Published on August 14th, 2009 | by Greg0
Saitek Helps You Fly
We first need to apologize for the slightly misleading headline. Saitek did not leap into the business of flight schools or aeronautic engineering. Instead, the company, best known for it’s gamepads and various console and PC peripherals, has released some new products to assist the would-be pilot. Their line of Pro Flight gear includes everything from a yoke system, to switches, a throttle, and rudders. We’ve been testing out three items from the series, and while we aren’t ready to hop into a real cockpit just yet, it’s fun nonetheless.
The Pro Flight Instrument Panel offers a surprisingly crisp 3.5 inch screen, easily switched between six different functions. You can set it to work as an altimeter, attitude indicator, airspeed indicator, compass, turn and slip indicator, and for vertical speed, and use more than one at a time if you want. With Microsoft Flight Simulator X, you can also use it as, say, an exhaust gas temperature/fuel flow indicator. Build quality is quite good- the unit feels and looks solid and fairly realistic. We weren’t so impressed by the graphics once they started moving- they weren’t as crisp or sharp as we would’ve liked. The knobs and buttons allows you to change modes or calibrate/adjust them, and are nicely lit for added realism.
Everything connects via USB, which keeps things simple. And they all work with MS Flight Sim X, with the next two items also supposedly working with MS Flight Simulator 2004 (untested). An SDK, software development kit, allows enterprising programmers to create new add-ons and extend the functionality. And they all fit together pretty well, mounting easily onto the yoke (untried). The mounts aren’t as solid as the units though, and feel a bit flimsy. Software installation is a snap though. The Pro Flight Multi Panel is a bit of an odd combination of metal and plastic, and gives you an easy display for controlling autopilot, auto throttle toggle, a convenient flap switch, and an elevator trim knob. The large LCD offers information and control as you switch through various autopilot modes, but the flap switch doesn’t really offer enough fine control for those beyond novices.
Quite similar in size is the Pro Flight Radio Panel, which as the name suggests, helps with command of your radio. You can choose between COM 1 and 2, NAV 1 and 2, and DME and ADF for your various communication needs. The adjustment knobs aren’t quite as precise as you might wish, but get the job done. 4 LCD panels are fairly bright (though non-adjustably so, much as the others unfortunately). Standby frequencies and insta-switch buttons allow you to quickly swap between actives and others as well. This one is perhaps the least necessary of the three, but still is a great addition to any enthusiast’s flight rig. At $150 for each unit, they are a bit pricey and could drain a wallet pretty quickly. But compared to some other similar systems, and considering the decent quality and flexibility, we recommend them for those serious about their craft.