The modern market of gaming devices for virtual piloting is quite vast. The prices vary depending on the manufacturer and the materials of which the controller has been assembled. How does one not get lost in this ocean of gadgets and find a joystick that would fit their hand just right?
Flight Arsenal: What Types of Flight Simulators Controllers Are There?
In general the genre of flight simulators itself implies that you have, as the reviews state, “a joystick”. However, a regular user would come across a whole range of difficulties when searching for the most practical device. Apart from the regular flight yoke handle you’ll find different panels, handles and pedals. We’ll find out a bit later whether an amateur gamer needs all these features.
Regardless of whether you’re battling in the skies over Britain or are conquering a distant constellation, the set required for comfortable gaming will be pretty much the same. The products available are attractive as they are sold with a bunch of accessories, but an amateur wouldn’t know the difference between a flight stick and a flight throttle. Here’s a brief training, especially for newbies.
1. A Flight Stick
This is the very joystick as you know it. It will allow controlling your military (or not so military) craft in the air in any plane within the following axes**:
- X1: up and down tilts, the axis is responsible for the tilting the craft in space.
X2: left and right tilts, the axis allows controlling the aircraft’s pitch.
** This is the minimum required functionality. For more details, refer to the corresponding paragraph of the review
A modern flight stick is not a mere two-plane stick located on a hinge, but a device that at least allows comfortable shooting and flying in all types of arcades, and provides much less pleasant experience when playing more serious simulators. Here are the details that a flight stick usually has:
A trigger which enables you to pour liquid lead (or cosmic plasma, depending on your preferred genre) on your enemies’ heads from above.
An automatic fire switch allows you not to distract yourself by constantly hitting the trigger and lets you turn on the non-stop fire mode by default.
Additional buttons are located on the panel near the stick’s bottom. Their amount depends on the manufacturer. They are a sort of customizable aids for newbies’ space flights.
A traction lever is responsible for controlling the engine. Once again, this is drawback is due to the large amateur audience of the product, as separate device supplely controlling traction are available. This hybrid will do for those who have just decided to try a new genre.
A hat switch or a mini joystick is familiar to all the gamepad owners. It lets you spin your “head” 360º in the pitch and perform lots of other actions, such as opening and navigating through the menu when you’re too lazy to get your mouse.
Additional sliders, wheels and buttons are a trade mark of such companies as Razer, which focus the great majority of their products on the market of casual and eSports gaming. They would hardly be suitable for pro flight simulator gamers as the tiny buttons are located on a single stick and are easy to be mixed up.
Feedback allows for more responsive control thanks to the Forced Feedback technology. A forced feedback joystick is much more expensive, but it will provide for a deeper flight experience on the other hand.
Vibration will let you partly feel the effect of cockpit breaking down or of a wing being broken away. This option is available for more costly models.
Best Flight sticks allow playing such flight simulators as «War Thunder» in the arcade mode. However, you won’t do without additional gadgets should you feel like playing some more serious flight simulators.
2. A Flight Throttle
This is a controller for flexible traction control on the Y2 axis (it is responsible for moving back and forth). This is an add-on for advanced gamers who require more control over engine. The throttle contains:
An N-way switch. The number of positions depends on the model, 4 is the optimal one.
- The set of additional buttons also depends on the model of a throttle. Even the most expensive throttle’s tilt sensor allows reducing the deviation of the axis up to 1º which is much more convenient than an ever-sliding out of your fingers scrolling wheel.
3. Rudder Pedals
This element seems to be more appropriate for auto simulators, yet the pedals are in charge of controlling the X2 axis (enabling the left-right movement). They function as a rudder and help you follow your course while expertly avoiding the enemies’ fire. Should you happen to buy a premium set, rudder pedals will be the only element allowing you to control the course as the flight sticks rarely have such an option.
The difference between flight simulator and race simulator rudder pedals is that the former more resemble the real aircraft’s elements. Once you push a pedal too hard, the other one will move back. You won’t be able to perform a proper turn without a rudder, neither you will be able to escape your enemies’ attack, so if you’ve decided to invest in an expensive device, rudder pedals will be irreplaceable.
4. A Flight Yoke
This is an independent device for civil flight simulator fans. By default it allows controlling the flight along the 4 main axes. The main disadvantage is that even though it’s easy to control a Boeing or something like that but a multi-purpose jet will require a more sensitive controller. A nimble aircraft will become uncontrollable when turning due to stiff movement more suitable for languid Airbus flight. As an option, you can switch to a more massive military craft, such as IL-4 or B-17 the control of which doesn’t require any extravagant turns.
5. Info Panels
They are required by the so-called “worldly-wise” gamers. Even if you plan to learn controlling IL-2 or Lock On professionally, you will hardly be able to do without the desktop info panels. As a rule, such devices, which I consider to be extremely decorative and shamelessly uninformative, can serve as:
The airspeed Indicator
The vertical speed indicator
They can also show a ratio of the above mentioned figures. Sometimes it’s possible to install a large panel displaying up to 24 statuses simultaneously
As you can guess, you can have a separate panel for all the indicators you have. The only thing that is required is enough space and money. The panels are more likely to be an option for the fans of civil flights as you will hardly have any time on your hands during a battle for checking all the indicators. However, it may become necessary when playing certain "masochistic" combat simulators.
6. Flight Switch Panel
Now this is something that permits the users not only to admire the figures on the screen but also lets them stir various levers, just like a real pilot. The panel lets you control the chassis, ignition, traction (which becomes useless if you have the throttle), ten signal lights and there are even a couple more useful features. Once again, this gadget can be diagnosed with the Boeing syndrome. You might want to turn on all 10 signal lights with different buttons when simulating civil flights, but the panel will become practically useless when playing a military aircraft.
7. Head Movement Tracker
This is a device for those who believe that turning your head inside the cockpit with a hat switch is not realistic enough. An entire virtual reality system, such as Oculus Rift, or a more reasonably priced options could be used for this purpose.
Mind the HOTAS
HOTAS (Hands on Throttle and Stick) or a two-component control system is a separate type of controller worth mentioning. As it is obvious from its name, the system allows for a hybrid control of an aircraft by using two controllers, a stick and a throttle. The set includes the elements with the same handle shape combined in a single ergonomic device. It is possible to fully customize the axes and buttons as well. At the beginning of the joystick era HOTAS cost a fortune and considered to be a gaming luxury. Nowadays this system is the best option for all virtual pilots of an intermediate level.
Spinning Around at 360º
And now we’ll help the newbie pilots figure out what to do with this infinite number of axes, channels and buttons.
The minimum amount of axes required even for arcade flights is 4 (for tilting, pitching, thrusting, and yawing). An average stick allows for them, so buying a throttle isn’t a must if you’re only beginning to enter the world of simulators.
Top joystick models have 10-20 axes. Installing corresponding customizing software before your first battle will help you not to get lost in them.
Expensive flight sticks are likely to be deprived of yawing as the manufacturers count on you buying the whole set including the rudder pedals. That’s why you should carefully observe the technical characteristics before buying a best-seller.
Yawing is most commonly assigned to additional buttons to the detriment of functionality and of course the atmosphere. Most often the cut-rate sticks replace this function with 360º rotation.
HOTAS and certain flight sticks can be upgraded with rudder pedals and additional features. A quality two-component system costs much more, but the compatibility of two controllers is guaranteed.
Are You Paying For the Brand Name or For the Quality?
Pro gaming piloting devices market is both rich and lean. You can encounter the upgrade methods for various controllers, questions regarding adding new features to the panels and recommendations for replacement materials in the finishing of the controller on the simulator experts’ message boards.
Why is there all of that? They say that everyone is going crazy in their own way and that people simply do this for the fun of it. That’s why, young pilots, you can leave your fears concerning the functions behind. The only thing that can scare you is the price.
Let’s now focus on joystick manufacturer giants (and some market followers) and we’ll share our opinion, supported with some arguments, of course.
How to Choose the Best Flight Simulator Controller?
Razer, Steelseries – no matter how strange it seems, we won’t even consider these tycoons of eSports gadgets. The thing is that Razer cannot be competed with when it comes to manufacturing mice and keyboards, but their range of flight simulator equipment is too unimpressive. These companies’ devices are targeted mostly for wide audience, so there could be issues connected with limited functionality even when playing arcades.
- Saitek. This brand might as well be the most popular one among both professional and amateur gamers due to its wide product range. The company manufacturers both flight sticks and throttles as well as the entire sets of additional equipment.
Saitek X line has once become the benchmark on the market. Although this HOTAS device costs a lot even today, the price is fully justified. The feedback at least is exclusively positive. The materials are also fine, the handle rubber seems durable enough, and the lever course is tight which enables you to feel the mass of the craft you’re piloting. There are no gaps and squeaks.
Saitek Pro Flight Rudder Pedals
Saitek Pro Flight Rudder Pedals (from $440) are a nice pedal add-on the joystick of the line.
Saitek Pro Flight Multi Panel
It is the most useful panel of all available. It costs ~$149.99 Check the current price
All in all Saitek devices provide you with good value for money, but the value is also the issue here. You’ll hardly find a cut-rate device here, but investing into this brand will leave you confident in terms of quality. Moreover, the range of products is immense, so if money is not a problem, buying X-65F is your instant choice.
- Logitech. This is a mass market manufacturer; both its prices and quality vary.
Logitech Flight System G940 Force Feedback Joystick
Flight System G940 encompasses more options than other devices covered in this article. It includes all the necessary levers, rudder pedals and lots of other extremely useful elements. The price of G940 is very competitive (from ~$450), so if you want to have it all at once, choose Logitech.
It is quite hard to find anything else that is remarkable in this manufacturer’s product line. Any flight stick will do for arcades, their quality is acceptable, but the materials of which they are made are poor. Most models have cost-saving covering, that’s why the cheap plastic is guaranteed to squeak during the game play.
Just like a college textbook, the device is useful yet very expensive. If you buy Thrustmaster you’ll get an ever-durable Bentley, but you’ll have to upgrade it with Kia spare parts.
Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog Joystick
According to the manufacturer, Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog is identical to the interior of the attack aircraft A-10C Warthog (the name of which it received). HOTAS is a high-quality system that is barely compatible with any add-ons. You won’t have any problems fixing and mounting additional features to a Saitek device, but you’ll have to work hard to attach them to the Warthog. According to the message boards, despite all of the advantages of HOTAS, you won’t do without rudder pedals when using this controller.
Price: ~$399 Check the current price
As for the reasonably-priced flight sticks, Thrustmaster T.Flight Hotas Stick X is available and is not as cool as Warthog, yet it operates well enough for its price tag (~$39.81) which leaves us satisfied.
This paragraph is devoted to the fans of arcade flights. If your budget is tight enough when it comes to investing in a gadget, and you don’t strive to become an ace pilot, then a Genius joystick will be just what you need.
Genius METAL STRIKE FF Joystick
Genius METAL STRIKE FF Joystick (~$29) comes with all the basic axes, a set of extra button and even has forced feedback. Of course, the quality is incomparable to that of flagman products, but it will do for playing War Thunder for several hundred hours, for example.
What Should You Choose? Should you pick HOTAS manufactured by a single company or by multiple ones?
As usual, the answer depends on the genre you prefer.
If you aim to fly as much as possible and get some realistic experience in War Thunder or World of Warplanes, then there is hardly anything better than HOTAS. MMO flights don’t require monitoring all of the indicators in an aircraft, even when it’s a simulator. The system will also suit IL-2 and X series. Things are not that simple for certain space simulators, as the idea there is that the more buttons there are, the better. Elite is a game like that. If you happen to choose a moderately-priced joystick, make sure the best flight stick has a yawing axis as it is crucial for semi-arcades.
Some serious simulators, such as Microsoft flight simulator require a full set of devices. You’ll need all those panels and buttons that were useless in dynamic battles. DCS World requires everything there is on the controller market (many gamers find that even that is not enough for comfortable gaming). Obviously, the price for a super set will be premium.
Typical arcades, such as the World of Warplanes do not require excessive perks. Moreover, you can play without spending a penny just with your mouse and keyboard. If you feel like using a yoke, though, buy a flight stick with minimum features.
How to Make Your Choice?
First of all, pay attention to:
Assembly Quality. It is best to buy the device off-line, so that you can feel it.
Comfort. Even if all reviews rate the gadget 10/10, but it still doesn’t fit your hand properly, look for alternative. Any review is biased and you’d much rather spend your money on something you like. Mind the golden rule that the handle should be heavy to make your experience of using a virtual yoke more realistic.
Compatibility with other devices. The wider is the range of compatible devices, the better. The best thing is the option of combining parts made by different companies.
Necessity. Do you really need the rudder pedals? Perhaps, you could play with a gadget that is much less expensive?
Will You Get More Frags or Will You Have to Deal with Bugs?
A newbie will have a hard time not only when it comes to choosing the hardware. Often the software has a bunch of drawbacks. Despite being proven over years, the legendary MFSX and DSC for flight simulators have just as many disadvantages. Moreover, if you expect the air battle to be as realistic as possible, you’ll likely be disappointed, as the IL-2’s graphics are far from Crysis ones (and this aircraft allows for bearable battle view, its graphics are considered to be one of the best). Fps freezes and high ping common for online games also prevent you from fully plunging into the atmosphere.
However, as confirmed by the numerous online communities in the USA and all over the world, the true gamers accept the challenge. Any newbie pilot will find the answers to any question on the corresponding message boards.