Are you the proud owner of some Saitek Pro Flight components like the Yoke System with separate Throttle Quadrant and/or the Rudder pedals? If you are, then there’s something new and if you don't have any Saitek Pro Flight hardware, then I strongly advice you to read this review and who knows, you will become a Saitek fan.
This review covers the recently introduced Saitek Pro Flight Switch Panel. Although the name – Pro Flight - suggests you need to have other Pro Flight components, this is not the case. However, if you do, you can extend it like a new module to your Saitek flight experience.
Buying hardware is not that easy when compared to buying software. One reason is the price and another reason could be that you would like to use the hardware component in combination with every aircraft; default MSFS airplanes and with add-ons from Flight1, Aerosoft, PMDG, Ariane, Captain Sim, CLS, Just Flight and many others. All nice, but there are other important things and one of them is the software/MSFS configuration.
I can’t compare this with, for example, Go Flight components but I can tell you that this software, and thus the FSX configuration, are great. Let’s have a look at the Saitek website and see what they tell the potential buyer:
“ Upgrade your flight simulation experience for Microsoft Flight Simulator X with the Saitek Pro Flight Switch Panel. Whether attached to the Saitek Pro Flight Yoke System, free standing on a desk or mounted into your own cockpit setup, the Pro Flight Switch Panel is an ideal way to expand the number of controls for your flight simulation setup. Control your landing gear, engine power, landing lights and 11 other important aircraft functions from one compact unit.
landing gear control with LEDs indicating actual gear status
from Microsoft FSX
Ships with support for only Flight Simulator X while FS2004 support is available on our forum”.
I think what Saitek is telling you should be enough however, some additional information would be welcome and therefore AVSIM decided to write about this product. So let’s go quickly to the first chapter.
First I think it’s a good idea to start with the contents of the Saitek box. If you already own Saitek Pro Flight components, you know those are heavy while this package feels like you ordered “air”. I asked myself “did I order something or is it just a joke?”
What I got from Saitek is of the usual high quality. It's well packed including all of the things you need to “do what ever you want to do with it”. That sounds strange but what I mean is whether you position it on the table, you‘ve got Velcro tape to mount it with or if you want to install it on you Pro Flight Yoke system, you get the necessary tools to do so. Oops, I’m going too fast.
The package comes with the following components:
• Pro Flight Switch Panel (without the bracket) - It measures around 28 cm by 8 cm, while the actual control panel is mounted on a bracket. Although the switch panel is made of plastic and weights nothing, it still looks professional, and at the same time elegant. In other words, very realistic. Furthermore it comes with a very long – > 1.5 meter - USB connection cable.
One note about the panel text. While surfing on the Internet I found forum postings like “the panel is equipped with backlight illumination for evening flight. Not true! The text on the Switch panel is just painted and during dark configurations there’s no backlight to illuminate the text for better viewing.
can be seen on the three screenshots below, the panel offers
the following controls:
• User Manual and Quick Start guide - The User manual comes in 5 different languages – English | French | German | Spanish | Italian – and explains in detail the software installation process, on screen real life testing facilities, troubleshooting and technical support. Nothing more. This is really “plug-and-play”!
• The Quick Start Guide is really a quick start guide. It comes in many languages – 16 - and offers the user general information but at the same time enough information of how to connect the panel to your PC and, if needed, how to install the software.
• The necessary Velcro tape to connect the panel to your table or whatever you want.
• Two screws with Allan key to connect the bracket to your Pro Flight yoke system, if you own it of course!
• A CD-ROM containing an automatic installer, which installs the necessary items to support this unit. The software is compatible with any Windows XP or Windows Vista version. This also includes any 32 and/or 64 bits Operating System.
In case you start studying the above screenshots in more detail, I know the switch panel itself and the small bag with screws including the Allen key are missing. Don’t worry, that comes in a minute! With this first impression it’s time to grasp it all out of the box – oops, I did that already – and start installing and connecting it and see what it can do for us.
Installation and documentation
I split this sub-chapter into a “software” and “mechanical” part, so let’s first go for the software part. As read in the previous chapter, the Saitek box comes with lots of things, but what I now need is the CD-ROM, which contains the FSX driver. You’re right, the product is basically supporting Flight Simulator X only, however via the Saitek forum you can download a customer created FS9 driver. The CD installer file - Saitek_Pro_Flight_Switch_Panel_Software_v3.exe - is quite simple and before you know it, the installer is ready and it looks like nothing happened but that’s not really true.
Created under the Windows Start button you will find folder Saitek Pro Flight Switch Panel with two shortcuts.
One last note: you can use this interactive dummy during flight, however when FSX is running and you’re flying, it’s either the interaction between your panel and the screen as dummy or FSX. This means when you can test the panel, but you’re not able to fly while testing!
The second shortcut - Launch the Flight Sim X plugin manually – allows you to force the driver to connect to FSX. The Saitek Switch Panel will not register automatically if you have installed the unit before installing FSX. To register the unit with FSX, click the shortcut. This concludes the software part. There’s nothing more to do since FSX as it should automatically detect the unit and adjustments are not needed.
I wrote “should” since I can imagine that it’s not always going right. In my case, I installed it on two PCs without any problems. In case there’s any problem, I can only advise you to join the forum. By the way, the amount of forum items related to this relatively new Saitek component, are very limited. Nevertherless, in case of problems; write a posting on the forum or an e-mail to Saitek Support.
Let’s go to the “mechanical” installation or I could write down the “preparation”. The preparation depends a little on what you own. If this is your first Saitek product, you can connect the switch panel with the Velcro tape to the table but when you own, the Pro Flight Yoke System as I do, you can screw it directly to this housing. This procedure is well described in the manual but some pictures will help you with that. Believe me, with no technical background – ahum – I’m able to connect the unit mechanically to the yoke housing.
As I wrote before; everything what you need to do this is supplied with the switch panel, so let’s do this in a step-by-step procedure.
This is it and in case you didn’t have the Yoke System control, you can stick the Switch Panel USB connector in any USB hub or directly into your computer or like I do, in my monitor. This also concludes the hardware installation part.
Is there something more to write about with the User manual then I did in the beginning? Not really since every language is no more then 5 pages of which 3 pages cover switch panel related information. The rest is warranty and FCC compliance stuff. Apart from that, the separate sub chapters in this review give you more information than found in the manual. Is the manual then too small with useless information? Absolutely not, but detailed descriptions with real photos are always better for the brains.
Firing up FSX and “magic”
Have I fnything forgotten or is it time to fire FSX? Yes, you can fire up FSX right away or is there any need to check the controls and thus knowing that the Saitek Switch panel driver is installed and recognized by Windows?
To be sure, launch the shortcut file Pro Flight Switch Panel Test Page as previously discussed and there you are, your own “interactive dummy” switch panel on your screen. As can be seen on the lower LH screenshot, I moved the ENGINE start selector to R (magneto), selected ALT MASTER switch to ON and moved the LANDING GEAR handle to UP. In other words, the moment the real Switch Panel is connected to your computer, and you move any switch, handle or selector, the interactive dummy shows you this on the screen dummy panel. By following your commands, it means it’s working, as simple as that!
Then without doing anything, the LH MLG, RH MLG and NOSE gear landing gear lights – red, green and amber (yellow) – illuminate and extinguish in a kind of pattern. The software is just checking if it can control the lights. This can be seen of course on the “real” Switch panel as well as on the dummy panel. When you have convinced yourself that all the parts are working, you simply close the window by clicking the OK button.
Now it’s time to start FSX since as I wrote before, there’s nothing to configure. Configuration?, that’s already “automatically” done for us. After we’ve passed the FSX security warning and confirmed with YES (see above screenshots), we’re ready to go but with which airplane?
Looking at the Saitek Switch Panel it seems to be a GA (General Aviation) lay-out, equipped with a retractable gear. This is true and on the other hand it isn’t. Although the panel looks like it’s used in a GA plane, it can also be used with any other airplane. Any other airplane; where shall I start … ok, I’ll start with the default Cessna 172, followed by Cessna 208, Learjet 45, Piper Cub, Moony Bravo, Boeing 737-800, Boeing 747-400 etc.
seems it doesn’t make any difference. The
panel automatically adapted to every type of aircraft, ranging
from very small to very large, from simple to complex to extremely
Test System... Talk about adapting.
general we can say that the panel offers three kinds of controls:
Depending on the type of default aircraft, some switches;
Confused? Great but let’s give you an example, the AVIONICS MASTER switch; either it’s really mounted in the simulated aircraft or it controls the total avionics electrical power in the simulated aircraft in a different way.
another example, the COWLING control switch. Small default aircraft can have this so it's logical that you control these cowlings with this switch, but a Boeing 737 doesn’t have any cowlings and thus this switch controls “nothing”. Even the ENGINE START switch doesn’t operate, which is not surprising since starting jet engines is not done with a simple selector, or at least not in the default Boeing 737-800.
This brings me then to one important thing, and that is you’re not always aware what a switch is doing or isn't doing at all!
It’s not really a problem. Just play around and before you know it, you have figured it out. On the other hand, it was not a bad idea when Saitek offered in their manual a list of what each control is does in relation to the default FSX aircraft. Another example, is with retractable and non-retractable landing gear. The GEAR position lights on the Saitek panel illuminate, indicating your actual gear position. When the aircraft doesn’t offer a retractable gear, then the GEAR handle and lights are not operative.
What about compatibility with FSX add-on airplanes? First of all, testing all add-on aircraft is not possible since I don’t own them all and secondly, it will become a mess on my PC if I’ve installed all add-on aircraft. Therefore, I’ve tested a few for you and the results are average to good. I would like to inform you beforehand; not every add-on allows the Saitek panel to do so.
Let’s take a few add-on aircraft from my list; the Captain Sim 757, followed by the Sky Simulations MD-11, PMDG MD-11, CLS DC-10 and finally the Carenado C152 II.
On the Captain Sim 757 the following switches are working; the BAT-, LANDING- (controls the WING and NOSE GEAR light switches), TAXI- (controls the runway turnoff), STROBE-, NAV-, BEACON- and PANEL and the GEAR handle with position lights.
After testing the Sky Simulations MD-11, I came to the conclusion that the following switches, selector and handle/lights work; the BAT-, MASTER ALT- (controls all three engine generators), AVIONICS MASTER- (some changes can be seen on the ND), FUEL PUMP- (you can hear it but you don’t see anything on the panel), DE-ICE- (only the ENG ANTI-ICE is selected ON/OFF), external- and panel lights and the GEAR handle with position lights.
The FSX PMDG MD-11 is a rather complicated aircraft so let’s see how Saitek helps us control certain things; ENGINE START selector (controls ???? the LDG LT switches and HI-INT light switch), COWLING- (controls ???? the LDG LT switches and HI-INT light switch), PANEL- (you need to switch twice before something happens), STROBE- (HI-INT switch only selecting ON), LANDING- (needs to be selected twice before something happens), and the GEAR handle with position lights.
Confused what some switches are doing? I’m lost to be honest! I know from my previous MD-11 review and the interview I had with Robert Randazzo that the MD-11 is a very complex and an extraordinary programmed aircraft, so this could be the result of the strange way some switches on the Saitek Switch Panel operate.
By the way, at a Dutch MSFS forum I read that somebody bought the Saitek Switch Panel and tested it with his PMDG MD-11 and everything worked. Either something is wrong with my MD-11 configuration or he did something that I can’t explain!
Then we’ve got the CLS DC-10 Series, where the following switches, selectors etc. work; the MASTER ALT- (controls all three engine generators switches on FE panel), AVIONICS MASTER- (both switches on the overhead panel), DE-ICE- (controls all three ENG & ANTI-ICE switches), TAXI-, PANEL- (not only cockpit lighting but also cabin lights), BEACON-, NAV-, STROBE-, TAXI-, LANDING switches and the GEAR handle with position lights.
Ok, here's another great add-on plane; the Flight1/Coolsky Duper 80 Professional. The following Saitek Switch Panel commands are recognized by the aircraft; PANEL-, BEACON- (ANTI-COLLISION switch) and the GEAR handle with position lights.
Not completely convinced? Here's a test with the Wilco Publishing 737PIC; DE-ICE- (ENG ANTI-ICE) and the GEAR handle with position lights.
And here – before my conclusion and feedback from Saitek – one last example, the Carenado Cessna 152 II; ; the ENGINE start selector, MASTER BAT and ALT-, AVIONICS MASTER-, DE-ICE- (controls CARB HEAT), PITOT HEAT-, PANEL-, BEACON-, NAV-, LANDING. It may be obvious that the GEAR doesn’t work since this tiny aircraft doesn’t have a retractable gear, yet for example, the FUEL PUMP switch isn’t working either since the aircraft only offers a PRIMER selector. Also there’s no control/feedback for the STROBE- and TAXI switches, since the aircraft doesn’t have any controls for this.
Overall FSX Conclusion:
With this small sampleing of tested add-on aircraft, and their compatibility with the Saitek Switch Panel, it seems that it all depends on the complexity of the add-on airplane. It’s time to contact Saitek and see if they’re able to help me with this – Switch Panel integration – item.
According to Richard Neville (Manager Gaming) from Saitek UK: “Some of the more complex add-ons don't always utilize the controls/inputs correctly for some reason. What we rely on is SimConnect - this is part of FSX and it exposes all the data and hooks it into the simulator (read aircraft). We can than tap of this information in order to get such things working as proper switches (basic FSX key and button assignment only allow for momentary toggles, like a normal joystick button) and the status LEDs on the landing gear.
When the switches aren't working in certain aircraft then there's nothing that we can do from our end as all we can do is ensure that they work correctly as far as SimConnect is concerned. But there’s light at the horizon concerning this issue; one of our customers reported that the engine start wasn't working on the Carenado Cessna 182RG - a quick email to Carenado's support resulted in a new aircraft.cfg file from them which fixed the issue”.
I had hoped the results where a little better but unfortunately, it isn’t like this. On the other hand, asking Saitek and/or the vendor for better interpretation is always possible and hopefully this can lead to more switches recognized by the add-on aircraft.
Saitek Switch Panel versus FS2004
Although Saitek doesn’t officially support a FS2004 plug-in, but - as with all Saitek devices - there’s no issue with end users writing their own plug-ins for our products. Lucky for Saitek and all their current and future Switch Panel customers, there’s an Italian customer who wrote a specific FS2004 driver. It can be downloaded via the following link. So a few words about this officially unsupported driver.
First of all (see screenshot I) it offers below the interactive dummy panel a message field. This field show you if the Switch Panel is connected or not and thus recognized by your PC and there could be a FSUIPC error message or it will tell you everything is OK.
By the way, when FSUIPC gives a fault message, just have a look at the website for which actions must be taken. The reason for this is because the ZIP file doesn’t come with a readme file. Screenshot II gives the same kind of dummy panel in combination with FS2004 and here the same as with FSX, you either control the cockpit or the interactive dummy. You can’t control both at the same time!
There’s one thing which is different compared to the official Saitek FSX driver. First you need to start Flight Simulator 9, and then fire up the SaitekPanel.exe (FS2004 file) and minimized it. Don’t close the window with the EXIT button otherwise you no longer have any connection between the Saitek Switch Panel and the FS2004 cockpit panel(s). The same thing as we saw earlier with the FSX driver/panel interpretation; the FS2004 driver/switch panel works well with different default cockpits and add-ons. Here again, some add-on cockpits offer better interpretation then others.
Summary / Closing Remarks
Where and with what shall I start? The reviewed Saitek Switch Panel, either as an extension of your Pro Flight Yoke System or as an individual item, is well designed. It fits perfectly on a Yoke System component but is also beautiful as a stand-alone component. Basically, it’s a FSX add-on component but via the provided link, a free FS9 software driver can be downloaded. Although the switch panel works well with the default FSX airplanes, it even works with add-on airplanes but a note is needed here.
The more complex these add-on aircraft become, the bigger the chance some switches or selectors don’t work. Although the look of the Switch Panel tells me we’re dealing with a GA (General Aviation) panel, most of the external/internal light switches and landing gear handle are working with most of the add-on aircraft. In case the Switch Panel doesn’t connect to the aircraft switches/selectors, I advise you to contact Saitek; either they try to solve the problem or the aircraft vendor is contacted.
Another question popping up could be the presence of competitors? Are there any competitors and if so, are those vendors really a threat to Saitek?
Since I’m not familiar with others and not at all with GoFlight modules, I have to admit that it seems to me that GoFlight offers related components. Looking at the GoFlight website, it seems to me there are some modules which offer the same or a little more functionality than the combined Saitek Switch Panel but…..I know there’s always a but…. and this time it’s related to the price.
The GoFlight modules GF-T8 (Toggle Switch/Indicator) and the GF-LGT (Landing Gear and Trim Control) seem to offer more or less the same as the Saitek one. Module GF-LGT offers additionally a FLAP selector and an ELEV TRIM, which is not the case with the Saitek Switch Panel. There’s also another GoFlight component (GF-TPM & SECM), which offers exactly the same controls/switches etc. as the Saitek Switch Panel except for the GEAR handle ,but this is at a higher price compared to the Saitek panel.
All these GoFlight modules (GF-T8 or GF-LGT or GF-TPM & SECM) have one thing in common and that’s their high price. Just to give you an idea; module GF-T8 cost you around US$107.95, GF-LGT is just US$149.95 while the GF-TPM & SECM is as cheap as US$669.93.
Comparing this with the Saitek Switch Panel - US$99.99 – I think we don’t need a calculator to show you how much less expensive but at the same time how professional this Saitek hardware component is.
My conclusion is that this Saitek part doesn’t have any competitor, keeping the price difference in mind! One last but not unimportant item and that’s the warrantee period. GoFlight products have a standard warrantee of 1 year while Saitek offers a 2 year period; so that’s 100% more!
What else is there to say about the Switch Panel. There’s full support from Saitek concerning the FSX program/driver and non official support for FS2004, which is not provided by Saitek itself. Keep in mind that the Saitek panel switches/selectors do not all work with all add-on aircraft. In this case, contact Saitek and ask for assistance or post a forum item.
Looking at the Saitek module and what it offers, keeping the price in mind, I must say it’s a great add-on for FSX and unsupported for FS2004. I had fun testing this Saitek component and would like to thank Richard Neville from Saitek UK for his time, patient and knowledge.
What I Like About The Switch Panel
What I Don't Like About The Switch Panel
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