystick is good, but it lacks the functionality of the more modern HOTAS controllers, such as a throttle and a twist grip. HOTAS stands for hands on throttle-and-stick. It refers to the set-up of the controls in the modern fighter using a single stick and a separate throttle controller. Both the stick and throttle consists of a number of buttons and switches which allows the pilot to keep his ‘hands on throttle-and-stick’, eliminating the need to take his eyes off the horizon. The aim is to improve the pilot’s situational awareness and his ability to operate switches in high ‘g’ manoeuvres resulting in better reaction time.CH FlightStick Pro
The CH FlightStick Pro is a good basic controller and like other CH Products it is very robustly built. Compared to the more sophisticated HOTAS controllers, such as Saitek’s X52, the number of buttons is limited and it lacks the ‘Z’ axis to simulate rudder movement. It is however possible to use the CH Pro Throttle and the CH Pro Rudder pedals with the FlightStick, which will give you a good set-up.
If you are looking for a controller to customise to your heart’s content, look no further - the X52 is bristling with a variety of buttons, sliders and toggle switches. It is a great controller consisting of a fully adjustable hand-rest, twist grip for rudder control and a separate throttle unit with a friction adjuster.Saitek X52
The X52 controller is the successor to the highly popular X45. Saitek invested heavily in researching the X52 and made significant improvements based on feedback from the flight simulation community. It comes in two units, a joystick and a separate throttle unit and features a large number of buttons and switches. Other features include a clock/stopwatch, a Multi-Function Display (MFD) allowing you to check key mappings and a twist grip for controlling the rudder. An interesting feature is the ability to lock the ‘Z’ axis if you decide to use separate rudder pedals. The X52 is a great unit that can be heavily customised to facilitate minimal keyboard input. If you want a good quality controller that will work in any flight simulator then this is well worth looking at.
The X52 Pro is the successor to the X52. Build quality is excellent and if you are looking for a high quality controller you will not be disappointed.X52 Pro
The X-52 Pro is a further improvement on the X52 and while it retains all the best features of the X-52, it includes an updated MFD, which can be used in FSX to adjust the Nav/Coms units. A unique feature of the X52 Pro is that it uses dual concentric springs, which makes the stick progressively heavier as you pull back, giving you a much better feel and feedback in flight simulator. It performs very well in both civil and combat flight sims and is one of my personal favourite controllers.
The CH Yoke does a good job of replicating the controls of a real aircraft. Its rugged build quality and reliability will give you years of service.CH Yoke
If you prefer to fly aircraft equipped with a yoke such as a Cessna, Piper or even Boeing aircraft, for that extra bit of realism I would recommend a controller that replicates the real thing. The CH Products Yoke has always been popular with flight simmers as it is responsive and adds a high level of realism to flight simulation. It has a number of customisable switches that can be assigned to key strokes. In addition, it has three throttle levers mounted on top of the unit so you don’t have to use the keyboard to control the engines. However, on multi-engine aircraft you don’t have the ability to control each engine individually. While it performs very well and is well built, it hasn’t got the same self-centring characteristics of Saitek’s Pro Flight Yoke, so control is not as crisp and precise. If you decide to invest in the CH Yoke, I would also recommend the CH Throttle quadrant and the Pro rudder pedals which greatly enhance the flying experience. See www.chproducts.com for more information.
Saitek’s excellent Pro Flight Yoke System has a great self-centring feature – providing a realistic flying experience.Saitek Pro Flight Yoke System
The Pro Flight Yoke System from Saitek consists of a yoke and a three-lever throttle quadrant. It is also possible to purchase a separate Pro Flight Throttle as an expansion giving you a total of six levers and rocker switches. You then get the flexibility to configure the controllers for a variety of aircraft, such as twin-engine piston and turboprops or multi-engine jets. Other features include a number of buttons and trim switches, reverse thrust and centre-mounted clock/stopwatch. The controls are crisp and precise and the price is also very competitive giving you a lot of equipment for your money. See www.saitek.com for further details.
In addition to the CH and Saitek yokes, there is also a selection of professional high-quality yokes on the market from companies such as Elite and Precision Flight Controls (PFC). These yokes are life-size and look and feel very much like the yoke in a real aircraft. Combined with the separate throttles and rudder pedals, these units will give you a flying experience as you have never experienced before. The downside is these products don’t come cheap and you can expect to pay upwards of £500 for a yoke.
For the serious flight simmer a set of rudder pedals can be considered just as important as a joystick. The reason for this is you are able to replicate the controls of a real aircraft and perform coordinated turns, slips/skids and other manoeuvres, including both taxiing and differential braking, which is a necessary component of real-world aviation. The two most popular rudder pedals aimed at the flight simulator enthusiast are the CH Rudder Pedals and the Saitek Pro Flight Rudder Pedals.
Rudder pedals are invaluable if you want to experience the stick/rudder co-ordination needed to fly a real aircraft.CH Pro Rudder pedals
The Pro Rudder is well built and the pedals are linked together so if you push one pedal forwards the other moves in the opposite direction, just like in a real aircraft. The differential toe brakes are invaluable when manoeuvring on the ground, giving you precise and accurate control. While they do feel on the light side, particularly when flying heavy jets, they add immense realism to virtual flying.
The Saitek Pro Flight Rudder Pedals do an excellent job of replicating the rudder of a real aircraft.Saitek Pro flight rudder pedals
The Saitek pedals are more customisable than the CH Pro Pedals. For example, each pedal can be adjusted to accommodate different sized feet and a rotating knob on top of the unit can be adjusted to increase or decrease the tension or resistance of the pedal movement. Like the CH pedals they operate smoothly and are responsive resulting in a very realistic flying experience.
Hydraulically activated dampers built into the Elite Rudder Pedals give you unprecedented realism, particularly when flying airliners.Elite Rudder Pedals
There is also a good selection of high performance professional rudder pedals available and one of those is the Elite professional Pedals. They are spring-loaded and incorporate a pneumatic damper to achieve realistic rudder movement. Unlike their less expensive counterparts, they feel much heavier and are very similar to what you would expect in a real aircraft, and so the pressure required to operate them is much greater than with the CH or Saitek rudder pedals. This is particularly noticeable when the rudder is out of trim, which is critical during single-engine manoeuvres. So, although the pedals available from CH and Saitek perform very well, they do not give you the same sense of realism as the Elite pedals.
The CH Pro Throttle is a basic throttle controller with a number of customisable buttons and hat switches.Throttle quadrants
Throttle quadrants are particularly useful if you fly multi-engine aircraft. Not only can you replicate the engine controls of a real aircraft, you can also manage each engine individually and make use of differential thrust; for example, when taxiing or during engine-out manoeuvres. The ability to control both engines individually makes all the difference, for example when practising asymmetric flight in a twin-engine aircraft. Flying multi-engine jets takes on a new kind of meaning, as you have to constantly adjust the throttles to keep the engines in synchronization. The most popular throttle quadrant on the market is the CH Pro Throttle Quadrant and as mentioned earlier Saitek has also launched into the market with its Saitek Yoke and throttle quadrant.
CH Pro Throttle
The CH Pro Throttle from CH consists of a single sliding throttle lever. It is possible to use it to complement the CH FlightStick so you don’t need to use the keyboard to control the engines. On the negative side the throttle travel is short and not very realistic and it is also on the expensive side.
With the CH Throttle Quadrant you can finally experience the art of keeping the engines in synchronization during power changes on multi-engine aircraft.CH Throttle Quadrant
The CH throttle quadrant consists of six levers with reverse thrust and customisable toggle switches. This is ideal for multi-engine aircraft as it allows you to practice anything from asymmetric thrust to engine failures. It is also possible to remap each throttle lever to accommodate a variety of different aircraft, ranging from multi-engine jets to twin-engine constant-speed and turboprops.
Saitek's throttle quadrants are highly customisable for both single and multi-engine aircraft. The Pro Flight Throttle Quadrant is available as an expansion to the Pro Flight Yoke System.Saitek Pro Flight Throttle Quadrant
The Saitek Pro Flight Yoke System is an expansion to the Pro Flight Yoke System rather than a standalone unit. It is possible to mount two quadrants side by side, which gives you six levers in total. You then have the ability to customise the controls for twin-engine turboprop and piston aircraft or multi-engine jets. The travel of the throttles is very realistic and the inclusion of reverse thrust is a nice addition. Both the CH and Saitek quadrants come with interchangeable knobs so it is possible to colour-code the levers depending on function.
The PFC Throttle Quadrant is highly realistic and can be customised by interchanging the throttle modules.PFC Throttle Quadrant
Unlike the CH and Saitek throttles, the quadrant from PFC is customised by replacing the bolt-on throttle units for a variety of different modules, such as fuel injected and carburettor twin and single-engine piston aircraft. The turboprop quadrant has independent throttles with detents for reverse thrust and the propeller levers have detents for full feathering. The jet modules, in addition to the power levers, consist of two levers to control the airbrakes and reverse thrust. The throttle quadrant also includes an undercarriage handle, rudder trim and a flap switch. Compared to the CH Products and Saitek throttles, the throttle movement and travel is more realistic. The build quality is also very good and while the price tag is £375 it looks and feels very realistic.
Extracted from an article first published in PC Pilot magazine Winter 2007
Filed Under Flight Simulation Features.
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