How a flight sim cockpit helps me get away from it all (figuratively) | GeekComparison

Photo of an Obutto R3volution cockpit with accessories
enlarge The Obetto R3v in the corner of Lee’s office. The two small, dark plastic tray-like things on swivel arms are just that and are a great help for both scribbling notes and holding food and drinks.

Lee Hutchinson

One of the great things about working from home is that you have a lot of freedom to set up your home office the way you want, whether you’re perfecting your PC setup to make it more comfortable for long days of Zoom meetings or buying weird niche gaming accessories for fun after work hours. Now back at Orbital HQ, Ars Senior Technology Reporter Andrew Cunningham interviews Ars staffers about the gadgets they use to make “home” a “home office,” starting with Senior Technology Editor Lee Hutchinson and his intricate flight- sim setup .

What is the thing on your desk/part of your setup/etc you want to tell me about?

I think it’s the Obutto R3volution cockpit.

What is it for?

It’s the foundation around which my gaming PC setup is built. It gives me a place to sit and mount peripherals (such as joysticks, throttles, wheels, pedals, keyboard, mouse, monitors) in a way that is conducive to flying or driving. And it’s quite comfortable too.

Was it an impulse purchase, or one of those things you’ve been thinking about for a long time?

A bit of both, I guess – I’ve thought for years I’d have to buy one, but the actual buying process was pretty impulsive. I was in a mood and I bought it because my purchasing discipline is basically zero.

Tell me, someone who knows nothing about a flight sim, why this is cool and why I would want one.

There’s nothing wrong with playing flying/driving sims sitting at a desk. There are all kinds of great clamp-type things that allow you to mount joysticks and throttles on a regular desk, and they work really well.

But a cockpit setup can be a lot more comfortable if you plan on gaming for several hours. It gives you options about where to mount things and what to mount – you can configure a side stick setup if you’re flying an aircraft whose flight controls are set up that way (like an F-16 for example), or middle stick if you are flying a plane with central controls (like most other fighters). A cockpit also allows for easy changes, so you can change your physical control settings from airplane to helicopter to car to Elite: Dangerous spaceship by just moving a few pieces.

The cockpit takes up a lot of space, but it’s comfortable and puts you in a more “natural” reclining position to steer and drive, and it’s really nice to have the controls for your plane or car or whatever they are “supposed”.

So often when I make a big purchase or find a new song or play a new game it always gets mixed up with these associative memories so I can never think about that one thing without thinking about what was going on the first time I found it. So tell me, what happened in your life when you got it?

Associative memories abound – mostly from Elite: Dangerouswhat i usually play (DCS is a distant second, because I’m all for that space). Elite is a bit of a strange game with not much gameplay in it – it’s more of a flying-a-spaceship simulator than a traditional space battle sim or something like that. You spend a lot of time doing mundane things – docking, unloading, moving cargo from point A to point B, plotting profitable trade routes, collecting minerals, building your ship(s), that sort of thing. But because I play Elite in VR it feels less like a game and more like a real place where I can spend time. Having a place like that to flee to has been hell for the past two years.

Did it pull you deeper into hobbyist rabbit holes? Is there anything fun you learned while researching it or learning how it worked?

Yes, it really pulled me deeper down the hobbyist rabbit hole. I think I buy flight control peripherals like most other people buy shoes right now. Once you’ve broken the proverbial seal and assembled a gigantic cockpit in your office, buying a replica F-14 grip just for your DCS adventures won’t seem so crazy anymore.

Not sure if that kind of rampant consumerism is real healthybut it sure has been a good distraction while the world is on fire.

Have you seen other setups that make you jealous? What is the maximum version of a flight sim setup? I’ve seen the lineups of people who LOVE racing sims, for instance, and they’re… intense.

I’m a solid mid-range when it comes to my flight setup ambitions – I have a gaming cockpit and some flight peripherals. However, there are those who go further than that. For example, you can spend five figures (per item!) on high-fidelity SIM peripherals from these guys. And to call my Obutto cockpit a “cockpit” is really kind of silly when you can just buy full-fidelity airplane cockpit components, real-for-real surplus military cockpit trainers, or go all out “‘forgive me while I kiss the sky ‘” crazy and call Boeing and get an instant offer on the real thing. The only thing holding you back are your own fears. (And bank account.)

What memories have you made with this thing?

i play a lot Elitebut zoom in real planes in DCS is what has really helped me stay centered over the past year. During the most cruddly moments of lockdown, that cockpit is where I retreated. I’d take down the VR headset and load up a mission I created in the editor, where I started in the Tomcat at about 30,000 feet, with the plane smooth and running low on gas, and the infinite fuel cheat turned on. Push the throttle to the stops, wings back, watching the airspeed indicator as it spins madly clockwise. Mach 1 comes and goes, and I tilt the nose 60 degrees and shoot up, fleeing the world on the tip of an echoing glass-shattering shockwave.

Level up at Angels 65 as the sun cracks the horizon and the cockpit is touched with buttery orange light. The simulated world spreads out below as the turbofans continue to work, pushing the jet faster.

Mach 2 is a distant memory as the airspeed indicator hovers at a truly ridiculous number as the sun now floods the cockpit. I look over my shoulder at the graceful fuselage of the F-14 and the expanding dawn beyond it, and just at that moment, just for that moment – just for that moment there is no pandemic. There is no work stress. There’s no politics or worries or struggles or any of the other shit that takes up my day to day.

There is only me, racing the sunrise. And that’s good enough.

List image by Lee Hutchinson

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