CH Products Eclipse Yoke
By Kevin Glover (14 December 2008)
With a few exceptions, a pilot only interacts with his craft through the controller. He or she will flip switches and pull levers, but the flying itself is enacted purely through the yoke, sidestick, or whatever it may be. Therefore, is it logical to invest hundreds of dollars in computer components, pay for ridiculously priced sceneries and aircraft, and yet use an out-dated and unrealistic controller? Probably not, although I myself have for many years. Until experiencing the CH Eclipse, I simply did not realize how much I was missing...
The CH Eclipse yoke came securely positioned in Styrofoam packaging; the yoke itself was fastened securely in its box by a flap of cardboard which held the product in place. In addition to this were two small bags: one containing the clamps and one containing the small installation manual and CH Products information.
On the standard simmer's desk, installation will be perfectly trouble free. The clamps screw into the base of the yoke and will hold it quite steadily without any fuss. Simply put the screws through the clamps, thread the screws into the base of the yoke, and tighten to taste. These clamps are very sturdy, and I was able to get a most secure purchase on my desk. On the whole, the yoke will need about eight inches from the edge of the desk to the rear for it not to hit anything; This measurement allows for the shaft to be fully extended. Therefore, if you have an old cathode-ray tube monitor like my own, you may need to optimize your setup for the yoke.
I have heard some complaints of the previous CH controllers being bland. In all honesty, the appearance of a product like this should have no impact whatsoever; emphasis should be placed on how well it performs. In any case, CH has maintained the high level of quality of the earlier yoke but certainly spruced up the appearance of the Eclipse. Instead of a bland head in the middle of the yoke, there are now two backlit buttons and one lit three-way switch. Additionally, the three throttle axes have been given the colors black, red, and blue in order to better represent throttle, mixture, and propellor control respectively. This yoke certainly makes an impression sitting on my desk and I received some pleasant compliments on how 'professional' my setup now looks. It's gratifying that such an attractive product can still perform beautifully.
Before experiencing a true yoke like this one, I flew on a rather inexpensive joystick. It didn't have realistic resistance or anything of that sort, but it got the job done. The thing which so astounds me is just how much the proper controls give to a flying experience.
The CH Eclipse yoke has a smooth, if firm, action. It takes some acclimatizing to transition to this product if you are not accustomed to a yoke, but on the whole I was delighted with my first experiences. One uses the entire arm to maneuver the controls, and this is so much more realistic than simply twitching a joystick. The yoke is mostly made of textured black plastic, so this and the contoured handles offer superb grip. Unfortunately, neither images or my words can properly express how realistic the resistance of the yoke feels, but (even though this would vary from aircraft to aircraft, of course) I think that the real-life pilot or the enthusiastic simmer will find that operating the yoke is immensely satisfying.
Features And Operation Of The Yoke
The CH Eclipse yoke offers numerous improvements on its predecessor. Now, there are two eight-way hat switches, colored throttle axes, the ability to program three separate modes, the three-way rotating switch which illuminates whichever mode is being used, two more trim wheels (which also have a center push-button which I used to centralize trim), two backlit push-buttons, and of course the pedals which are most certainly the key feature of this yoke. Before the CH yoke, one had to either use FSX's autorudder or buy costly pedals if using a comparable product. CH took the initiative and gave us 'thumb pedals'. As the name implies, the pedals are simply textured plastic platforms which one can manipulate using the thumbs. This eliminates having to use the aileron axis to control aircraft on the ground. However, keep in mind that these do not allow differential braking. Additionally, while flying and exploring the yoke, I first thought that the shaft was metal. As I later learned, it is not metal but rather high-grade industrial plastic. While I felt a little silly upon discovering this, perhaps it will also show that this performs just as well as a metal shaft.
It seems to me that, unless there was a fault in the manufacturing of a controller, yokes and the like will never have real faults. The only 'issue' that one might encounter is wishing for more buttons. Many of my fellow simmers (myself included, before flying with this yoke) place more value on buttons than how a product feels. Therefore, I don't think that it's necessary to discuss just why we could use one more throttle lever, how another two-position toggle would be nice, or why the center button should be illuminated. In general, I found that I had plenty of options for what to program (especially with the three different profiles) and actually assigned some less-useful commands simply to fill up the space.
Let's walk through (or rather fly through) a flight in an F-18. Upon first entering the cockpit, you will have to move your view point around to access all of the different controls. This is where the dual hat switches step in and prove themselves to be more than just gimmicks. I assigned one hat switch to function as the usual point-of-view toggle and the other to move the viewpoint itself. This provided a much-needed alternative from pressing the awkward keyboard controls. Taxiing fighters is often uncomfortable because you generally have to be ready to pounce on the brakes. However, since the Eclipse has push-buttons on each of the handles, these can be assigned to control differential braking. Upon taking off, one of my worries was eliminated. I often fly military aircraft which have a control stick rather than a yoke, so I thought that the Eclipse might be uncomfortable or unnatural when flying such aircraft. However, the yoke performs beautifully under even the most demanding motions which combat flying may take it through. Another great feature is the multiple throttle axes. Since there are three, you can assign two to each engine and have the third for flaps axes, fuel axes, or whatever else you wish. This is less evident in the F-18, but having differential throttle control is an immeasurable improvement on having to mouse the throttle controls in tail-draggers which do not have a link between steering and the rudder.
Perhaps the biggest joy from flying this yoke comes from how the controller is sprung. Whether you're coming from a joystick or another yoke, the pressure which one must exert feels just right; having flown a Cessna 172 before, I believe that I can say this with reasonable certainty.
One cannot deny that the CH Eclipse yoke is expensive as far as controllers go. However, after evaluating the market for similar hardware, I can justifiably say that this is indeed a reasonable purchase. The yoke's main competitor, the Saitek ProFlight yoke, runs approximately $150 USD. Additionally, you would need to buy pedals, which are roughly $120 to $150 USD. This comes to a total of $270 USD, which is twenty to fifty dollars more than the CH Eclipse.
I have flown for many years on a cheap joystick. This is all well and good, but I, like many of my fellows, simply did not realize how much a good controller does for your simming experience. There is an indescribable joy in having such superb hardware and the feel of the yoke is unerringly realistic; indeed, I enjoyed this product whether I was in a B-17, an A380, or the F-16. I believe this to be a very worthy investment, and my only regret is that I did not purchase it sooner, so to have had so much more time really enjoying my flying.