Although I greatly enjoy aviation simulations, I’ve avoided purchasing a dedicated flight stick. High-end force-feedback equipped PC sticks were appealing to me, but cost prohibitive. Meanwhile, the cheaper alternatives felt flimsy; I’m fearful I would break one during an intense session of virtual dogfighting. For console gamers, the selection is woefully slim- players can either opt for the $150 Ace Combat Flight Stick bundle, or play a flight sim with their standard 360 control- a woefully inadequate way to protect the ‘danger zone’.
In November 2007, peripheral manufacturer Mad Catz acquired Saitek Industries, a firm that specializes in developing high quality PC sticks and accessories. To coincide with the release of Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X, the two firms have developed a flight stick for the 360 and PS3 that allows players to recreate the experience of piloting a multi-million dollar aircraft. Recently, we had the chance to give the Aviator flight stick an extended test flight.
Immediately upon unboxing the Aviator, we noticed two distinct characteristic of the peripheral. First, the stick was light, yet still felt surprisingly sturdy. Although we played with the stick on our laps, the Aviator weight was light enough so that holding the stick in the air wasn’t prohibitive. Secondly, the stick was impressively sized; the joystick seemed to offer a perfect fit for my large hands.
On the front of the Aviator’s base there are seven buttons for left and right bumpers, thumbstick indentations, back and start buttons, as well as the Xbox guide. Each button had a quick throw, and was separated so that absorbed players could pause the game without blunder. The stick itself has one small analog stick and three buttons on the apex, as well as an elongated trigger on the back. One of my favorite features was a flick switch over the ‘X’ button that can be flipped to go ‘weapons free’- sadly, most flight games use the ‘B’ button as the default missile launch key. Although the stick is wired, the cord is long enough to support play from across the room. One additional benefit of the 360 model is PC compatibility; gamers who own a gaming rig and a console can finally own a stick that performs double-duty.
We first tried the 360 stick with the newly released Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. and the Aviator performed flawlessly. Using the stick’s thrust control to adjust speed felt instinctual and added to the game’s atmosphere. However, we do wish the there was a bit more sensory feedback to indicate the default position; it’s quite easy to miss the small groove in the intermediate position.
Next, we fired up Ace Combat 6’s afterburners, and found the flight stick performed flawlessly with the title. With the size and draw of the stick, making delicate flight adjustments was a bit easier in comparison to using the 360’s standard control stick. Lastly, we flipped the stick’s toggle switch to allow compatibility with the Blazing Angels series. The stick proved once again to work impeccably well, and renewed our interest in the title. Clearly, the purchase of the aviator should be considered by the player who has a number of flight sims on the shelf, as well as those who wish to achieve a realistic control experience.
Saitek’s expertise with PC flight peripherals was clearly instrumental in ensuring that the Aviator is a worthwhile purchase for console owners. Not only does the stick offer a level of precision missing from standard controllers, but it does an exceptional job of mimicking a jet fighter’s main controls. For the reasonable sum of $50, digital dogfighters can feel confident in their purchase of this quality peripheral.