The Thrustmaster F/A-18C Grip has been a long time coming. Last summer, it finally became available as an add-on for the popular Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog. Let’s take a look.
Although both the Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog and the HOTAS Cougar systems featured removable grips, and third-party replacements were available, Thrustmaster themselves did not have a replacement grip until now. Whispers, rumours and talk of an F/A-18 grip had been going on for years. But it wasn’t until 2 years ago, when Thrustmaster first showed off the F/A-18C Grip at E3 2017, that we had a solid lead that it was coming. Even after that, it still took until last summer before the general public could get their hands on it.
The F/A-18C Grip is exactly that: just the grip. It’s meant to be mated to either the Thrustmaster HOTAS Cougar or HOTAS Warthog base. Although I do suspect it will also work with third-party bases that use the same system, I have not verified this assumption.
The grip is modelled after the one found in the real Boeing F/A-18 Hornet, and is a Boeing officially licensed product.
When it comes to inputs and controls, the grip features a 2-stage trigger, a push button and a paddle switch on the front. The top of the grip has 2 push buttons, an 8-way hat switch, a 4-way hat switch with centre push button and a 2-way rocker switch also with centre push button. To round it all out, there’s another 4-way switch with centre push button located at the side of the grip to be actuated by the user’s thumb (this centre push button will be inoperable when using it on the HOTAS Cougar base).
The F/A-18C Grip is a bit taller and considerably wider than the F-16 / A-10C grip that comes with the HOTAS Warthog. But despite its increased size, it’s considerably lighter, weighing in at 730g, compared to the originals’ 1020g (grip only, without base).
The Thrustmaster F/A-18C Grip retails for EUR 199.99 / GBP 179.99 / USD 229.99 at the time of writing.
Unboxing the F/A-18C Grip is a remarkably premium experience. The grip comes in a small but good-looking outer box, covered in visuals. Inside that box, is another, more premium feeling box. Matte black, with silver text.
Inside this box, you’ll find the actual product held by a moulded insert with a velvet-like finish and packed in a plastic bag. There’s also a printed manual in the box. The manual is a printed version of the one found online. It’s just 8 pages per language but comes in 15 languages.
One incredibly tiny, nitpicking downside, is that you can’t use this box to store the original HOTAS Warthog grip without taking the shaped insert out.
The unboxing of this product is a great first impression. I’ve unpacked much more expensive items that were not as well packaged as this grip.
The premium feel does not stop at the unboxing. Despite its increased size and decreased weight compared to the F-16 / A-10C grip, the F/A-18C Grip still delivers a very solid feel when grabbing it. The Grip is mostly made of metal. The parts that aren’t metal, still look and feel very solid.
The one thing that slightly detracts from the premium look and feel in my opinion, is the plethora of stickers on the base of the grip. There’s a “Thrustmaster made in China”-sticker, one with the serial number, and a “Q.C. passed”-sticker. I’d much rather have had these stickers out of prominent view. Especially considering 2 of them are askew. Of course, if you buy this product, nothing’s stopping you from peeling these stickers off.
Thrustmaster is very proud of what they call the authentic feel of the buttons. And I can’t fault them on that. The buttons all actuate surely. There’s no doubting if you pressed the button thanks to the clear travel and solid tactile feedback. Similarly, I haven’t had any issues with accidental double actuations or unexpected inputs. The one control I find myself a bit less sure on, is the 2-way rocker switch. But this is solely due to its diminutive size compared to the other controls. Another aspect of note here is the very solid pull on the second stage of the trigger. Thrustmaster says this is accurate, and I believe them, but not everyone might like this. It does take a bit of discipline to use the trigger and not jerk the stick all over the place when doing so.
When it comes to ergonomics, it’s clear that a lot of thought went into designing this grip. The placement of all controls feels logical and intuitive with, for me at least, little time needed to get used to it. Do note though, that this grip does not have any ambidextrous features. It’s strictly meant for right-handed use.
There are some compromises made when you move a low, centre mounted stick to the top of a desk. First, the grip is clearly made to be gripped from the back, or even slightly from above. Even more so than the original Warthog grip. Grabbing it from below when it’s mounted on a desk, can put your wrist in a slightly uncomfortable, or at least unusual position. Not a disaster, but noticeable due to the forward bent of the grip. Of course, there are a multitude of ways to move your stick off the top of your desk, either commercially available, DIY or improvised solutions. Looking into this could be worth the effort.
Second, the grip does not have a wrist rest at the base of the stick, unlike the F-16 / A-10C grip and almost all PC or console joysticks. The result is that there is no comfortable resting position for your hand when a solid grip on the stick is not really needed. The upside is that you have more freedom in how to position your hand at the bottom of the grip, when access to the buttons on top is not directly needed.
The end-result is a grip that I consider sturdy and comfortable to use, but it takes some getting used to. It’s the price to pay for having the replica of a real stick to use, I guess.
Software and usability:
It’s no coincidence that the F/A-18C Grip has the exact same number of inputs as the HOTAS Warthog grip (and one more than the HOTAS Cougar). They’re just distributed differently, with one 4-way hat switch being replaced by the 2-way rocker and extra push button functionality. Thrustmaster has been smart about it as well: equivalent buttons are also reported to your pc with the same button number. This makes the F/A-18C Grip a drop-in replacement in many cases.
Indeed, even with the F/A-18C grip mounted, your pc still just sees a HOTAS Warthog Joystick. Only Thrustmaster’s T.A.R.G.E.T software can tell the difference.
I’ve tried the F/A-18C Grip both with and without using T.A.R.G.E.T in Prepar3D v4, X-Plane 11 and DCS World. It functions exactly like you’re used to with the HOTAS Warthog, just with a slightly different button layout to which you might want to tweak your control assignments.
A slight downside in X-Plane 11’s very nice control assignment page is that it will still show your HOTAS joystick with the F-16 / A-10C grip in the image, and will also group some of the controls incorrectly as a 4-way hat switch. Functionally though, this does not cause problems in my experience. It just takes some attention when assigning controls.
The story is a bit different in DCS World when using the DCS: F/A-18C Hornet module. This module comes with full mapping for the F/A-18C Grip (and the HOTAS Warthog base) out of the box. It should just load automatically, although in my case, I had to go and find the profile and load it manually. Not a problem, just took some looking to find the right file. You can of course still tweak this profile, but the buttons on the grip are mapped as they are on the real F/A-18C stick. Quite an immersive experience if you ask me.
You can even use both the stock grip and the F/A-18C add-on grip interchangeably. I experienced no problems switching them, even when my simulator was running. When using T.A.R.G.E.T, I did need to restart the program for it to notice that the other grip was attached.
When talking to Thrustmaster about making this review, they asked me if I could include a video of me using the F/A-18C Grip in DCS with the Hornet module. I’ve never done something like this before, so I hope you excuse me for not producing something as smooth and polished as some of the video makes you usually watch. But here goes:
The Thrustmaster F/A-18C Hornet HOTAS Add-on grip is a premium product, with matching build-quality and user experience. It’s not cheap, considering you also need the HOTAS base. But it’s certainly not a bad deal either if you compare it to other premium or replica flight controls. Functionally, the F/A-18C Grip brings no surprises. It works just like the default grip. Combined with a Hornet sim, it delivers a very convincing and immersive experience. It would be impossible for me to call it better, or worse, than the stock HOTAS grip. Choosing between the two (price notwithstanding) will come down to user preference in shape and button layout. But if you like flying Hornets, I don’t think you’ll regret adding this piece of kit to your simulation experience.
- Solid and qualitative look and feel
- Outstanding feeling inputs (buttons etc.)
- Hassle-free, drop in replacement
- Authentic replica product, licensed by Boeing
- Not the most comfortable grip to have mounted high up (like on top of a desk)
- Askew stickers detract from the premium look.
- Lockheed Martin Prepar3D v4
- Laminar Research X-Plane 11
- DCS World 2.5, with different modules, in particular the DCS F/A-18C Hornet
- Thrustmaster T.A.R.G.E.T