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Manufacturer: CH Products
Min OS X: Any Version    Requires: USB Port

Fighterstick USB
April 10, 2002 | Tim Morgan

Click to enlarge
People who have read my earlier reviews will have picked up by now that I am not at all adverse to joysticks with a plethora of controls. This is not simply a fixation: modern flight simulators have become exceedingly complex as computer systems can handle more and more realistic representations of real-world fighter jets. Sims like F/A-18 Korea and Falcon 4, as well as other, more exotic computer games, have been affording their players more and more precise control over the game’s functions.

With that control comes the need for a complex HOTAS. As I have said before, the bane of any armchair pilot’s experience is having to remove his or her hands from the joystick and placing them on the keyboard, thus wasting precious milliseconds of response time. Ideally, a gamer should have instant access to all crucial functions hat his or her fingertips, because it’s the few split seconds that make the difference between a close call and an ugly lawn dart.

Enter the Fighterstick USB. CH Products has declared its dominance over Macintosh HOTAS systems by introducing this complex joystick, positioned quite clearly at enthusiastic dogfighters. The sheer amount of programmability offered by this stick’s twenty separate functions left me very eager to yank and bank this hat-smattered plastic stalk around in the most versatile of computer games.

First Appearances
As I said above, this FLCS is bristling with hat switches. The Fighterstick is faithfully modeled after the control column used in the F-16 Fighting Falcon, the US Air Force’s premier multirole fighter — and it shows. There are only a few differences between the Fighterstick and the F-16’s stick; namely, the tension (which we will get into later) and the lack of a pinky-controlled paddle on the Fighterstick.

Littering the surface of the stick are a trigger, three buttons, an eight-way POV hat, and three four-way auxiliary hats. In addition, there are two trim controls and a third wheel on the base (which should be a crime if used as a throttle). The stick is very large; only a very small number of people will have hands large enough to reach all the controls without stretching his or her fingers. Each hat has a unique design more or less reminiscent of the shape of the F-16’s hats. The two trim wheels have center detents, and while the detent on the horizontal trim offers plenty of resistance, the vertical trim’s detent was often difficult to find, nor did it hold the trim wheel’s position very well.

The other striking thing about the stick is its tension — it doesn’t have any. Like all of CH’s other sticks, the Fighterstick USB can be swung around with ease. While this helps keep vintage prop planes from slipping into high-speed stalls, it creates a noticeable performance hit on more modern turners and burners. The stick on the real F-16, like the sticks on most modern fighter jets, has only about a quarter inch of freedom in any direction — the pilot applies pressure to increase roll or pitch rate. In fact, the tension is about the only major problem I experienced with this joystick: everything else looked and felt terrific.

Tour of Duty
I should take this opportunity to note that, like the trim in the Combatstick, the Fighterstick’s trim controls are not handled by software. The trim wheels directly alter the data coming into the computer, and as such, games that formerly did not have the ability to trim the aircraft now gain this functionality.

A button on the right of the stick, pressed by the index finger, controls modes in the joystick. Successive presses of the button light one of three green, red, or yellow lights on the base of the stick. People who have had experience with the Saitek X36 may have trepidations with this mode switch: on the X36, once you engage a new mode, it doesn’t release. InputSprocket thinks you have pressed a button and have not released your finger from it; thus, the game will act as if you pressed a key on the keyboard over and over.


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