When Microsoft, after a ten-year hiatus, relaunched its now 40-year-old Flight Simulator series in 2020, it rekindled interest in a genre that had long been a mainstay of PC gaming. It’s one thing to marvel at the new Flight Simulator’s graphics, though, and another to try playing the game with a mouse and keyboard – or the Xbox controller. Few games benefit from custom hardware as much as flight simulators and while you don’t have to go all out, you’ll want at least some basic HOTAS style joystick. The next step from there is a set of special flight controls, throttles and rudders. The most famous names here are Logitech, with its affordable Flight Yoke System, CH’s Eclipse and Flight Sim yokes and throttlesthe all-in-one from Turtle Beach VelocityOneand Honeycomb’s Alpha Flight Controls XPC and Bravo throttle quadrant.
In the past I only used an old joystick to play Flight Simulator, so when Honeycomb asked me to try their system (which now supports the Xbox in the XPC version), I had a hard time turning it down. At over $550 for the yoke and throttle, we’re talking about a serious investment here—and once you get started, you’ll be tempted to buy a set of rudder pedals as well. But in return, you get some very solid hardware that will take your flight sim experience to the next level.
I’ve tested these controls with both Flight Simulator and the recently released X-Plane 12 – both of which support it out of the box. I should add that I usually fly single-piston planes, so that’s also what I stuck to most during my testing, although the Brave throttle quadrant comes with all the levers and options for twin-engine planes.
It’s arguably the throttle quadrant that has changed my flight sim experience the most. It features a total of six levers and you can set it up for general aviation flying or for controlling commercial jets with up to four engines and thrust reversers. The levers are easy enough to change if you tend to switch between those different modes. A nice feature here is that you can also change the level voltage to your liking (using a button on the side of the quadrant).
Of course that’s what you’d expect from a throttle quadrant, but for me the game changers in everyday use were really the dedicated trim wheel, flap levers and autopilot controls. I’ve always had the hardest time trimming planes in Flight Simulator using the buttons on my joystick, but the combination of the yoke – which takes some force to pull and push – and the trim wheel make for a much more natural experience. The dedicated flap switch helps here too, and being able to operate the autopilot makes a big difference. I don’t know about you, but using my mouse to set courses and elevations in the 3D cockpit never worked well for me. Now, with its dedicated (and backlit) buttons and dials, I use it a lot more.
Do I wish the layout was more like the Garmin GFC 500 I’m used to on the planes I normally fly? Sure – but it’s easy enough to get used to this layout, and the functionality is essentially the same – and using it doesn’t take me out of the sim experience. And that’s what it’s really all about: being able to concentrate on the sim in front of you and not having to fiddle with your mouse and/or hotkeys.
The throttle quadrant also has a warning panel with 14 warning lights for some of the most common faults and seven programmable switches. These are set up by default to control your aircraft’s lights, but since the yoke also has those switches, I used one for the parking brake and mostly ignored the rest (although I’ve seen people use it to control some of the more advanced functions of their models).
The yoke is as sturdy as the throttle quadrant and has plenty of buttons to manage your flight sim experience. On the left handle you’ll find an eight-way hat switch that controls your views by default, a push-to-talk button, and two vertical two-way toggle switches (which default to control your trim). On the right handle are two horizontal toggle switches and two buttons. There are also five switches to control your lights and four to control your electrical system. And to top it all off, there’s a five-position ignition switch, so you can properly simulate starting your engine (and, of course, test your magnetos on your run-up).
As I mentioned earlier, it takes some force to pull (or push) the self-centering yoke all the way back. If you’ve ever flown a Cessna and tried to keep that nose gear off the runway during a soft landing, it’s kind of like that. But that also means you end up trimming the plane just like you do in a real flight simply because you get tired of the yoke. After all, it’s all about that immersion.
There’s a red LED backlight that makes the honeycomb-themed panel glow red. If that’s not your thing, you can turn the light down a bit or turn it off completely.
One thing to note, Honeycomb offers two mounting options: clamps or a 3M micro suction cup. That pad will lose its potency after a while (although you can buy replacements), but they work pretty well. However, I think most people will opt for the clamps. They’re easy enough to work with and while using the pads is probably a bit quicker, setting everything up with the clamps is also a minute job – and then everything is guaranteed to stay in place. The entire setup takes up a lot of space.
To use these controls on the Xbox you need Honeycombs $40 Xbox hub. There isn’t really much to say about that here. It works as advertised and it makes the Xbox version of Microsoft’s Flight Sim a lot more of a full-fledged simulation than flying around with your wireless controller.
Using the yoke and throttle, I kept missing my rudder pedals (I ended up grabbing my old Logitech pedals and putting those on). You can set the flight sim to control the rudder for you, but where’s the fun in that? (It won’t help you during taxiing, takeoff, or crosswind landings anyway.) Honeycomb has its Charlie Rudder Pedals in the works and they are currently available for pre-order – but they also cost $350. I dusted off my old one Thrustmaster T-Flight pedals to be used in combination with the Honeycomb setup. That worked like a charm.
Considering the price, you better know if you really like flight simulators or not before buying this. If so, then it’s a worthwhile expense if you can afford it. If flight sims aren’t your thing, then you probably haven’t read that far anyway.
There’s a third batch of potential buyers here: students working on their pilot’s license. I think the jury is still out on whether a sim is going to help you with that. There’s a good chance that without your flight instructor you’ll pick up some bad habits that you’ll then have to unlearn the expensive way – paying for your lessons in the real world. Plus, so much about flying is about feeling what the plane is doing and what the engine sounds like – something you don’t get from a sim. But as always, talk to your friendly neighborhood CFI and discuss your needs with them.