Getting To Grips With A Yoke
By Bob May
This article is really for those who are contemplating buying a yoke for the first time. If you already use one you will have already gone through the experiences that I had but you may find it interesting anyhow.
A few words about my starting point. I have been simming for 14 years from FS98 through FSX and for all this time I have used a joystick. At first it was the Microsoft Sidewinder and then about six years ago when the old Sidewinder got a bit sloppy in the springs I changed to a Saitek AV8R which I love. The AV8R introduced me to the two lever throttle, very handy when taxiing a DC3 or docking a Twin Otter seaplane. Mostly I fly light twins and small turboprop airliners and for those a yoke would be more realistic.
My real world flying experience is limited to one summer with a gliding club and an uncompleted flying course in a Cessna 150. This was many, many years ago, I was then, and still am, a wannabe pilot.
I have not counted the hours of simulated flight that I've done but it must amount to a thousand or more and I reckoned myself to be pretty good. Bad weather flying? I take it in my stride. Crosswind landings and wind shear? I learned how to to cope with them. Difficult approaches? Bring 'em on!
However, from my earliest flight simming days I envied those who had a yoke. I hankered after one. The main reason why I didn't have one is the obvious one, they are not cheap, but there were other reasons. Not all FS models suit a yoke, what about the helicopters that I like to fly now and again? What about the jet fighters? Would having a yoke installed on my desk prevent me from ever again flying these?
Being now retired and having more time on my hands, and also having less financial pressures now that my two kids have flown the nest I thought it about time to take the plunge and invest in a yoke. What if it turns out to be no good, or I don't like it, or I miss my helicopters and jet fighters so much that I want to revert to my AV8R? Well, I figured that it would be sad, but not the end of world, I could always sell the yoke on eBay.
After looking at the available yokes I chose the Saitek Pro Flight system which comes with a nice looking throttle quadrant. The reason for my choice is not of major relevance to this article, I'm not plugging or dissing any particular make, as far as I know they all do the same job, but I suppose my previous satisfactory experience with the Saitek AV8R swayed my choice. The Saitek Pro Flight package does not include rudder pedals but I had committed myself to just over a hundred pounds worth of kit and a set of rudder pedals would double that so I decided that setting the FSX control option to 'auto rudder' would be a satisfactory alternative. Big mistake!
I ordered it online and waited.
Three days later a big box arrived. A word of warning guys, this is not something you can smuggle into the house without the wife noticing! Somehow I had not expected it to be so big and so heavy. On opening the box I was confronted with something resembling a giant egg box with moulded compartments. It contained the yoke, the throttle quadrant, various cables, a packet of small screws, a CD and a little blue book.
The book was a bit of a let down, its 74 pages contained only 16 pages in English. I had expected something like that sheet of instructions that you get when buying a flat-pack bookcase but the assembly instructions were limited to a few words and two small pictures. However, assembly turned out to be a pretty straightforward business.
The yoke itself was already assembled and ready to go and the bracket that fixes it to the desk slots easily into the front of the yoke and is fixed by turning a large thumbscrew under the desk until you can turn it no more. It's just a fancy G cramp really. The yoke has soft rubber feet which squash down to give a really firm fixing, if you pull hard back on the yoke your desk will move before the yoke housing moves.
The throttle quadrant takes a bit more time to install and you need a cross head screwdriver, this is because you have a choice of positions to mount the quadrant, either on top of the desk or lower down with the top of the quadrant level with the edge of the desk. After trying both I chose the former position. I had given some thought to the positioning of the throttle quadrant even before it arrived. I wanted a realistic layout so the throttle must be on my right side where it is in real planes.
The rest of the set-up was simple, the cable from the quadrant plugs into the yoke and the cable from the yoke plugs into the nearest USB port. Job done. No calibration is required, the default settings suit FSX and FS2004. I was impressed, there is nothing flimsy about this package, it looks and feels solid.
So, there I was sitting in the captain's seat with the the yoke in my left hand and the other hand resting on the throttle lever ready to go flying. I was a little concerned that the clock/timer display on the yoke was blank but I discovered a bit later that this function comes to life after the installation CD is run for the first time, and I was impressed to see that it showed exactly the right time, obviously the program on the CD links the yoke to the computer clock. In case you're wondering, the clock cannot display FS time.
OK, time to choose a plane for my first yoked up flight. I love the Carenado Cessna 337 Skymaster so that was my choice. I chose an airfield at sea level with no nearby mountains and set fair weather with no wind; well it was my first try with a yoke.
Sitting on the runway with the props ticking over I tried out the controls. I had read reviews saying that the yoke was sticky in the pitch axis so I gave it few pulls and twists. It was a bit sticky. I have some very light oil that is used to lubricate hair clippers so I put a few drops on the metal yoke shaft and tried again. That fixed it.
I was a bit worried that the auto rudder setting might affect taxi control so I cracked open the throttle and rolled slowly down the runway to try a few turns. It worked OK, she weaved and turned as I turned the yoke like a car steering wheel and, after I had fumbled around and located the brake button, she stopped OK too but in spot view the rudders did not move visually, a pity but not a show stopper.
At this stage I thought I had better study the button layout illustrated on page 10 of the little blue book. Including the POV hat switch there are six switches on the yoke, three of them are dual purpose up-down so there are nine functions. I tried to memorize them and didn't do a very good job of it, but hey, that will come with familiarization. Time to drill some holes in the sky!
The Carendo Skymaster has a good view from the virtual cockpit so I adjusted my seat height, put my left hand on the yoke, right hand on the throttle. I had planned a simple left hand circuit and landing, easy peasy.
Throttle smoothly forward, off we go. No torque swing to worry about in the Skymaster and no crosswind so this will be an easy take off run, or so I thought.