Saitek X52 Pro Flight Control System

ajmatson - 2007-07-12 16:37:25 in Input Devices
Category: Input Devices
Reviewed by: ajmatson   
Reviewed on: August 9, 2007
Price: $199


I know I am guilty of it. You think, "well for games with flying scenarios in them, all I need is my mouse or maybe a cheap joystick", right? Yeah, that's what I thought too, until I got my hands on the Saitek X52 Pro Flight Control System. Like the popular X52, the Pro is an upgrade to the already proven platform that precedes it. The Pro takes all the best features of the X52 and better engineering to make the upgrade to what Saitek calls, "The most fully integrated PC Flight Control System".

Founded in 1979, but only being in the gaming market since 1993, Saitek states that "All our products are designed by gamers for gamers, to help them get the best out of their favorite PC games. We design and manufacture consumer electronics products which work together to improve the user's multimedia, gaming and communications experiences. Constant innovation, superior technology and a high degree of functionality make Saitek products the choice of computer users around the world."


Closer Look:

After removal from the shipping box, we get our first look at the X52 Pro. On the box there is a wealth of information that points out the key features of the Flight Control System. The pictures and specs on the box had me drooling to get inside to see the items.




Once everything was unpacked, you finally get to see all that comes with it. Now my mouth is watering and I am getting anxious to get into the details of the items. Included in the box is the control stick, throttle, suction cups for mounting to desk, connecting cable to connect the joystick to the throttle, driver CD with Microsoft Flight Simulator X Demo and a quick install brochure. The last picture on the right shows a comparison shot next to the Saitek ST290 Pro, that will be compared with the X52 Pro in the testing section.





Next up we are going to take a better look at the stick and throttle to familiarize you with the button setup and functions.

I wanted to get you up close and personal with the unit, so that you can get a feel for the detail that went into making this and the options that you get for your in-game flights. First we will get a look at the throttle assembly. To make it easier, I am going to break it down in sections. Firstly, here you see a general overview of the throttle system. You see how it is shaped to give you the most comfort while gripping it, for those long flights or intense dogfights.






Next up, we have the unit while looking straight on as if you were controlling it. To make it easier, I have placed numbers by the buttons to distinguish which ones they are. 1) Is the mouse controller to enable moving the mouse in game. 2) Is a slider button which I felt was perfect for controlling the aircrafts flaps, 3 & 4) Miscellaneous buttons, 5 & 6) are dial buttons - great for controlling the radios in Flight Simulator X, 7) is the clutch button. The clutch lets you test a button while playing to see what it is without actually affecting the flight. Great if you forget what a button does, 8) is an eight way hat switch and 9) is a scroll button.



Two features I have to highlight as it makes flight so much easier are that at up to 75% thrust, the LEDs are green and at 100% they change to red, to let you know you are at maximum thrust.



Secondly, the throttle has a mouse control, which is nice to maneuver the cockpit, providing you have that option enabled in-game, so you don't have to switch back and forth.


Now that we have an understanding of the throttle, let's head on over to the flight stick part of the system.

Next up, we have the flight stick. The stick assembly is where the majority of the buttons and switches are. The stick allows for pitch, roll and way with its maneuverability. Again, let's start off with an overview look of the assembly. You can see that this system was made for the comfort of the user. The grip eases the hand of the user, for stability and control.






Now let's get close in and see what it has to offer us. 1-3) Three two way toggle switches - perfect for landing gear or doors, 4&5) two eight way hat switches, 6-8) multi-use buttons, 9) trigger 4 with safety cover and 10) profile Selector. The LED next to the profile selector will change red, greed and blue, depending on the profile selected.



A couple points of note on the joystick itself, are the the dual springs on the stick support. This helps a lot in maintaining perfect flight, by giving the right amount of resistance, so you do not over steer. The second is the ability to adjust the grip for all types of hands. That way, you are not reaching to be able to pull the pinkie or other buttons.




For the hardware side of the installation, it is pretty straight forward. Position the throttle and joystick where you have a comfortable grip on them both. There are suction cups for the bottom of the two, which I feel are optional, depending on the simulation you are using them on and user preference. I did not apply them, because one of the games I tested it on was a first person shooter that has air vehicles in the game, so I needed to have the option to switch between the flight system and the keyboard/mouse. Next, take the connecting cable and plug it into both the throttle and the joystick. Once they are plugged together, insert the USB cable that is attached to the throttle into an empty USB slot in the computer. If the cables were connected correctly, a power light will come on for both units, showing they are up and running.



Then, insert the DVD that was supplied to install the drivers and Demo version of Microsoft Flight Simulator X.


The configuration is the tricky part of this whole setup. It is not really a hard task, just a time consuming one. But in a good way, of course. With there being so many buttons and options with the flight system, you can customize each game on how you can most comfortably control the simulation. Each game will be set up differently, as some are more complex and some are simpler. I tend to keep the main controls the same in each game, to be familiar but for more complex games, I type up my own list of controls and their buttons, for a quick reference sheet. For Microsoft Flight Simulator X, I made myself a Flight Log and Check Sheet that I keep with me for my flights, for all the different aircraft that I fly on a regular basis. One nice feature of the X52 Pro, is profiles. With the SST programing software included with the drivers, you can set up "Profiles" for different games and users. The profiles allow you to map the movements of the control system to buttons on a keyboard. Take for instance, dropping flares in a combat simulator. If the key set in the game is "W", you can have the SST software map that key to a button on the joystick. This will tell the computer you are pressing the "W" every time you hit that button mapped and your flares will drop. To download a small collection of profiles to get you started head on over to Saitek's Website.

In this example, I have taken the keys "P, O, and I" and set them as fire keys. "P" was set to trigger 1, "O" was set to trigger 2, and "I" was set to trigger 3. This way, if I wanted to fire the main guns, I would pull the trigger and it would send the key "P" to the game and the guns would fire.


You can also use the SST software to set macros. Macros are great, because you only have to press one button for multiple effects. To expand on the above example on flares, say you also want to drop chaff in addition to the flares. Well, instead of having two different buttons that you have to hit one after the other, you can set a macro to activate both with the press of a single button.

In this setup, I am going to set a macro. To set up a macro, right click on the function you want to set it as. Select "New Macro" and enter the keyboard sequence that you desire. Once set, you will see the macro display in the function's box.



Of course, you do not have to use the SST software and configure the system for each game. I used two games that I play regularly with the X52, to give you an example of what you would see for each. The first picture is from Microsoft Flight Simulator X, the second from Battlefield 2142 and the last is from Lock-On. In Battlefield 2142, I only used the system for the flight portions.



For the final part of the configuration, we will take a look and the flight system calibration and settings. This is where you will fine tune the sticks and buttons and make sure that they are all working properly. The screen-shots starting from the top left, is the 'testing' tab, which lets you check each movement and key press. The 'dead zones' tab, which lets you adjust the dead spots for the movements to center them out. The 'LED's' tab, which lets you control the brightness of the buttons. The 'MFD' tab, where you control the brightness of the MFD and the time setting displayed on it. Finally, the 'about' tab, which gives you links to information for the system, as well as displaying the software version for the controls.




Complete Setup




Now we get to the best part the testing. For the testing phase, I wanted to see the difference between using a generic mouse and keyboard, a Saitek ST290 Pro and the X52 Pro Flight Control System. I played both Microsoft Flight Simulator and Battlefield 2142 for several hours with each setup, to see how my performance was compared.

Testing Setup


First up, was Microsoft Flight Simulator X. I have played the older Flight Simulator 2004 version for a while with the ST290 and it never felt like I was "really there", so I was looking forward to the "X" version to see if it would be improved. During the testing, I gave up on the mouse and keyboard combo after 10 minutes, because I just could not control it enough to even take off correctly. With the ST290 I could stay in flight, but landing was another story. There is way too much going on in the landing sequence to be able to have it programmed on the stick. You constantly have to look away towards the keyboard to activate some things and it take seconds away from you that is critical to landing the aircraft. The X52 however, from take off to landing held up superbly. It allowed me to concentrate solely on flying and maneuvering, so that I did not have to look away to find a key. I also have completed something I have not been able to do before and that is to land perfectly.



One other big point I wanted to mention, even though I was not able to use it in my testing, is the ability to use the MFD with plugins for Flight Simulator X, to control and view the radio stacks in game.

Next up was Battlefield 2142. Even though this is an infantry style game, there is some flying in it. There have been many times that I have seen the winning side switch because of someone doing so well in an aircraft and giving that balance-shift the edge it needs. I always wondered if it was because of skill or the equipment the pilot was using. Again, I found the mouse and keyboard to be usable but not practical. It was too hard having to scroll the mouse to move the aircraft. Because of the simple setup of 2142, the ST290 and the X52 Pro were head-to-head though. What gave the X52 Pro the edge, was the ability to have the throttle controls and the stick in opposite hands. It made it easier to throttle down to hover and make tight turns. With the X52 Pro, I was able to get behind or underneath enemies easier, for the perfect angle kill shots. I was at one point accused of cheating because I was out maneuvering other pilots so easily.


Finally this is where the system really shined. The last game I tested this with was Ubisoft's Lock-On. Lock-On really puts you in the seat of intense dogfights. This is where the difference between the Saitek ST290 and the X52 Pro really came through. Its one thing to be able to turn and manuever, but by adding the throttle and all of the extra customizations that keep you alive. I was able to turn and change speeds while dropping countermeasures and still get behind the target so much faster with the X52 Pro, because I did not have to take my eyes off of the screen and "look" for the button to activate a feature. When using the ST290 my kill/death ratio was 1:1 and with the X52 Pro it went to 4:1. That means for every time I died I had 4 kills, which is a tremendous improvement.



Now that we have completed the in-game testing, we want to know how the X52 Pro compared to other devices in different areas of use. The scale is a one to one hundred rating, with one being the lowest and one hundred being the highest. The X52 Pro was compared to using the Saitek ST290 Pro and a standard mouse/keyboard combination.




So now after all that, I ask myself my original question. Is there enough difference to justify the extra cost of the Flight System versus a normal $30 joystick? If you are into flight games and simulators, or you want that edge to take control, then yes, I highly recommend it. It will make your experience so much more enjoyable and give you the feeling that you are really there flying the aircraft. If you're a casual gamer that will use it from time-to-time, then I would opt for a less expensive flight stick.

One drawback I would like to mention, is that Saitek advertises a feature that you can change the LEDs from green to red or amber. Well this is only possible in the software testing program and once you end the program, the LEDs go back to green. There is no way to change them for gameplay. Also, the color of the MFD stays green, not the alternate colors. For being an advertised feature, I would have like to seen it implemented for actual use, especially the red, which is ideal for flight, because it is easier on the eyes. We did contact Siaitek about it via email and this feature will be implemented in a future update.