The joystick, or flight stick, has been around almost as long as your typical console controls. Flight sticks have always gone hand-in-hand with simulators or combat games that involve some sort of flying. Any individual serious about their flight simulators will no doubt be serious about their type of flight stick as well. While I can’t attest to being serious about either, flight sticks have their place in the industry, and make a significant to your experience when ‘flying’ aircraft, as opposed to using your keyboard or controller. Saitek, a subsidiary of Mad Catz, are well-known for the flight sticks, some of them dating back to the early 80s. We got our hands on one of their devices, the PRO Flight Pacific AV8R, and put it through its paces.
Build and Design
Although the Pacific AV8R has the basic look of a flight stick, you will notice a few strange buttons and controls when compared to many other modern devices. This is because the Pacific AV8R was designed to replicate both the look and feel of a World War II flight stick, based on the US Navy colour scheme. Despite being based on a template some 70 years old, there are still a few modern elements thrown into the mix. These include a removable grip, dual throttling, 3-position mode switch, and detachable rubber leg supports. Saitek has also thrown in a few WWII decals for your personal customisation.
The soft, rubberised grip and detachable rubber legs provide additional comfort for easier use depending on your flight style. The joystick provides 8-way directional turning and pivoting, which includes left and right rotation of the sticks for further authenticity. It may feel quite foreign to start off with for novice users, but you can quickly get up to speed with suitable flight tutorials. Diving straight into a dogfight or mission may prove fruitless while getting to grips with all the controls available. There is also a dual throttling feature, which allows the user to use the stick or throttle for take-off. The issue I have with dual throttling is that the second option is placed behind the stick (if you’re using the buttons side as the default front face). Turning the device around to make better use of the throttle then leaves you guessing where your buttons are. On the ‘front face’ there are four buttons and a toggle switch with three selections; off, A and B. Customisation of the four buttons reveals a possibility of 12 buttons configurations. Switching between the three toggles allows each of the four buttons to have three configurations of its own.
There is no comparison between the Pacific AV8R and a keyboard, or even a standard game controller. Compared to other flight sticks, however, and you’ll notice there are a few shortcomings. Although users are essentially able to program 12 different buttons to use, trying to remember which of the three switch options to use for the specific button is quite tricky to get used to when starting off. Then there’s the USB cord to connect the flight stick to your PC. It’s much too short for any level of comfort, and without an extension lying around (which I was thankful to have), you’re left having to relocate your PC to accommodate your new flight stick. Another minor issue is the trigger button, which, although it works fine, is far too weak and doesn’t pull back all the way when squeezed. This takes away from the excitement of locking on a target and firing, and you’re left with a something closer related to a button press than an actual trigger.
Although these may seem like small issues that can easily be sorted, one of the bigger concerns is the device calibration, which is lost after every restart. For users who often restart or shutdown their PCs, as opposed to just putting it to sleep, you will almost always lose your calibration settings for the Pacific AV8R. The issue is purely software related, and unlike other devices that are simply button based, having the correct calibration for the X, Y and Z axes. Having done some research into the matter, it seems the issue is quite widespread, with many a forum dedicated for owners to vent their frustrations. Recalibration isn’t always a simple redo, and is something extremely annoying to have to repeat, especially when you can’t quite hit the centre on any axis.
The Pacific AV8R is a decent flight stick that can perform any task you give it. How it carries out these tasks leaves quite a bit of room for improvement. The positive here is that many of the issues are quite easily solvable, some with a software or firmware update. The Pacific AV8R is available for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 for around the R1,000 mark, which isn’t easy to come by, and until all the flaws have been sorted, prospective buyers will be better off searching elsewhere.