"I need a joystick!!!!"
One of the first questions I get from flight simulation newcomers is 'What joystick should I buy?' It's a question I always anticipate, and it makes sense for them to ask it. While yes, modern sims have the options for 'mouse steer,' and keyboard inputs are always accepted, they don't give you that immersive feeling and it's difficult to suspend disbelief when using less than convincing controls.
Once they start shopping around, they quickly are overcome by the saturated market of various controllers, ranging from simple, entry level joysticks to multi-thousand dollar solutions. Look forward to a detailed blog post specifically on the range of available products in the near future. Right now I want to focus on controller in particular. One that blends the best aspects of affordability and performance.
Meet the Thrustmaster HOTAS
This is a $50 joystick and at the time of writing, on sale for $36. HOTAS, which stands for 'Hands on Throttle and Stick,' is what you would think it means. Instead of one assembly for the joystick and a small thumbwheel on the bottom for your throttle inputs, each are given their own separate assemblies. This HOTAS separation is what all the high end controllers utilize, but remains at entry level pricing. The throttle can be separated from the joystick and the two units can be placed on the left and right side of your body.
As for the cost, particularly why it is so low. This is an entry level joystick. It's cheap, and it's functional, but it lacks all the bells and whistles some of its more expensive cousins have to offer. It's not pretty, it certainly will NOT be winning any cosmetic awards, but these are the trade-offs to have a solid performing joystick at an affordable price.
Now, I use this joystick. I've used many other high-end offerings in the past, but I bought this thing while on a deployment in 2011. My thinking was that it was going to be knocked around and beat up for 8 months, may as well get a cheapo that I won't mind being busted up by the rigors of forward deployed life. Well, it had other plans. Not only did it handle the use and abuse of that deployment, it has remained, to this day, my primary joystick. You can't break it. After nearly 7 years and thousands of hours of use, it performs like new and I intend on having it for years to come.
I do want to point out one 'downside.' And I put that in quotes because I personally do not think of it as a bad thing, in fact it's because of this feature that I am able to fly a helicopter in Arma so well.
It has a detent in the center of the throttle travel. It's small and requires very little effort to move to the full throttle position. In civil sims, while using turboprop and turbine powered aircraft, I have set it up so that forward of the detent is positive thrust and behind the detent is my beta range and reverse thrust respectively. The detent itself being idle. In Arma, the detent, by default, lies exactly on the throttle setting to maintain a hover in helicopters. It's because of that that I am able to fly them so well. Having that sort of physical reminder of where my throttle is in respect to where I want it to be gives me that much more control over what I am flying.
So that's that. Thrustmaster HOTAS. Cheap to buy, easy to operate, won't win any beauty contests, but will more than get the job done.
Look forward to a blog post further elaborating on the other more expensive options you have at your disposal.