• Review: Saitek Pro Flight Yoke System

    Saitek Pro Flight Yoke System

    By Simon Westmancoat (6 June 2008)

    The yoke and throttle quadrant set up together

    Until recently(ish), the only real/affordable option for most simmers requiring a yoke, throttle quadrant and rudder pedals package has been the venerable CH Products offerings. I suppose I ought to offer a disclaimer straight away - I've never owned or used any of CH Products' controllers and so can only go on the gossip on the web (and let's face it, people usually only comment on the bad points of hardware and software). That said, for one reason or another, over the years I've always hankered after a yoke, pedals and quadrant.

    Seeing as this is my first review, perhaps I might give you a brief history of my simming and real world experience. My first experience of flight sim was way back in the dark days of laptops the size of sewing machines and monochrome LCD screens. I admit to being hopeless at controlling a plane using only a keyboard, but later, after university, FS98 caught my eye. About a year later I embarked on my PPL and also started applying in earnest to the airlines. Ultimately, I gained my PPL and, shortly afterwards, my IMC rating (for friends outside the UK, think of it as a poor man's UK only IR). I was also doing quite nicely at working my way towards a sponsored place with BMI when the chaps at Gatwick decided that I was 'colour unsafe'. Fast forwards to today and I still love to fly, both real world and virtual. Of course, the day job isn't in aviation, lest I mistake a red light for a green one...

    I suppose I'm turning into one of those sad guys who lives out the fantasy of flying a 767 (thanks Level-D!), whilst wearing daft hats and glowing LEDs which make me look like an extra from Dr Who (still, I'd not be without my Track-IR)!

    The quadrant and fixing assembly

    So, whilst living out the fantasy of being the man in the suit of lights, until now my simming has been controlled by a Microsoft Force Feedback II Sidewinder joystick. I actually really like this stick, trimming against the FF is great, but it lacks a certain authenticity when I have to twist the stick to kick the crab out in a crosswind.

    The Saitek bundle has changed all of that though; I was tempted because of the brilliant price (less than £150 for a yoke, pedals and quadrant!) Of course, the forums are full of the moans, mostly centered on the SST software (more about this later) and random button presses. Seemingly, some earlier yokes would happily toggle your flaps and gear up and down randomly, usually just as you were in the flare or similar inopportune moments. Saitek have acknowledged the issue and, apparently, if your yoke exhibits this behaviour then you just need to return it to the seller for a replacement. Thankfully my bundle seems fine.

    Packed in the first of two large cardboard boxes (no polystyrene here, although some plastic bags) are the discs, manuals, a yoke, quadrant, screws and clamps, whilst the second box contains more manuals and discs, the rudder and two extra footrests. The manuals are, frankly, not great. There is more information on the Saitek site, but I wish manufacturers would have the decency to provide the information rather than expecting the customers to embark on a complex hunt of the internet.

    Installation was a breeze, with the disc self launching and guiding me through the driver installation. Interestingly, both the install routine and Saitek's site strongly recommend not installing the SST software (seemingly a suite allowing more customisation of their hardware) - a fairly good reason for me not to do so... All the hardware was immediately recognised, calibrated and the clock on the yoke promptly synced up with my windows system clock - a very neat touch.

    Rudder pedals

    Mounting is via two sturdy clamps, the one for the yoke hooks onto the unit, whilst the throttle mount screws on to the quadrant with four cross head bolts. The quadrant can be mounted either on top of (in two orientations) or in front of the desk. I chose initially to mount it on top, but found the levers too high in relation to the yoke. Mounting the levers in front of the desk quickly resolved this and put them in the perfect position for me. Believe me, once these are screwed down, you'd have to be seriously heavy handed to move them again. The rudders feature a good number of non-slip rubber pads, and the footrests can be mounted on the rear to but up against a wall (which is exactly what I have done). The rudder is supplied with two lengths of Velcro, although I hesitate to fix those to my lovely laminate floor. I imagine they would make them fairly immovable, but as it stands my biggest problem is not the pedals slipping, but my office chair catapulting me towards the window just as achieve that perfectly balanced advanced turn (those wheels don't seem so smart now.)

    The quadrant connector is a proprietary PS2 style affair, and the pedals use a standard USB connector. This can connect to the three port USB hub on the rear of the yoke. One big gripe, the pedals and yoke both feature seriously short USB cables: mine just reaches my front USB ports so be sure you have a USB extender handy for anything more than a really short run to the PC. Saitek, this is not clever, especially given that the £30 Saitek steering wheel I purchased last year has a really decent length of USB cable.

    Launching FS2004 (I still need to try out FSX with this), the controls were all recognised, although assignments were slightly bizarre: pushing the prop fully forwards moved the rudders in the game... However, a few moments (OK, five minutes) in the relevant FS menus had things mapped. The toe brakes, however, needed their axis reversed, and some of the sensitivities for the quadrant needed tweaking (as I discovered later). I don't know if this is down to the way FS works or the Saitek drivers, but it's not quite plug and play. One thing to be aware of is that the reverse thrust position of the quadrant is actually an on/off switch. This means that you need to map it to 'decrease thrust', essentially mimicking the F2 key. It works, but means that reverse is somewhat of an all or nothing affair. I suspect that for many simmer this will be just fine, as they rarely use anything but max reverser anyway.

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