Trip's Mainstream Joystick/Hotas/Pedals guide

Please Note: This post covers only mass market joysticks and HOTAS from major brands. If you are really all about helicopters and willing to spend the money for the good stuff this article probably isn’t for you! Sadly the only product I’ve tested from our helicopter specific control suppliers is the cyclic gimbal from microhelis.de which I love and still use for my helicopter simulator.

A few years back I was known in one community as “the Joystick Guru”, and not much has changed in the landscape since then. That said, I have some pretty strong opinions, all grounded in many hours of flight time with each option I will mention except the X-56. Likewise I have opened up and tinkered with them all, and fully or nearly fully disassembled almost all of them.

Before I start because this may change what you get out of this post, I think it is very, very worthwhile to get a pair of rudder pedals, and with the sub-$100 Thrustmaster pedals available you might want to consider adding them in. Pedals might take some adjustment, but they greatly improve immersion and control as well as opening up better Joystick options.

First and foremost, do NOT get a Logitech stick. I’m talking about their own sticks, not the former Saitek sticks that are now Logitech branded. It pains me to say this because I used to be a huge fan of their stuff, but for many years Logitech has been known for using absolutely god-awful potentiometers. Initially the stick will work just fine, but with very few hours of use you will start getting “potentiometer spiking” which will have you fighting an invisible battle against incorrect inputs that you most likely won’t even know is screwing up your control corrections.

I am a strong proponent of the T16000M. I wish it had more buttons, and I hate the scratchy feeling of the gimbal after a few hours but the thing is reliable and extremely precise due to it’s hall-effect sensors. As mentioned, the T16000M HOTAS throttle has a control that is great for anti-torque, in addition to also having the standard twist grip option so you can try both and use either. The only drawback is the centering spring, but it’s not super stiff and you will have to deal with spring action on any affordable stick but the Saitek (now Logitech) options.

And so I move to those. I owned two pre-Logitech X-52 Pro HOTAS, the second because the first died just barely out of warranty. And there is the rub, reliability is a major concern with these. I also bought a post-Logitech X-52 Pro and I strongly suspect that there was in reality little to no improvement actually made to them. This is not surprising considering that they’ve been selling the same sticks for many many years without switching to better pots despite well over a decade of complaints. Essentially I think the X-52 (and also the X-56 which is basically a (significantly) updated version are pretty much the best reasonably priced option for helicopters due to the access to the spring. Just be aware that you may find the unit develops problems long before you would expect. The Saitek sticks definitely feel far nicer than the T-16000M and have a lot more buttons, but are less accurate (especially over time). I never tried the magnet mod, which is reported to help a lot. Google it to learn more.

One of the best options are the CH Products sticks. They are top notch quality in terms of accuracy and reliability, but they are not very fancy and still feel like a toy in your hand. The dualbarrel gimbal generally turns off most people due to feeling the little “bump” when you cross from any quarter of the stick travel to any other quarter instead of only when you cross center. This is actually a good thing for fixed wing, and if you can mentally get over it it’s not really going to hurt you. In fixed wing it’s better, and in helicopters I found the spring tension to be very light. I think out of all these sticks the CH Figherstick I owned had by far the lowest spring tension out of the box. There is one problem though, the CH sticks do not have a rudder axis, and if you elect to buy the throttle (sold separately) it doesn’t have one either. If you are going with pedals this is a pretty great option though. For me the price is too high for a stick that despite it’s reliability and accuracy still feels like a toy.

As someone else said, do not buy the T-Flight HOTAS. It is terrible. The stick travel is far too short, it’s almost as bad as flying with an X-box controller. There is nothing good about this stick. The desperate need to replace it is actually what catapulted me into my joystick/HOTAS obsession.

Finally, there’s the Thrustmaster Warthog. This is not going to be brief! It’s not really “affordable” by most folks measure and it has no really decent way to control your tail-rotor IMO so you will probably also want to buy pedals. A Warthog HOTAS is what I use to fly modern fixed wing, so I have MANY many many hours on this stick. In general I recommend it if you are willing to spend, but if you are looking to focus on helicopters you might then want to go for broke and get some of the specialized hardware. The Warthog is a mix of good and bad, and opinions vary wildly on it depending on what is important to you and a bit of luck.

Why luck? It is not terribly uncommon to have issues with a brand new Warthog, or with a few hours on it. The good news though, is that these problems will almost certainly occur long before your warranty runs out. Long term reliability, unless you beat the heck out of the gimbal it is unlikely to give you problems aside from “stiction” requiring some (easy) disassembly, clean up, and good grease. For most people this will be something you won’t feel the need to do until after the Warranty is up anyway, but I also believe you probably wouldn’t have any issue with warranty support for opening up the stick base.

So here’s my breakdown, I’ll go with bad news first. Without an extension the stick gimbal is far too stiff for helicopters and it’s plastic. With many hours of use it gets sticky too as mentioned above. You will also find a lot of complaints online about the gimbal design, but what’s not apparent is that those complaints are actually specific to fixed wing aircraft, and mostly specific to aerobatics. The problem is that it’s difficult to move the stick on one axis without also getting some input on the other axis. This is actually true of every stick on this list.

Here is very good news though. You can buy a joystick extension online (ebay is a good option) that will drastically reduce the spring tension (and stickiness too if you get to that point). The Warthog then goes from much too stiff to far better than any of the other options here by adding an extension. For helicopters especially the longer the extension the better. With a longer extension the spring tension is basically nothing. It’s not even enough to center the stick in many cases. The extensions are not super cheap though, and they also give you a lot more leverage to damage the gimbal. Even with an extension, the only way it’s very likely to break is if you let someone use it unsupervised and they are slamming the stick against the stops.

Another great thing about the Warthog, you can actually buy repair parts if it’s out of warranty!

The up side of the Warthog is huge if you aren’t going to be offended by the gimbal not being up to snuff with the rest of the rig. It feels AMAZING. It weighs a ton, and the metal grip makes you really feel like you are using the real thing instead of a toy. I can’t over-stress this, it is a whole different world in terms of how it feels. The toggle switches, push buttons, and hats are also FAR better quality and have much better feel than anything else on the mass market. They feel real, period. It’s very very hard to go back to a plastic stick after you’ve put you hands on one of these. I couldn’t do it. It’s also got a ton of buttons and switches for you to assign to whatever you want. The Warthog throttle doesn’t have much in the way of flaws, it is just awesome.

Something people seem to ask about surprisingly frequently is the Thrustmaster Cougar. This setup is very long discontinued. It was the predecessor to the Warthog and had terrible quality gimbal parts and throttle action. It wore out very, very quickly and also doesn’t get along well with modern versions of Windows. There were some amazing mods for it depending on application, but they too are long since discontinued and had flaws. I’ve owned three Cougar HOTAS setups. One had the legendary U2NXT mod, but even that had major issues that eventually caused me to sell it. In general, just say NO!

In conclusion I’ll list my recommendations:

Lower price option:

Either: Take a risk on long term reliability and get the Saitek X-52 or X-56 or get the super reliable and more accurate T16000 setup which feels a lot less sexy, has a lot fewer buttons on the stick, and no external spring to remove or mod.

Higher price option:

If you fly fixed wing as well and want something that will work well for both get the Thrustmaster Warthog Hotas, a stick extension, and a set of rudder pedals.
or
If you are want really proper helicopter controls an are willing to spend even more look into getting a proper helicopter setup from someone like the ProFlightTrainer setup. I can not personally review any of these setups and some have reliability and quality issues so do your research first!

3 Likes

Now it’s time to talk pedals! Unfortunately I’ve only used one mainstream pedal set, so I don’t have nearly the wealth of info to offer that I do on Joysticks.

If you are considering pedals at all, you should buy at least the sub-$100 T-flight pedals. They will add a ton of realism and immersion as well as greatly improving control (after an adjustment period).

My first (G940) and third (SimPed F-16) oedals sets are long out of production so no point in discussing them at any length.

My second set was the Saitek Combat Pro rudder pedals. Under my moderately heavy use these were a real disappointment. The combat version have really nice metal pedals, but to the best of my knowledge the rest of the assembly is mechanically the same as the regular Saitek pedals.
Unfortunately, the pedals (footrests?) themselves are basically the only metal component in the entire thing (other than springs). Everything else is rather flimsy plastic. The pedals basically ride on a plastic cart that rolls back and forth on little rubber/plastic wheels inside the base. The pedals don’t feel at all rigid, I could feel the plastic flexing while using them. In fact after a while the nice metal pedals had a visible sad looking droop to them caused by the flimsy plastic foundation upon which they reside wearing out. If you don’t do something to keep dust and dirt from getting into the pedals (the dust shield design does not do the job at all) they will soon get a gritty feel to them. The wheels rolling inside my pedals soon felt (I’m talking about a vibration kinda feeling here not friction) like pushing a shopping cart at the grocery store. The centering mechanism is also too stiff a bump at center, while somehow despite that fact got to where it was inadequate to overcome the friction and center the pedals completely (this only matters in fixed wing).

I have never used the Thrustmaster T-flight pedals but based on the reviews I’ve seen and the extremely reasonable price point I think anyone looking for pedals should buy these unless you are going to buy a higher end pair instead. considering my opinion of the Saitek pedals I have to they’ve got to be better and they are cheaper.

At the time that my Saitek pedals got to the point where they had to be replaced (maybe 18 months old at most) there were no other currently available options on the mass market. After much research I sucked up the money and put my name on the waiting list for MFG Crosswind pedals. At that time these were a no-brainer if you were willing to spend the money. Slaw Device had not yet switched over to cam centering and they were much more expensive anyway and it was hard enough to swallow the purchase price of the MFG unit.

The MFG Crosswind pedals are absolutely fantastic. What’s more, I was able to drill two holes and mount an ebay hydraulic motorcycle steering damper to my MFG pedals to give me hydraulic resistance instead of the centering spring. I can also switch them to fixed wing mode in seconds by turning the damper setting all the way down. Even without doing this, the spring centering has a soft center (two cams are provided for different feel) and removing the spring, and reinstalling it takes seconds and requires no tools at all. I’m still using them hard four or five years later and they are still silky smooth and accurate.

The pedals are absolutely fantastic, and better suited to Helicopters than any others that I’m aware of but they are not cheap. I highly recommend them.

Now for pedals I’ve never used: I’ve been rather lusting after the Thrustmaster Pendular rudder pedals. Despite the fact that I’m sure I’m never actually consciously aware of the MFG pedal design while I’m using them the pendular pedals are the closest thing to real anti-torque pedals in the way they move. Unfortunately the design of them makes removing the springs a bit of a fiddly project that you won’t want to perform on a regular basis so that makes them less than ideal if you fly both helicopters and fixed wing. Also looking at photos of them I didn’t spot any good way to mount a hydraulic damper. My wallet is grateful for the deficiency, but it’s really a shame. If buying them did not constitute a major financial decision for me I’d get them and figure out a way to modify them. I love doing that kind of stuff and they look so sexy! They are expensive as hell though, and I’ve seen reports of them breaking too. Still, I want them! For the price, if you don’t care about fixed wing you would certainly be better off buying proper anti-torque pedals from one of the suppliers serving the heli-sim community.

Slaw-Device Pedals: I haven’t read anything about these since shortly after I bought my MFG pedals. These are a work of art and all metal. If you want the sexiest non-helicopter specific pedals and are willing to spend the money these might be the way to go. I have never looked at them with a mind toward removing the springs but I imagine you can probably easily adjust the tension to very low and since they now offer a cam centering design there is no center bump to irritate you.

Last up is the VKB T pedals. Another item I’ve never used. A (internet) friend told me the main thing to be aware of us that they are VERY small. He said it was a surprise when they arrived and he saw how small they are. These are a quality unit, but despite their resemblance not much better suited to use as anti-torque pedals than the others listed here. They also have no toe brakes, so if you fly fixed wing that may be an issue for you. Availability can also be an issue.

1 Like

Hello

I currently have a Thrumaster T.16000M FCS Flight pack.
The pack includes the joystick, the accelerator and the pedals.
It was within my budget and I bought it over a year ago.
I use it in FSX and X-Plane 11 and it was very easy to configure in both.

With respect to the joystick I had to make a lot of force because of the rigidity of the spring. I read a note from Sergio Costa and I encouraged myself to open it and put a seal to compress it a bit. It was a very good change.

The throttle is very good and has many buttons and axles.
I have set up the buttons mainly the internal and external views, landing gear and axle travel.

The pedals are firm. I attached them to a board under the desk so they don’t shift.
Since it was my first experience with pedals I had a hard time finding a proper friction adjustment.
I think that if I have money someday it would be the only thing I would change for a softer and more specific helicopter pedal.

To this day I am still very satisfied with the purchase I made and the quality and performance of the set.

Have a good flight!

(sorry about my English)

I have a set of Crosswind’s currently in transit & I’d be interested in the damper mod, Trip. Do you have any images or a video of the procedure?

Co-incidentally they are replacing a 3-yr old set of TFRP pedals which have been awful for the past year. So if you do buy these, expect to replace them quite frequently, or start saving for higher-quality items straight away.

I echo your sentiments about the Cougar. 20 years ago it was the class of the field. I still have mine but the throttle was converted to a stand-alone arduino-based USB controller with a Vipergear Hall sensor in place of the throttle pot. The stick requires the same treatment, along with this gimbal mod although this is unlikely to ever happen as the grip functions perfectly on my Virpil WarBRD stick base.