In my desire to take my simming hobby on the road, I’ve been on the lookout for a solution to my portable HOTAS needs – and Mad Catz has just the answer!
In my day job, I find myself winging all over the country as an air ambulance pilot. While most of the time my ground times at each stop are in the two-hour realm, occasionally (particularly on organ procurement flights) those times can stretch across four, six, or even eight hours in length. When all of my other duties are completed (including getting rest), I often find myself twiddling my thumbs, so I’ve learned to take advantage of that time to keep up with my simming hobby. With a decent Alienware laptop in my flight bag, I recently inquired about the availability of a controller that I could take along on my flights that would allow for some basic flight simming. In my distant past, I had used a Logitech Wingman Rumblepad, but playing sims on a console type controller just never really worked for me. It was with great excitement that I accepted an offer by Mad Catz to wring out their portable F.L.Y. 5 HOTAS.
An evolution of the long lived Cyborg line of sticks, the F.L.Y. 5 retails for $59.95 and is solidly aimed at the PC flight sim user with features a die-hard simmer would find indispensable. From the Mad Catz product description:
- Trigger, four buttons and scroll buttons in head of stick
- Adjustable POV hat switch – can extend or contract into head of stick
- 6 buttons on base of stick
- Dual throttle lever for control of multi-engine aircraft
- Twist axis for rudder
- Height of stick handle is adjustable to fit different hand sizes
- Rake angle of stick is adjustable to suit the comfort of the customer
- Head angle is adjustable to accommodate different thumb lengths and as part of the rest of the controllers adjustability
- Removable handle and foldable base for easier storage of product
- Compatible: Windows 7, XP/XP64, and Vista
After unboxing the F.L.Y. 5, I took stock of it and formed some initial impressions. With a separate stick and base – the unit has a small footprint. The stick mates to the base with a multi-pin connector and screw type collar. I placed the two components on our finger guillotine at work and the measurements came out to just shy of 9″ in length for the base and about 8″ in length for the stick. Width of the base is roughly 6″ in the closed configuration.
Prior to opening the manual to read about the features of the F.L.Y. 5, I grasped the stick and marveled at its compactness. Nearly the entire unit is made of plastic (both the base and stick) which results in a very light total weight and perhaps an initial apprehension about the long term durability. Having been primarily a desktop HOTAS user, the heft and cold steel of my TM Warthog has left a residue of quality construction that has set the bar high. Reminding myself that this product costs a fraction (one tenth!) of my Warthog, and that it is built for compactness and portability, I put aside my prejudices and realigned my thinking. And I have to admit, the small form factor felt good in my hand and the sticks curves felt, well, right!
It wasn’t until I dove into the small pamphlet that accompanies the F.L.Y. 5 that I started to discover the additional features that a more engineering oriented person would recognize immediately. I pulled apart the “outriggers” that nest into the base (humming the Transformers theme to add some drama) and saw the wingspan of the controller expand to just over 11″, adding stability and allowing the split dual throttles to align with the longitudinal axis of the stick. Now we’re talking!
The manual indicated that a small hex key was embedded in a foam bed on the right “wing” of the base. This hex key with a pin on the end is the tool you use to make a bunch of adjustments to the F.L.Y. 5 for tailor made comfort. At first I was pretty skeptical of this adjustment feature and thought it might be a bit gimmicky – but after spending about an hour going through all the possible combinations – I was sold on the concept.
First up was the height adjustment. Again, I thought to myself – “who needs a height adjustment”? As I started to extend and retract the stick to its multiple height positions however, I realized that where the side of one’s hand rests on the ledge at the bottom of the stick was most definitely variable according to the size of your hands. As well, not only from a resting position perspective, I also realized that the up and down extension meant that I could find a natural position where my index finger would fall on the trigger and my thumb on the head of the controller at the top of the stick. In comparing with my Warthog, I realized that my hand must be relatively close to the average size hand that most static controllers are designed for since my hand does rest comfortably on the Warthog. If you aren’t so lucky to be in the “normal” percentile, the F.L.Y. 5 is great because if you have enormous meat hooks or dainty little paws, you can adjust the controller to a comfortable fit. Given the amount of time one spends with their hand resting on the controller, this is a fantastic feature for those that are constantly straining because their controller is too large or small.
A demonstration of what I’m talking about is below – where the controller is set at too high of a position, meaning that I can’t rest my hand on the handrest at the bottom of the controller, however that position would be perfect for someone with large hands. What first struck me as a gimmick turns out to be pretty darn useful engineering.
In addition to height adjustments, the controller can be raked forward up to 40° using the chrome pin you see in the photo below. Loosen the hex nut, push the pin in, move the controller until the pin clicks into the desired hole, then retighten the hex nut. I personally found the forward 10° setting to be the most comfortable as both the full upright and full forward positions seemed a bit extreme to me – but again, your desk or wrist requirements might be completely different than mine, so the adjustability is a nice feature.
At the top of the stick is yet another customizable tilt setting for the head of the stick where the trigger, mini-stick, buttons, and scroll wheel reside. Tilting the head forward and backwards allows you to find a natural resting position for your thumb on the center of the head. Coupled with the rake of the stick and the height adjustment, there are so many position permutations that nearly everyone should be able to find that sweet spot for long term comfort.
As a demonstration of the head tilt, you can see in the right photo below that the tilt setting is comfortable, while the left setting inhibits my thumb movement. That position might be useful for someone with shorter fingers, a smaller hand, or a desire to develop a callous on the tip of their thumb.
Rounding out the adjustment options is the ability to move the thumb controlled buttons, mini-stick, and scroll wheel plate forward and aft via another hex screw on the front of the head of the joystick. Again, the stick is all about finding your comfort position and giving you a bunch of options to achieve it. While the external wires running from the buttons on the head into the stick are cool looking, they serve the added function of allowing slack in the wires to make the adjustment of the button assembly forward and aft possible. Engineering. Those guys had a field day with this stick!
With regards to buttons – there are four numbered buttons (6-9) and an unnumbered button (for some reason – it is 14 though) on the base of the stick plus two additional buttons (10 and 11) on the left “wing” behind the split throttles. On the head of the stick are four numbered buttons, a mini stick (great for controlling a radar TDC or trim functions), and a scroll wheel (nice for selecting stores or running the context menu in Arma – the scroll wheel reads as buttons 12 & 13). The trigger is a one step trigger, so DCS A-10C fans be aware that you get PAC-2 control when you pull the trigger! (Brrrrrrpppp!!)
The split dual-throttle is smooth and has just the right amount of friction. Oddly enough, for all the other infinitely adjustable features of the stick, the throttles do not have a friction adjustment, but fortunately they feel spot on perfect. The dual throttles can be operated independently of each other for differential thrust or you can link them together with a spring loaded toggle button that joins them for movement in concert.
After going through all the possible combinations of tilt, rake, and height angles, I was ready to play some sims. With regards to feel and stability, the F.L.Y. 5 is a lightweight controller by design (for portability), so it doesn’t have the desk hugging heft of a dedicated desktop controller. The left and right outriggers give good stability during left and right roll inputs, and the extended base on the front gives good stability when pulling the stick aft, but there is a bit of a tendency for the stick to tip forward when pushing forward aggressively because there is no additional support behind the stick. In experimenting with it, I found that the weight of my hand resting on the wrist rest at the bottom of the stick was enough to hold the stick down, but if you lighten your hand up and press forward the tension from the centering spring will allow the stick to pivot forward slightly prior to the spring giving way. After a minute or two you naturally adjust to the lightness of the stick, but be aware you can’t lay this stick on top of your masters thesis in a hurricane and expect it not to blow away.
The centering spring does a nice job with stick tension throughout the range of motion and the aforementioned tension on the throttles is perfect. This IS a plastic controller though, and when you watch the base of the controller as you move the stick through its full range, you will see a very tiny amount of flex in the base assembly right around the perimeter of the cup that the stick sits in. I’ve had the stick for several months and have been using the heck out of it and have run into no durability issues thus far, but I’m not using it as my primary desktop stick – but as my travel stick. For me, the light weight of the stick isn’t as big a selling point as the compactness. It would be my wish that perhaps Mad Catz could come up with a PRO version of the F.L.Y. 5 with the same engineering, but using metal components. I’d pay 3x the asking price for a metal stick. With that said, I’ve been putting this stick in my backpack and carting it all over North America and have not suffered any broken components. I expected a button to pop off or the cap at the top to break, but thus far I’ve been very happy with the durability.
The F.L.Y. 5 installed and was recognized by Windows 8.1 with no input from me. I did not have to install a driver disk and to your advantage or disadvantage, the F.L.Y. 5 does not use profiling software to program – all programming is done in game with the assignable buttons. I’ve primarily been playing FSX, DCS World, and X-Plane with the F.L.Y. 5 and the input mapping is simple and effective. Control response for all the sims is excellent, although it did take me a while to rid myself of the nervous tick in my feet whenever I was using the twist rudder function. Control response is good and I have not noticed any drift or spiking in any axis or the throttles. Of note, I think one of the most challenging controller tests is flying helicopters in X-Plane and both the fine tuning of the collective using the throttle and the anti-torque input using the twist axis of the F.L.Y. 5 were up to the task. While not quite as accurate or easy as using a separate rudder pedal setup, again we are primarily looking at the nice mix of functionality and portability that the F.L.Y. 5 offers.
I have no reservations in recommending the F.L.Y. 5 for your portable simming requirements. While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for vigorous, daily desktop use, I think it works well for traveling requirements and it is really nice to be able to get some work (and play!) done while I’m out on the road. The whole assembly fits easily into my backpack, and I’m able to use nearly all of the functions that a more pricey desktop controller would feature.
Chris “BeachAV8R” Frishmuth
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