I'm one of those people who does enjoy flight simulators, but I'm not enough of an enthusiast to want to spend hundreds of pounds on equipment. For some time I had been flying with a quite old joystick which had 2 buttons and a small throttle, and was not that accurate, and often lead to crashes. I therefore decided to upgrade, and was wondering if I should get something similar but slightly better, or go the whole hog with a good joystick and peddles or even a proper yoke. It was then I came across the Saitek Aviator, and decided to give it a try.
The Aviator provides the best of both worlds between a basic joystick and the full flight sim set-up, and at the sort of price you'd pay for a decent joystick. It's a fairly basic design, modelled to be similar to the joystick on a real fighter plane. Being left handed, the basic design is a real advantage since unlike many sticks, it can be comfortably used by either hand. Where it really comes into it's own though is the functions. As well as the basic joystick, it also has a twist for rudder control, which is a real benefit to flight simmers, particularly as I've not yet found rudder pedals for under £100, and not 1, but two throttles, great for flying twin engined planes. It claims to be (and from what I have seen I believe it) the only joystick with 2 built in throttles. The left throttle has a button on the side which can lock them together. As well as allowing independent control of twin engines, the second throttle can also be used for things like propeller condition, fuel control, flaps and many other things, although obviously it's within the limits of what the Sim allows to be linked to a joystick axis. On the stick itself their are 4 buttons, one a front trigger type, and 3 on top, one of which has a little flip up cover over it and lights up, just like a real missile fire button, or for civilians it's good for autopilot disconnect. Also on top is an 8 way switch for controlling the view, or in my case trim. On the base their are 4 2 way sprung switches, good for things like flaps. Finally, the centre of the base has a red "mode" switch. This works with the included software and allows you to set up different configurations of controls for different modes. Their are 3 settings, off, which is default, A and B. I've not used this, but it would allow setting up different controls for ground movement and in the air, landing and take-off, civilian and military, etc etc. The A and B also work like normal buttons in the Sim, so can be set up as a control (I've got mine set as the parking brake).
Despite being cheap, the joystick seems good quality. The controls are responsive, smooth and accurate, and really make flying a pleasure. The range of movement on the throttles is definitely an improvement on what I've experienced before, and really allows accurate control of the engines. With previous joysticks, a good landing was on the runway in one piece, and with lots of autopilot, with this I can hand fly and make good landings nearly all the time. One downside is the weight, the base does tend to move around, and for any real manoeuvring a hand to hold the base it a requirement. The twist is also quite heavy and with a small range of movement, which makes situations requiring a lot of rudder (e.g. crosswind landings, or even ground movement) a challenge. Then again, it's the first time I've had a Joystick with a rudder twist, so I can't compare to others. Really though, it's no substitute for pedals, and was never going to be. I've not had it long, and I'm not one for giving things too much abuse, so I don't know how it would hold up to long term use and abuse, but it seems solid enough.
I've not tried it yet with anything other than flight Sims, but a joystick is a joystick, just because this one is aimed at flight Sims it will do for anything. I'm sure lots of other software could make good use of it's extra functions as well.
Installation is simple, it's USB, and on XP (and Vista) will plug and play. I had it working within minutes of getting it out the box. The hard part it deciding what to use all the buttons for. The additional software comes on a CD, and installs easily as well.
Basically, if you're looking for something "as real as it gets" you need a professional set up, but if you want a decent joystick for flight Sims, with rudder and throttle control, without paying hundreds of pounds, this is a very good buy. As I've said before, the price is not bad for a good basic joystick, but you get so much more. For fairly serious flight simmers on a budget, I'd say it's a must have. My only regret is that when I make a total mess of flying, I can't blame it on the Joystick any more.