Cougar Flight Stick


Since the cockpit is based on a Thrustmaster shell, it's original construction had a space for the Thrustmaster Block 50 F-16 Flight Stick (FLCS), which - in it's day - was the most advanced joystick on the market. I had it installed for many years, modified for use with the EPIC I/O system. It worked flawlessly and I was quite happy with it - except for one detail: it was made from plastic, and even though it looked authentic, it felt like a toy.

In the winter of 2006 I finally decided to purchase the successor of the FLCS, the HOTAS Cougar (also by Thrustmaster). Physically it is almost identical to the FLCS. But the Cougar is made from metal (ZAMAK, a Zinc/Aluminum/Magnesium/Copper alloy) , and metal makes a big difference. First of all, the stick is heavy; the weight of the handle is evident during use. It feels cold to the touch and warms during use - all these may sounds like small details, but they add realism. The Cougar connects to the PC via USB and comes with fancy software for programming the switches. It is not as sophisticated as EPIC, but it gets the job done.

The stock Cougar is a fine piece of equipment, but I decided to make it even nicer by adding two modifications, created by ingenious flight sim enthusiasts. The first is a new gimbals system, the second a replacement of the stock pots with a set of new positioning sensors for X and Y axis. The following photos show details of these modifications:

 

The base of the Cougar, with the PCB and stock gimbals exposed. The use of very stiff springs leads a large dead zone at the center position. As a result, small control inputs are difficult and the overall feeling of the stick is a bit "mushy".
A close-up of the stock gimbals, made from the same alloy as base and handle. For a high end joystick, they look rather crude. But anyway, in case of my Cougar, their life span was limited.

First modification: 3rd generation "Über-2-Next" gimbals made down under by IJ. They are cut from high grade aluminum to very small tolerances on a CNC mill. For easy movement and precision they employ ball bearings on all axels. Due to the 2-spring design there is no center play. When the stick is moved off center, it produces an immediate, smooth and gradually increasing resistance, similar to the feeling on the controls in a real plane.

It is hard to describe the difference, but the Ü2N gives the impression of actually having control over the plane - as opposed to regular joysticks that just move it around. A very nice product, worth every cent of it's price!

The second modification to the Cougar was the replacement of the stock pots with two Hall sensors from Cubby, who is located in the US. They are mandatory when using the Ü2N, since the stock pots do not fit the new gimbals system.

Hall sensors are much more precise than pots. They employ contactless technology (the hall effect) which uses magnetism to output a very clean variable linear voltage. A pot has metal wipers that contact the variable resistance. That makes them prone to mechanical problems and their output signal is "noisy". As an added benefit Hall sensors have a much longer service life that pots.

Together, the two modifications turn the Cougar stick into an input control device of almost surgical precision!

My Cougar stick, reassembled. The metal base is painted in the typical gray of my cockpit - so once installed, the stick becomes part of it and does not look like an item added on second thought.

Note the connectors for rudder and the TQS throttle. My rudders are not connected here. Instead, they still plug into the EPIC expansion board.

The Cougar at it's work place! Some modification to the surrounding structure makes the joystick's base blend in almost completely.

Self adhesive Velcro on the Cougar's base was used to fix it in place without the need to drill holes (also good for quick removal, should that ever be required).


Cougar related links:

http://cougar.frugalsworld.com. A large site dedicated to the Cougar with information on anything anyone could possibly want to know about this josystick

Cougar Forum. A very active forum with tons of information on Cougar mods and programing

email IJ for information on his Ü2N gimbals modification

Cubpilot Website with information on the Hall sensors modification kits