Programmable HOTAS Systems – Update 1

by Joe Keefe



In February 2010 SimHQ published its initial “Programmable HOTAS Systems” article.

At that time the Saitek X-65F had just been released and the HOTAS WARTHOG was still a nebulous concept to all but its development engineers. Today we are updating this article with current information on all four HOTAS system manufacturers and all six serious HOTAS systems available for PC.

As PC flight sims progressed from black-and-white fly-with-keyboard titles to the modern multi-axis button-pusher sims on the market today, input controllers progressed at a similar rate. Starting with the first simple two-axis joysticks, PC HOTAS systems now mimic or even replicate the high quality design and ergonomics found on real aircraft.

As the USB standard developed and as simulation titles became more versatile, simulations began supporting user-customizable controller input and input from multiple controllers. For users who prefer to use joysticks, throttles, and rudders from different manufacturers, and/or for users who construct their own input devices, this is very important. Even simulation users who only use a single-source HOTAS can still run into older titles coded with early DirectX routines; this can lead to throttle and rudder control being assigned to incorrect axes on many controllers.

Crazy Desk.

Today the vast majority of sims support user-customizable multiple controller input. For the sims that don’t, HOTAS functionality that allows a user to make his or her HOTAS work in a particular application is a very desirable feature. General programmability is also of importance, with additional features such as ergonomics coming into play as well.

Today we’ll take a look at the high-end offerings from the four active HOTAS manufacturers, and we’ll discuss their programming capabilities and why these features are useful in certain situations found in simulations. Some of these products are older; in the case of the X-52 Pro and the Cougar new products from the same manufacturers are already on the market. Some are newer, with software that is still developing. Thus, this article is a snapshot in time that describes the current best that HOTAS manufacturers have to offer. In the interest of fairness the products are presented in alphabetical order.

HOTAS Systems Overview

This article discusses software. However, software exists to make hardware do a certain job, so a brief hardware overview of the HOTAS systems is necessary.

CH Fighterstick and CH Pro Throttle
Joystick and Throttle sold separatelyManufacturer: CH Products
SimHQ Review
MSRP: $245.90 USD for both items
Street Price: $200 USD for both items

The CH Fighterstick is modeled and styled after the real F-16’s joystick, although the throttle is not based on anything real. Of the HOTAS systems evaluated, the CH Pro Throttle is the only throttle that slides in a horizontal plane instead of rotating about an axis. The throttle has no detents. The CH equipment is constructed of high-quality plastic of the type used in commercial aircraft. Note that the CH configuration presented in this article does not include a rudder controller. CH Pro Pedals are available as a separate component if the user chooses to purchase them, for about $100; these have independent toe brakes as well as the main rudder axis, and are fully programmable using CH software. Generally the CH Fighterstick is regarded as having a very light force required for full stick displacement.

CH Fighterstick axes:

  1. Stick left/right
  2. Stick back/forwards
  3. Base wheel

CH Pro Throttle axes:

  1. Throttle
  2. Microstick left/right
  3. Microstick up/down

Logitech Flight System G940
Joystick, Throttle and PedalsManufacturer: Logitech
SimHQ Review
MSRP: $299.99 USD
Street Price: $275 USD

The Logitech Flight System G940 is the world’s first commercially-available force feedback HOTAS, plus it has dual throttles with fixed idle and afterburner detents. It is the only HOTAS that also includes pedals as part of the package.

Flight System G940 Joystick axes:

  1. Stick left/right
  2. Stick back/forwards
  3. Ministick (hat) left/right
  4. Ministick (hat) up/down
  5. Trim 1
  6. Trim 2
  7. Trim 3

Flight System G940 Throttle axes:

  1. Right throttle
  2. Left throttle
  3. Rotary 1
  4. Rotary 2

Flight System G940 Rudder axes:

  1. Left toe brake
  2. Right toe brake
  3. Rudder

Saitek X-52 Pro Flight 
Joystick and Throttle
Manufacturer: Madcatz / Saitek
SimHQ Review
MSRP: $169.95 USD
Street Price: $120 USD

The Saitek X-52 Pro Flight is often referred to as “alien-looking” because of its odd shape and myriad multi-colored lights. When visually compared to the other five HOTAS systems it definitely stands out, but whether that’s good or bad is up to the individual. Certainly the X-52 Pro Flight offers a number of hardware features the other HOTAS systems do not; a throttle indicator that transitions from green to red as the throttle is moved from 0% to 100% travel, an MFD that can display application-specific information, adjustable lighting intensity, an adjustable joystick grip, and a “safety cover” over the FIRE button are just some of these features. The X-52 Pro Flight’s joystick includes a twisting axis for rudder control. Saitek also makes pedals in the $100 price range. The throttle has a microstick that controls the mouse, but this device cannot be used to control other axes. The throttle has fixed idle and afterburner detents.

The X-52 Pro Flight was formerly known as the X-52 Pro; Saitek rebranded it with the birth of their “Pro Flight” line of equipment. As far as we know this is a name change only, and the features and quality of the product have not changed.

X-52 Pro Flight joystick axes:

  1. Stick left/right
  2. Stick back/forwards
  3. Twist

X-52 Pro Flight throttle axes:

  1. Throttle
  2. Rotary 1
  3. Rotary 2
  4. Precision Slider

Saitek X-65F Pro Flight
Joystick and ThrottleManufacturer: Madcatz / Saitek
SimHQ Review
MSRP: $399.99 USD
Street Price: $330 USD

The X-65F Pro Flight is modeled roughly after the real F-16’s joystick, although the split throttle is not based on any real plane. The joystick of this HOTAS, including the twist rudder, is force-sensing; this means that the load placed upon the stick, not the displacement of the stick, is translated to controller input.

X-65F Pro Flight joystick axes (force-sensing):

  1. Stick left/right
  2. Stick back/forwards
  3. Twist

X-65F Pro Flight throttle axes (displacement):

  1. Right throttle
  2. Left throttle
  3. Rotary 1
  4. Rotary 2

Thrustmaster HOTAS Cougar
Joystick and Throttle
Manufacturer: Thrustmaster / Guillemot
SimHQ Review: N/A
Street Price: $200 USD

The HOTAS Cougar is a replica F-16 joystick and throttle, cast out of metal and labeled appropriately. In its stock configuration it has a very heavy force required for full stick displacement, although there are a number of third-party mods available for the HOTAS Cougar’sgimbals. The HOTAS Cougar throttle has idle and afterburner detents that are user-adjustable. TheHOTAS Cougar also has the unique ability for connection of gameport rudder pedals.

HOTAS Cougar Joystick axes:

  1. Stick left/right
  2. Stick back/forwards

HOTAS Cougar Throttle axes:

  1. Throttle
  2. Range rotary
  3. Antenna rotary
  4. Microstick left/right
  5. Microstick up/down

Available HOTAS Cougar Rudder axes:

  1. Left toebrake
  2. Right toebrake
  3. Rudder
Thrustmaster HOTAS Cougar

Thrustmaster HOTAS WARTHOG
Joystick and Throttle 

(with throttle panel switches)Manufacturer: Thrustmaster / Guillemot
SimHQ Review – Part 1
SimHQ Review – Part 2
MSRP: $499.00 USD
Street Price: $400-$475 USD

The HOTAS WARTHOG is the newest HOTAS release from Thrustmaster. The HOTAS WARTHOG is a revolutionary controller, featuring a ball joint and coil spring joystick mechanism, non-contact hall sensors instead of potentiometers on every axis, and a throttle base with numerous toggle switches. It is a replica A-10C stick and throttle.

HOTAS Warthog Joystick axes:

  1. Stick left/right
  2. Stick back/forwards

HOTAS Warthog Throttle axes:

  1. Right Throttle
  2. Left Throttle
  3. Radar cursor left/right
  4. Radar cursor up/down
  5. “Throttle friction” rotary

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SimHQ Feature / Programmable HOTAS Systems – Update 1 / Table of Contents

Page 1 Page 2 Page 3
HOTAS Systems Overview
Simple HOTAS Programming Axis Response Manipulation

Page 4 Page 5 Page 6
HOTAS Connectivity and Axis Reporting
Axis Swapping
Logic and Math
Testing and Documentation
Comments from Manufacturers
Table of HOTAS Capabilities
Author’s System Specs

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