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Hardware Review: Saitek Pro Flight Cessna controls

424 bytes added, 19:16, 30 June 2012
Minor updates. Include known issue with trim wheel on MacOS
* Pro Flight Cessna Rudder Pedals
As of version 2.8.0, these controls are fully supported out-of-the-box in FlightGear*. Saitek also produce non-Cessna branded Pro Flight yoke, quadrant and rudder pedals. Though I haven't used them, based on photos I expect they are very similar in quality and function. In particular, the rudder pedals appear to be the same chassis, but with different pedals, and the throttle quadrant is identical to that provided as part of the Pro Flight Yoke System and Throttle Quadrant products.
The background to this review is worth explaining. A new FG user posted a request for help configuring his new Saitek Cessna controls on the FG forums. They didn't work out of the box as no configuration files existed, and he didn't have enough experience to write the config himself. I offered to help, intending to iteratively write configuration files and have him test them. As this was going to be a very slow process, I contacted Saitek and explained the issue. They very kindly sent me a full set of controls so I could write FG configurations files and this review.
''* - At time of writing (30 June 2012), there is a known issue on Mac OS where using the trim wheel causes FG to crash. We are currently diagnosing this, and hope to have it fixed in time for 2.8.0. This review will be updated if/when this is fixed.''
So, what's it like to fly? Very nice indeed.
The yoke movement is nice and smooth, with the deflection force required increasing quite linearly with deflection distance(apart from a small dead zone at center), so it takes some effort to hold full up elevator with the yoke pulled right back. The yoke self-centers when released, and I suspect uses springs for centering. There's no force-feedback option with FG, but this does provide some feedback of control deflection, particularly when you're flying out of trim. In comparison the deflection force on my joystick is largely constant, making it more difficult to "feel" the amount of control deflection just by the force on my hand. Left/right travel is 180 degrees, and forward/back travel 8cm.
For flying a GA aircraft like a 172, the Beaver or indeed a traditional airliner or business jet, it simply feels more natural than using a joystick. You become much more aware when your aircraft is out of trim, and trim with every power or attitude chanbge change rather than simply holding a bit of back or forward pressure. More realistic, and more fun.
The buttons are quite sensitive, and placed so that ones left thumb lies across both the 4-way switch and the coolie hat. The intention is that once can manipulate both controls at once so it's easy to zoom in while adjusting the view direction at the same time. However, due to the sensitivity of the controls it is a bit too easy to change view when trying to adjust your view direction. Some care is required.
The full set of Cessna controls make for a very compelling simulation, and work well together providing a coherent whole. Despite being one of the maintainers of the FlightGear 172, I'd not done much virtual flying in it recently, with the exception of using it to take part in the MP ATC events at the "EDDF Triangle" on a Sunday evening. Having these controls encouraged me to fly the 172 more. I thoroughly enjoyed doing circuits at Reid Hillview (KRHV) and cross-country flights around the San Francisco Bay area. There's something just "right" about flying the 172 with a yoke, and using the trim wheel as you pull back the power to descend. When I get bored with the 172, there are a whole raft of GA and commercial aircraft for which the yoke is the correct control input.
A yoke setup like this obviously isn't for those flying fast jets or WWII fighters, or even the Piper Cub. I tried flying the P51d, well known for requiring a delicate touch on take-off and struggled much more than normal. It also takes up a lot of space, and really has to be set up permanently. The yoke is sufficiently large that you can't simply reach around it to type, as you might with a joystick, though you could balance a keyboard on top in extremis!. Similarly, the quadrant and trim wheel will get in the way of trying to use your computer for other tasks. To set up the system properly at home I had to replace my computer table with a larger one that I had in the garage, and set up a separate monitor specifically for FG. I'm quite happy with the results, though negotiation of the permanence of this setup with my wife continues. I may yet have to go back to a joystick and pedals. For many people the space requirements will be a deal-breaker, and a high end joystick is much more spouse-friendly.
There's no getting away from the fact that this stuff is expensive. The Cessna yoke carries a premium over the Saitek Pro Flight Yoke, and the pedals are similar in price to the Pro Flight Combat Rudder Pedals. List price for each is just under $200. If you are using a £30 $50 joystick quite happily, this will seem excessive. However, a better comparison is with the equivalent CH products yoke, or high-end joysticks which are comparable in price and are designed to last a long time. A case in point: My first two joysticks cost around $50 and each lasted a couple of years before there was too much play in the axes to allow accurate flying. I then bought a CH Products Fighterstick for around $150, which is still just as accurate 5 years later.
The yoke does come with a quadrant, and discounting that from the price makes it comparable with my joystick. On that basis, the cost gets more reasonable. The pedals are a bit trickier to assess in value for money terms. I think they are definitely better than the CH Products equivalent, but I'm not convinced that the price differential is completely justified.
The trim wheel is unique, and while it costs the same as a moderately priced joystick, it does offer a step up in simulation, and IMO is worth it for those flying GA aircraft and who have the space. You can justify it with the money you save flying FG rather than a commercial sim!
[[Category:Hardware reviews|Saitek Pro Flight Cessna controls]]

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