When I was about 9 or 10 years old, I got my first sim. It wasn’t because I had known about that sim, or because I really wanted it. I didn’t even know something like a flight sim existed for a “normal” home PC, but there it was: F/A-18 Hornet, by Graphsim.
I started out with v1.0, then climbed up to v2.0. I recently discovered that there was also a v3.0, but I never had it, sadly, and my computer is now too “new” to play it. I do remember how I played all these combat sims though: with my mouse. Yes, I simply used the mouse to fly the aircraft. It worked for me, and it worked well.
The mouse didn’t last, however. I got Falcon 4 in 1999 from a nephew of mine. I was happy until I discovered that you had to have a joystick in order to fly it. I was bummed, but fortunately my parents bought me a joystick for my birthday a month later. With that joystick, by Macally, I flew into the blue yonder (and got shot down all the time since I didn’t have the patience to read the manual). When I think about that time, I am somewhat surprised in a way, by my total lack of aviation knowledge. Oh well, I was only 11, so what could I possibly know about it?
That joystick didn’t last forever, so when I was well into FS2004, somewhere in 2007, the joystick simply broke down. It worked, but the springs that kept it centered when not moved simply snapped. I then got another joystick for my 2007 birthday: the Logitech Extreme 3D Pro. I personally think it’s a very good joystick and it still works very well.
The aviation hobby industry has more to offer than just joysticks however. I knew about the existence of yokes, throttle quadrants and rudder pedals, but I had never actually seen them. That is, until the FSWeekend in Lelystad in 2010, where I stood at the Avsim booth together with Angelique van Campen and her partner. There I saw the yokes and I got to play with them a bit. I was instantly sold.
I researched the yokes that were available, and ended up with the Saitek Pro Flight System line of simulation hardware, but there was a problem. Although there were reviews to be found, there was no single, comprehensive review on any actual flight sim site. So that is what I want to bring you: a comprehensive review about Saitek’s Pro Flight System line of hardware for use with whatever flight simulator you wish to use it for. For this review, I tested it with multiple simulators, although my primary sim is FSX.
By the way, I do apologize for a small selection of the photographs. Some are out of focus – I only later saw that they were out of focus due to bad lighting indoors. Afterwards I turned on the flash.
What’s in the box?
When I received the boxes containing the various parts (pedals, quadrant and yoke), the pedals kindly offered by Simware and the rest received from the Aerosoft E-shop, I instantly went to unwrap them. The boxes are nicely made, and it’s absolutely clear what’s in them thanks to the vividly colored pictures on the front and the “manual” on the back:
The hardware is well packed. In fact, when you open the box, all you see is more packaging:
And when you take the actual hardware out of the box, here’s what you get:
And finally, when you get all the stuff out of the box and spread on the floor, here’s the actual contents of these boxes:
So that’s unwrapping everything. It’s time to setup all the gear and look what it has to offer.
First of all: the yoke. The yoke that I got is actually a flight system by itself, because it includes one throttle quadrant. This quadrant is connected to the yoke via a serial port instead of a normal USB, but that’s no problem. When I got it out of the box, several things came to mind:
That describes most of what’s to be seen on this yoke. Because seeing is believing, I have included ample photographs for you to look at. The captions contain a detailed description of what’s to be seen.
One thing I ought to mention is the “mode” system on the yoke. The yoke has several buttons, but thanks to the mode system, you can assign multiple functions to each button using the Saitek drivers. With the drivers you make a profile, and in this profile you assign a keyboard key to each button of the yoke. Because of this mode system, you can assign up to three keys per button.
Then, when that specific profile is active, you can use the mode wheel on the yoke to switch between the various modes, and thus the function of the yoke buttons. It’s a very handy system and also very intuitive. More later about Saitek’s drivers and profile editor. And now for the promised screenshots.
Fastening the yoke to your desk/table is very easy and makes sure that the yoke doesn’t start moving around the moment you wish to use it. The below screenshots show how you fasten it to the table:
This concludes the Yoke. In my opinion, the Saitek yoke is a marvel of design, sporting a mindset oriented towards the simmer. Fastening to the table couldn’t be easier.
Multitudes of well-placed buttons make it possible to simulate many of the vital key presses that you’d need on a real plane, and thanks to the mode wheel, you can even triple the amount of assignments you wish to have. A small, but extremely satisfying detail, is that the label for the mode wheel is written upside down! They apparently thought correctly about the fact that when people first find this strange wheel, they are most probably going to look for it by bending over the yoke, and thus seeing the text at the mode wheel upside down! This is what I call customer-oriented thinking and I greatly commend Saitek for it.
For the rest, there is a clock that lights up and doubles as a stopwatch. Last but not least, the yoke sports its own tiny USB hub, enabling you to plug your entire Saitek Pro Flight System into the yoke, thus freeing up USB ports in your computer, which might be needed for other USB devices.
I find that this yoke is packed with details that show how great it has been put together and I’m very impressed by it. Question remains, how is it to use the yoke? I have dedicated a separate chapter for that, so continue reading on.
The throttle quadrant
In this review I give a look at two throttle quadrants: the one that came with the Yoke and a separate one. The quadrant that came with the yoke is connected to the yoke via a standard serial plug. As such, you have to plug it into the yoke’s special serial port in order to use this quadrant.
The other, separately packaged yoke has a USB connector. For convenience I plugged this one into the yoke’s USB hub, but you can plug it into any USB port you wish. Note that besides the different plugs, the two quadrants are exactly the same!
I will continue this chapter using a host of photographs plus descriptions of those photographs. That seemed the easiest way of discussing the hardware product.
This concludes the throttle quadrant. With a sturdy design, easily moveable levers including a button function, the prime function of the quadrant is easily fulfilled with great success.
This is truly a good product. The six buttons below the levers are more or less a bonus to me, and they are a welcome addition. Overall, a good quadrant, well worth having if you want to move to something more realistic for jetliners and propliners than the keyboard or a joystick’s throttle lever.
The rudder pedals
The final piece of equipment I will be looking at are the Saitek rudder pedals. Let me describe it by the use of photographs, although in essence there isn’t too much to see. There aren’t any buttons to look at and the design is rather straight forward.
While I have shown most of the pedals, there some hidden things that aren’t readily noticeable;
This concludes the pedals. I have found that they are a joy to use and they are easy to set up. It’s pretty much plug and play.
The adjustments you can do for the tension is a very welcome addition, and I like how there are multiple ways to make sure the pedals do not slide around the room when you are using it. Note that I did find the strips friction adding capabilities wear off a bit too quickly, but fortunately not enough for them to become useless.
The most reliable way of fastening the pedals is and will always be using screws to a base plate. Overall, the pedals are also a good product that I enjoy using.
The Saitek drivers and profile editor
Now that we have looked at all of the various hardware modules, it’s time to look at the software they come with. Note that the software isn’t necessary for successful use of the hardware, but it enables functions that otherwise would remain unused. One of these functions is the mode wheel on the yoke, which I have come to regard as one of the best ideas I have seen on hardware. It won’t work without the profile editor and the Saitek drivers.
Admittedly, the drivers themselves are not the most interesting part, and to be honest this is not the part you really need. The hardware works great without them. The most interesting part is the profile editor (but note that the drivers have to be installed for the profile editor to be of use). This is the central place for you to configure buttons, levers, and switches, etc. More about this later however, because first we’ll look at what happens when you plug in the equipment.
If you have not installed the drivers, Windows will look for drivers using Windows update, and you can then use the software without even touching the Saitek drivers. However, suppose you did install them, then after Windows has finished installing the drivers it found (even though, technically, they aren’t really required), you will see new tray icons:
The left one signifies that the Saitek yoke is plugged in and that a profile is active. There is no active profile for the quadrant however, which is the right icon. Therefore it doesn’t have the green block. If you were to unplug the hardware, the icons would disappear altogether. I didn’t install the pedal drivers, otherwise a pedals icon would also appear.
The tray icons enable you to access a menu. The menu is your easy access point to all the profile related functions and control panel.
Let’s go over what we see. The top-most entry is the active profile. As you can see, the active profile is called “FS2004 Saitek Yoke”. You can of course give it any name you want and at the moment I primarily use the profile in FSX. FS2004 is just the name I gave it when I made it. Note that in effect EVERY profile you make is going to be in this list.
I have made only one profile, so you only see one profile in the list. It is certainly NOT the case that only the active profile appears in the list! However, the active profile does have a box around it, the rest do not.
The second entry is “Clear profile”. What it does NOT do, is delete the profile. What it DOES do, is deactivate the current profile. This enables you to quickly switch to another profile if you so desire. The third entry is “Clear startup”. Notice the flag icon of the FS2004 Saitek Yoke profile: it means that this particular profile will be loaded automatically when the hardware is plugged in.
Using this menu entry, you can clear the current profile from being loaded at startup. Note that when I say “on startup”, I mean the moment you plug in the hardware as opposed to when you start up Windows!
The next entry is “Profile editor” and it does exactly what it says. It simply starts up the profile editor, which we will look at in more detail later. The next entry gives access to the driver’s control panel. The last two entries give access to the Saitek website and close the menu respectively.
Before we move on, I want to look at profiles a bit more in-depth. I have mentioned them on and off now several times and I fully understand if you might be a bit confused, so that’s why I wrote this special sub chapter.
Clear and simple, the use of profiles is to define a set of instructions, or assignments, for buttons on your hardware that are exchangeable. What does this mean? It means that assignments you set up are not “locked”, causing you to have to manually change them every time you want to use a different sim, or perhaps fly a different plane. Instead, you assign them in a separate file, and depending on your current use of the hardware (think of combat vs. civilian flight sim) you can exchange these files so that the assignments are different for the various sims you use with this hardware.
The profile system is an intelligent, intuitive, fast and easy way to define lots of buttons for a wide variety of sims/games without having to do much, tedious work.
So that’s what a profile is. How does it work? The way it works is rather simple. There are a few things we have to keep apart, however:
By default, a profile is inactive. It can be activated in two ways:
How do you know when a profile is active? You can easily access that information by opening the tray icon menu of your hardware device. In the menu, in the list of the profiles, you will see a box around the active profile. When a profile is loaded that has assignments for a hardware module, a green block will appear on the tray icon. You can see this in the screenshot of the tray icons, above.
You can see that there are the tray icons for a yoke and one throttle quadrant. The yoke has a green block, denoting a profile has been loaded for the yoke. The quadrant doesn’t have this, however. This means that no profile was loaded. Note that you can activate different profiles for each hardware module. I can use one profile for the yoke, but activate another profile on the quadrant. The only caveat is that there should be an assignment for at least one button, otherwise the profile won’t load for that hardware module.
Finally, as I said, it is possible to assign a profile that would be made active upon hardware module plug-in (“on startup”). This profile is “flagged”, or in other words, receives a flag icon denoting its status of being activated on startup. You can choose what profile should be activated on startup.
Since I only have one profile, for me the choice was rather easy. You can of course, using the menu or the profile editor program itself, deactivate an active profile and activate another profile. You can also change the profile to be activated on startup at any time. To set a profile as a startup profile, right click the profile name in the tray icon menu of the controller, and choose “Set as startup profile”.
I hope this clears everything up. Now it’s time to look into how you actually make a profile; by using the profile editor of course!
The profile editor
There are two ways to open the profile editor: by using Windows Explorer and navigating to the folder in which the profile editor resides (or you can look it up via the windows start menu. A folder in the start menu is automatically created), or you open it by using the hardware modules tray icons. Note however, that a tray icon only appears when the hardware module is actually plugged in. If you wish to make a profile without any hardware modules being plugged in, you will have to navigate to the profile editor using the start menu or Windows Explorer.
The above shot shows the profile editor without a profile loaded. It might look confusing at first, but I’ll tell you it is not. There are several buttons along the top of the screen and a pull down menu. These buttons are to respectively
Make a new profile.
Open an existing profile.
Save the current profile. the arrow next to the save icon gives access to two more options:
A drop down menu through which you can choose the hardware module to assign buttons for.
A “profile” button that activates the currently selected profile for the controller selected in the drop-down menu.
A button so you can print the currently displayed profile.
A help icon which will bring up the help document/user guide.
The area you see that contains all kinds of boxes is where you’ll be assigning all the buttons with all kinds of functions. As an example, see the screenshot right. This is the FS2004 Saitek Yoke profile:
It’s the same screen again, Except that the lower large area is different. As you can see, there are three columns. This is due to the mode wheel, which enables you to select a certain mode. For each mode, you can assign a different function for each button, which is exactly what I did. It’s very easy to do this, too.
I will not go into much detail since you can do a lot using the profile editor, but I hope to have given you at least a basic overview of what’s possible. The user guide covers all the possible options. Note that drivers and the user guide are freely downloadable from the Saitek website download section.
Using the Saitek Pro Flight System
Now that you’ve got a taste of the hardware modules themselves and the software you get with it, let’s look now at how it actually works. The actual use starts with assigning buttons. These are the ground rules for assigning buttons to these hardware modules. In general, it is recommended to always use the simplest method:
As for me, I did the bulk of assigning via a mixture of the default FSX Settings panel and FSUIPC. See, FSX itself (and FS2004 for that matter) can be very limited in what it offers. For simple key assignments it is great, but for anything more advanced, you’ll want to use something else: FSUIPC.
FSUIPC is good because it’s so nicely integrated with FS. While all normal key presses were done via FS’s default controller settings panel, all levers and handles were done via FSUIPC. Why? Because of this:
Once you get everything assigned in whatever combination of programs that suits you, you can finally start flying. The button assigning can take a long time and is rather tedious, but it’s the basis for later enjoyment.
Sitting on the tarmac at Lelystad EHLE in the Netherlands, I was ready for my first circuit using this equipment. I moved the throttle lever forward, and was happy with how smooth it went. It’s a very precise piece of apparatus and it’s very nice to use. The plane started moving forward, slowly started to pull to the left. I kicked in some rudder… and the plane went all the way to the left. It appeared I had to get used to this. Apparently I had to kick the rudder the other way. After some practicing that wasn’t much of a problem and I took off without further problems. Then the next surprise came: flying with a yoke is actually harder than a joystick.
With a joystick, every slight input does something. The range of motion of a joystick also isn’t very big and my joystick tended to cause instant changes in the airplanes flight path. All in all, flying with the joystick was rather easy because of this “instantaneous character”. Every input had immediate consequences. The yoke was a completely different story, however. Contrary to the joystick, the yoke doesn’t cause equal movement along its entire rotational path. So, for example, if I were to rotate the yoke to the left a bit, the plane wouldn’t react too much. Move it left more, the plane would react suddenly and roll over too much. I tried to picture this behavior in the graph illustrated:
Let me explain the graphs. You see two: the left one is for the Saitek yoke, the right one for the Logitech joystick I own. The line in the middle of each graph is the centerline: the neutral positions of the yoke and the joystick. At this position, both yoke and joystick give no input and the plane flies straight and level. The bold lines that are drawn show how the plane reacts to you turning the yoke and joystick. For the joystick these are straight lines: the plane’s rolling is equal to the amount of stick input you give. For the yoke this doesn’t seem to be the case. At first its rolling movement is less than the input you give, and at later stages it seems to be a lot more, which really requires practice in order to perfect your hand flying.
I’m not sure if my difficulties with the yoke are because I have used the joystick for so long, or because something is wrong in the way I setup the yoke, although I’d go with the first explanation. Anyway, it gives for some very nice practice, and in the end once I got used to it, flying with the yoke proved great. It feels much nicer, much more realistic than the joystick, keyboard or mouse and has greatly enhanced my enjoyment of flying.
The buttons on the yoke are well-placed and of great use, especially the mode wheel. It really enables you to assign some very important functions to some pretty important buttons. For example (refer to the photographs of the yoke here, please), the red E and D buttons are exactly the sort of buttons that work great for autopilot and autothrottle related functions, such as TOGA or autopilot disengage.
Being able to assign not less than three different functions to these buttons is therefore very valuable. You only have to remember at what mode a button has a certain function. Fortunately, the profile editor enables you to print out the key assignments, as you saw in the Profile Editor chapter. Also the rocker switches (termed A1, A2, B1, B2 and C1, C2) are of great use. B1/2 and C1/2 are used on my setup for elevator and aileron trim respectively. Their position for this is excellent and I couldn’t have wished to have them on another place.
Last but not least, the clock on the yoke can be of great use. Thanks to its stopwatch function, you can time your flights. Start it at takeoff, stop it after landing. The clock itself is also of great use, because it’s nice to be able to keep track of the actual time while flying in virtual time. The great thing is that you can use them interchangeably.
While the stopwatch is running, you can switch over to the clock by using the Mode button to check actual time, and then switch back to the stopwatch. Need to go to the bathroom and want to pause FS? No problem: you can simply stop the stopwatch until you resume the sim.
I should note one problem I have with the yoke: it seems to have a slight bias toward the left. So even if the yoke is in a neutral position, the plane rolls to the left. This can be easily corrected by properly calibrating the yoke, but you might have to go through this procedure more often than you’d probably want.
The throttle quadrants are also a great enhancement. Sitting on one of the runways with a 747, and advancing the levers of the four engines gives you a glimpse of the feeling you’d probably have when flying the real thing. I don’t tend to use this word too often, but flying with these throttle quadrants is nothing less than awesome. Having the spoiler and flaps levers is also a huge enhancement to my enjoyment and I tend not to want to fly without them anymore.
They are precise, easy to use, intuitive and lots of fun. Using the tiny throttle lever on my joystick simply is completely inferior to these quadrants, and I only use it on short test flights, for example for when I do a scenery review and don’t feel like setting up all the Saitek hardware reviewed here.
Does this mean I don’t use the joystick at all? No. I do use the joystick in two circumstances:
Note that in all situations I still use the pedals and throttle quadrants.
The pedals are more or less the same story. They enhance my flying experience greatly by adding a new dimension to the realism of the simulation. It takes some practice to get to know them, but you’ll end up not wanting anything else for rudder control.
I typically switched the rudder axis on my joystick, because the rudder pedals are more practical to use. That you can adjust the tension of the pedals (how hard it is to move them with your feet) is also a great asset and makes it possible to fly the easy-on-rudder modern planes such as the 777 or 767, as well as the hard-on-rudder 707 with much greater realism. The only problem I have is that the strips that should add greater friction so that the pedals don’t move around the room when you apply pressure with your feet, wore off after a few months. They still supply enough friction, but I’m a bit disappointed that it wore off so quickly.
On the bright side, the addition of toe brakes is something of a must for those that require utmost realism from their jetliners. Aircraft such as the PMDG 747, PMDG 737NGX, LDS767 and others that can have overheated brakes on landing will find that the on/off kind of braking system that a button press will employ will give their planes overheated brakes a bit too often. Using toe brakes, you can chose the amount of brake you want, thus greatly reducing the risk of a brake overheat.
As an aside, because each pedal has its own toe brake, differential braking has never been much more intuitive than when using rudder pedals, be it the Saitek ones or others that employ that feature. Overall, the pedals are a great hardware module that make your flights more realistic and more enjoyable.
Summary / Closing Remarks
I can say very easily that I love the Saitek hardware reviewed here. You receive it in professional packaging in several pieces, but don’t worry: assembling won’t take you long and it’s very easy to do. The instructions are clear, but quite frankly, it’s so intuitive that I didn’t really even need the instructions to begin with. When everything is finally setup on your desk, installing the Saitek drivers is a breeze. Getting to know the Profile Editor and the logic behind it might take some more time, but thanks to a comprehensive user guide you shouldn’t have too much trouble.
Setting up the hardware to allow actual flying in FS is easy, if a bit tedious. Using the controller section of the FS settings tab, you can set everything up the way you like it, but I really recommend FSUIPC for more advanced stuff (note that it’s a payware product if you want to use it to its utmost potential, though there is also a very limited free version). FSUIPC comes with a huge manual and Peter Dowson, the developer, is a friendly guy that will help you if you should run into trouble. As I said, I use a mix of the Saitek profile Editor, default FS assignments and FSUIPC assignments.
The actual flying with the hardware is great. All the equipment is of good quality and seems sturdy enough to keep working for a long time. The yoke has been intelligently put together, with firm hand grips and buttons that are placed at exactly the right spots. The mode wheel is one of the single most useful additions I have seen to a hardware module and I use it fanatically to switch between button assignments “on the fly” (sorry for the pun).
The clock is also a great thing. The only pity is that the yoke seems to have a slight bias for the left, but it’s easily solved by calibrating it properly. If calibration via FS fails, you can always resort to calibration within FSUIPC.
The throttle quadrant is just as easy to setup as it’s fun to use. Being able to move actual levers instead of ramming the keyboard or moving a depressingly little thing on a joystick is an enormous joy. Like the yoke, the throttle quadrant is very versatile in that you can replace the handles on the levers to suit the function you gave it (throttle, mixture or condition lever). It’d be neat if flaps and spoiler handles would also be included, but those that feel creative could easily make their own using some packaging material, for example Styrofoam would probably work very well. The levers move fluidly and the addition of a button-like region can be very nicely converted in to a reverse thrust region with some help of FSUIPC. Like the yoke, the throttle quadrant is also a great asset and a very addition to your simming.
Third and last, the pedals. They are easy to setup and require hardly any fiddling. Only the toe brakes might have you going back and forth in the FS settings tab. Other than that, it’s nice that Saitek included multiple ways to make sure that there is added friction between the pedals and floor, even if the friction strips didn’t hold out for as long as I had hoped. The pedals themselves are adjustable, making it easy for many to fit their legs on them. The fact that the tension can be adjusted is also really nice. Overall, the pedals complement the yoke and throttle quadrant in a great way.
What about the price? Well, any hardware is going to be expensive, and really inexpensive flightsim hardware (except for joysticks) is hard to come by. However, taking into account everything you get for the price, I think the Saitek pro Flight System really is quite reasonable.
A rundown of prices at the Simware Simulation Store (all at the time of writing, regular prices, no discounts):
Basically, if you want the exact setup that I have, you’ll pay round about 280 Euros. With this setup you can then fly just about any plane you want.My final verdict is that this Saitek setup is simply very good and the price is right. All the pieces complement each other and I assure you that your flying will seldom be the same as before. Of all simmers, those that tend to fly low and slow will see the biggest use of the hardware, though I can assure you that using the yoke and quadrants to navigate a fully loaded 747 into a stormy Kai Tak will be an awesome experience.
What I Like About Saitek's Pro Flight System
What I Don't Like About Saitek's Pro Flight System
Tell A Friend About this Review!
All Rights Reserved