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User:Johan G/Hardware Review: CH Products controls (Combatstick, throttle and pedals)

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My setup when at "home",[1] are all from CH Products:

  • 586 Combatstick
  • Pro Throttle
  • Pro Pedals

I also use my own configuration file, mainly because I want trim controls to be placed as on the aircraft I fly most (Petar Jedvaj's Pilatus PC-9M). In the default configuration the top hat rocker switch is used for view control instead of the instead more usual elevator and aileron trim.

Why I bought them specifically, and some rants

I usually plan to stick with my stuff for 5 to 10 years, and want to by high quality gear. In order to do so I did some research on the net comparing mainly CH Products, Logitech, Saitec and Thrustmaster.

What I was aiming for was a joystick, throttle and pedal setup with enough buttons for a HOTAS setup,[2] possibly later getting a throttle quadrant and a yoke.

Note  Keep in mind that I had below experiences while doing my research about 1 1/2 year ago; my memory might not be all correct.

Thrustmaster

Thrustmaster, which I looked at first, seem to have joysticks with a good build quality, but scratching under the surface I found that their top of the line joysticks had some problems. There was some mechanical problem which the enthusiast knew about and fixed upon delivery, but there was also some firmware and/or driver bugs with the initial releases that should not have made it out. Even so, their top of the line looked promising and their support seemed great.

Saitec

Saitec yokes have appeared here far to many times with the exact same problem, a hat rocker very often is wired in a way that makes the view spin around either leftwards (or rightward, I may not remember correctly). The real downer is that they seem to have no interest in fixing the problem, which is either in hardware or software. That's pretty disappointing as their stuff otherwise seem great.

Logitech

Logitechs lower and mid end joysticks are well renowned, but their try at a high end HOTAS setup (G940?) seems to be plagued. Reading their own support forum was really disappointing. What would be known as the "reversal bug", because moving the joystick forward, then back slightly would cause the output to jump and nearly make formation flying and aiming impossible, was discovered within weeks of release, but the forum posts got unanswered for months. The problem seemed to be in the firmware and was related to the force feedback. Doing anything getting even close to a fix took many months further, and when I was looking at it (November 2010?) a bug fix beta was on the way only to a select few, and only after one compassionate employee seem to have needed to pull some strings to even get permission to do something, as research and development was focusing on another product.

CH Products

Finally, after seeing that CH Products line, apart from getting USB instead of game port connectors, seemed to not have changed since my early FS 5.1 days and most of all having seen an excellent and thorough six-page review[3] I settled for them. Also keeping in mind that the joysticks are just a side business to they're real business, industrial joysticks, is helping a bit, as well as that they are a family owned company. They are a bit on the expensive side though, and here in Sweden surprisingly hard to find.

As a side note CH products seem to be the only one of them selling spare parts to their stuff, like cords and potentiometers.

My experiences

Installing drivers, or maybe not

My biggest error was doing all the configuration work before installing the drivers or simply that I installed the drivers. The stick, throttle and pedals worked well right out of the box, so I configured them up to my liking. But when installing the drivers all button assignments shifted. *sigh* I had to do all the configuration again, but now had the experience of doing that the first time, and the help of their setup and calibration software. js-demo is not for mere mortals that think in decimal.

The controls

The 586 Combatstick

If you have small hands, this is not for you. The stick is huge. While my hands are not that small, I sometimes have to change grip while flying in order to trim the aircraft etc. When flying helicopters, which I for the record is very bad at, and I rest my palm on the base the buttons are very far up. For now the throttle wheel and smaller trim wheels on the rather large joystick base is not in use as I have a separate throttle and have mapped the aileron and rudder trim to the top hat rocker and the rudder trim to the cone hat rocker on the throttle. All the buttons and hat rockers have a distinct feel when pressed, while the are easily pressed. The only thing that I would consider worth altering is perhaps a slightly less hard centring spring.

The Pro Throttle

This is the best thing in the setup. The throttle has about 5 centimeters/ 2 inces of horizontal travel. Having very fine control over the throttle is fantastic as it makes it a lot easier to control both horizontal and vertical speed, specially when I trim up the aircraft properly. The multitude of buttons makes it more easy to set up the controls in a HOTAS[2] way. Like the joystick, the throttle has a rather large base and all the buttons and hat rockers are distinct, yet light to press.

The Pro Pedals

The pedal base are a bit on the heavy side, but that helps to keep it in place. The pedals move horizontally and differentially in parallel, when one of them is pushed forward the other moves backward along two "tracks". The pedals are big enough for me, but are placed a bit narrow. Somehow I find toe breaking a bit difficult even though the pedals provide a lot of toe brake travel. I might have to change the braking power in the configuration file.

The flying

Flying with a setup like this is a dream compared to flying with mouse and keyboard. You have so much greater control. Formation flying, and even just cruising gets a lot easier when you can fine tune the throttle. And crosswind landings get a lot more challenging and fun with pedals. While I neither do it often or well, flying helicopters get much easier with torque pedals and a throttle stick used as collective in addition to a joystick. Since most of the helicopters have autothrottle one will not need a specialised collective/throttle control (though I bet a joystick with twist rudder would be great for that).

Trimming

Also having realistic trim controls is rewarding. Trimming a plane up makes for almost hands-free flying for short periods, like when looking at the map (or answering the phone). When changing horizontal or vertical speed, remember PAT REA:[4]

  1. Adjust:
    1. Power,
    2. Attitude and
    3. Trim.
  2. Trim:
    1. Rudder
    2. Elevator and
    3. Aileron.

A few tips when flying with pedals

Crosswind landings and even taxing never get the same again. Consider training taxing before flying in crosswind. Remember to keep the wing on the wind side low, so the wind does not get under it lifting the wing and making steering a lot more difficult. I tended to weather-wane a lot the first days, pointing the nose towards the wind, usually ending up running off the taxi-/runway.

Footnotes

  1. I'm working to far away from "home", and have not got around to get them to where I'm living while working. I may or may not get around to bring them with me.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Hands On Throttle And Stick, in essence you will (almost) never have to hunt for keys on the keyboard.
  3. An excellent and thorough six-page review of CH Products product line.
  4. As found in P-764, T-6B Primary Contact Flight Training Instruction (PDF) on the Chief of Naval Air Training (CNATRA) website.

Some posts at the forum

A few post I've made about my setup at the forum, though I pretty much summed them on this page: