The best known, and most used, piece of hardware for flight simulator is the joystick. However, for basic aircraft control there are also yokes available. Saitek recently released a series of Cessna licensed products, one among them being a yoke system. Let’s take a look!
The Saitek Cessna Yoke is made up of 2 modules. The first is the actual yoke system, the second is a Saitek Throttle Quadrant that connects to the yoke. The Saitek Cessna yoke has 2 distinct Cessna features. First of all, there’s the Cessna badge on the yoke itself. Not very useful or necessary, but a nice touch none the less. Second, there’s the typical Cessna shape of the yoke itself. This is quite different from any other PC yoke available, as long as you don’t go into replica products, which are very expensive. That said, this is certainly not a replica of a real Cessna yoke. Yes, it has the shape and the badge, but for example, it also features a lot of buttons on the handles, which a real one doesn’t have. One the left handle, there’s an 8-way hat switch, a pushbutton, and another 4-way button. The right handle features a 3-way mode selector, a pushbutton and two 2-way rocker switches.
The other end of the yoke system is a quite large ‘box’ that houses the yoke’s shaft, and all related electronics, as well as a clamp to hold it to your desk. It’s this part that houses the USB cable to connect the yoke to your computer, as well as a connector for the throttle quadrant. One very nice touch, is that this box also has a USB hub built-in. This hub has 3 USB ports, so you can connect 3 other USB devices to your pc through the Cessna Yoke.
The throttle quadrant that comes with the Cessna Yoke is in fact the normal Saitek Throttle Quadrant, with the exception that this one has a PS/2 connection instead of a USB-connection. Because of this, you can’t use it without the yoke. The throttle quadrant is a nice piece of simulation hardware in itself. It has 3 smooth moving axis with detents for idle. It also has a reverser on all 3 axis, which acts as a pushbutton, actuated with the lever. Apart from that, there are also 3 2-way rocker switches on the base of the quadrant. The yoke and quadrant are mounted on your desk by a clamp each, and are thus fully independent in placing. This way, you can position the throttle quadrant any place you like.
Like all Saitek products, the Cessna Yoke is delivered in a large and sturdy cardboard box. When you open that box, there’s another box. This second box is not made to take the punishment of initial transport (that’s what the outer box is for) but is decorated nicely with graphics and text. It also has a handle, so you can easily carry it, and is fully reusable, requiring no tape to close it. Inside this box, the actual yoke and throttle quadrant are packed in clear plastic bags, and sturdy cardboard molds that offer superb protection in transport. This all results in a product that is in perfect working order when you receive it, despite whatever may have happened to the box in transport. At least, that’s my experience. Inside the box, beside the actual yoke and throttle quadrant, there’s an installation CD, a small printed manual in 5 languages, and some rubber pads you can put on the clamps. According to the manual, there should also be extra colored knobs for the levers on the throttle quadrant. However, they were not in the box I got. I got in contact with Saitek over this, and they promptly offered to send my those knobs separately.
The Saitek Cessna Yoke comes with 2 associated pieces of software, which are both shipped with the product on a CD. The first piece of software is the driver, which is required to make the system work on your computer. The second piece is the Saitek Smart Technology (SST) program. More details later on. First of all, the installation: installation is very easy. As I already said, all required software is delivered with the yoke on a CD. All you have to do to install is insert the CD into your computer’s disk drive, run the installer, and follow the on-screen prompts. The installer will even tell you when you have to connect the yoke to your PC. As with just about every piece of hardware, you don’t ‘see’ the drivers. The only indication you get that they’re there is that the hardware works. Worthy to note here: the Cessna yoke will work on any version of Windows starting with Windows XP. The product page doesn’t mention any compatibility with other operating systems besides Windows. Also, the yoke system is recognized in Windows as a normal game controller, so it will work in any simulator or game that supports game controllers.
The SST software is more visible to the user than the drivers. The SST software is something special. Some people will like it, some won’t. The simple fact is that the SST software intercepts your control inputs on the yoke, and translates them into key presses, key combos or mouse clicks. For example, I can program an SST profile so that when I push a button on the yoke or throttle quadrant, the software sends an CTRL+E command to my pc. These commands can be simple single key presses, but also combos, and even a sequence of key presses of combos. And it’s also here that the mode selector comes in. The mode selector lets you choose between 3 pre-programmed profiles. So, if programmed correctly, you can have up to 3 different functions handled by just one key on the yoke or throttle. It’s up to the user to configure these inputs, or use a profile from somebody else downloaded from the internet. It’s a great program, with almost limitless possibility, but it takes a lot of getting used to, and a lot of thought can go in building a good profile that suits you. A downside is that the SST software can only send one signal to your pc at a time, so for example changing views while braking will cause the ‘brake’ signal to be interrupted, if both commands are handled by the SST program.
To give you an idea of how you can use this, I’ll describe how I set up the yoke on my system. I’m used to the SST software because I also have a Saitek X52 Pro joystick, so I didn’t have to figure out how it all worked anymore. That said, I’m currently just using 2 of the 3 possible modes. In mode 1, I can adjust the eyepoint in FSX, or reset that same eyepoint, as well as panning, zooming and changing view categories. In mode 2, I kept the panning, zooming and changing view functions, but switched the eyepoint tools with trim functions on all 3 axis (pitch, roll and yaw) and I switched the eyepoint reset function for the parking brake. The buttons on the throttle quadrant are used for gear and flaps in all modes. You might notice that I’m not using the hardware/software combination to its full potential. I’m currently using less than half of all possible control inputs. A note on the reversers on the throttles: putting one axis in reverse, actually sends a button press to your pc. To make this work as a reverser in FSX, I programmed the SST software to send a 5 second F2 command to my pc, which translates to a reverse throttle setting in FSX, as the throttle axis is already in idle before going into reverse. I’m sure there are other ways to use the reversers, but it’s working fine for me that way.
Right out of the box, the Cessna Yoke feels very sturdy. It really is a decent piece of equipment. The housing feels strong, as does the yoke handle. There’s no play on the main shaft, nor is there on the throttle levers. Also, the yoke moves very smooth on all axis. One thing I did note is that the spring on the ‘roll’ motion of the yoke has a loose deadzone near the center. However, to my surprise, I noticed this didn’t affect the usability of the yoke. A couple of reasons make this much less problematic than on a joystick: the spring force is less to start with, so the difference isn’t as explicit. And second, if you’re holding the yoke with both hands, you don’t even notice the lack of spring resistance in the center. So, I’m positively impressed with the yoke’s build quality. It feels very good. However, I have a remark that fit in this section: the clamps that hold both the yoke and the throttle quadrant to your desk don’t feel as sturdy as the yoke and throttles themselves. I was quite afraid of breaking them the first couple of times I tightened them. There’s even a note in that printed manual warning about that possibility if you tighten too much. But in the end, despite this feel, the clamps hold just fine, and are as sturdy as they should be, apparently.
Ease of use:
As an avid joystick user for years now, I was amazed by how easy it was to adapt to using a yoke. I’ve used yokes in the past, but only sporadically, as I didn’t own one. However, I didn’t have any problem controlling my aircraft in flightsim, even at the first time using the Saitek Cessna Yoke. I was already used to using the SST software, but if you’re not, it’s not very hard. It just takes getting used to, as all new software does. One downside of using the yoke, is that you need additional rudder pedals to do it right. There is no equivalent for the ‘twist stick’ on joysticks. But, of course, that’s a point that applies to all yokes available.
I do have one remark on an actual design decision. How the yoke is modeled, you have an 8-way hat switch and a 4-way button on the left handle, and two 2-way rocker switches on the right. I’m actually wondering why they didn’t do it the other way around. Those 2-way rocker switches are far more suited as trim knobs than that 4-way button, and the electrical elevator trim is usually located on the left handle of a yoke, certainly if it’s a captain’s yoke. Also, most people have better dexterity in their right hand, something that’s needed for both the hat switch and the 4-way switch. This does not lessen the overall quality of the yoke in my view, but it is something I’ve been wondering about since I got the product.
With the yoke stylized like a Cessna yoke, and indeed with the Cessna badge on it, this piece of hardware looks a lot more authentic and realistic than many other yokes available, including Saitek’s other yoke system. Besides the great looks, I’m positively impressed with the ease-of-use and the build quality. I’m glad Saitek didn’t stick to closely to the real Cessna yoke, when creating this product, as that would’ve left us with way to few buttons. However, with the amount of buttons there’s available now, you can control quite an impressive amount of functions in FS. When you take in account the SST software, along with the mode switch, the possibilities get enormous. Although I’ve not owned an FS yoke before, I’ve used a couple, and I’m impressed with the quality of this one. Although it’s a more expensive than other comparable yokes available (Saitek or CH products, for example), it looks better. This is where that otherwise ‘useless’ Cessna badge comes in: it makes the picture look right.
- Good build quality
- Easy to use
- Lots of possibilities with all those knobs and the SST software
- Looks right and looks good
- Takes in a lot of space on your desk
- More expensive than other, comparable yokes
Purchase at simMarket: Cessna Yoke Product Page