Finding Realistic Flight Grips
I'm sorry to announce this will be Mike's last "Mike's Tips" article. Mike informed me: "I'm no longer writing Mike's Tips in order to focus on other writing projects including completing the manuscript for Building Immersive Display Systems ."
I will and I'm sure most of you will miss Mikes monthly tips. I look forward to anything Mike writes in book form or here at MyCockpit.org in the forum.
Best of luck to you Mike....
The flight grip is an important source of realism in a simulator. Itís the primary means of physically interacting with the simulation, and itís a rare joystick controls only pitch and roll. While a GA sim may only have a trim or mic switch on its grip, a military grip adds weapons and systems controls. If youíre looking for realistic flight sim experiences you need realistic flight controls.
Thrustmaster capitalized on this need with the HOTAS-Cougar for F-16 Viper aficionados and, more recently, with the HOTAS-Warthog for the A-10 Thunderbolt II crowd. These units have elevated verisimilitude and price to new heights. Of course, you get a realistic throttle unit along with the joystick for the price, but even so, a USD400+ tag may be a bit off putting.
If this pushes you in the direction of DIY flight sticks, youíll be looking for realistic grips for the top of that stick. If youíre like most of us, youíll poke around Ebay for a real flight grip, because nothing adds realism like, well, real stuff, and occasionally real flight grips do appear on auction sites. Prices tend to soar rapidly, and sometimes you get lucky.
And if not Ö
You can buy (or at least gaze longingly upon) new gear. Otto Engineering makes flight-rated grips for military and commercial applications. I donít know that Otto is interested in selling to the general public, (I rather think not), but fortunately you can buy an Otto B-8 grip through Aircraft Spruce and Specialty, a company which supplies the home-built experimental aircraft community. At nearly USD 600, they are not cheap, but they are the real thing. (http://www.aircraftspruce.com)
(image ©Otto Engineering)
If new mil-spec is not to your liking, Infinity Aerospace might be an option. Infinity makes flight-rated grips very similar to the military B-8 Cobra grip. (The Cobra grip has buttons on both sides of the hat switch. The original B-8 lacks the button to the right of the hat.) The main differences are the lack of cross hatching on the grip sides and a slightly smaller trigger switch. Because they market to sport aviation rather than to the military, the Infinity Aerospace grip, at USD 175, is significantly more affordable. Itís also available in left-hand and right-hand models, and you can customize the switches. You can buy it through Aircraft Spruce or directly from Infinity Aerospace. (http://www.aircraftspruce.com, http://www.infinityaerospace.com)
(image ©Infinity Aerospace)
If you want to drop the cost further, consider Suzo Happ. This company provides components and systems for game arcades and industrial uses. They have a heavy-duty B-8 style joystick for arcade use which would look right at home in a military sim. The complete assembly is still a bit on the pricey side (USD 227), but thatís okay because you donít have to buy the complete unit. Suzo Happ sells bits and pieces so arcades can repair damaged gear without having to replace the complete joystick. If you just want the grip, buy the left and right halves, and the trigger. You can buy the switches as well, or look elsewhere. Look at the exploded parts diagram for the individual part numbers. (http://na.suzohapp.com/joysticks/95025100.htm)
Another source of B-8 like grips is the used market. While a great many game joysticks bear no resemblance to real flight grips, a few are close replicas. Check Ebay for Thrustmaster ďTop GunĒ joysticks. These were made in both USB and gameport versions. The grip is modeled on the B-8 and has functioning switches. Buy the joystick and discard everything below the grip.
Years ago Suncom Technologies made a splash by making high end PC joysticks based on the F-15E flight grip. (The F-18 Hornet flight grip is quite similar.) Suncom is gone and you rarely see or hear of these joysticks anymore. But rarely is not never; they do show up from time to time on Ebay. Theyíre not in high demand because they plug into a gameport rather than into a USB port, but if you know what youíre looking for you can score an affordable, replica F-15/F-18 flight grip for not much money. There are a few similar-looking models. Get the Talon model if you can because the hat and castle switches on it are functional. On some of the other models one or both of these switches are non-functional decorations.
From time to time flight sim enthusiasts will create small companies to offer specialty items to the flight sim community. Occasionally this will include flight grips. For example Routech lists grips for Airbus side stick controllers and Splash One Bandit has done some development work on F-15/F-18, F-16, and A-10 flight grips. (http://www.routech.ro/, http://www.splash-one-bandit.com/index.html)
Mike Powell, author of
Building Recreational Flight Simulators,
Building Simulated Aircraft Instrumentation, and
Building Simulator Display Systems. (A work in progress)