VirtualFly Yoko Yoke
[Hardware Review] It happens time and time again. To be quite honest, I don't really understand why. Now I am not referring to everyone, but there is clearly a stereotype taking place among the flight simulation community. Practically a majority if you will. Individuals that in my opinion, are preventing themselves from getting the most out of the virtual flying experience. What makes matters even worse is the fact that these very folks lobby hard for the most authentic, highly realistic, and complex software aircraft addons for flight simulator use.
One developer known as Precision manuals Design Group or PMDG for short, is a company that prides itself on delivering the most realistic virtual renditions of real world complex aircraft such as the Boeing 737NG and 777 respectively. Those who are pilots of these products relish in their abilities to digitally operate commercial aircraft following all proper procedures in nearly the same way in which they are operated and carried out in real world standard. These folks quite literally spend thousands building the "dream machine" or at the very least, if on a budget, they spend a great deal of time determining and researching the best hardware construct to operate these advanced flight simulation platforms and aircraft. After all, the worst thing you can ever do to a computer besides taking a sledgehammer to it, is installing a flight simulator on it. This is because flight simulators are by far the most intensive and demanding programs available to the consumer world. Think about it. Let's take the Boeing 777 as an example. Here is an aircraft that in it's real world application, is one of the most highly complex and automated systems aircraft in the skies today. Very expensive and versatile machines are located in each 777's avionics bay that are specifically designed to keep an aircraft like this in the air. Millions of lives depend on these computer systems every year as they travel about the globe. These are machines that must never, ever fail. After all, peoples lives are depending on them to work. But compared to the systems that power our simulators, the 777's onboard computers have things quite easy actually. This is because of all the many subroutines they must handle, they only pertain to the systems functionality of the aircraft itself.
With the flight simulation PC, not only does such a system have handle nearly all the same computations as it pertains to aircraft operation as it's real world counterpart, it also must generate and simulate the entire environment surrounding the aircraft. On top of this, we pile on tones of addons such as entire cities, terrain, mesh, airports, artificially intelligent aircraft traffic, real world weather conditions, and so, so much more.
Needless to say, these end user systems take on quite a beating. Not to mention the fact that you could fly between any 2 points on the globe in real time. Yes, the flight simulator models the entire planet. Thus, it's quite justifiable why so much money and research is conducted by consumers to ensure all the best internal components in their systems are used. Or at least, to the extent of what their budget can handle.
So where is the problem? What is this big issue that is defying my comprehension about many enthusiasts that seek out these types of products? 3 words: User Interface Devices.
Or rather, in quality, the lack thereof. Okay, I need to explain. Just stick in here with me. What I have personally seen time and again is no matter how much users will spend on their computer system, no matter how advanced the internal components are, many flight simulation enthusiasts continue to gravitate towards low end and dare I say it: mediocre user interface devices. Perhaps this is due to the fact that after pounding thousands into the "rig" there is little left for any other toys to accompany the system. Now don't get me wrong, high-end user interface devices such as yokes, throttles, and rudder pedals can get really damn expensive. As a result, there has been something of a culture among flight simulation enthusiasts developing a modus operandi to gravitate towards one device maker in particular in an effort to keep their wallets solvent: Saitek.
Now it's not my contention to infer Saitek products are mediocre. Indeed I used the word above but only in reference to the high end software applications many users are paring Saitek products with.
Back in the day (and by that I mean about 17 years ago) when I procured my first flight simulation system, the joystick I used was manufactured by Saitek. It was my very first and it was so easy to get. All I had to do was plop down to my local Radio Shack and pick up one for 30 bucks. Very convenient. And back then, the options for high end user interface devices for simulation purposes was extremely limited. Almost non existent. Over the next 10 years of my flight simulation lifestyle, all the joysticks that followed were Saitek products. Literally thousands of hours in the simulator was only possible thanks to this company. Always easy to get and always fairly cheap. But as the years went by and a serious lack of products for simulation hardware on store shelves, it never actually occurred to me that there may be other flight simulation interface device manufacturers out there. If there were, they sure as hell were not selling them in local electronics stores. Well, there was the Microsoft Sidewinder product line but, well... let's just not go there.
The interesting thing about Saitek, is at one point, they developed an entire line of PC and gaming devices ranging from keyboards and mice, to racing wheels and pedals. They did it all. Then... well... I suppose the devices which were most profitable were those that were most conducive to flight simulation. This is my assumption. Either way, Saitek choose to hedge their bets and abandon their entire product line in favor of solely focusing on flight simulation devices reshaping their entire brand. This move was quite cheeky (bold) if you ask me because isn't console and PC gaming (i.e. first person shooters & racing games) still far greater in popularity than flight simulation? I am sure Saitek has their reasons and no doubt, they are the cornerstone in the consumer FS market as it pertains to hardware interface devices. Like my first Saitek joystick all those years ago, they are still relatively easy to get access to and are quite reasonably priced. So whats the problem?
Well as the saying goes, you get what you pay for. And as I mentioned, I have been through many generations of Saitek joysticks. The problem is, at some point or another, they all failed me for one reason or another. They never last very long. This I have concluded has been a combination of bad design, poor quality of components, and cheap Chinese labor. Ouch! Yes I know. But this is coming from someone who has spent a hell of a lot on Saitek products over the years and I have lots of flying hours experience under my belt with them to back up my experiences.
My overall point? You have spent thousands already on your rig and likely hundreds more on flight simulation software addons. But you are still using the cheap low quality interface devices to drive those complex addons. Yes, as stated, it's great that Saitek products are inexpensive and easy to obtain. But why do users choose to stick with these products. Obviously, they are getting the job done. But if you do purchase that highly complex simulated aircraft addon, shouldn't you want to have the most realistic physical experience to accompany it? And please don't get me wrong. This is not a Saitek bashing forum here. Saitek has the consumer flight simulation market cornered and they make great products for the price. But their downfall in my opinion is the lack of quality diversification. For example: Automakers Hundai and Kia are well known here in the states as makers of affordable or "cheap" automobiles. But even they have risen up to high quality standards offering options to appease those who desire more with a bit more to spend. Alternatively, Mercedes develops low-end cars with cloth seats and few luxury options.
The issue with Saitek, is they continue to stick with the low-end quality products with a total lack of diverse quality tiers. What would make me happy is to see them develop a $500 or $800 range yoke, flight stick, and pedals. But they refuse, and as such, I have graduated from their products. If you are using the same setup over the last few years, perhaps it's time you considered other options as well. After all, quality that is physically realistic and enhances the flight simulation experience is worth saving for. Is it not? If not, I hope to persuade your opinion.
So about 5 years ago, finally I gave up. I determined I was done with Saitek and begin a rigorous pursuit for something better. Something more... realistic. After my restless search, I came across a French outfit called Thrustmaster. Then? My life started to change. As well as my luck...
Now at the time, the HOTAS Warthog was still in it's mid stages of development with just a few sneak peek shots here and there but it was very obvious it would be good. Still unsure of how the project would turn out or for how long it would be in development, I shifted my gaze to Logitech and their G940 flight system. As promising as it appeared, it failed to maintain my interest enough to take the leap. But it was tempting. So I continued to use my Cyborg X (the tenth one in 2 years by the way, I had an insurance policy with BestBuy so I could continue to replace them whenever they shorted out) while I waited for the Warthog to come to fruition. Then, after the first real previews started to appear and the product was released, I decided to take the plunge! Well... Actually, it was my wife who took the plunge as it was she who had been spying on me over the course of the several months while I followed the Warthog's development. The $500 price tag was admittedly off-putting. Never before had I ever spent nearly so much on an interface device. Heck, that was the cost of an XBOX with a couple games! As we were on the eve of the Christmas season of 2010, I wisely decided to wait to after the Holiday Season to get it.
What I didn't expect was on Christmas Eve (Actually Christmas morning, we stay up late so we all can open one gift) at 12:15 AM, it was my turn to open a gift. My wife directed me to the large beautifully wrapped box towards the back of the tree. Wondering what it could be I grabbed it without thinking and was greatly surprised. This box was heavy. DAMN heavy! What was this? What followed was something of sheer excitement followed by a range of emotions. She had bought it and I kid you not, it felt like Christmas morning.
Finally, two days later, I was able to get the time to fully set things up. The first impression? This baby was practically a steal for 500 bucks! This bad boy felt more like a thousand bucks. And you know what? After all these years later, it still does. Never again would I return to the plastic breakable pieces that was Saitek. Well... actually... For the first time ever, I had a stick without a twist rudder function. So once again, the convenience of Saitek came to the rescue later that day when I popped on over to Fry's Electronics and picked up the Pro Flight Rudder Pedals (now broken). On my birthday several months later, I unwrapped the Pro Flight Yoke and as excited as I was about it, to finally try something other than a stick with the sim for the very first time, I was left horribly disappointed. With that Thrustmaster in all it's replica and solid metal, the plastic of the yoke just did not do it for me. I felt as if I was playing with one of those plastic toy racing wheels. In fact, yes, it felt like a toy. I donated it to a charity called Vision Of Flight and up till a month ago, I was still on the hunt for the proper yoke. That is, until I discovered VirtualFly.
As for the rudder pedals, they only lasted about a year and half before they showed their true plastic quality. The tension wheel broke and after that, I was truly ready to dump the last reminiscent of Saitek from my set up. And my life. So I went on a hunt to find something to more properly match the quality of the Warthog for the same price or similar. I settled on the Redbird Alloy RD1 unit that is not only all metal like the Warthog, it also costs about the same.
A couple years ago, on my birthday, my dad purchased a nice Piper Arrow flight for me where I could take control. But before the flight school would let me take the Piper up, they needed to see if I could actually fly as I do not have a license. So they led me to a back room where I was greeted with RedBird's LD Cockpit.
Well now what do we have here? Obviously, something I really wish I owned! I had seen one of these before online and in YouTube videos but seeing one up close really got my heart rate pounding. This thing was awesome! Besides the ridiculous picnic folding chair they sat me in, I was impressed with the setup. The controls felt very realistic as well. At the time, all I had was those flimsy plastic Saitek yoke & pedals to compare. But this experience... it felt as if I was actually moving real hydraulics. I really had to put force into my legs to keep the default FS9 C172 on the center-line. This setup made so much of an impression that once in the piper a few minutes later, there was almost no difference in the feel. RedBird had really nailed this thing down good. Clearly, they want aspiring pilots to be prepared for the real thing. Afterwards, when I returned home, I begin to think more about those pedals wishing I could have those babies at home. I imagined they were super expensive anyway but that didn't stop me from looking anyway. Sadly, the pedals were not available for a separate purchase but what did find just might have been exactly what I have been needing to finally kick those Saitek's. The rest is history.
But I still needed a replacement for the Yoke I had donated.
I browsed the usual manufactures like Precision Flight Controls, CH Products, Elite Simulation Solutions, Go Flight, Flightdeck Solutions. and VRInsight. Many of these products were far too expensive. But nevertheless, I had narrowed things and was waiting to make a decision until I was contacted by a representative from VirtualFly.
This is very interesting. I received an email from a very friendly person named Emilio who had stumbled across AirDailyX.net during a Google search. He mentioned his surprise that he had never heard of ADX before. (I was surprised I had never heard of VirtualFly!) Emilio directed me to the VirtualFly website where I was met with an entire catalog of flight simulation products ranging from yokes and rudder pedals to full motion glass cockpit simulators. Some really impressive stuff!
But of everything I had discovered on the VirtualFly website, I found something I instantly wanted, an object that in it's appearance, seemed absolutely perfect. The YOKO Yoke!
As I browsed the available screenshots, I was left with an instant feeling that this was definitely made of a higher professional grade than those plastic toys I had abandoned. Then I read the product description: "Have you ever wondered what life would be like if you could have a reliable, accurate, solid pitch and roll control simulation yoke? With YOKO, you have a double pitch axis that travels much further than any other product on the market. That means that you have a bigger range of control when you are taking-off, turning, and landing. As a result, your flights become more precise, more professional, and more real. It is that simple. Get your YOKO, fly, enjoy…and precision for all."
Well then. This all sounds right up my alley.
But wait. let's just back up just a tad. How reliable is this Yoko going to be? Because this is clearly going to be quite an investment. One that I fully intend to get years of enjoyment and use out of and coming from someone who has destructed many devices over the years, destructible is practically my middle name. So I read on: "The VirtualFly YOKO is made for long lasting performance. Its interior potenciometer mechanism box receives your push and turn forces and slides forward and backwards on a horizontal metal guide bar attached to the external case. Both the pitch and roll forces become more and more resistant giving the user a continuous hardness feeling when reaching its tops. This feature is based on four different elastic stripes that recovers its neutral position on a smooth and natural movement. There are also several rubber protectors at the end of both pitch and roll axis's, resulting in a simple solution that avoids transferring vibrations to the potenciometers and helps for a longer product life."
Then, seeing that the Yoko was made up of an entirely metal construct (much like my Thrustmaster Warthog) I just couldn't pass up this opportunity to try it. But how about the price? You see, the issue in the beginning with the Thrustmaster Warthog among many flight simulation enthusiasts was it's price. Far above the usual price range from Sairek and CH Products that set the tone for the consumer community. The latter of which is better in quality but still constructed of plastic. It was not till a few people broke down and took the plunge on the Warthog did they realize just how good it truly was. At some point, $500 was not so bad and the popularity with the product skyrocketed. So for me to find what finally appeared to be the perfect flight simulation yoke to match the Warthog in quality was a life saver. But the $1,300 price tag was a bit off putting. Nevertheless, Emilio, the representative from VirtualFly was willing to send over a set to capture my impression. A few days after their arrival, I was notified the price had dropped below the $1,000 price level to about $920. Still far above the price range of Thrustmaster. But as they say, you get what you pay for. And I love this hobby enough to take the plunge if a product will deliver on it's promises. This is exactly what we are about to find out today. But first, if you have never heard of VirtualFly, here is a little background on the company before we continue.
Virtual-Fly is a research & and development company based in Barcelona Spain. The company specializes in designing and producing various prototypes for end users and manufacturers of various fields. The company branded as VirtualFly as a producer of flight simulation hardware platforms when the lead inventor first discovered Microsoft's FSX at the age of thirty. All of the various partners within in the company comes from different backgrounds outside of aviation and the aeronautical market. So how did they all wind up founding and being a part of a company that is so deep rooted in flight simulation? Well like most of us in this hobby, it all manifests from childhood dreams and desires. Pretty typical is´t it? These kinds of folks also have the deepest passion about aviation too. Hey, if I had the money, it's what i'd do.
A few facts about VirtualFly:
- Prior to going global, VirtualFly developed 4 full motion simulator prototypes (SimVol-01 to 04) in 7 years (2004-2011) before OVO-04, the company's flagship offering was born.
- Even though it's a flight simulation training hardware development company, Virtual-Fly still makes its main income from research & development customers asking for special ad-hoc products and designs that are both FS and non FS related.
- When conducting a review of the simulation industry, Virtual-Fly was mentioned in the New York Times last year along with PMDG, Vatsim, Ivao, and RedBird among others. [LINK]
- VirtualFly has the only simulator worldwide with its motion mechanisms hidden inside the cabin itself, the OVO-04
The company started operations in 2004 as a national brand conducting R&D in full motion systems and flight simulators. During this time, they were able to learn, execute and modify the technology that they offer today as well as gaining their first customers that year. The result of the evolution of the different early prototypes from SimVol-01 to SimVol-04 and later the OVO-04 is shown below:
- In 2004, they designed and produced our first flight simulator device, SimVol-01. It had the full motion system underneath a cubic-shape cabin.
- in 2007 they made their first flight simulator cabin with the full motion system aside & inside the cabin itself, the SimVol-03.
- in 2009, they finished the SimVol-04, with the re-designed exterior fiberglass shape but with the design on the flight panel and interior as in the previous model.
- 2011, after 7 years of Research and Development, they applied aeronautical interiors and full motion software improvements. The new OVO-04 was born ready for delivery it worldwide.
Additional services the company provides:
Based 30 miles away from Barcelona city and Airport, Virtual-Fly´s Research & Development Center is located in a long traditional industrial area and cornered by several landing options as Barcelona-Sabadell Airclub (LELL), Igualada Aerodrom (LEIG), a private airstripe (LEMS) and a light sport airfield with 400m of concrete runway.
There is a space inside the Research & Development Center dedicated to show their full product range where any & everybody is invited and welcomed. This showroom is also used to demonstrate the management of the minimums necessary for offering the full motion flight simulator experience to the public and potential customers. If you are ever in the area, drop by!
AirCatFly is an aviation contract work & LSA flight school functioning together with Virtual-Fly within the same Corporate group. It operates Aeroprakt A22, Dynamic WT9, Tecnam P96 Golf, and WWI biplane replicas for LSA licenses, advanced training, bush flying, and flight tours. This collaboration allows Virtual-Fly a direct platform for product test and development.
AirCatFly also manages and operates a local LSA Airfield with 400m concrete runway and platform; mogas fuel station, bar-restaurant, maintenance, 16 hangars, covered lunch area and children’s area. Its located north-west from Barcelona city limit, 30 minutes away by motorway in the main crossroads between Mediterranean coast, Monegros desert and the Pyrenees. 41º 46′ 46″ N / 01º 53′ 32″ E
The Product Featured In This Review
The Yoko's Interior
YOKO, the yoke for flight simulator, is designed to fit on all Virtual-Fly flight panels and simulators as SOLO Flight Panel, DUO Flight Panel or OVO-04 Full Motion Flight Simulator. YOKO can also be connected to any PC or LapTop and therefore everybody can experience a new level of accuracy, realism and performance. You do not have to change your hands, or change your flight simulator software, you only need to get the YOKO and find the real pilot inside you. Experience the next level! Virtual-Fly uses solid materials and well-proof suppliers so their electronic engineers can mount the product in order to guarantee an optimal performance of all its product´s features:
- 144mm. of travelling on push-pull pitch axis
- No self-aligning bushings, as real flight controls
- Length: (591) 519mm. (447) / Widht: 303mm. / Height: 185mm.
- Plug-and-fly USB universal 2.0 connection
- Solid steel case with specific clamps for surface attachment
- Aluminum yoke with smooth look&feel
- Two buttons at each fingertips for programming flight controls such as PTT, auto-pilot disengaging
- Two switches (left-right & up-down) for programming flight controls
- Default on OVO-04 family and ONTOP+DUO series
- Assembled in Spain
Unboxing, Setup, & Introduction
The 900 pound gorilla in this review: The price. Presently, the VirtualFly Yoko is set at 940 USD excluding taxes and VAT. Expensive? Well for the average casual simmer, yeah. Yep, yep, yep. But this review isn't exactly for the average casual flight simulation enthusiast. This is for those who consider themselves pro's within the hobby. These are the chaps that have literally logged thousands of hours in flight simulations most highly complex aircraft. It's for those with a passion (and a wallet) deep enough to include the Yoko as part of their home setup. And if you can afford the purchase, why should you buy it? Well, Go Flight has a highly authentic 737 pro Yoke for around the $750 price range excluding taxes. But what if that PMDG NGX is not the only aircraft you enjoy? I'd like to imagine that piloting that old C172 with a 737 yoke might feel quite odd. PFC has a couple of very decent looking yokes as well for around the same price range but I personally have never tested one of their products. I can say this, that based on my research, the Yoko has the greatest range of axes travel than any other desktop yoke currently on the market.
And of all the yokes I have had experienced, the Yoko is by far the best. But it indeed comes at it's price. Leaving the question:
Is the price worth it?
Well i'll say this: the world of the simulation itself is becoming increasingly more and more realistic. Shouldn't the experience outside the sim be just as real? In fact, it's the experience outside the sim that is the most realistic. After all, the interface devices we use are our only means to having a physical connection to the simulator. The only part that's physically real. So shouldn't they feel as realistic as possible?
Yes they should.
But like any simulation addon, high quality comes at a price. It simply depends on the level of quality you as the pilot in command wishes to experience. The Yoko is incredibly real and as expensive as it may be, it's actually quite cheap. The Yoko easily belongs in the $2000 price range of yokes. This makes it well worth the price. But to be frank, in the past, VirtualFly has always appealed to professional use. The Yoko you could say is the introduction to the consumer level by selling the product as a standalone and as such, this is not a yoke just for home entertainment use. As a training product it's extremely important to use the most realistic hardware possible to prepare cadets for their first flight. The more seamless the transition between sim and real world, the better. The Yoko fills the gap perfectly and is why the Yoko is VirtualFly's flagship yoke in their various training products. The good thing here is, you don't have to take my word for any of this, for those willing to make the trip, VirtualFly hosts a showroom for any and everyone willing to make the trip to test their entire line of products and I highly encourage flight schools and academy's all over the world to consider VirtualFly when determining which products to include in their training platforms.
A feature of the Yoko that makes it perfect for home use is regardless if you are flying that ultralight or transporting 300 people across the Atlantic, the VirtualFly Yoko is the perfect companion for all virtual aircraft flights and aircraft. Perhaps it's time for all of you highly talented simulation pilots stop rotating plastic. Perhaps it's time consider something more. And if the Yoko makes it's way onto your desk, I guarantee you won't be disappointed. For more information about VirtualFly and their entire line of products, visit http://www.virtual-fly.com/
Keep it on the centerline,