Every seat's a window seat on BruceAir
Microsoft Flight Simulator is in mothballs, and, like many relics of aviation basking in desert sun, it may never fly again. The demise of Flight Simulator hasn't stopped enthusiasts and makers of add-ons and accessories from developing and releasing new products, however.
CH Products was one of the first companies to offer joysticks, yokes, rudder pedals, throttle quadrants, and other accessories for PC-based civilian and military flight simulations. It announced the latest in its line of flight yokes, the CH Eclipse Yoke (SRP $174.95), in the fall of 2008. It's a step up from the venerable Flight Sim Yoke (SRP $129.95), offering several new features and controls that compete with the Saitek Pro Flight Yoke System (reviewed here at BruceAir.com).
The all-in-one Eclipse Yoke shows its CH Products pedigree and is a solution for folks who don't want or need separate throttles, rudder pedals, and consoles for switches and knobs. Like the Flight Sim Yoke, it includes built-in power controls, which can be configured as throttle, propeller, and mixture levers or as two power levers, plus, for example, a spoiler control.
The Eclipse, however, adds several controls to the basic set offered on the Flight Sim Yoke—most prominately, paddles on either side of the hub. By default, the paddles are rudder "pedals" in Flight Simulator (they could be gear shifts for a driving simulation).
The yoke's hub includes several other buttons, knobs, and dials:
Each arm of the yoke includes an eight-way hat switch and rocker switch (the Flight Sim Yoke has only one hat switch).
Overall, the Eclipse offers six analog, 10-bit axes for aileron, elevator, throttle, propeller RPM, mixture, and rudder controls.
Courtesy of CH Products, I've tested the Eclipse with Microsoft Flight Simulator X and Windows Vista.
Like its predecessor from CH Products, the Eclipse is made of heavy black plastic. It feels a bit stouter than the Flight Sim Yoke, although the design is sleeker—perhaps another nod to the competition from Saitek. The levers and other controls have positive, smooth actions. The new paddles are easy to reach and move.
The Eclipse attaches to the edge of a desk or table with two clamps that can handle thicknesses from 3/4 to 2-1/4 in.
I found the attaching mechanism a bit fussy compared to the single, beefy clamp that secures the Saitek yoke, but the Eclipse system holds the control securely without getting in the way, and that's the goal.
Setup is simple: plug the USB connector into your computer, and the device driver installs automatically. You don't need to run an installation program. Since all essential controls are on the Eclipse, you need only one open USB slot, and there's no tangle of cables to contend with.
Flight Simulator X recognized the yoke immediately, and with the Settings command in Flight Simulator, I was able quickly to configure the yoke buttons and throttle quadrant levers for the stock Baron BE58. (For more information about customizing control settings in Flight Simulator, see Using a Joystick in the Flight Simulator X Learning Center.)
Like the Flight Sim Yoke, the Eclipse uses a plastic shaft and centering spring. The elevator and aileron "feel" is comparable to that of the Flight Sim Yoke and the Saitek Pro Flight Yoke System (which touts a metal shaft connecting the yoke to the housing). In other words, the action isn't as smooth and precise as it could be. But as I've often noted before, the next step up in controls for PC-based simulations costs at least $500, and even those controls don't precisely emulate real airplane controls.
Still, the Eclipse provides a serviceable control feel, and after a few virtual flights, you’ll fine-tune your inputs to hand-fly effectively, just as you adjust to the differences in control responses among real airplanes.
The Eclipse certainly meets the FAA specification for flight training devices, which, for example, requires that “Levels 2 and 5 need control forces and control travel only of sufficient precision to manually fly an instrument approach.”
For more information about the requirements that the FAA has established for Flight Training Devices (FTDs), see Fight Simulator in Aviation Training here at BruceAir, especially The Flight Model Myth.
The Eclipse offers a significant advantage over its rivals. It consolidates all controls, including power and rudder mechanisms, in one unit. If you value being able quickly and easily to convert your PC from workstation to flight trainer, the Eclipse's simplicity and space-saving are plusses.
You of course give up the larger power levers available as an accessory with the Saitek system. Those separate throttles feature realistic, long control throws and detents. But CH Products also offers a separate throttle quadrant that has six levers (double the three controls on the Saitek system).
To use all of the buttons and switches on the Eclipse with Flight Simulator, you must spend a few minutes changing and adding control assignments with the Settings command (see Using a Joystick in the Flight Simulator Learning Center). This process is a straightforward select-and-click operation that lets you specify which buttons, dials, switches, and levers on the Eclipse control such functions as nose-up and nose-down trim, operation of the landing gear and flaps, and so forth.
To take full advantage of all the controls on the Eclipse, you need the CH Control Manager software. CH Products wisely doesn't include a software CD with the yoke; you can get the latest version of the software as a free download from the company's website.
I've never bothered to dream up and then create some 200 control assignments for Flight Simulator. I'd never remember them all anyway, and in most situations, I prefer to use a mouse to operate cockpit controls in Flight Simulator. Doing so replicates reaching for landing gear and flap levers, avionics knobs, and light switches in a real cockpit. But if (like the FAA) you insist on physical controls, CH Control Manager lets you make the Eclipse as complicated as a church organ.
The Eclipse is a welcome addition to the world of virtual cockpits. It adds several new features, including an innovative solution to the "rudder problem."
Most importantly, the Eclipse gives the typical virtual aviator a compact, easy-to-use, option at a reasonable price. If you insist that a complete Flight Simulator "fort" is essential to deliver a realistic experience—for training or entertainment—like its rivals, the Eclipse alone won't suffice. But for most of us, the Eclipse more than meets the requirement for a set of controls that makes Flight Simulator a practical alternative to flying a real airplane.