You may remember my recent review
of Saitek’s Aviator joystick, and the measurable difference it made in my BattleField 2 world. Well, just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, I received a set of Saitek’s new Pro Rudder Pedals. Twisting the Z-axis of the Aviator to control the helicopter’s tail rotor worked ok, but it wasn’t all that natural. In the real world, tail rotors, rudders, and nosewheel steering (granted, two-thirds of those are moot to chopper pilots) are controlled with rudder pedals, not twisting motions on the stick. With the new rudder pedals available from Saitek, hard-core simmers can now make the leap from “good enough” to “way frikkin’ cool!”
The installation of the pedals was easy, and with both the joystick and pedals being USB-based both Battlefield 2 and Microsoft Flight Sim X had no problem with configuring both controllers. Some of the older programs I tried couldn’t understand that I wanted to use two separate flight controllers, but Saitek cannot and should not be held accountable for that. It’s very definitely a case of Caveat Emptor on that topic. Some of the older titles also had a problem with getting the correct orientation of the pedals; some had the pedals working opposite to convention (i.e. left pedal equals left rudder) and did not provide a means to reverse the output of the pedals. Again, these were older titles and the potential buyer would be advised to determine compatibility before plunking down the dinero.
The pedals are constructed of relatively sturdy materials, which is to be expected given that they will be the recipient of repeated foot bashing and carry a street price of over $130. They are very smooth to control in both the rotational aspect and in the individual toe brake functions. The centering spring tension is supposed to be configurable by adjusting a large knob at the pivot point of the pedals, but the knob on my unit was so stiff that I couldn’t get it to turn. The default tension was acceptable, though, so this didn’t bother me greatly. The break-out force from the center position is not adjustable, but it was just fine as delivered from the factory. Demonstrating an understanding that rudder pedals at this price point are very likely to be considered a luxury item to most users and that the majority of the target customer base is likely to be grown adults, the pedals themselves have three size adjustments to allow for comfortable use by the smaller feet of youngsters as well as the hobbit-like appendages of older folks like me. Fortunately the pedals are built to last a long time, long enough that even the young ‘uns will eventually want to configure the pedals for a larger foot size.
Since BattleField 2 was such a stellar test bed for the Aviator joystick I decided to see what effect the pedals would have on my helicopter pilotage. Upon returning to BF2, I found the pedals to be a great adjunct to the joystick. Freed from having to contend with controlling all three flight axes with one hand, I found that my level of control had again been increased. Controlling pitch and roll cyclic with the stick and using the rudder pedals to drive anti-torque (yaw) from the tail rotor, I found that I could maintain a hover and use the pedals for a pivot turn that would allow me to fire at enemy choppers as they went by. This tactic has been devastating for the enemy, and the number of air kills that can be attributed to the additional control provided by the new pedals continues to rise.
Despite the tremendous fun I was having in BF2, I couldn’t wait to see how the pedals performed in FSX. My personal airplane is a taildragger, so I am intimately familiar with the importance of differential braking and good rudder control in those types of airplanes. Long have I struggled with ground control on old workhorses like DC-3s and other classic conventional landing gear aircraft. Well, not any more! Between the smooth and accurate rudder control and the equally responsive differential brakes, I am now able to fly those airplanes in the manner that they are intended to be flown. The relatively heavy construction of the pedals lends confidence that they won’t fall apart during extreme aerobatic maneuvers, and the two strips of Velcro provided with the pedals ensure that the pedals will stick to a carpeted floor well enough to prevent slippage under most conditions. For those living in hardwood floor or linoleum habitats, there are rubber feet on the bottom of the unit to hopefully provide similar adhesion qualities. What options are left to folks that need to utilize both solutions is unclear, however. Both the hook and felt portions of Velcro are provided, though, so I think that problem is eminently solvable.
Having found the pedals to be greatly beneficial to the flying of conventional gear, fixed-wing airplanes, I decided to test their merits in flying the FSX helicopters. Fixed-wing pilots of modern airplanes (those having a training wheel under the nose rather than the far more manly tailwheel of my airplane) can pretty much keep their feet on the floor once they’re in the air. Not so with a helicopter! Helicopters are highly dependent on the proper and enthusiastic application of corrective forces on the tail rotor. The great big whirling set of blades that provide lift to the chopper also create a tremendous amount of torque that needs to be continuously countered by the pilot via manipulation of the tail rotor. For example, the clockwise (from the pilot’s point of view) rotation of the rotors creates an opposite anti-clockwise (to the left) torque in the hover that must be countered by application of left rotor. At cruise speed, however, a healthy application of right rotor is required, at least in FSX. This steady and constant demand for anti-torque input was a bit of a pain when using the Z-axis of the joystick to control it, but is more natural and comfortable to control using the pedals.
With the release of the Pro Rudder Pedals, Saitek has addressed a need at the high-end of the controller market. Hard-core simmers will be thrilled with the new rudder pedals and the additional realism and accurate control that they provide. Others may decide that the cost isn’t worth it, and make do with the Z-axis on their controller of choice. Those that do decide to make the purchase, though, will receive a useful and well constructed device.