Cutting the Cord...Sim Style

The cord in question is the HOTAS cord. I have had a hate-hate relationship with controllers since the days when you needed a game slot to use them. And no I am not really cutting. DCS and IL2 cannot be possibly played in any serious way by sitting in the middle of a room and waving your numbchucks around like you belong in a straight-jacket. But other stuff can be played this way. Many of us have been doing it with VTOL VR for a year or more. That works great but I figured that the dev filled it with little invisible crutches to make the touch controllers useable to mortals. About two weeks ago I bought the VMAX 757 Professional v.2. I didn’t want it; I needed it. I needed to see if an off the shelf product could help me learn a bit about the machine before my company extracts 6 weeks of my life teaching me to fly it. I didn’t really plan to leave the ground. All I wanted to do was learn the “flows” and get some idea of the cockpit layout from both seats. The designers made it so that the flight deck could be easily setup with the touch controllers alone. You can either reach up and push or turn a switch. Or you can laser pointer it and use the thumbstick to do the same. This allowed me to stay in the left seat and have full access to everything normally touched by the FO. The devs also changed the X-Plane touch setup slightly. One really useful idea was to let the left thumbstick be latched to the throttles. It’s a little cumbersome but I only use the feature when I disconnect the auto throttles on final. They also incorporated a stab trim function into the left touch’s grip. It works a little like the force trim in a helicopter. I found the plane to be more than flyable this way. Honestly, even though it is awkward at first, it really is no more un-airplane-like than to be belly-up to a desktop grabbing a stick full of buttons that don’t exist on an airliner. Although I did say that I cut the cord, I am still using my MFG pedals. They came with plenty of cord to pull back from the desk about 4 feet.

If that was the total experience I wouldn’t bother the rest of you with it. But then came my beloved Bell 407. Fake harriers and stable airliners are one thing, a lightweight helicopter is another thing entirely. There was something about Propstrike’s Quatam River and it’s precarious helipads, interior lit camping tents and mud-caked animated trucks that made me want to be free to move as I pleased. I wanted to be able to get out of the helicopter and explore the mountaintop. Flying free took some getting used to. The hardest part wasn’t the cyclic but the collective. Unlike the 757, there is no “latch” feature. So you have to keep the laser pointer on the collective and the trigger pressed. I found ways to do this without the need to suspend my arm in mid-air. I could rest the controller on the seat and roll it up and down to move the collective. The Bell 412 is easier because the collective has a much bigger throw than the 407 but a little practice makes both equally doable. The magic though is in the cyclic. Every airplane, glider, gyro or helicopter I have flown with a stick (except the A320) has allowed me to comfortably rest my hand on my lap and fly with a couple of fingertips. With some modification, the same technique is possible. X-Plane gives you to options: Real and Sidestick (they call them something else but that is essentially the difference.) With “real” you move your hand around a flat geometrical plane above your lap–like every stick that isn’t a side-stick. With “sidestick” your hand stays fixed and inputs are made by rotating your wrist. This 2nd method is forced on you in VTOL and in the 757. The 1st method is easier because it is less sensitive. But eventually your arm gets tired, even with armrests. After a few hours exploring Quatam, I found the sidestick method to be easier and just as precise. More importantly for me is that I found either method to be easier than a joystick. Helicopters don’t need feel and resistance the way airplanes do. Is it better to have a sense of pressure instead of displacement? Yes. But center-sprung joysticks are somewhat flawed in that regard because the center doesn’t shift with trim. But even I will admit that the stick is far better for pointing airplanes at things. I don’t care! The joy of watching the valleys take on a pink glow as the sun rises over BC from a high helipad found in the dark is an experience I never dreamed I would have in a sim.