View Full Version : Prefered HOTAS Joysticks

11-05-2004, 08:36 AM
Ok gents, I'm wanting to buy a HOTAS setup. Problem is I cant decide which one. So I'm asking the community for input as to what they have experenced with the following setups and if they have any recommendations.

1. Thrustmaster Cougar HOTAS: I have the old set (pre-XP) that I used in CFS1 and AOTP/AOE/EAW...but they are way old and out of date. I hear people like the Cougar but I also hear horror stories about the spiking pots and general lack of QC in the product. I dont want to spend 300 bucks and then an additional 200-400 bucks for Hall sensors and bering gimbals and all that. Unless someone can convenice me that this is the end all-be all HOTAS setup. Your thoughts?

2. Saitek X45: I hear good things about this setup but I bought one when XP 1st came out and I could never get Windows to see it. Has the programing imporved to the point that this setup is stable? How well does it wear? Your thoughts?

3. CH Products Fighterstick USB and Throttle USB: I have owned CH joysticks in the past and have been pleased with them. Total when you combine the stick, throttle, and USB Rudder peddles is right at the cost of the Cougar HOTAS without rudders. I hear the pots are much better quality and the setup software is very good. Also they have multi engine throttle quadrants that can also tie into the HOTAS system so this might be my leader personally. I do remember the light spring rates (I perfer a heaver spring) so this has me slightly concerned. Your thoughts?

Any advice, xperence, thoughts are welcome........

11-05-2004, 09:08 AM
1. I have a Cougar, and have had one since they started shipping. Prior to that, I had a TM F16/F22 Pro, TQS and RCS setup. I got it in 1995, eventually upgraded it to the SWF22 and gave it to my dad when I got the Cougar. It all still works as well as it did when I got it, which is to say, great.

As for the Cougar itself, I've been extremely happy with it. Personally, I don't think there are nearly as many QC problems as message boards would have you believe. I also sometimes wonder what some of these people do to their gear, as after about 2 years of use my Cougar has not developed any annoying center play or other problems that people often seem to complain about. I never had an issue with the speedbrake button, and the only issue I had (hosed throttle pot after a firmware update) was quickly and easily taken care of by TM, free of charge (as it should have been).

2. X-45. I don't like it much, personally. It's cramped and uncomfortable and IMO, feels cheaply made. I dislike the lack of real rudder options with it, and most reports seem to suggest you'll only get a year, maybe two out of it tops before it'll need to be replaced due to wear. However, at ~$80 US it's definitely the best inexpensive HOTAS you can get. The TM or CH gear is definitely a better value, but for those with a very limited budget, it's hard to beat what the X45 provides.

3. CH gear. It's good stuff. Made well, should last forever. I've got an old box style CH joystick that's about 20 years old and still works great (not that I use it anymore). However, I'm not a big fan of the styling of their gear, and I hate how "soft" it is with respect to control pressures.

That's a matter of personal preference though, because as far as the quality is concerned you can't go too far wrong with CH.

So in summary:

Cougar if you want the best (IMO) and most realistic HOTAS with stiff springs that'll last for years.

CH if you don't care about realistic controllers or very light/soft springs and just want something that'll last.

X45 if you want a servicable HOTAS for not a lot of money up front, and are willing to replace it every couple of years.

As far as software/drivers and programmability goes, Cougar > CH > X45. You can do the most with the Cougar and the least with the X45. CH comes in a close second, with the X45 well back in 3rd, IMO.

Still, all will get the job done.

11-05-2004, 09:22 AM
I've had a Cougar for the last 2 years and its been a joy to own. I love tinkering with Foxy and apart from a worn throttle pot its been absolutely reliable. I appreciate the strong spring forces on the stick because I don't like light control forces.

Its a bit like a sports car- an expensive, excessive love/hate thing but **** good fun! http://forums.ubi.com/images/smilies/784.gif

(although I have not taken it out on the pull yet http://forums.ubi.com/images/smilies/16x16_smiley-very-happy.gif).

11-05-2004, 09:25 AM
If I were you I would wait for the Saitek X52 to be released and then see what people think of it. As far as I know the release is late this month. That way you will have another option to consider, a very appealing option I would think.

11-05-2004, 09:26 AM
Thanks Binary for the reply, I was wondering what you use for rudder peddels? I have the old thrustmaster ones form my FLCS/16/TQS days...will those work with the new Cougar? I have heard that CH rudders wont work with the Cougar without some major gyrations and a soldering iron.

I guess I should have said what I am using now to make up my poor-mans HOTAS:
Logitech Freedom 2.4 cordless (getting sloppy)
Belkin N52 speedpad

11-05-2004, 09:50 AM
<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR>Thanks Binary for the reply, I was wondering what you use for rudder peddels? I have the old thrustmaster ones form my FLCS/16/TQS days...will those work with the new Cougar? I have heard that CH rudders wont work with the Cougar without some major gyrations and a soldering iron. <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Happy to help. I'm using the old RCS, which is likely what you have as well. It was the one part of my original gear that I didn't pass along to my father. He had a set of TM Elite pedals already, so giving him the RCS wasn't necessary. I'll add that the RCS pedals have held up very well too, and I only replaced the pot for the first time this year.

As for the CH pedals, if they're USB, yes, it'd be a huge PITA to rewire them.

The Cougar works with any gameport rudders. They just plug into the base of the stick and the Cougar combines them all (stick, rudder and throttle) into one single controller as far as Windows is concerned.

11-05-2004, 10:14 AM
Cougar is the one to go...As the folks above, I own a Cougar since its first release and still am very happy with it with no pot problems or whatever at all. Before that, I had an X45 but it felt more like a toy, while the Cougar gives a more real feeling of a true HOTAS.
It is well worth the money. Excellent hardware piece.

11-05-2004, 11:18 AM

I own the cougar and I love it. I have encountered some of the issues listed here, but I'd still buy the cougar again in a heartbeat. However, if you still have the FLCS/TQS combo, you can get Bob Church's digital chips (www.stickworks.com (http://www.stickworks.com) for details), which give you DirectInput and near cougar programability. Bottom line: if you need more functionality than Bob's chips will give you, you need to get the cougar anyway!

A good thing about CH products: they will last forever. The cougar pots may not, but there is so much 3rd party support for it that people will still be modding it for the next 20 years at least!

As far as rudders go, I used the TM elites and it worked well. I traded the elites with a friend for the CH Pro pedals and performed the surgery to get the toe brakes to work with the cougar. The surgery wasn't easy, but I actually pinned a new joystick cable so I could revert to the old config if necessary.

BinaryFalcon: you may not have probs with the brake switch now, but I can assure you it is wearing away. Problem is that the plastic guide is about 40 degrees offset from the switch, and everytime you use the brake you crack the plastic that keeps the guide in the throttle housing. Best thing to do is open the throttle and use the x-acto knife to recut the grooves in the plastic guide. I opened mine last weekend and found that it had nearly cracked all the way; I addressed the problem with super glue before it got out of hand.

For further information on any cougar mods or issues, this site is great:

Hope this helps,
Mad Gonzo

11-05-2004, 11:51 AM
<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by madgonzo:
As far as rudders go, I used the TM elites and it worked well. I traded the elites with a friend for the CH Pro pedals and performed the surgery to get the toe brakes to work with the cougar. The surgery wasn't easy, but I actually pinned a new joystick cable so I could revert to the old config if necessary.

Do you think its a worthwhile undertaking to get those toe brakes working?

I've read the how too guide a couple of times but I'm yet to convince myself to do it. How much use do you get out of the toe brakes?

TgD Thunderbolt56
11-05-2004, 11:53 AM
I've used them all and my vote is for CH.

You really can't go wrong with any of them (aside from known potential issues), but reliability and trouble-free use have always brought me back to CH.

I highly recommend getting SOME type of HOTAS though as even in these prop birds the functinality is invaluable for ease of control.


11-05-2004, 12:20 PM
<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR>I highly recommend getting SOME type of HOTAS though as even in these prop birds the functinality is invaluable for ease of control. <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Agreed. I'd even go so far as to say for basic flying, it's even more important than it is in a jet sim. With jets, you generally won't be adjusting the throttle as much.

Of course this is especially true in IL2. Whenever I get into a jet in this sim, I generally set the throttle around 80% and then don't touch it again, even in combat.

11-05-2004, 12:25 PM
I'd personally recommend the Cougar. All you'd need is a set of gameport CH Pro rudder pedals to go with it.

11-05-2004, 01:26 PM
<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by NegativeGee:
Do you think its a worthwhile undertaking to get those toe brakes working?

If you only fly IL-2/PF then it's no big deal (IL-2 uses a single brake key along with rudder movement for differential braking). However, if you already have the CH Pro's (joystick port only), and you're not afraid to use a soldering iron, then it's worth it.

What I did was take the joystick plug and cord from an old gamepad and used that for my interface with the rudders. It was more work (I had to solder each pin on the DB15), but I could leave the original CH joystick cord intact just in case I wanted to go back to the original state. If you go this route, make sure you get some flux to make sure those small wires hold with minimal solder. Too much solder will contact multiple pins, then you're stuck with manual removal via x-acto knife.

11-05-2004, 03:22 PM
I own the Thrustmaster Cougar HOTAS and find it to be the best hardward purchase I have ever made. I have owned mine for almost a year now, and no problems. They even have a great support system in my opinion. I purchased it for use in LOMAC, and find it a terrific asset in PF, FS, and CFS. Although the old WW2 planes didn't have that many buttons on the trottle and stick, it makes configuring your aircraft set up much easier.:vhappy:

11-05-2004, 04:14 PM
Is the cougar still a gameport stick? Is that why you have to hardwire the pedlas to it? I Iknow if its usb then in theory (no I dont own one) you should be able to plug both into the computer and then assign the axis's within IL2/FB/PF accordingly.

I had to do that when my trigger buton stopped working in my x45. I used the x45 throttle, Logitch JS and my ch pro pedals. I had 3 units giving input and it all worked flawlessly.

I have an X45 and it has served me thorugh 3 years of hard flying. I finally had the trigger button break, but a simple resoldering of the wire fixed it. It is developing some annoying play in the center position. However for the best cost its hard to go wrong with it. I have had no problems with the programming software with Win XP.

The X52 looks to be interesting also. Especially with it having a twist stick vs the rocker for the rudder. However I am not to sure I am willing to pay $130 US (estimated) for a Saitek stick. Heck thats a little more than half the price for a CH fighter stick and throttle.

Personally I am going to complete my CH setup by adding the CH Fighterstick and Pro throtlte to my Pro pedals. I simply do not care for the reliability issues I have heard from numerous users with the Cougar. Nor do I see the need on spending an additional $200 to have a new $250 Cougar reworked to get it working the way it should already be. I emailed CH and saw they have a large list of readily available parts they have for most of thier products, at very reasonable prices. This also sold me since Saitek wanted $45 to repair my trigger switch (if the switch had been broken) where a refurbished X45 ran $40 and a new one $65. That makes little sence.

11-05-2004, 04:43 PM
Cougar all the way. Ive owned one since the day it was released. I had to fix the spd brake switch but nothing major. i clean my pots regularly by just taking them out and moving them around to move the dirt around. love it great hotas.. use the ch pro pedals with it.

11-05-2004, 06:09 PM
BlueDevil, the Cougar is USB to your pc, but the CH pros must be gameport to connect to the joystick box. There are 2 extra gameport connections (1 male and 1 female), but for adding what I'm not sure.

I've had 3 other joysticks but the Cougar beats them all, hands down. Mine is almost 2 years old and was a used one, but in near mint condition. The only thing I had to change was a throttle pot and that was easy to do..... once I got over the jitters of opening it up. http://forums.ubi.com/images/smilies/16x16_smiley-wink.gif

11-05-2004, 06:27 PM
Ok, that makes sence. But why not just plug the pedals into another usb port into your PC and run it as a second controller? Many games are now allowing this. The IL2/FB/PF series always has and it works great. Eases things tremendously.

You would think that thrustmaster would get things in gear and update thier hardware to include the usb interface since its nearly impossible to get gameport items anymore. I would tend to lean towards modifying a USB extension cable vs cutting the actual usb cord on the rudder pedals. $15 seems alot less to damage than $120.

11-05-2004, 07:11 PM
If you're short of money, the X-45.

Otherwise, your choice of Cougar plus some analog pedals or a full set of CH gear. If possible try them both.

I'd personally recommend the CH over the Cougar, but if money isn't an issue there are excellent aftermarket hot-up kits that can make the Cougar light/heavier in feel, more precise in output, more reliable, smoother, less (or more) prone to wear and so forth. Look at adding at least 50% to the retail price to get the best of these mods. See the Cougar World forums (http://forums.frugalsworld.com/vbb/forumdisplay.php?f=8) on the Frugals World site for more information.

11-05-2004, 07:15 PM
http://forums.ubi.com/images/smilies/11.gif Cougar. Pots are very easy to clean if you need to. Works perfectly with CH USB Pro Pedals. Very stable with the latest software/firmware.

11-05-2004, 07:28 PM
I've been using the full CH setup now for some time. No issues of any kind, and I am online almost every night. Use the money saved over the over priced Cougar and get some more ram.

Be sure.

11-05-2004, 08:07 PM
I have a Saitek X36 (the predecessor to the X45, very simular really).

I don't know if the X45 is of the same quality as the X36. But i've had this one for about five years, using it very heavily, and i haven't had one problem in all this time!
Haven't changed pots, and they're still working perfectly. I'm beginning to think i got some special edition or something! LOL.

A friend of mine has a CH Hotas, and it atleast feels totally unbreakable. That's also what i hear about them.
I've only tried the Cougar once, so i can't really say much about it... more than it's the real deal as far as feeling is concerned.

11-05-2004, 08:16 PM
I use the CH system and am very happy with it.

My take on light springs is that they are healthier for you... less chance of causing repetative strain injury.

The programming is very slick... each piece has three axes so in a full set you have 9 axes to work with. You can assign any axis to any device or map all controls to a single device... I find this helps with games that get confused with more than one controller attached to the computer. You can easily map keystrokes to any axis in a number of useful ways and can even use scripting to apply fairly complex rules to how keystrokes get generated by a given axis.

The two hand controllers have 3 4-position hats and an 8-position hat as well as 4 standard buttons. In addition, you can arbitrarily assign one button as the shift button giving you a total of physically assignable buttons. But on top of this, each controller has a three-way mode indicator (led's) which enables you to triple your total available combinations (you could program say air-ground, air-air, and nav modes for example).

My main gripe is that the ergonomics could be improved... the fighterstick pro is too big and that makes getting to some of the buttons, particularly the pov hat, a little troublesome for me. Someone with small hands might have even more difficulty.

11-05-2004, 10:10 PM
I use a MSFFB/X45/CH Pedal combo. The MSFFB is actually my first real joystick... before that I was using a Wingman Attack but it had no rudder so I upgraded. The MSFFB I am currently using is my second one..although the original one still works fine. My son uses it to fly IL2 and CFS and Starwars. He is 7 but it is still good. I upgrade to my spare when I put his PC togehter and once i found out MS was going out of the stick business I bought an extra one but I have not needed it as of yet. The X45 is a great stick. Highly programmable, very functinal... I dont use the stick part on my setup though... at least not for a flight stick.. I use it strictly as a button bay but the stick to be honest does feel a bit constrictive. The throttle is great. For what I use it for it is a really good setup. I use it everyday and have since I first got it... I think I got the X45 when FB came out. If my memoery serves me well before FB I was just using my old FFB stick. The CH products are good.. at least the pedals are.. thats all that I have experience with in the way of CH products. I hear a lot of good stuff about the cougars.. but frankly.. they seem like they are too much of a hassle for the money you pay. Who wants to replace pots and what not after spending over $100 on a joystick after a year? Even with every day, several hours a day usage it should last longer than that but I have heard all kinds of horror stories. Ive gotten so used to FFB though.. I intend to be using it for some time. Bottom line.... X45 is best bang for buck. Try here (http://store.yahoo.com/saitekusa/recprod.html) first. If you can get an X45 for $39 its a steal. Ifyou wind up having to pay full price and you are using stateside retail get a product replacement plan. Just before the plan is about to run out whether you need to or not get a replacement.

11-06-2004, 05:03 AM
I've owned a Cougar, four to be precise over an 18 month period. The first arrived on the day of release in the UK and it was dead on arrival from Thrustmaster's UK shop and they refused to give me a replacement and said I'd have to wait up to three or four weeks for it to go back and be repaired and sent back, to me that is unacceptable. I cancelled the order, got a refund and bought another one elsewhere. That Cougar developed a fault in the throttle electronics around 10 months into it's life (this is going back to near the original release date so TM had yet to release their famous throttle frying firmware) So that went back and I got a replacement from the shop I bought it at.

I used the replacement for a few more months before the speedbrake broke and again the throttle electronics appeared a little eratic. The guy in the shop was very helpful and contacted TM for me for a replacement part and had to buy it himself! even though he was trying to save them money by not sending back yet another Cougar. So he kindly gave me a replacement and sent the third back to TM once the part arrived and would not fit. I sold the fourth on Ebay to a guy who told me that one shop he contacted were considering stopping selling the Cougar because of all the returns they'd had so I don't think the problems talked about in many forums have been exagerated. The faults I had would not have been cured by any of the mods available at the time either such as new gimbals although it was a consideration as the Cougars I used all developed more centre play after a few months use.

I had bought into the hype of the Cougar, I wanted to switch to a USB setup from a CH Force FX and Pro Throttle so I waited..and waited with a pre-order for a Cougar. I wished I had'nt bothered as I've since switched back to CH Products and never been happier. The CH Control Manager software makes them as programmable as the Cougar and they are just as robust if not more as after a years hard use my Fighterstick has no more centre play than the day I bought it where as the Cougars only really had light use as each time I used them I had nagging doubts in my mind as to when it was going to fail. Each new device CH produces can be mixed and matched with your existing gear so I have profiles mixing my CH Fighterstick, Pro Throttle, Pro Pedals, Flight Sim Yoke and Throttle Quadrant. It's easy to delete one device from one profile and add another device in it's place.

As you said if you shop around you can buy a CH Fighterstick, Pro Throttle and Pro Pedals for the price of a Cougar. If you buy a Cougar you may be lucky and have one that works with stock gimbals but if not then you'll be spending another few hundred dollars on new gimbals and possibly replacement pots. Do you want to fly or spend your time tinkering under the hood? if you want to fly then go with CH Products.