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.
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