VPC MT-50CM2 & WarBRD Review.

Mudspike Contributor, Jörgen ”Troll” Toll takes a look at the latest flight controllers from VPC Virpil. The Mongoos T-50CM2 and the WarBRD. The MT-50 flight controller base was introduced in 2017 and I suggest you read my review of it, for background.

Short history.

VPC Virpil is a PC flightsim controller company based in Grodno, The Republic of Belarus. Their first product was a Thrustmaster compatible flight controller handle, released in 2017. VPC have since released complete flight controller units and Throttles. They have teamed up with Vitaly ”mega_mozg” Naydentsev and Roman ”Baur” Dorokhov, both flightsimmers and controller hardware enthusiasts. Baur has his own production brand ”BRD” and mega_mozg is the author of MMJoy2, a software solution for DIY USB controller builders, such as myself. 

The expanded VPC team has released a new flight controller called WarBRD, which is one of the subjects for this review and they are about to release a set of rudder pedals, both based on the proven designs by BRD.

But let’s start with the Mongoos…

The Mongoos T-50CM2 is a new version of VPC’s first flight controller base unit. And although it doesn’t bring many new features to the table, it improves upon almost every aspect of the original design. “CM” is short for “Серийная модернизированная” which means Standard Upgraded, or what we westerners like to call; “NG”, Next Generation.

But before we look closer at the new controller, let’s have a look at how the old controller have stood up to the use and abuse…

First of all, I encountered some problems with the cams of my MT-50. The 3mm screws came loose and the cams started to wiggle a little. In all fairness I should confess that I had changed cams and springs numerous times while testing the unit for the review. I returned the MT-50 to VPC and received a new replacement where the 3mm screws had been replaced by 4mm screws. As the problem never re-occurred, I consider this to be an early design flaw that has now been fixed. Dealing with VPC Customer support was a pleasant experience.

Opening up the original MT-50 for inspection, there are no obvious signs of wear, no metal grinding off or bearings wearing out. It looks more or less like new. Consider also that I have used the heavy springs and an extension, putting maximum strain on the construction.

I really wasn’t in the market for a new flight controller, but when VPC asked me if I’d like to do a review, I jumped at the opportunity.

On the outside, the size of the MT-50CM2 hasn’t changed. The ”neck” of the grip connector sits slightly lower than before and there are two cable connectors at the front of the base.

Looking inside the new MT-50CM2 it’s apparent that the parts have been redesigned, even though the basic mechanical construction remains very similar to the original design. The cam seats are improved and have swapped places with the bearing. The old MT-50 was configured the other way around. Because of this redesign, changing the springs and cams is much easier to do. The spring tensioning screws are also improved. The screw heads are much bigger this time, and they are covered by nifty rubber plugs so dust and dirt won’t find its way into the mechanism.

To change cams and springs you just unscrew and remove the bottom plate of the base. Then unscrew the spring tension screws and the cam moment arms simply fall out and the cams can be unscrewed and replaced. Very simple! Another obvious improvement is the routing of the cables. And even if the old base unit didn’t have any problems with this, snagging a cable in the new base unit seems even more unlikely.

I love to see improvements of an already clever design, like this. It tells me VPC are listening to the users and they keep evolving.

A word of caution!

Remember that you are dealing with steel screws and aluminium threads. Aluminium is softer than steel, and unless you are careful, you may end up stripping the threads. If a screw seems to jam, unscrew it and try again. And remember: don’t over tighten the screws.

May the Force be with you…

Centering force is very important in PC flight controllers. It is also very subjective as the centering force ties directly into your personal flying style and hardware setup. I  like a firm centering force with a smooth center transition. And here’s where the VPC design really shows its value.

There are four types of cams, delivered with the MT-50CM2 base unit: Two for flightsims, with non-linear force towards the end travel and two for space sims, with a linear force. Both types of cams have soft center and no center versions. The space sim cams are the ones with an extra hole in them. The cams are asymmetrical to compensate for the otherwise asymmetrical force of the gimbal mechanism. Don’t worry though, the cams will only fit in the correct orientation.

You are of course free to use any combination of cams. Want the linear soft center cams for roll and the non-linear, no center cams for pitch? No problem. There are also three pairs of springs; light, standard and heavy. And, you can adjust the tension of each spring by easily accessible screws. All of this translates into an incredible level of customization as you can adjust the centering force to suit almost every flightsimmer.

I ended up using the linear space sim cams with the heavy springs. Since I use an extension, which gives me leverage, I needed a heavy centering force. The non-linear cams did add some force at the end travel, but I felt the increase in force to be uneven in direction. Probably because I’m using the heavy springs with a healthy dose of pre-tension.

The MT-50 series of flight control base units are designed to be mounted by the U bracket on the front of the base. This U bracket is attached directly to the base unit gimbal mechanism. The MT-50 series are designed this way because of the potentially very heavy centering force and is not designed to be used as a regular desktop joystick. For this purpose VPC provides the WarBRD, but we’ll get to that later.

The MT-50CM2 electronics have gotten an upgrade as well. The contactless magnetic angular sensors seem to be the same as before, with a 0,006° angular resolution. That’s 166 angular measurements per degree of travel. And the signal is incredibly stable with no spiking that I could detect.

The base unit controller board is also upgraded. The base unit has two external ports, labeled USB and AUX. USB is of course where you put the cable to the PC. VPC have added a new and very cool modular cable with a latching 5-pin connector, going into the base connector. The AUX port is for future use. VPC are working on some auxiliary equipment to complement the flight controllers.

The Warbird

As mentioned earlier, Baur of BRD is now working with VPC. Their first combined effort is a Flight Controller aptly named ”VPC WarBRD”.
BRD makes some really nice Flight Controllers. I own a BRD-N, which is a behemoth of a joystick! Have a look at my review, here, for more info.

Baur solves the centering force mechanics in a unique way. He’s using what I like to call ”Scissor cams”. Not one, but two cams on each axis. This design gives the smoothest center transition and force buildup that I have ever experienced with a PC Flight Controller. It’s hard to explain in words. This type of centering mechanism requires rather large springs to provide a heavy centering force. This is why VPC is marketing the WarBRD as their desktop flight controller and don’t recommend using a long extension.

On the other hand, this type of gimbal mechanics allows for a large angular stick deflection, which again means that using an extension could be problematic, but at the same time eliminates the need for one.

When you receive your WarBRD, you have to install the desk plate. There’s really nothing to it, other than needing a 2,5mm allen key. The screw holes of my base unit wasn’t threaded far enough which meant that I had to use quite a lot of force to tighten the screws the last few millimeters. Don’t worry if this happens to you. The screws will cut through the aluminum, but make sure you have the correct bit on your screwdriver, or you risk rounding out the screw head.

The WarBRD uses the same extruded aluminum casing as the MT-50 series of controllers. The case profile is slightly lower, as its mechanics are more compact. The WarBRD also comes with two different cams and springs: the standard springs and the the soft center cams are factory installed. No-center cams and heavy springs are supplied as options.

Changing cams and springs requires a bit more effort than with the MT-50CM2 and is best explained by this Video by VPC.

The same angular proximity sensors as in the MT-50CM2 are also found inside the WarBRD. It does not come with the extra AUX port and has a traditional, non-modular USB cable.

The MT-50CM2 and the WarBRD base units both use the standard threaded attachment and mini-DIN 5 connector, introduced by Thrustmaster on the HOTAS Cougar in 2002. Both base units accept the Thrustmaster Cougar, Warthog and the newest F/A-18 grip, although VPC states that you should remove the two screws holding the female connector in the base unit, to avoid damage to the pins in the Thrustmaster handle as the receiving side of the VPC base allows for mounting the handle in a twist angle, whereas the Thrustmaster base units and grips, does not.

Image Courtesy of VPC

That covers all the bases.

Virpil’s first commercially available product was the MT-50 stick grip. It was the first Thrustmaster compatible stick grip and was released even before VPC’s first base unit.

Since then, VPC has released left handed stick grips and two upgrades to the MT-50 grip. The MT-50CM2 is the latest in the series. Let’s have a look at it.

The MT-50CM2 grip resembles the stick in the Sukhoi T-50 and is made from high quality plastic. The base connector is all metal and the grip sports 35 switches, distributed as follows:

  • 1 two stage trigger.
  • 1 fold down trigger, with folding registration. (Think safety catch)
  • 4 buttons
  • 1×8-way hat
  • 3×4-way hats
  • 1×2-way hat

All of the hats can be pushed in, for another five switches. But wait! That’s just 34 switches… Correct! There’s also a proportional brake lever axis, with a switch, that registers at 50% travel.

The brake lever axis function does not work on Thrustmaster Cougar or Warthog base units. In fact, the MT-50CM2 stick grip is only fully compatible with VPC’s own base units, because of the number of switches exceeding that of the Thrustmaster base units.

The brake lever deserves special mentioning.

Many eastern block aircraft use a stick mounted bike style brake handle, to control the wheel brakes. Using the brake handle in conjunction with the rudder pedals, it is possible to achieve differential braking. Note that this type of brake design was also used on the Supermarine Spitfire. Having the option to use a proportional brake handle, on your flight controller, really adds to the immersion and realism. It also makes ground handling a lot better, especially in the Spitfire, which can be a handful…

The MT-50CM2 stick grip is quite large and some of the buttons are placed far apart. Ergonomics is good and is aided by a adjustable hand rest.
All the hat switches are made by ALPS, who are renowned for their durability. My only complaint is that the lower middle 4(5)-way switch is hard to use in the down position as the push-in function often is activated, when the hat is pushed downwards. Maybe I just have to get used to it?

So, what’s it like to fly with these controllers?

The mechanical precision, sensor fidelity and general metal design means that it’s a sturdy and precise flight controller. You are capable of making extremely small controller inputs and you can adjust the centering tension to your liking. All of this means better and more precise control of your virtual aircraft while the metal gimbal mechanics makes sure your investment will last a long time.

And, if your favorite virtual aircraft happens to be a Spitfire, or an eastern block bird, that hand brake lever is really useful.

Speaking of investments. What do these things cost?

Well, let’s put it this way. Quality comes with a price tag… And as prices change and there might be a sale going on, you’re better off having a look at https://virpil.com/en yourself.

Which one?

So, which one should you get? Tough question! I can tell you how I made my decision.
Since I have a dedicated Sim Pit, with a center mounted stick I want to mount the base unit close to the bottom of my seat and use an extension. This means that I need heavy springs, so I choose the MT-50CM2. However, if I wanted a sidestick setup, or placed the base unit on my desktop, I’d go with the WarBRD. This is exactly in line with VPC recommendations and I think that shows that there’s a sound strategy behind their product line.

The softer side.

That’s the hardware – What about software?

Since the VPC base units can be used with different types of stick grips, even from another manufacturer, a software solution is needed for compatibility.
The VPC Configuration Tool is developed by Vitaly ”mega_mozg” Naydentsev and anyone familiar with his freeware MMJoy2 software will recognize many similarities with the VPC Configuration Tool.

The VPC Tool is updated constantly and the latest version can be found at the VPC Support Forum. The VPC Tool is quite powerful and may seem daunting at first glance. Mega_mozg really put some effort into making the software easier to use, while keeping the advanced functions. The first time you mount the handle on the base unit and plug it into the computer, you should update the firmware. Install and start the VPC Configuration Tool. At the top of the screen you will see any VPC hardware that is currently connected. The software will advice you to unplug any devices besides the one you are configuring. This is just so you won’t be confused and install the wrong firmware to another device.

  • Click the controller you want to configure in the list at the top of the window.
  • Click Firmware in the left column and the Start Auto Firmware update. Let it do its thing and the update is finished.
  • Click Profile in the left column. Select your base and grip from the drop down menues and click Create Profile. Then Click the green Save VPC Device button and this will transfer the profile to your VPC Base unit.
  • Click Axis in the left column. Click Calibrate Axes. Move the axes about through their whole deflection. Click Save VPC Device again.

Here you can set the direction of the axes and any deadzones you like. Since I’ve mounted my MT-50CM2 base unit backwards, in my simpit, I just reversed the X&Y axes in the software. Most sims of today, have similar controller mapping options as well, but it’s good to know it can be done in the controller software.

There’s also a Pro version of the software, accessible by clicking Pro in the upper right corner. This enables some advanced settings like configuring buttons and lights, but that’s entirely outside the scope of this review.

The VPC MT-50CM2 in the wild…

I hope you enjoyed this review. If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to contact me on the Mudspike Forum.

Disclaimer

I was offered the hardware for review, with the intent of returning it to VPC. However, I like the new MT-50CM2 so much that I have decided to buy it. And instead of returning the WarBRD, VPC has graciously agreed to offer it as prize in a giveaway raffle. They are also sending a WarBRD grip to go along with the base unit. More info about this later. The reviewer, i.e. me, is also cooperating with VPC by using their hardware in a commercial Viggen stick project that I’m working on.