In the real world – flying helicopters isn’t cheap. Compared to fixed-wing – the costs are higher in all aspects. As all the rotorheads out there will know, that is also the case in the simulated world, especially when it comes to controls.
Some of you may remember that I wrote a review on an OE-XAM EC135 cyclic that I bought last year. Initially, I was impressed, and it was a huge upgrade on the previous ‘joystick’ that I had been using. Functionality and feel were much improved in-game and it proved that a cyclic is absolutely the way to go if you want a good experience flying helicopters in your sim. However, it was getting used A LOT, and little things started to show that just griped me. Now, don’t get me wrong – it was good equipment and I’ve kept in touch with OE-XAM over the little issues I’ve had, to which they have been responsive, but it still lacked that ‘polish’ that I was after.
I’d had my eye on the Komodo products for a while, even before buying from OE-XAM. Their products were at the top of the market pricing but looked very good. I soon realized that I had been bitten by the ‘buy right or buy twice’ daemon and so – decided to ‘invest’ in one of the Komodo products, buying their EC135 cyclic. I’ve had it for about 3 months now, during which time I’ve flown a whole load of thoroughly enjoyable hours in DCS – during which time the AH-64 was released, a module that brings a big demand on ‘bindings’.
There’s plenty of people out there that are quick to doubt Komodo’s product pricing, but most are unfounded ‘my mate says’ or ‘there’s no way they need to be that expensive’ comments. I’m hoping that this review can put those to bed and assure people that you do get what you pay for.
Who is Komodo?
Komodo Simulations are a UK-based company owned by Rich Price, an experienced helicopter pilot with 20 years of flying in the VIP and Air Ambulance sectors.
Having this experience brings with it, the knowledge of how helicopter controls look and feel – a key element that is reflected in the standard of the products.
All R&D and manufacturing are conducted in the UK, with each unit hand-made on order.
Plenty of options
Komodo’s website is well laid out and easy to navigate. The products are categorized and there are plenty of good pictures enabling you to see what you’re getting.
The main feature that Komodo offers is that you can exchange the grips on both the cyclic and collective units, with a number of options currently available including EC135/145, OH-58, and most recently, the AH-64; all of which offer a fantastic level of quality and detail.
I decided on the H135 unit – it offers a good number of buttons and HAT switches so that regardless of aircraft type, I’ve got plenty of options available for binding.
Once ordered, products can take 10-12 weeks to arrive. It’s well packaged and Komodo also offers international delivery through UPS so wherever you are, it’s not an issue.
Upon receipt of the unit, first impressions are exceptional - the look and quality of the build are superb. The base is sturdy but lightweight and the grip itself has that ‘real feel’ to it. Having flown the 135 – this immediately felt familiar and far, far better than the OE-XAM grip did. Buttons have a solid, positive action – giving an audible ‘click’ as you depress them which is satisfying. The center ‘reset’ button has a cover on it that is aluminum – one of the really nice little touches that exemplifies the quality of this product. HAT switches also feel really nice, with a positive but not difficult action when you activate them with your thumb. The dimensions are such that nothing is out of reach and your hand sits naturally.
The grip sits atop a gooseneck that is measured as per the actual aircraft, attached to the base through a sleeve and single-threaded bolt that allows easy removal if you wish to swap it out for another of the Komodo grips.
Previous iterations of the Komodo products had seen some issues with the connectors to the base as they were part of the structure. This has been rectified – the cable connectors on both the cyclic and collectives are now non-structural and therefore have no load associated, preventing failure.
The base is topped with a leather cover to prevent dust ingress, again showing the exceptional workmanship.
Inside the base is 4 spring-assisted dampers that provide just the right amount of feedback and weighting. The resolution of the sensors is impeccable, the finest inputs are detected – so hovering really is just pressure movements and your accuracy will be excellent once you’re dialed in.
Flying with it feels natural. The input response is smooth, and the feedback is very good. Force trim becomes a thing of the past as it holds position and so there’s no need to trim the aircraft once you’ve done the initial centralization prior to lifting. I’ve flown a number of 4-5hr sorties in the time I’ve had it and there’s no fatigue related to the use of the cyclic. Take the time to ensure your seating position is correct and the design of the cyclic is bang on to be usable and comfortable for long periods.
Buttons are useful and positive as I’ve said, and the PTT trigger is dual-stage – which works well once correctly set up with the likes of SRS.
Overall – it’s a superbly built piece of equipment. Having bought a 135 cyclic from another company at a lower price point, I feel that I can give an honest opinion on the fact that the Komodo product is absolutely worth the extra investment. That’s what it is too – an investment. I go back to where I started this review – helicopters aren’t cheap, we sit in something of a niche market and the controls need far more about them than a table-top fixed-wing joystick.
There are other companies out there that try to ‘force-fit’ fixed wing products into the helicopter market but in all honesty, if you fly helicopters, you want to be getting the proper controls, and Komodo offers products that will absolutely offer you the best experience and are made to last.
I fully intend to get a collective in the future, a good friend of mine already has Komodo’s OH-58 offering and is similarly impressed with the workmanship and standard of product.