Not everyone is looking for a full helicopter kit. Most simmers don’t have enough room for them, don’t just fly helicopters – thus requiring other options as well – or a mix of both. Having a yoke, joystick, pedals, throttles and dedicated helicopter controls is madness for most of us.
And that’s not just because of the required space to have all this stuff. Our bank accounts may also feel… Uncomfortable!
The solution may be getting some mixed solutions. Perhaps a joystick, pedals throttle and a collective, for example. Both the joystick and pedals can be used (perhaps with some limitations since these usually have strong springs – but it’s often manageable) and even a fixed wing/fighter throttle can work.
I have used a Saitek X-45 system for years and that worked! Even without pedals! We all start somewhere, right? And let me tell you this: the X-45 was already an upgrade as I, when I started learning how to fly helicopters, the joystick I had was a Microsoft Sidewinder. Just the stick, with a “thumb throttle”. No pedals. And it served me well.
But I digress.
Going back to what could be a mixed joystick, there’s an obvious piece that is missing for a more immersive experience: the collective.
Like I mentioned above, we already have other solutions in the market and Winwing decided to get in the race and bring their own solution to the table. Or, better yet, a couple of solutions, based on the same throttle and grip units.
Both systems are very similar as they are based on the same combo comprised of the Gemini Throttle/Collective Base and the Black Shark Collective Grip . And these 2 parts together make the Black Shark Collective System for Desktop combo.
Above: Throttle/Collective Base parts
Above: Black Shark Grip parts
Above: Collective Extension Parts
Above: Mount parts
Winwing was kind enough to send me the Black Shark Collective System for Cockpit/Chair which means I could test both units. So, I not only tested it as the chair-mounted system, but I also stripped it down and used it on my desk.
More on that later. Let’s get started.
The first contact
This was my first experience with the Winwing hardware. I was quite excited and curious about it, especially after reading some feedback from other simmers out there.
With the obvious exceptions (cables, button caps, hats etc.) everything in the kit is made of metal with some beautifully machined parts.
Everything felt very solid. At first, I didn’t like the feeling of a rotating control (#2 on the Winwing manual ) but after getting used to it that initial “low quality feeling” that I had disappeared.
Out of curiosity, that rotating control (I really don’t know what to call it) is not an axis control but it sends button inputs repeatedly as we scroll it up or down (you can feel the steps) and you can also push it down, so it actually controls 3 buttons. It can be used, for example to zoom in, zoom out and reset zoom. Or anything else we feel like using it, of course.
All in all, I was impressed with the build quality. It feels very solid. I didn’t find any of the buttons or controls to have any irregular side movement or feeling cheap. I was quite pleased as I held the unit on my hands. The weight, the details, everything feels good.
Assembly and installation
Oh yes, we do have some assembly to do. Don’t worry, it’s not that much. I confess I panicked a bit as I saw a lot of screws and little parts and pieces but putting it all together was pretty easy and quick. Oh, and a nice side note: all the necessary wrenches are included as well, so (at least in theory) you don’t really need any other tools. You can always use your own, of course. Especially if you have some power tools that will allow you to assemble stuff quicker.
Do make sure to download the manuals for all parts. They can be found on the downloads section of Winwing and they are a huge help, obviously.
Once that’s done, it was time to download and install the SimAppPro software (again, found at the downloads section ).
A quick installation process later, I opened the software, plugged the throttle in, waited a few seconds and that was it. Everything was quickly recognized, which was a hassle-free experience. Exactly how we like it.
Putting it to the paces
Before trying it out with a sim, I obviously tried the movement of the collective and the throttle. There’s no way to tune the movement of the throttle (no friction control) but I didn’t feel like I needed it. The travel of the collective is smooth, not too light, not too heavy. Even in desktop mode I had no issues.
I found the collective to be too light as it dropped if I let it go. There are a couple of screws, on both sides of the throttle, to control the friction and that’s what I did. A bit of friction solved it.
There was something that I noticed, though: we need a bit more of force to raise the collective than we need to lower it. While not exactly a huge deal it made setting the friction with the extension a bit harder as I needed to add more friction so raising the collective became a bit harder and the whole operation needed some adjustment as I needed different levels of strength to operate the collective.
Everything else works as expected. All buttons and axes worked flawlessly. It was all a matter of setting up buttons and axes on the sims and everything worked without any issues.
I tried the collective on Microsoft Flight Simulator, DCS, X-Plane, FSX and FlyInside Flight Simulator without any problems. I expect the experience to be the same on any other sim that supports standard buttons and axes (which most of them do).
Some weird buttons
I really need to mention this.
While check out the collective grip, I found some circles on the side and bottom. They looked like buttons and I pushed them, confirming my suspicions. Well, I double-checked them on the manual as well. They ARE buttons. But they are positioned in some weird positions, and they are not only a bit hard to access, it’s also hard to find them quickly and distinguish them. It’s almost like Winwing thought “hey, our board allows for 6 more buttons and although we have no room for them, it kind of feels like a waste not to add them somehow”.
So, they did.
It’s not like it’s a bad thing (unless they raise the price quite a bit – which I don’t think they do, really) so it doesn’t hurt having them there. But it’s somewhat weird to see those buttons there. Still, again, it’s not a negative point at all. It’s always great to have options and shows Winwing is not happy about wasting features that someone may eventually use.
I would give Winwing a suggestion, though: perhaps making those buttons a bit more prominent and recognizable through touch could make them a bit more usable. And what about moving the bottom ones to the side (the right side, for example, to be used with the thumb). Perhaps there’s no room inside but I believe there may be better options to improve the usability of these buttons. Either way, kudos to Winwing for attempting to give us some more options since they had the ability to use them.
The desktop version
I wanted to write a bit about both the desktop and the chair mounted versions as they have some obvious differences.
There are a couple of things that I think popup in our minds when we think about a throttle/stick/collective that we just put on top of a desk and use.
One of them is, of course, stability. Unless you screw the base to the desk, you’ll always have some instability. That’s something you always need to expect. But, very often, if you decide on a desktop unit, you just need to live with it because you have limitations that prevent you from having a different solution.
The Gemini base is heavy and smooth enough to not give you too much of a hard time as you pull the collective. You will obviously pull it off the table if you simply grab the grip and pull it vertically. You’ll have to learn how to use it so that you make enough pressure on the back of the grip to keep the base on the table as you pull the collective in a sort of a circular movement.
You may need a bit to get the hang of it but it’s 100% possible, making it a good solution for a desk mounted solution.
And this is a huge but.
While it may be possible to place it on your desk in front of you and use it, well, honestly, it’s not really comfortable and you’ll have a very hard time doing so.
The ideal would be to place it on your side. If you have a small piece of furniture, that could work. Perhaps even your computer case, for example (just make sure to place something under the base so you don’t scratch anything). That would be my advice, really: try placing it to the side.
The chair mounted version
The chair mounted version, though, is obviously the easier one to use as it’s already there, attached to the chair and you don’t need to have any particular care while pulling the collective. You will need to add a bit more of friction, though, if you are using the collective extension as it adds weight, of course.
Nothing else to add here except that Winwing has added a movement limiter just to make sure you don’t pull it too hard and too much and eventually damage the throttle. I think they only did it because with the extension you know have a bigger lever and, like Archimedes said, “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.”. Meaning that, with the extension, you can eventually generate a much greater force on the throttle.
Winwing is trying to prevent that by giving you a way to limit the movement. It’s really a safe feature.
Other than that, there’s the obvious chair mount which I found very easy to assemble on my chair. The mount allows to place the several screws (3) in a lot of different positions thanks to the design of the screw “slots”.
That made it effortless to get the base on the chair.
The whole mounting system allows you to place the second plate, where you then attach your base to, pretty much where you want it, within the boundaries of the base plate, of course. You can push it away from the chair, closer, pull it all the way to the back or push it forward.
And you can do the same to the base as well, making the whole kit very versatile.
Assembling the throttle/base was also pretty easy, although you will need to align a few small pieces where the screws are going to be well… Screwed. That only took me a few minutes and it was pretty easy as well.
It didn’t take me more than… 20 minutes, perhaps (I really didn’t time it) to get the base attached to the chair. I just took my time, never got myself stuck in the process and everything was solid.
As a side note I would add that I really didn't need the collective extension. I could place the base in a position where I didn't have to use it. In fact, I actually had a hard time using it to do my tests as I had to push myself to the end of the chair.
Your results may vary.
First of all, I am extremely happy to see yet another company coming into the market, and I am very thankful that Winwing sent me this unit to test. With it, I could actually test the 2 combos they have on their website. You can always buy the parts separately but, unless you already have an extra throttle/base, for example, that may not be an advantage to you.
All the parts in the kit are well built and perform well, making this a great solution for those looking for a collective. Granted, it’s not a cheap solution but, again, good quality is not cheap and being a niche market, prices tend to go up.
As you could read in text above, my only really complaint has to do with the fact that the throttle requires a different amount of force to pull and push the collective, which is noticeable and it did throw me off a bit now and then, especially on maneuvers or stages of flight where I needed a bit more of precision and more movement on the collective on both ways (up and down).
I would also like to see a better solution for the extra 6 buttons (4 on the side and 2 on the bottom). I love that Winwing didn’t want to waste them but, at the same time, I would also love to have a better solution so that we could use them easier. There seems to be room on other places of the collective had to provide a good solution and I will make sure Winwing gets that feedback from me. Hopefully, we may have a second version with those buttons put to better use.
Again, I am not holding this against Winwing. They could have decided not to add these buttons and I wouldn’t even know about it. So, this is not a negative factor for me.
If you are on the lookout for a solution to spice up your cockpit and a collective is one of your next purchases, this is definitely one of the products I would recommend.
Good job, Winwing!