Virtual Pilot. (CH Products double-handed steering device for flight and driving simulation games) (Hardware Review) (Evaluation)
by Denny Atkin
Your computer setup rivals the best Air Force flight simulators. You've got a set of rudder pedals down next to your power strip, a throttle control opposite your mouse, and a joystick with more buttons than the one in a real F-18. For many games it's the ultimate in realism, but when you go to fly a Cessna or a 747, the combat-optimized joystick doesn't exactly heighten the feeling of realism.
Enter CH Products' virtual Pilot, an authentic flight yoke controller. For you nonpilots out there, a yoke is the double-handled device resembling a steering wheel that you find in most private planes and commercial jetliners. To bank right or left, you simply turn the yoke in that direction. To dive, push the yoke forward, and to pull up, pull the yoke toward you.
The Virtual Pilot is a large, cream-colored box that clamps onto your computer desk or table. A fullsize control yoke protrudes from the front of the box, and a throttle control sits on the top right. A slider on the front of the yoke controls aileron trim, while a wheel on the front of the box handles elevator trim. Dual fire buttons on the front of the yoke can easily be pressed with your thumbs while you maintain full control. The yoke simulates joystick 1 on a PC, while the throttle simulates the y-axis of a second joystick and can be used for engine power control in most simulations. The Virtual Pilot worked fine when plugged in with my Thrustmaster rudder pedals, making for an ultrarealistic flight simulation control environment.
So how does the Virtual Pilot compare to a joystick? It certainly makes Microsoft Flight Simulator and SubLogic ATP give a truer flight experience. Most combat games, such as F-15 Strike Eagle III, are easier to control with my CH FlightStick joystick, since rapid, jerky movements are needed in combat sims. A notable exception is LucasArts' X-Wing, which seems to lend itself well to yoke control, especially in the training scenarios. If you play driving games on your PC, you'll love Virtual Pilot! The driving experience is much more realistic when you can steer by turning a yoke - there's just something about a joystick-controlled Porsche that doesn't cut it.
An updated version, Virtual Pilot Pro, will add a coolie hat for view control.