Thrustmaster HOTAS WarthogSee all photos
Admittedly, if you yourself aren't a flight sim junkie this may not be the most attractive controller in the world, but there's something to be said about a company spending three years studying, crafting, and refining a controller to make it virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. The A-10C's controls were laser-scanned, its button and trigger movements measured to a tenth of a millimeter, and even the force required to depress them was determined to a fraction of a newton/meter. The result is a perfectly balanced, perfectly weighted, and, at nearly 15lbs, perfectly serious piece of kit.
The main stick uses magnetic sensors inside, not potentiometers that will lose accuracy, and has a resolution of 65,536 x 65,536. The separate throttle is split to control both engines individually, and offers detents that tell you when you're about to idle the engines and when you're about to light the afterburner (which can be removed if you're in a non-afterburning jet -- like indeed the A-10C is). There are 51 "action points" including buttons, tophats, rockers, and even a sort of trackball for moving targeting reticules.
The whole package is quite a thing to behold, and holding it back-to-back with the real thing (of which a few were thoughtfully available at this event) proves it has the dimensions and the feel down -- if not quite the heft of the real deal. We took it for a quick flight through some canyons in an F-16 and, though we nearly blacked out a few times and came close to losing our cookies thanks to the over-sensitive head tracking setup, we have to admit the HOTAS was quite a joy to use. Smooth and precise -- but perhaps too serious a weapon for our amateur inputs. The switches can only be said to be military quality, requiring solid force to engage and responding with a positive click -- and yes, they even measured the volume of the click to make sure that matches the real thing.
Thrustmaster will be releasing the HOTAS Warthog this September, just in time for the release of perhaps the most advanced A-10 simulator yet: DCS A-10C (shown in the video above). The company hasn't decided just how much they're going to charge for the thing, but you can be sure that this sort of precision won't come cheap. It is, however, cheaper than getting out early from a six year minimum service obligation.