Mudspike Contributor Jörgen “Troll” Toll shares his impressions of his recently acquired BRD-N joystick.
I have always been looking for the perfect flight sim controller, ever since the days of the Quickshot joysticks for the Amiga. My first high end joystick was the Thrustmaster F-22 Pro. Remember that one? That was 19 years ago. It was the first joystick with a really heavy centering force. It improved upon every aspect of simulated flight that requires precision.
I got the Thrustmaster HOTAS Cougar. It was great. But modders made it even better. I got the UberNXT gimbals and Hall sensors. When the HOTAS Warthog arrived, I had to have that one as well. But I wanted to build a flight sim pit with a center-mounted stick and an extension. The Warthog has a strong centering force, but when extending the stick, it became too light for my tastes. Remember what you learned in school about moment arms?
So I went looking for alternatives.
Back to the USS…Russia
Is it just me, or has the center of attention in flight simming shifted east, towards Russia? Rise of Flight, The IL-2 series and DCS, the VKB stick that I bought directly from the Russian manufacturer, and…Baur.
Baur is a flight sim enthusiast from Sochi. He and his BRD team has been developing and producing flight sim controllers for some years now and some of you have probably seen their KG13 replica stick grip, joysticks or rudder pedals on flight sim related forums. BRD was an early adopter of cam designs for their controllers. A cam allows for variable control of the centering force of the stick. The common practice is to have less force around the center, and increasing force with increasing stick angle.
The BRD-N, compatible with the Thrustmaster Warthog grip, got my attention. I knew I needed to try it out, so I made contact with Baur on a forum. Since the production capacity is limited, I had to wait some 6 months before I could order my BRD-N. BRD makes other sizes of joysticks as well as rudder pedals. The -N is the largest one, so that’s the one I wanted.
BRD-N Черный Аист
Russia is a big country! My Черный Аист (Chernyy Aist, or “Black Stork”) took the 14 day scenic route, leaving from Sochi (by the Black Sea) via Krasnodar to Moscow, before arriving in Norway. You could say that the Stork migrated from DCS country to the fjords of EF2000.
The BRD-N shipped in two separate packages due to weight, over 11 kg (24 lbs) total. Arriving in two packages, there is of course some assembly required, nothing major. You need to remove four protective covers and mount the base plate to the base. Plug in a few cables, and then attach the extension. Remember to attach the rubber boot before the Warthog grip, and that’s it!
The grip attaches to the extension with the regular nut and can be set in any rotational angle. I prefer 10-15 degrees to the left. Speaking of grips, the BRD stick doesn’t come with a grip. Baur can fit many different grips, including real aircraft grips, to the BRD-N and I ordered mine with a Thrustmaster attachment. It works with both the Warthog and Cougar grips. The stick extension is basically a steel pipe with a grip attachment at one end and screws, for attaching it to the joystick base, at the other end. The extension is delivered cut to length and assembled according to the customers choice. The base connection allows for some adjustment in length.
The joystick base is made from steel. Pop riveted cold pressed steel plates. Every moving part of the gimbal is hinged around a bearing. In short: it won’t break! It’s also heavy. 9,4 kg (21 lbs), including the Warthog grip. It’s almost heavy enough to remain in place by its own weight, at my spring setting. But not quite. You need to secure the base to the floor, and I guess it comes as no surprise that the BRD-N is designed with flight sim cockpit users in mind.
The sensors used in the BRD-N are Komaroff R.A.M.S, Rotary Angle Magnetic Sensor. These sensors are contactless, meaning they won’t wear out like a regular potentiometer would. The resolution of the sensor is very good! Being 16-bit it has a incremental range of 0-65535 and with a total joystick travel angle of 32 degrees, that means a resolution of more than 2000 increments per degree! Quite sufficient, I’d say.
I tested the joystick in a DirectX controller viewer, and the sensors provide excellent control throughout the whole range of travel. Absolutely perfectly stable signal. No spiking or jittering at all.
The Force is With Us
Centering force of the joystick is provided by two cams that are pinched together by a spring that makes the cams press down on a roller bearing that is connected to the joystick. It’s quite a clever design! It maintains pressure on the stick when centered, providing a very positive centering force, without creating a “notch”, that must be overcome, around center. There is absolutely no “center play” or “dead spot” at all. The standard cams are “free center” cams which means that there’s a perfectly gradual transition from center and outwards. The stick stops with a satisfying “clunk” at the end of travel, as the roller bearing hits the end of the cam curve.
There are also a set of soft center cams that will increase the centering force around center. The cams can be combined if you would like free centering in pitch and a soft center in roll.
There are an extra set of heavy springs that come attached to the base plate, for storage. The cams have provisions for two springs. One spring is attached closer to the cam pivot point and the other spring, further from the pivot. So there are two spring positions, and two springs, per axis.
With the light spring at the inner position, as in the video, the force required to hold the stick close to the end of travel is approximately 1,7 kg (3 3/4 lbs). If I swap springs and use the heavy spring on the inner position, the force increases to approx. 2,3 kg (5 lbs).
If I attach the heavy spring to the outer position, I struggle to reach the end of travel. This setting may be useful if you use a longer extension. The light spring is too short to use at the outer position. A combination of the light spring at the inner, and the heavy spring at the outer position, is possible but extremely heavy. I settled for the 2,3 kg force as I find it to be quite sufficient.
So, How Does It Feel?
It’s the best joystick I have had the pleasure to use, quite frankly. The length makes it easier to make small adjustments. The high resolution sensors translates extremely small movements into equally small digital inputs to the flight sim. It feels a bit like telepathy. You just have to think it, and it happens.
The heavy feel and centering force of the stick also improves control simply by balancing the force provided by your muscles. Think of it as adjusting the force on the stick, instead of position.
All of this equates to better control, in all aspects of simulated flight. It may sound like a cliché but the stick becomes an extension of your arm. My hover in the DCS UH-1D improved a lot! Now I can lift her up straight into a stable hover, and stop into a hover whenever I want. The BRD-N even tamed the DCS SA342 Gazelle for me! I used to be all over the place, flying that thing. Now, I feel like I’m in control.
Other DCS modules where I feel the need for a heavier stick like this is in the DCS P-51D Mustang, and DCS L-39C. Both of these planes are hard to control on the edge of stall. When pulling around in a tight turn, angle of attack increases and approaches its critical limit where lift will decrease, and the wing will stall. With earlier, lighter, joysticks I accidentally induced pitch oscillations when I moved the stick forward to decrease the angle of attack again. I sort of “chased” the pitch of the aircraft to ride the edge of stall. With the BRD-N I just release some back pressure and the pitch follows my command in a much more intuitive way. I mean, I’m still moving the stick. There is no pressure sensing equipment in the BRD joysticks. It’s just that precision movements are much easier when the force required (the stick springs) is better balanced to the force available (arm muscles).
Now there are probably many flight simmers out there that are better than me, flying the same modules but with much lighter and cheaper joysticks. As usual, it’s a matter of practice. You do it often enough and you will be good at it. And that’s perhaps my problem. Making my living as a commercial pilot, I’m used to heavier controls.
Is the BRD-N Black Stork joystick realistic? Does it feel just like a control stick from a real airplane? Yes, and no.
Let me start by saying that the BRD-N is in many ways better than anything I have ever flown with in real life. And this is what I call the flight simulator realism paradox. In a real aircraft you will always be able to feel what’s happening all around you. When you “fly” looking at a computer screen, you only receive visual feedback.
I have never flown with controls this tight and precise in real life, but in a real aircraft you will receive feedback from the controls as the airspeed and control deflection changes. The load factor, or G-force, and your equilibrium will tell you what’s going on and will provide essential feedback that will instinctively tell your arms, and legs, how to act.
This feedback is mostly lost when playing with a PC flight sim. You can’t rely on instincts in the same way. Your joystick is pretty much your only connection to your simulated aircraft. That, and your computer screen. You can’t afford to sacrifice a huge part of that connection by using a sloppy, imprecise, unbalanced joystick. So the fidelity of your controls are actually even more important when “flying” flight sims than flying for real. Sounds strange? Yeah, it’s quite a paradox… but this is why we need the high resolution sensors and clever spring-cam resistance.
An Arm and a Leg?
I hear you thinking… “What does a beast of a joystick like this cost?” It’s not cheap. $350. And you need a grip for it. And you need to consider the shipping costs because shipping something this heavy isn’t cheap. But, considering what you get, I think it’s a fair price. I will not compare the price vs. quality of other joysticks, simply because this is a limited-production enthusiast-level controller, but I can tell you this much: I have recently built a throttle quadrant, sporting 8 axes and a bunch of buttons and encoders. I have a pretty good idea what that thing cost me, and I know there’s no way I could’ve built a joystick like the BRD-N for $350. And if you consider the price per kg, it’s not so bad. 😉
Do I Need One?
I don’t know, do you? First of all, you will need some sort of cockpit or dedicated sim-chair to use it. It’s not a desktop joystick. For that, BRD have other designs.
Does the Warthog with an extension feel a little light to you? Are you afraid it will break? The BRD-N is a solution to that problem.
If you are the cockpit building type or a joystick connoisseur, like me, who understands that quality comes with a pricetag, the BRD-N is definitely up your alley.