Gaming is more than capable of putting on a serious face when it needs to, and there are few things quite as serious as the world of simulations. These aren’t so much games as they are experiences, aiming to replicate real world activities as closely as possible. Racing games are the most obvious and ubiquitous contenders, but simulations of trains, planes, and erm… goats, are all out there if you feel so inclined.
Flight sims, led by Microsoft’s iconic offering for many years, give regular human beings a taste of the life of a pilot, albeit with the option of wearing a T-shirt and jeans instead of a smart uniform – unless of course you’re a particularly strict sort of simulator type, or perhaps your other half prefers you that way. Regardless of your attire, if you’re going to truly get into the simulated swing of things, you’ll be looking for a swathe of peripherals, and Thrustmaster, a company whose name should immediately conjure images of successful aviation antics are aiming to be at the centre of your home setup.
The TCA Sidestick Airbus Edition is the latest in their long line of flight sticks, carrying all the hallmarks of Thrustmaster’s thirty years of expertise. TCA stands for Thrustmaster Civil Aviation, and once you add in an official license from Airbus into the equation, you should have a fairly good idea about just who this is aimed at, and what you’re expected to do with it. That said, there’s no reason you can’t do something a little more frivolous with it if the need takes you, based as it is on their classic T16000M design.
With an RRP of £64.99, the TCA Sidestick is a great entry point to building your own flight sim setup. Fashioned after the actual sidestick of a real-life Airbus A320 airliner, it certainly looks and feels the part, with the central ergonomic stick fashioned from solid black plastic, while the reassuringly weighty base is a combination of blue metal and plastic. It’s not an absolute match for the A320’s stick, more like an ‘inspired by’ counterpart, but it definitely has the flavour of the real-life control, and while it’s obviously quite heavily built from plastic, that’s reflected in the price.
There’s no clamp, but the rubberised feet provide more than enough grip to keep the stick in place, even if you opt for taking to the skies as a frantic fighter pilot rather than an airbus jockey. It’s also been built with an eye for comfort, fitting perfectly into my hand with all of the stick controls easily within reach. I was able to use it for hours without any noticeable fatigue.
It’s deeply customisable, with modular buttons on the stick head that you can switch between, similar to the Thrustmaster eSwap Pro Controller. Each side gives the option of a rounded black button module or the clickable red ‘autopilot’ button, allowing you to pick between authenticity, comfort and personal preference. It’s simply a case of unscrewing the two sides out, and slotting in their opposite numbers, so if you’re the co-pilot for the day, it’s an easy switch to make.
The stick itself plays host to a digital trigger input, as well as another button just above it, and a mappable hat switch as well, which is perfect for either looking about your cockpit, or aiming when playing something more gung-ho. Similar to many of Thrustmaster’s other sticks, the TCA Sidestick has a rotatable Z-axis built in, allowing for rudder control without the need for a separate set of pedals. If you are going to use it as part of a more expansive set-up there’s a switch installed in the hand rest that lets you lock this in place to provide added realism when you need it.
Just as with the T16000M, the TCA Sidestick features Thrustmaster’s proprietary H.E.A.R.T (Hall Effect AccuRate Technology) system, which, in semi-normal words means that the stick benefits from magnetic sensors to ensure it’s precision. In use it certainly provides an excellent level of control, whether taking to the skies with the classic Microsoft Flight Simulators or reaching for the stars in Elite: Dangerous.
The base boasts six programmable buttons on either side, and a slider for thrust at the back, giving a total of twenty-one inputs, which should be more than enough for any burgeoning sim pilot. There’s a mild amount of looseness to the base buttons, but in use they provide plenty of tactile feedback and a satisfying click to go with it, while everything about the control stick itself feels tight and precise thanks to those 3D Hall Effect sensors.
The TCA Sidestick is a great pick whether you’re left or right-handed, as besides the modular stick controls, the stick itself is symmetrical, allowing for comfortable play in either hand. A switch on the underside of the base allows you to select left or right-handed control, altering the standard configuration of the base buttons, though you can further customise them to your liking depending on the software you’re using anyway.
The only real disappointment is the in-built throttle control at the rear of the stick, which, simply due to its size and positioning, isn’t ideal. It does include a reverse function, which is handy, but the notch that marks zero on the slider isn’t obvious enough. On the one hand it’s fantastic to see the option here, as you really can get away just buying this stick and no further accessories, but it had me hankering for a separate throttle control. If you’re striving for accuracy, you will too.
Fortunately there’s going to be a corresponding thrust control in the shape of the Quadrant Airbus Edition in the range of accompanying accessories, which is a perfect match for the Sidestick, and will boast enough buttons to truly take your experience to the next level. The one downside is that it’s going to retail for £89.99 when it releases in September. To be honest though, if you’re aiming for accuracy when you’re flying your commercial liners, or for that extra bit of immersion in Elite, you’ll absolutely need this to complete your setup.