USB RC Controller Joystick & Simulators (Sailing and Flight)

Several years ago I got into Radio Control (RC) sail boats or yachts, depending on your perspective, and really enjoyed it.  I miss hanging out with the guys, but don’t miss the competitiveness on Saturday mornings.  Once it wasn’t that fun to get up early on Saturdays, I gave it up as I really needed to focus more on exercise than RC sailing and have taken a long hiatus from the hobby.  I miss sailing and several years ago wrote a post about sailing simulators.  I pulled up the old post and all but a couple of the simulators are no longer made.  One that I liked several years ago, but had not updated in a while, was Virtual Skipper (VSK).  I had the original VSK and upgraded at one point to Virtual Skipper 3.  When I Googled for the latest VSK version, I found it was at VSK5.  A quick update and I had installed the latest version.  I am not sure what the improvements were, but it looks and plays like the previous versions.  One of my personal feelings on VSK was that if I could use my RC Controller it might help my actual skills on the water.  So I started checking out the possibilities of using an existing RC controller or finding a RC controller purpose built to be recognized as a PC joystick.

The first option for hooking up an existing RC transmitter (TX) controller to a PC is through a connector on the back of the TX usually used for a buddy cable.  Buddy cables allow new RC hobbyist to have a buddy there with their controller hooked to the newbies’ controller to take over remote control of the model if needed.  There are cables that connect to this port on the TX and the cable has a USB connector on the other end that allows the controller to be seen as a
joystick.  I had a couple of old Hi-Tech controllers with a 5 or 6 pin DIN connector, but if I went this route I would need to charge the TX battery and these controllers are so old the batteries would need replacing.  So I opted for the second option, which was the stand alone purpose designed USB RC Controller.  I purchased the controller from Amazon.

To test it out and make sure it worked, I tried several free RC flight simulator packages and have continued using PicaSim with the new controller for a few weeks now.  As far as using the controller goes with VSK5, I have found it works pretty well even though I can only use one axis for the tiller and another for sail control.  While VSK5 can operate the sails for the player, hitting the Number Lock key puts them in manual operation mode which allows me to luff the sails at the start line to decrease the speed and avoid an early start penalty.  I also tried a SourceForge project CRRC Sim (review) that was okay and I admit I have not spent much time with it after PicaSim.  Another one I tried was ClearView (review).  It has a very time limited trial, but has many available models and you can update the scenery with images from your own flying field.  For a decent flight simulator, I found that the failure to include a quad copter model was a little disappointing.

My take on the controller is I like it for what it is designed to do, which is to allow it to be used a joystick controller on a PC or Mac and possibly Linux.  It appears the unit could have gone the way of a real RC transmitter as there are a couple holes plugged where an actual controller would have another meter, dial or handle.  The sticks are plastic, but do have the serrated concave tops like found on all higher end RC transmitters. The configuration is mode 2 as based on the mode listing chart here. When I look at Windows 10 calibration, the right stick has the x axis as right horizontal and y axis as vertical. The left stick has z axis on the vertical, which is not spring loaded to recenter, and z rotation on the horizontal. The knob on the top right of the controller is y rotation (0-100%) while the switch on the top left is x rotation and is detected at 50% or 100% depending on the position of the switch. There is also a mixer switch above the right stick.  There are a couple of items to note on my controller as received it from Amazon.  A couple of the axes never seem stop jittering.  This is okay if you can set the dead zone in the software you are using the controller with, but a total pain in the butt if the simulator software determines your control selection by asking you to move the stick you want assigned.  For example, in VSK you click with the mouse to start the controller stick selection and as soon as you have clicked the axis showing jitter is immediately selected before you can actually move the stick you want to assign.  I finally over came this by going the Windows game controller calibration routine and setting the problem axis to a point where it exhibited the least jitter.  This allowed me to select the correct controls in VSK.  Other than that, I have not really had any trouble in the other simulators once I understood some of the cryptic joystick settings they used in the controller configuration settings.  The quality of the unit is sufficient for my needs with only cosmetic defect noted being the front panel consisting of the sticks seeming like it is not tightly secured on the left side.  I could probably fix this if I opened it up and either tightened a screw or strategically placed some glue.

Thus far I am glad I went with this controller and the flight simulators and VSK offer some needed diversions with very little investment.  If wanted to spend the money on a new transmitter and flight simulator, I would probably look at the Spektrum 6 and Phoenix simulator combo package.

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