And before you purists start getting your pitchforks and torches, the photos do not show a replica of the F-16 stick. The F-16EX is an F-16 replica but in an EXtended format (saw what I did there – and probably WINWING as well?).
The WINWING F-16EX is based on the F-16 grip but it has a small extension on the left side, which you can see in the image below. If you want the F-16EX to be exactly like the regular F-16 grip, you can simply remove it. It’s that simple.
Now that we have cleared that out (at least visually, I will get to the practical side of things later in this review), let’s move on, shall we?
But before, a disclaimer:
These units were provided to me, for free, by WINWING so I could write this review. As usual, I will do my review in an honest, transparent way. I will talk about the good AND the bad things. If you have any doubts about anything I say here, please add a comment below or contact me directly .
The first contact with the HOTAS
I know a lot of you love unboxing videos – I find some of them cool too – but I am not doing that, nor I am going to tell you all the little details of the package. I’ll just say that both the grip and the base arrived very well packaged and fully protected against any abuse.
I doubt it would survive a missile, grenade, or any other kind of explosive and possibly a chain or circular saw, but anything less than that shouldn’t be a problem.
Jokes aside, WINWING did a great job with the packaging. Unless something goes terribly wrong at the factory or something really special and drastic happens during transportation, you can be sure your units will arrive safely and without any handling damage.
There’s this feeling that you probably have had before that it’s kinda hard to describe.
Do you know when you pick a box and, from the weight, you have a feeling that what’s inside is sturdy? That’s what the 2 boxes (one for the grip and one for the base) felt like. I started to anticipate something really cool.
While opening the boxes, that feeling was confirmed. All the elements were nicely packaged and tightly secure. The foam around the units is very thick and everything fits nicely.
The small parts, such as springs, cams, Allen keys, etc. were all inside little bags, as per usual and the grip and base also came inside a plastic bag. It’s pretty standard nowadays so, nothing unusual here.
UPDATE: it was brought to my attention that the extra springs and cams are a separate purchase, which I just confirmed on the WINWING manual for the product. You will need to buy them separately.
Picking up both the grip and the base confirmed the feeling of a sturdy product. The grip is made out of plastic/ABS and metal and the base is all metal. They both have a very nice weight, and the metal parts are of a beautiful matte black.
Both the grip and the base look fantastic and they give you an immediate feeling of high quality. So satisfying.
The F-16EX grip is quite amazing and it offers a lot of options, especially with the extra module on the left side of the stick.
Get ready for the list because this is not a small one.
The main stick (the replica of the F-16 grip without the module – or attachment like WINWING calls it) will give you:
- 4x 4-way + press hat switches (equivalent to 5 buttons or commands per hat, so 20 commands)
- 1x 8 way + press hat switches (9 commands)
- 2x push buttons (2 commands)
- 1x 2-stage trigger (2 commands)
- 1x top “lever” that acts as an axis BUT also performs button inputs as we move it back (4 more commands). PLUS, it triggers another button input when pushed forward. That’s 5 commands total + 1 axis. One of the inputs is always on, though, so I would probably discard it. Let’s say 4 commands + 1 axis
- Bottom lever with another axis, 1 continuous button on, and 1 button at the end of the travel of the axis. So, in reality, 1 command + 1 axis
Without the attachment, we’re talking about 38 buttons/commands and 2 axes.
The attachment adds
- 1x 4-way hat + press (5 commands)
- 1x 4-way hat that can act as 2 axes and 1 push button (1 command) OR 4 buttons + 1 push button
That makes it a full total of 44 commands and 4 axis OR 48 commands and 2 axes.
The base is pretty simple. Well, not exactly simple but there aren’t any buttons, obviously, only the 2 axes for pitch and roll.
But that doesn’t mean the base is just a placeholder for a couple of axes and sticking a grip on it. Quite far from it.
The base offers quite a few…
…options, options, options, options
Options! Oh wait, I already said that.
The Hotas Orion 2 base is highly customizable, and you won’t need a ton of time to do it. Unscrew the top 4 big screws and you will have access to its interior.
Doing that will make you realize the bottom part is just a container and the top part, the part that comes out, has all the goodies in it, all the electronics and physical parts, in lovely, machined metal.
And this is where we can also start customizing the hardware.
WINWING gives us a lot of options to do this (I bet you didn’t know I was going to talk about options, did you?).
The movement of the stick (both pitch and roll) can be controlled in several ways. When you purchase the joystick, you will get 4 sets of cams, with different behaviors to control the center, lack thereof, or a couple of other options in the middle, 3 sets of springs, with different strengths, and a couple of “Adjustable Damping Modules” which is rather interesting, especially for the helicopter pilots.
“Interesting” doesn’t mean “perfect”, though. More on that later.
The base has 4 locations where you can add cams and springs (you can’t just use cams or just springs, you’ll always have to pair them) or the Adjustable Damping Modules (I’ll just call them ADMs for simplicity). Below you can see the image WINWING has on their website, showing the different cam/spring combinations.
This means that you can not only have different cam/spring combinations, but you can ADD to that combination on the other side of the stick. While I can’t imagine why someone would add another set of cams and springs (you’d then have 2 different cams and 2 different springs which would make it a bit wacky and hard to move the stick), you could have a cam/spring on one side and an ADM on the other side.
While this could still be overkill, some may find it handy and hey: it’s an… Option.
All these cams, springs, ADM, or simply, nothing at all, make it easy to customize the stick to your needs.
About the Adjustable Damping Modules (ADM), WINWING actually points them as a feature specifically designed for helicopter pilots. And, of course, I had to try it.
No, I am not trying to make some suspense here. I will let you know all about it later on.
Putting it all together
Getting the full kit up to speed is pretty simple. Yes, you will have a bit more work setting things the way you want with all the cams and springs and ADM and… Options! But that’s not really that hard. It just takes time.
As for assembling the grip on the base, you just need to connect the cable and screw the grip. Make sure you rotate the ring, though, and not the grip, otherwise you will end up with a pretty paperweight as you will likely break the wiring.
That’s it. Well, hardware-wise, that is. Let’s grab some software.
Making it work
You’ll then need to download WINWING’s SIMAPP Pro and install and run it. When you plug the joystick into your computer, the program will recognize it and you can do all the cool stuff the application allows you. But you better start with updating the firmware, if necessary, and calibrate the stick.
Just make sure you read the alerts when you calibrate it as there is some very important information there and you don’t want to risk bricking other hardware you may have connected to your PC. Not that I know of anyone that has had any issues but better safe than sorry, right?
Do everything slowly and with caution and you should be fine.
Stick assembled, software installed, updates and calibration out of the way.
It’s time to give it a try.
Performance and some minor issues
I started X-Plane, started a flight in good old Cascais (LPCS) which is the usual airfield I fly from, loaded the trustworthy DreamFoil Creations Bell 407 and it was time to go.
Out of curiosity, I used my Pro Flight Trainer in tandem with the WINWING stick. I needed a collective and pedals and I was honestly too lazy to assemble my WINWING collective and fetch some VIRPIL pedals from my storage, so the Puma worked just fine.
The joystick behaved nicely. The axes are responsive, and I didn’t have any issues with weird null zones or anything like that. The electronics did their work just fine on both pitch and roll.
Adjustable Damping Modules or “the feature for helicopter pilots”
I wouldn’t even make this a big deal if it wasn’t being used to target helicopter pilots. After all, no other joysticks that I know of have any sort of feature that resembles the ADM. If it wasn’t being put in the spotlight, I would probably just mention it casually and move on.
But I do have to point it out. “Put the finger on the wound” as we say here in Portugal (that’s the literal translation).
The Adjustable Damping Modules are a great idea. I love the fact that we can have a joystick with a friction system that allows us to remove any centering spring and use it as a cyclic. That is something I have talked about with several manufacturers, as there’s a lack of other options (again that word, yes) in the market that gives us good performance without a centering spring or a joystick that falls to the side.
I was, of course, very curious and super-excited to try it out.
So much that I tried the stick with cams and springs for only 2 or 3 minutes and jumped into the ADMs. Curiously enough, my base already had the ADMs installed, which I don’t think it’s normal. Perhaps WINWING wanted to get me to get into it and they were kind enough to send me a pre-fitted unit.
Being the jerk that I am, I undid that and installed cams and springs first. I am an ungrateful bastard.
But, considering that I was going to spend more time with the ADMs on, I figured I rather get the springs out of the way and then focus on the helicopter-built feature.
And so I did.
By the way, an advice: if you are assembling or switching cams and springs, install the spring onto the cams first. It's a lot easier than installing the cams AND adding the spring. You can thank me later.
Installing the modules is pretty straightforward forward but you need to be very careful about something.
The screws that go in the middle of the axis screw into a loose nut. It’s very easy for that nut to fall and it will be a bit of a nightmare to get it back on. That is the only design flaw I found on the stick as everything else is very solid.
I wish WINWING could make it so that the nut was fixed to the unit since the nut is very small and it can get lost easily if it falls on the floor. That’s probably something they can improve in a future iteration.
As for the ADMs, they are easy to install, as I said, and also very easy to adjust. With a single screw, you can add or remove friction.
Using the stick with them, though, was not easy. Again, brilliant idea. I love it, but the execution is not perfect.
There was a point at which friction was too much and using the stick was hard. I had to put a lot of effort into it and that didn’t make my flying smooth at all. Sometimes it was even harder than having a spring.
I think the only time I had such a hard time was with a Thrustmaster Warthog as the spring on that stick is HELL to me.
Loosening it up is the solution, of course, and the stick becomes a lot tamer but that also means that if you let the grip go, it will fall to the side.
Remember, I had no spring, just the ADMs. I loosened the ADMs and pulled the stick to the side. I was expecting to stay there. It moved towards the center. Not totally. It was just a bit. But… Why??? I am guessing the weight of the system is enough to counter the weight of the grip.
WINWING made a very good stick with amazing features. 44-48 commands and 2-4 axes are no small feat. The build quality of the stick is absolutely fantastic, with the loose nuts being the only issue I found on that matter.
Performance-wise, it behaves very well but I do have issues with the ADM system which, while a great idea, is honestly not a great solution. It’s a great step in the right direction but just isn’t there.
Now, I am not saying this stick is invalid for helicopter users. It is not. Please remember that, when compared with any other joystick on the market, this one still allows you to easily remove the spring and use the stick. With the ADM you can even add a tad of friction and make it smoother with a bit of resistance, which is a plus. Having a bit of resistance when flying helicopters helps a lot.
Again, the only reason I am making it a big deal is because the ADM seems to be directed to virtual helicopter pilots. No other joystick offers a feature like this one, so this is something very cool.
WINWING did a great job and I hope they do more iterations and work with both real and virtual pilots to improve the stick, especially when it comes to the helicopter side of things.
I am amazed that WINWING is taking our community seriously and that they have taken this step towards catering to our needs. Thank you very much for that, WINWING.
If I was in the market for a new stick, I would put this model on my short list for sure.