It is always exciting to see new hardware coming to the market, and even more so new vendors. So with the introduction of the new Alpha Controls Yoke and Panel from Honeycomb Aeronautical is this going to shake up the market place?
The current flight control market is split into two sections. Lower end (around the €150 mark) and the high end (anything from €500 to €1000+). As you can expect, the difference in quality and feel between the two can be vast. But at just €249 Honeycomb is attempting to sit inbetween the price brackets, but where does it sit for quality?
In the box
What do you get for your €249? In the well package box you can find:
- The Alpha Control unit
- Desk Mounting System
- USB B to C cable (unit to PC)
- Ethernet curly cable (Yoke to unit)
- Instruction Booklet
Reading through the installation booklet, installation and setup is very easy. Simply plug the short ethernet cable from the front of the main unit (near the engine starter control) and into the yoke control. Next the USB C into the rear of the unit and the other B end into your PC.
The booklet directs you to Honeycombs website to install the drivers. However, for X-Plane 11.40 users this is not required as the drivers are intergrated into the simulator itself. As this reviewer only uses X-Plane 11 then it was pleasant surprise.
Honeycomb have given users two options for mounting the unit to your desk. Both options use a mounting plate which the main unit then clips into and two thumb screws at the rear are tighten to hold it in place.
The clamp system is going to the widely used option. This entails using two G style clamps to secure the mounting plate to the desk. The screws on these clamps open fully to accomodate a 60mm desktop, which should be sufficent for most users as the average desk top is around 20mm thick.
The second mouting option is a large 3M Micro-suction pad that is affixed to the bottom of the mounting plate. Peeling back the protective film on the suction pad allows the user to stick the plate to a desk or any clean and smooth surface. Instructions on the cleaning and care of the pad in order to keep it at its peak efficiency are in the booklet.
Removing the mounting plate from the desk after using the pad is via two tabs on the plate which when lifted breaks the suction between the two surfaces.
The reviewer has only used the clamp option as it’s the most convenient and typical of most users. This method holds the unit firmly to the desk with no movement at all when pulling back on the yoke.
For X-Plane 11 the control assigments are made easy by a “Reset To Defaults” button in the regular X-Plane Joystick dialog which assigns all the commands to the expected control on the unit. However, the user is free to assign any X-Plane command to any relevent button or switch like a regular joystick.
There are plenty of switches on the unit to assign, and as the toggle style switches (such as lights and battery) are actually two switches (up and down) then you could have double the options if required. Even the five position rotary starter can have all 5 positions re-assigned to different commands.
I did find that the default trims assignments on the left (buttons 5, 6, 7 and 8) are set to Trim A (up and down) and Trim B (up and down). This didn’t work in the GA aircraft I tested and I had to re-assign 5 and 6 just the Trim (up and down), which left me with the second trim buttons to do with as I wished.
Also on the left is a Push to Talk button (button 3) which users of online ATC services could assign to their providers.
The Alpha Control unit feels very well contructed. Taking the unit from the box there was no unpleasent rattle or noises from inside. The unit is mainly plastic with a soft touch coating that gives a very professional appearence. The shaft is made from metal.
Overall it has a very weighed and confident feel to it. The pitch movement is smooth, and although there is a self centering spring or such it isn’t over powering in weight. The roll movements are 90 degrees from center in both directions giving a full 180 degree movement from stop to stop. The stops themselves have a pleasing soft touch about them rather than a jarring bang or clunck, again giving a feel of quality. The roll movement is self centering and like the pitch isn’t too strong or heavy.
Movement in both pitch and roll is very smooth with no friction to overcome allowing very easy and smooth inputs on the controls reducing the need for over correction.
Anyone who has seen images of the Alpha Controls will have noticed its trademark red backlight behind the honeycomb grill. This light can be controlled via a button at the rear of the unit which allows five different light levels including switching it off completely.
The top of the unit is flat and has six small hex nuts to accomodate Saitek Instruments and panels. The reviewer has a Saitek switch panel and it sits nicely on the top. But, for users without any Saitek products I found that the flat surface could easily take a full size 108 key keyboard instead.
The Alpha Controls Yoke and Switch panel is a well contructed unit and worth the €249 price tag. If Honeycomb set out to hit a middle ground market place between budget and high end system then it has certainly met its goal. It will be interesting to see how the other competitors in the market respond.
Note: The reviewer has purchased the item themself and it was not provided by Honeycomb Aeronautical. Neither do they have any relationship or affiliation with the company.