Updated: Feb 15
For flight Sims and space combat games, keyboard and mouse control is all well and good, but it often lacks the ‘immersion’ factor. For pure immersion, you cannot beat a purpose-built ‘aircraft style’ joystick. Except that you can, with a purpose-built aircraft-style HOTAS.
HOTAS stands for ‘Hands On Throttle And Stick’. HOTAS control systems have been common in real-world jet fighters since the days of the F-16 Fighting Falcon. The idea behind HOTAS is to allow the pilot to control multiple aircraft features without having to take their hands off the flight stick or throttle, thus improving their reaction times.
Video game HOTAS systems do the same, whilst simultaneously upping the immersion factor. With a little practice, a player will be able to perform all manner of complex functions in a split second by muscle memory alone, without having to remove their hands from the controls.
There is a range of HOTAS systems on the market. At the premium end of the range are sticks such as Thrustmaster’s ‘Warthog’. This is based on the HOTAS found in its real-world namesake, the A-10 Thunderbolt 2 – nicknamed ‘The Warthog’. At the time of writing, you can expect to pay upwards of £300 for one of these – in part due to its largely metal construction. For those on a budget, Thrustmaster also makes the entry-level ‘T-Flight HOTAS X’, the subject of this review.
T-Flight HOTAS X Description and Features
The T-Flight HOTAS X base features two distinct units, the stick-base and the throttle-base. Ingeniously, the units can be split in two, connected by a cable. This allows the player to place the throttle and stick shoulder widths apart or greater, just as they would be in a real aircraft - see the image above.
Conveniently, the cable is long enough to allow a full-length keyboard to fit snugly between the stick and throttle bases. This allows for easy access to the keyboard whilst using the HOTAS, allowing it to become part of your ‘cockpit-on-a-desk’.
For games with very complex controls, this is a most welcome feature.
In addition to this, the T-Flight HOTAS X boasts a host of features, including;
Stick and Throttle Bases
Programmable buttons. Every button, trigger and paddle can be mapped to a specific key bind or movement.
Ergonomic stick, with a trigger, three buttons and a ‘Hat’ thumbstick. The ‘Hat’ is often used to simulate your pilot character looking out of the cockpit sideways, upwards or behind them without changing the plane’s, X-Wing’s, Starfury's etc. attitude or direction of travel. This is very useful if you do not possess head tracking gear, such as ‘TrackIR 5’.
The stick can rotate several degrees left and right. This could be bound to roll or yaw as desired.
The stick has a dial hidden on the underside of the stick base. Turning this will adjust the stiffness of the stick, allowing the player to choose the level of resistance that suits them.
Analogue throttle. This is great for precise control of speed, both forwards and backwards. (Assuming the game you are playing and what you are flying in it features reverse flight.)
Eight buttons. All but two of these are right at your fingertips. The 7th and 8th can be reached without taking your hands off the throttle by using a little finger gymnastics.
Fingertip ‘paddles’. These are very useful for roll or yaw control.
Pros and Cons
Sturdy construction: It should last you a long time.
Respectable weight: It is not so light it will be unstable and wobble on your desk. Aided by rubber grip pads on the underside of both bases.
Variable stiffness of the flight stick.
Many programmable buttons.
Works on both PC and PS3*
Allows the use of the HOTAS, keyboard and a mouse all at the same time.
'Plasticky' feel. (Albeit a very strong plastic.)
Probably unusable by left-handed players.
Large ‘dead zone’.
The dead zone issue may be a significant drawback, depending on the game you are playing. Essentially, the stick will often fail to detect the first few degrees of movement from the centre point. This can make very fine movements difficult to pull off consistently. For games that do not require such precise control, such as most flight simulators, this is not a problem.
Unfortunately, for games that do require very precise control, such as Elite Dangerous and Freespace 2 SCP - games who’s shooting mechanics more closely resemble an FPS - it can make hitting your target very difficult. I have found using a combination of throttle, keyboard and mouse control for combat to be an effective solution. The stick is then used for non-combat flying.
Some people have found using third-party software, such as Joystick Curves helps to reduce the dead zone problem.
*Edit: I have found that using a small amount of auto-aim corrects this flaw. I now routinely use the HOTAS for both combat and non-combat flying.*