With the recent release of X-Plane 12 and the upcoming release of the 40th Anniversary Edition update for Microsoft Flight Simulator, helicopter flying is slowly becoming more and more common every day within the community.
Previously, accurately simulating helicopter dynamics was a very demanding task, and a majority of the platforms did not even support such features, so developers had to work on various workarounds to implement at least some sort of realistic flight dynamics to their helicopter addons.
But now, X-Plane 12 officially supports helicopters and Microsoft Flight Simulator is going to soon join them, so it might be a good time to start looking for new peripherals to control and make the most out of the official support and new addons.
We got an opportunity to test out the most recent generation of the Pro Flight Trainer’s PUMA X flight controls. In this article, we’re not going to review the product yet, but rather discuss how significant of a change professional flight controls can make in relation to helicopter flight simulation. A review is going to follow in the future after further testing is done.
Professional vs. Retail
I have to admit, it was my first time flying with something of this sort, and from the beginning, the experience differed vastly from previous times when I only used peripherals for casual flight simmers.
Price, packaging, accessories
First, of course, the price is a huge difference. It’s no surprise that professional equipment isn’t sold for the usual prices of other peripherals used for casual simming. The PUMA X from Pro Flight Trainer is currently on sale for $1499, which is about €1540 with the current conversion rate.
As soon as your package arrives, you will notice that unboxing and assembling the controls is a whole different experience. Whilst other companies aim to deliver an experience where you unbox your controls, plug them in, and can straight away start flying, the situation with professional equipment is different. There is a lot of stuff to play with, that you can adjust to your, or your organization’s, needs.
Whilst you might be used to everything being plastic, Pro Flight Trainer’s PUMA X is mostly from metal, which makes it very durable, robust, and feels very nice when in hand. The only plastic parts of the whole setup are the cyclic handle and the pedal tow brake extensions.
The way every part of the flight controls is connected to each other is not hidden anywhere behind covers. When moving with the pedals, you can see the various axes, bolts and nuts moving around, directly connected to the sensors which are then connected to the main board. This makes it very easy to diagnose any potential issues and easily configure the feedback in the controls by just tightening or loosening the screws.
The accessory that comes with the flight controls is also on a whole different level than you would expect from other manufacturers targeting casual simmers. The PUMA X comes with spare parts, screw lubricant in case the controls would stutter, and everything you will need to assemble it. In summary, it’s all packed in a way you won’t have to spend extra money in case you would lose a screw or damage a sensor.
Controlling the helicopter
When it comes to controlling the helicopter with your normal yoke and PUMA X, which comes with rudder pedals, cyclic, and collective/throttle controls, the difference is massive. Having the option to have all controls available to you really puts you in the cockpit to the action without any loss of immersion.
The manual details how to accurately set up each of the controls’ feedback to represent every type of helicopter. If the controls feel too stiff for a modern helicopter with various support systems, or, or the other hand, too easy to control with an old helicopter, you can easily adjust them to your needs. This also makes it a very versatile piece of equipment.
Using the controls, flying helicopters also instantly becomes much easier. In addition to that, since it is a whole setup, once you adjust your seat to the flight controls, everything is placed right where it should be. Everything feels very natural.
Having a plethora of buttons to configure also certainly makes your life much easier. After all, reaching out to the keyboard is kind of problematic when seated to the controls, unless you have a separate keyboard stand next to you, but that isn’t always an option.
Who is it for?
During my flight sessions, I kept thinking about the target group for this kind of flight control set.
On one hand, it’s perfect for flight schools and flight training facilities since it is very versatile, seems very durable, and for facilities like them, the price isn’t that high they couldn’t afford it. Each flight school can play around with the stiffness to accurately depict the real helicopter the students will be flying, and thus can get used to the controls before sitting in the real thing.
On the other hand, I can also imagine buying it as someone who is very serious about their flight training or wants to really immerse themselves in the simulation no matter what the budget is. The price is on a higher note, but if you take in mind that if you wanted to buy a whole setup for fixed-wing aircraft (rudder pedals, throttle quadrant, and yoke), you would nonetheless spend around €1000.
You can purchase PUMA X through the official website for about €1500 without any optional upgrades.