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    Saitek® X-55 RHINO® H.O.T.A.S. System


    Gaiiden

    Review by Doug Horton. It’s been many years since I operated a flight simulator airplane using a joystick and separate throttle, but I often fly simulated carrier launches and arrested landings in FSX, so it’s time to “get real” by trying out a new product with the simulated U.S. Navy airplanes I use for these flights. Thankfully, Mad Catz offered me the opportunity to try out their new Saitek X-55 Rhino H.O.T.A.S. (Hands On Throttle And Stick) product. Mad Catz announced the pending release of this product in December 2013, and at time of writing, the actual release to retailers is scheduled for early April 2014.

     

    T_X-55%20Pair-75.jpg

    X-55 RHINO product, shown connected, with green accent lighting visible on the throttle

     

    The X-55 Rhino system includes separate but designed-to-match stick and throttle products, each with its own USB cable and connector, to provide for independent programming and physical placement. The independent placement feature works well for me, because I have very strong memories of the seven introductory training flights I experienced at Pensacola Naval Air Station several decades ago. The throttle was on left side of the cockpit, slightly higher and to the left of my left knee. The stick was centered between my knees in the three airplane models in which I flew with an instructor: T-34 Mentor (opposed piston), T-28 Trojan (reciprocating piston), and T2J Buckeye (turbojet) trainers. Significantly, several modern airliner and general aviation airplanes feature a side stick, such as Airbus and Cirrus airplanes.

     

    According to Mad Catz, the X-55 RHINO was designed and developed to give flight simulation enthusiasts the most realistic flight experience possible, at an affordable price. The currently advertised price, pre-release, is $199.95 US. The X-55 components are styled after modern fighter jet control systems, and according to Mad Catz, they were designed “from a clean drawing board to deliver a variety of customizable options, not before seen in a H.O.T.A.S. product.” Mad Catz suggests that whether users simulate flying modern military or civilian, single or multi-engine aircraft, “the X-55 RHINO supplies all the control surface options required achieving the exact level of aerial performance aspiring pilots demand.”

     

    Stick Features

     

    X-55 RHINO features include enhanced 16-bit Hall Effect sensors (see below) in the joystick axes, and four swappable springs for the stick, so users can set their preferred stick tension. Users can choose any of the four springs, or no spring (such as for simulating helicopter cyclic stick), whichever best accommodates the user’s style of flying. The image below provides an expanded view of the springs and the removable parts for changing springs.

     

    T_SpringOptions-75.jpg

    Expanded view of springs and removed mounting parts

     

    Saitek's new programming software for the X-55 provides the ability to completely customize all of the X-55 Rhino's axes and many buttons. On the axis side, users can adjust dead bands and response curves to fine-tune axis to respond like the real aircraft. On the buttons and toggle side, users can assign any number of in-sim options, such as speed brake, flares, target lock, flour drop, weapon choice and/or other options provided by the particular aircraft. The table below summarizes stick features and options:

     

    Control Surfaces

    Axes

    Aileron

     

    Elevator

     

    Rudder

    Resolution

    Aileron

    16-bit Hall Sensor

    Elevator

    16-bit Hall Sensor

    Tension Adjustment

    Available Springs

    4

    Features

    Axes

    3

    Trigger

    1

    Push Buttons

    3

    Pinkie Paddle

    1

    Pinkie

    1

    8-Way POV Hat Switch

    1

    8-Way Hat Switches

    2

    Additional Information

    Modes

    3

    Securing Points

    4

    Connection

    USB

    Compatibility

    Windows XP & later

     

    Throttle Features

     

    The X-55 Rhino includes twin throttles and also provides the option to adjust the friction required to move them. According to Mad Catz, “Using a twin engine throttle controller is the only suitable method for manipulating a simulated twin-engine aircraft.” For simulating single engine, an easy to use throttle lock quickly converts the twin throttles into a single unit.

     

    T_LockedUnlocked-75.jpg

    Throttle levers locked in left view and unlocked in right view

     

    To provide a product with the highest level of control and customization, the X-55 Rhino includes additional realistic toggles and rotaries, orientated around the throttle base. Seven extra three-way toggle switches and two rotaries allow users to customize the X-55 system to their own specifications. The table below summarizes features and options of the Rhino throttle.

     

    Control Surfaces

    Axes

    Left Throttle

     

    Right Throttle

    Tension Adjustment

    Left and Right Throttle

    Yes

    Features

    Axes

    6

    Push Buttons

    5

    8-Way Hat Switches

    2

    2-Way ‘K’ Switch

    1

    2-Position Slider

    1

    Mouse Nipple

    1

    Scroll Wheel

    1

    3-Way Toggles

    7

    Additional Information

    Modes

    3

    Throttle Lock

    Yes

    Backlighting

    Green with Hue

    Securing Points

    4

    Connection

    USB

    Compatibility

    Windows XP & Higher

     

    PRODUCT SETUP

     

    Following is a step-by-step procedure for setting up the axes for the Rhino in FSX, as recommended by Saitek, and edited slightly by this reviewer. Note that the procedure for setting up the stick assumes use of stick rotation for rudder. If rudder pedals are connected, ignore instructions for rudder settings in Stick Setup steps 3 and 7.

     

    Stick Setup

     

    1.     In FSX, go to Settings > Controls > and select the Control Axes tab.

    2.     Select Saitek Pro Flight X-55 Rhino Stick from the ‘Controller Type’ drop-down list.

    3.     Scroll through the axes assignments, ensuring the Ailerons event has the X Axis assigned, the Elevator event has the Y Axis assigned, and the Rudder Axis event has the Z Rotation Axis assigned.

    4.     The Throttle Axis will appear as Z Axis or Axis 04. Click Delete Joystick Assignment. The Stick has 3 axes only; the Throttle unit should control the throttle.

    5.     Click OK to save.

    6.     For recommended Sensitivity and Null Zone settings, go to Settings > Controls > and select the Calibration tab. Select the Saitek Pro FlightX-55 Rhino Stick in the ‘Controller Type’ drop-down menu (scroll through the devices if you have many), and then turn on Advanced Controls by clicking its radio button.

    7.     Set the Aileron (X), Elevator (Y) and Rudder (Z Rotation) to:  Sensitivity = 75%, Null Zone = 0%.

    8.     To set deadbands, use the H.U.D. Software, described below, and make adjustments within the Settings tab. The manual covers deadband setup.

    9.     Stick setup is complete.

     

    Throttle Setup

     

    1.     In FSX, go to Settings > Controls > and select the Control Axes tab.

    2.     Select the Saitek Pro Flight X-55 Rhino Throttle from the ‘Controller Type’ dropdown list.

    3.     Scroll through the axes assignments and delete the Joystick assignments for the Ailerons event, the Elevator event, the Rudder Axis event and the Throttle Axis.

    4.     Ensure the Throttle Lock is disengaged and both Throttle segments can move independently.

    5.     For a Single Engine select the Throttle Axis event and click Change Assignment. Move the left Throttle so X Axis appears. Click OK to save.

    6.     For Dual Engines select Engine 1 Throttle Axis event, click Change Assignment, and move the left Throttle so X Axis appears. Select Engine 2 Throttle Axis event, click Change Assignment, and move the right Throttle so Y Axis appears.

    7.     Assigning axes to any of the four Rotary Dials is similar to the steps above.

    8.     Click OK to save.

    9.     For recommended Sensitivity and Null Zone settings, go to Settings > Controls > and select the Calibration tab. Select the Saitek Pro FlightX-55 Rhino Throttle in the ‘Controller Type’ dropdown menu (scroll through the devices if you have many) and then turn on Advanced Controls by clicking its radio button.

    10.  Set the Engine 1 Throttle Axis (X) and Engine 2 Throttle Axis (Y) to:  Sensitivity = 100%, Null Zone = 0%. If you assign events to the Rotary Dial, also set the Sensitivity to 100% and Null Zone to 0%.

    11. Deadbands are not needed with the Throttle.

    12.  Throttle setup is complete.

     

    Downloadable Drivers and Software

     

    For customization of settings, the X-55 Rhino is accompanied by dedicated software, the latest version of which can be downloaded. In drop-down lists, users will need to select range: Pro Flight; product: X-55 Rhino H.O.T.A.S. system; and their applicable operating system. Users might need to install .net (dotnet) software if it’s not present on their computers. Saitek calls this software “H.U.D. Software,” but it’s not related in any way, nor does it provide a Heads Up Display in the cockpit view.

     

    The software is organized by tabs, which should be self-explanatory:

     

    HOME has links for other Saitek products, Saitek’s Facebook feed, and an RSS feed of general flight simulation news.

     

    PROGRAMMING is for creating Profiles that assign functions to the buttons, switches, etc. Profiles are saved on your computer.

     

    SETTINGS are for dialing in response curves, deadbands, and value ranges on any of the H.O.T.A.S.’s five axes and four rotaries. These settings save directly to the on board memory of the Rhino.

     

    SUPPORT contains links for the tutorial video, manual, Quick Start Guide, support system, etc.

     

    At time of writing the software is a work in progress. All programming functions work fine, though some of the features and links in the Support tab are not yet operational. Shown below are two sample images of programming. These may be slightly confusing, as both the throttle and stick are in front of mirrors. The first image shows the programming UI for throttle assignments to buttons, switches, knobs, and axes. Note that the left throttle is selected, as denoted by the tan color. The second image shows setting the response curve of the joystick. Note that I selected one of the library profiles, which is highlighted in blue. The faint black lines in the profile window are part of the overall design theme, similar to printing on the package.

     

    T_HUDprogThrot-75.jpg

    Programming UI for throttle, showing left throttle selected

     

    T_HUDprogStick-75.jpg

    Settings UI for stick, showing selection (blue icons of S-shaped response curve)

     

    EXPERIENCE AND IMPRESSIONS

     

    Just one week before receiving the review sample, I visited a well known wild animal park in Florida. While being driven around on a simulated photo safari, I saw real black and white rhinos (which are shades of tan and are not really black and white). As described by the safari guide, rhinos are large, heavy, fast, and well designed for their role in nature. This is interesting, because these adjectives perfectly describe Saitek’s new X-55 RHINO product. The throttle and flightstick are large; heavy, so they stay in place; fast responding to user inputs; and they’re well designed for their role in flight simulation.

     

    Though Rhino my analogy makes sense, Tim DiIullo at Mad Catz, says that the X-55 stick was based on the design of the real stick in the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet variant of the F/A-18 Hornet. While it’s easy for pilots to say “Hornet” in a callsign, “Super Hornet” needed to be simplified, and given that the Super Hornet is heavier than the Hornet, the distinctive call sign “Rhino” was chosen.

     

    Packaging. My first impression on receiving a sample X-55 Rhino was that the packaging was “first class,” as is typical of other Saitek products I’ve reviewed. The package is covered by artwork that conveys the futuristic design of the product contained inside package. When the package is opened, a Quick Start guide is the first item seen. After a cardboard partition is removed, there are four items revealed: the throttle module, the flightstick base, the stick itself, and a small plastic tube that contains three alternate springs for the flight stick.

     

    Industrial Design. According to wikipedia.org, “Industrial design is the use of both applied art and applied science to improve the aesthetics, ergonomics, functionality, and/or usability of a product, and it may also be used to improve the product's marketability and even production.” In a word, the industrial design of the throttle and flightstick is impressive. A highlight of the design is the green backlighting around the throttle knobs and switches, which accents their locations, making the functions easier to find in a darkened cockpit. Note two views of the stick that show the design elegance of the X-55 stick.

     

    T_StickBack-75.jpg     T_StickSide-75.jpg

    Back and left side views of the X-55 stick

     

    There may be some potential purchasers of this product who are uncomfortable with right-handed design of the stick. Right-handed works for most combat aircraft, Diamond airplanes, helicopters cyclic control, and the co-pilot position in Airbus cockpits. On the other hand (accidental pun), left-handed stick operation is applicable to Cirrus and Lancair among general aviation cockpits, in addition to the pilot position in Airbus cockpits, for example.

     

    Electromechanical Design. There are two noteworthy design elements that appear are quite innovative for this product category. The user option to easily adjust the flightstick tension by alternative installation of the four furnished springs is a simple but effective design, as it takes less than a minute to change springs. As mention above, flightstick can be operated without a spring installed, such as for simulating a helicopter cyclic stick.

     

    Most impressive is the use of 16-bit Hall Effect sensors in the joystick axes. By way of explanation, from Wikipedia:

     

    "A Hall effect sensor is a transducer that varies its output voltage in response to a (varying) magnetic field. Hall effect sensors are used for proximity switching, positioning, speed detection, and current sensing applications.”

     

    As applied to the older X-52 and new X-55 products, as the flightstick is moved to control pitch and roll, the magnetic field in the gimbal assembly varies, and the voltage difference is measured as raw data for the X and Y axes. An important feature of this design is that there is no wear and tear of this sensor design, as there might be with electrical rheostats, for example, in which a small metal arm moves up and down wire windings in response to axis motion.

     

    PRO Flight Combat Rudder Pedals

     

    As a complement for the X-55 stick and throttles product, Saitek produces combat rudder pedals.

     

    Features include:

    • Combat Style pedals - modeled from modern fighter aircraft
    • Independent left and right brake axes in addition to rudder axis
    • Self-aligning operation of pedals, with adjustable damping
    • Adjustable pedal angle to suit all styles of flying.
    • Made of high quality, part metal construction for long life
    • Allows users to configure their controls to suit their preferred style, and to save the configurations as personal profiles.

     

    T_CombatPedals-75.jpg

    Saitek’s Combat rudder pedals will be the subject of a future review.



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