Helicopter simulation has come a long way in the last few years, and with an increasing interest in flying helicopters; follows the interest in rotary specific control setups. There is a vast minefield of options out there, with some well-known and some not so well-known brands to choose from.
So, when it came time to find myself a new rig, due to my current Copycat setup showing the wear and tear associated of being used almost every day for 3 or so hours at a time, I had to delve into this sea of options.
As I fly for real, I wanted the new setup to replicate the ergonomics and seated position of the controls in an actual aircraft – the Copycat was there mostly, although the cyclic grip sat maybe 30mm too low, but I started a careful hunt for the replacement knowing there was no scope for getting this wrong.
A surprise find
Along the way I looked into various options from the main brands - that I won’t mention but I’m sure you know – weighing up costs, mounting option and measurements for how I would ‘fit into’ it.
On my quest, and purely by chance, I came across a website for the company OE-XAM Helicopter Simulations. I’d not heard or seen anything of them in the ‘mainstream’ discussions for people looking at controls, so they were a complete unknown.
Turns out they make a lot of commercial rigs and ‘big’ sim setup for flying schools all over the world – I’ll take that! Their EC135 cyclic caught my eye, I’m qualified on type in the H135 for real so it would bring that familiarity as well as giving plenty of buttons and hat switches for flying various aircraft in DCS. The floor mounted base was exactly what I wanted, and the gooseneck extension would provide that seated realism.
It was priced well against the competitors too, coming in at €850 including VAT and shipping. I fired an email off to them to confirm lead time – which was quickly responded to and confirmed at 3 weeks, and I committed to the buy. Paying up was a painless process through PayPal, giving that ‘warm, fuzzy feeling’ that I had the backup if things went wrong.
Three weeks went by and I got increasingly excited about getting the shipping notification. I have to put in here, that thanks to Brexit we’re going through some changes to import and VAT regs in the UK. I had paid VAT as per the description but, not wanting to pay it again through customs, I worked on explaining the situation to the OE-XAM rep. They were always quick to come back to me and after some research and explanation, I was refunded the VAT amount without issue.
Finally, it was shipped via UPS and arrived ahead of time – on the Friday rather than the planned Monday (giving me the weekend to play with it), outstanding!
As it arrived, first thing I noticed, even with the packaging, is how light it was! This certainly isn’t bad thing, I’ll come back to that later though. The packaging was solid and well done. Lots of polystyrene and plastic wrapping meant the equipment was well protected and wasn’t moving around during transit.
As I unwrapped, I was impressed with how it looked. A gloss black ABS base contains the hall sensors and resistance adjuster knobs. The top plate acts as a limit stop for the movement of the whole mechanism by physically acting on the base of the extension. That extension is hardened plastic and perfectly suitable for this application.
Onto the grip then – probably the most important part I suppose! It’s 3D printed, and the quality appears to be good. The various sections that make it up are kept together with small screws that are well hidden and the main joint down the front of the grip has a sealant applied to make it appear ‘one piece’ – it’s nicely done. The buttons all feel solid, the hat switches (one 4-way and one 8-way) give a good, solid engagement ‘click’ without snagging.
My only ‘suggestion for improvement’ – the grip currently sits parallel to the centre axis of the whole setup. In a real aircraft, cyclic grips are offset and face towards the right hand which allows better comfort on the grip. This isn’t a major issue, and over the last week of use, hasn’t proven to be uncomfortable or hinder use of any of the buttons, but it would certainly refine the product if it was sorted. I have fed this back to OE-XAM who have said they will consider the recommend and try to adapt the design, so I’m hoping that future items have this resolved.
The important bit – flying!
I couldn’t wait to get this mounted and give it a go. I quickly worked a mounting solution onto the Copycat base platform that my Saitek uses – a few strips of Velcro that I thought would be a temporary solution turn out to be utterly sufficient.
This brings me back to the weight of it. I move my rig between my home and work accommodation fairly regularly, so being able to ‘tear down’ is important to me. The build of the cyclic is solid enough that I can mount firmly and not have to worry about it, but then light enough that I can take it off the base mount and transport confidently. Brucie bonus!
Calibration was easy – plug and play meant I just threw in the USB connector, went through quick calibration and that was it! No other software required for setup and it instantly knows where it’s at. Mega simple! All their products are the same so whatever you’re looking to purchase, you’ll get this same ease of setup.
Once in game and through the DCS control binding setup, I got into my venerable Huey and fired everything up. Lifting to the hover felt like a new experience – coming from that centring spring to pure positional resistance felt pretty alien, but that was blown away by how smooth it all felt. The reaction around the centre is outstanding, and the movement across both the axis is smooth and responsive.
In the week between first use and writing this review, I’ve been flying every day, as is usual for me, and it has just continued to grow on me. I’ve had to re-adapt the muscle memory from the sprung Saitek but that is now pretty much there and as I get a feel for it – it’s continuing to impress me. The grip, despite my previously mentioned lack of lateral angle, is comfortable over long periods and utterly usable. The hat switches and buttons are responsive and easy to actuate, and the trigger (which I use for PTT) needs very little pressure to engage.
I endeavoured to write this report as there really is very little out there on OE-XAM as a brand, and nothing on this device in particular.
I feel that, for the price, it offers a really strong option for those rotor-heads who want the precision that helicopters require and a realistic feel to the controller.
OE-XAM have managed to produce a product that sits firmly in the ‘affordable quality’ band, and considering you’ll pay about the same for some of the non-rotary specific brands, it should definitely be a name that is well known out there for the right reasons.
On a side note, I also purchased their pedals and although I’ve yet to use them (I need to do a bit more fabrication to mount them appropriately) they also feel really solid, and I can’t wait to start ‘applying boot’.