In this review, I’ll take a look at Pro Flight Trainer’s PUMA X helicopter controls, which provides simmers with an all-in-one setup for a price of about €1500.
With the release of Microsoft Flight Simulator’s 40th Anniversary Edition update, which includes official helicopter support and, of course, X-Plane 12’s realistic flight dynamics that support helicopters by default, helicopters are becoming more and more commonplace. With that comes a whole new market for helicopter peripherals.
First and foremost, I’d like to state that I was provided with a free copy of the flight controls in order to write this review. Regardless, the review will be objective, and if I don’t like something, I’ll say so.
Let’s start simple. When I received the package from Switzerland, I was surprised to find the controls in a plain cardboard box rather than a branded box.
In this case, I received the pre-assembled package, but the Pro Flight Trainer website also offers a plug-and-play version for an additional fee.
Despite the company calling it “pre-assembled“, you actually have to assemble the controls. It’s an unfortunate choice of name, but it’s just something to keep in mind when placing your order. The assembly took about an hour and went smoothly; there were just a lot of screws and cable management to do, hence the time.
The package includes all of the tools and parts needed to assemble the controls. That’s a really nice touch that you won’t appreciate properly until you get a package without any tools and have to spend time looking for the right tools around your office or house.
In addition to the necessary tools and parts, Pro Flight Trainer thought it would be a good idea to reward the customer with Haribo Goldbears throughout the assembly process. I’m not kidding when I say that the package includes a bag of Haribo Goldbears with very strict rules about when you can eat them. Great motivation!
What’s also nice, and creates an imaginary line between retail and professional gear, is that the PUMA X comes with a decent amount of spare parts, so if something goes wrong, you won’t have to spend more money right away.
The PUMA X is primarily made of metal, except for the handles and some parts that come into contact with your hands and legs. It’s nice to see that for €1500, we’re not getting some kind of plastic controls that will break soon or when slightly more pressure is applied to them.
Of course, because everything is metal, especially the mechanism that supports the cyclic controls, new challenges emerge. I had to use the included tube of silicon-based grease after a few days of not using the setup because the nuts were causing the controls to jam slightly when flying, which wasn’t ideal given how sensitive helicopter controls are.
However, Pro Flight Trainer did not save any extra money on the materials supporting the whole system. As a result, the build quality is excellent. When I tested them, even the smaller mechanisms withstood more rough movement and controls.
On a different note, the toe brakes feel a little cheap for an additional 100€ they cost. They were printed on a 3D printer, so they don’t feel particularly strong, and applying more pressure to them wasn’t particularly pleasant, though they didn’t break. The cyclic handle, on the other hand, is not 3D printed, and the difference is significant.
The cyclic handle is modelled after the well-known B8 flight stick. It is plastic, yet, it feels very nice. It doesn’t seem like the company saved on this part, which is very good, given its importance. The buttons feel very good, they move very smoothly, and the handle itself has a very nice grip texture. The hat switch unfortunately has only four positions instead of the usual eight, which took some time to get used to.
Because the setup is not intended to replicate the controls of a single helicopter but rather to serve as a universal controller for any situation, it was critical to keep modularity in mind when designing the PUMA X. The Pro Flight Trainer team ensures that the end-user can experiment with every aspect of the controls to achieve exactly what they need with their design.
This way, if you’re a real-world pilot who wants to practise, you can easily adjust the controls to what you might encounter in the cockpit. Nonetheless, while I am no helicopter pilot, I found it very useful to be able to adjust the collective arm to find the most comfortable position for our setup, even for longer sessions.
What’s more, pretty much every control has its own feedback you can play around with to achieve the most realistic experience. For example, when flying modern helicopters, you won’t feel as much feedback in the controls as when flying old and rusty helicopters without any support systems. Thus, you’ll appreciate the ability to tighten the controls, making it more difficult to move them around.
The manual perfectly details the settings you will want to use in both scenarios, but of course, you’re free to play around with the feedback in the controls.
In all honesty, having professional gear like Pro Flight Trainer’s PUMA X really makes a difference. It is not only the result of everything being where it should be since it’s an all-in-one setup, but also that it works just as it should and is perfectly accurate.
For some unknown reason, sitting to the setup and taking off for the first time completely immersed me in the simulation to the point where I forgot I was still sitting at home. It’s just that everything is in one place, exactly where it should be.
Nonetheless, as soon as I took off, I felt confident that I could rely on the controls and that they would not fail. The controls are extremely smooth and precise; even the slightest movement of the collective, cyclic, or pedals is reflected in the simulator.
In general, it is noticeably different from other peripherals I have used, and the experience I had with the PUMA X was what I would expect from professional gear at this price. I wasn’t let down by the setup once, apart from the plastic toe brakes.
Ease of use
Even though there are plenty of spare parts available in the package “free of charge”, you will not receive everything. The PCB board and the entire throttle assembly are examples of items that are not included in the package. Those, however, accompanied by others, can be bought through the official website.
The prices are very reasonable, especially given that many companies charge such exorbitant prices for spare parts that it is sometimes better to buy a brand-new product than repair it.
Storing PUMA X
It is no surprise that a setup of such size can take up a lot of space. So keep that in mind if you do not have a dedicated storage room or a room reserved for your simulator setup.
The PUMA X from Pro Flight Trainer can fold up pretty easily. Whilst it does not make it a lot smaller, it decreases it in height by about 50%, which can be very useful if you want to fit it under something.
You can easily stow the cyclic handle by removing the plastic indent holding it up, and you can also remove the collective handle by unscrewing the correct screws. That, however, comes with more work and adjusting when you want to use the controls again.
Buttons and switches everywhere
The setup includes a plethora of buttons. They all feel very nice and are much more robust and of higher quality than any other buttons I’ve seen on a flight simulator controller. Their size is also noteworthy. All of the buttons are quite large, so you won’t have trouble finding your grip and using them will be much more comfortable.
To prevent the cyclic control from folding down, the team at Pro Flight Trainer decided to include a red piece of 3D-printed plastic which needs to be inserted below the mechanism. There is a space dedicated to that and the plastic fits in perfectly, as long as you can find it.
Myself having big hands, it is to-date very hard to fit my hand below the control mechanism to position the plastic part in its place. This won’t affect your experience if the setup will stay in one place, but if you need to move it around, or store it somewhere often, get ready.
The team worked hard to keep you from accidentally damaging the setup. They included an optional seat blocker, for example. You can move the blocker forward and back depending on your preference. This way, instead of hitting your setup with your seat, you hit the blocker. When adjusting our seating position, it actually saved us from hitting the setup multiple times.
Even if that isn’t a risk, the seat blocker is an excellent way to “save” your seating position. Simply set it to a position, and the next time you fly, you’ll know to position your seat as close to the blocker as possible to get the position you sat in during your previous session.
To summarise, despite all of our praise for PUMA X from Pro Flight Trainer in the review, it’s not a setup I’d recommend to casual simmers. After all, the entire setup costs between €1,500 and €2,000, depending on the features you want.
That price is, however, justified. For the price, you’re getting high-quality universal helicopter controls that can also be used for fixed-wing aircraft. The controls are incredibly accurate, can withstand higher pressure, and are extremely adjustable, making it ideal for flight schools and other similar facilities.
If you’re looking for a setup for a local training facility or want to train procedures for your flight training from the comfort of your own home, the PUMA X should be on your list.