As I frantically searched for the grass strip through the thick, morning haze, my hand started to sweat on the joystick. I cursed my flight commander, who had assigned me to fly today's dawn patrol despite the weather-guessers forecast for haze and fog. While I love flying the old Tiger Moth, it is by no means equipped for this kind of scud running. With a wary eye on the ever lowering fuel gauge, I began to wonder if I was going to have to put the kite down in whatever open space I could find. Just as I had given up any hope of finding the landing field, the rotating beacon broke through the clag. I yanked the bird into a tight spiral, trying to keep the field in site. As I lined up into the wind, I reduced the power to start a steep descent. At the last minute, grass blurring by on either side of me, I pulled back the stick into a gentle flare, and breathed a huge sigh of relief as I felt the rumble of the wheels kissing the grass through the joystick.
The plane I was flying was a Tiger Moth in Microsoft Flight Sim 2004. The joystick that shook in my hand to welcome me back from my harrowing flight was Saitek's new Cyborg EVO Force PC Flight Stick. Having used force feedback steering wheels for years, I was very interested in seeing if they would offer the same level of improvement to flight sims that they do to racing sims.
The answer is: depends on the sim. I found that the Saitek added very little to some of the sims I tried it on, but added quite a bit to Microsoft FS2004. My previous stick, the Saitek X45, suffered from having too great of a center breakout force. When doing any kind of precision flying, helicopters in particular, you need to be able to move very easily in the center of the throw, and have increased resistance as you move towards the outer limits. The X45 was very stiff in the center, causing it to be almost useless for the precision realm. The EVO Force doesn't have that problem. The center breakout force is very light, but force increases as you move towards the outer fringes. One benefit of force feedback is that the resistance can vary depending on what you're doing with the plane. Put it into a screaming dive, and as the speed increases the resistance to the flight controls will increase. Slow it down to nearly a stall, and the resistance will decrease. The Saitek was fairly good at this, but the total available resistance wasn't enough to really "sell" the effect.
That said, the special effects such as the vibration on takeoff and landing do add significantly to the believability factor, especially during takeoff and landing. There is a feeling a plane gets just before it lefts off that can best be described as "being very light on the wheels." As a pilot, you know that when you feel that the wheels are just barely in contact with the ground the plane is ready to fly. You also know on landing when the plane is truly down to stay, or when you're still carrying too much speed to hit the brakes without skidding the tires. The Saitek physically communicated both situations very well.
One other beef I had with the X45 was that due to the separate throttle, I had to use bungie cords to strap it down to my desk. I also had to strap the main joystick to a board to hold it in place. This is because it took one hand for each unit to control it, leaving no hands to hold the units in place on the desk. The EVO Force doesn't have a separate throttle - the throttle is built into the base of the joystick. I found this much easier to use, although admittedly somewhat lower on the "cool looking" scale.
On the downside, the EVO Force only has one coolie hat, where the X45 has two. This is unfortunate in that I had to decide whether I'd prefer to use the coolie hat for trim or view. I decided to use it for view since I really only ever use elevator trim, and that could be handled just as well using the left and right side thumb buttons. Including the trigger, there are 10 buttons that can be assigned to various functions.
Rudder control is provided by twisting the stick. There is no force feedback on the rudder axis, but it really wouldn't add all that much anyway. I found that the rudder wasn't always enough to steer a Flight Sim taildragger on the ground, but I was able to dedicate two of the base buttons to the differential steering function in flight sim and was good-to-go.
Comfort-wise, the EVO Force is one of the best I've used. The hand rest on the stick has three height positions for both left- and right-handed people. The three thumb buttons near the top of the stick can be adjusted up and down for a better fit. There is also a swivel adjustment for the entire top control group.
Precision is also top-notch. I didn't detect any slop at all in the stick, and would be quite comfortable configuring the null zone setting in just about any game to as narrow as it would go. This is a very, very smooth and precise stick in my experience.
For games that offer good force feedback support, the Saitek EVO Force delivers solid performance. It's comfortable, precise, and highly configurable.