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Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog Review(Articles)


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#1 The Dude

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Posted 07 March 2011 - 04:23 PM

Thrustmaster's HOTAS Warthog Review
by Douglas "The Dude" Helmer

Sections in this review:
  • Minimum System Requirements
  • Installation on Windows 7
  • Updating Your Firmware
  • Programming the HOTAS Warthog
  • Programming - Not All Wine and Roses
  • Unboxing the HOTAS
  • A Closer Look at the Joystick and Throttles
  • Overall Quality
  • Joystick Exterior and Interior
  • Flying with the HOTAS Warthog Joystick
  • TM HOTAS Warthog Split Throttle
  • Throttle Internals
  • Throttle Handles
  • Throttle Movement and Detents
  • Flying with the TM HOTAS Warthog Throttles
  • Finishing Up


Minimum System Requirements:
  • PC
  • Desktop/laptop PC with Intel Pentium III/Athlon 1GHz processor or higher
  • 512MB RAM
  • Operating system: Microsoft Windows® XP / Windows® Vista® (32 & 64-bit) / Windows® 7 (32 & 64-bit)
  • 16-bit, 1280 x 960 video resolution
  • 100MB free hard disk space


Definition Time: For the uninitiated, HOTAS is an acronym that stands for Hands On Throttle And Stick. It means you can fly your aircraft and never take your hands off the controls to change weapon systems, key your microphone, raise and lower flaps, and a plethora of other aircraft functions because there's so many programmable buttons and switches on the things.


HOTAS Installation on Windows 7:
Installation can be as straightforward as plugging the throttle and stick into your USB ports (you might want to use a USB hub to protect your mobo from any undue static discharges) then use your favourite sim's in-game controller setup to map axis and buttons directly. This approach, although quick and easy, does not afford you any of the more advanced button programming sequences and laying available on these controllers. But, if you just want to get flying and fighting immediately, then use this simple plugin-and-go route.

If you want to take full advantage of the HOTAS Warthog's programmable features, then you can start with installing the T.A.R.G.E.T GUI software. The TARGET software is a graphical user interface application where you can not only program your controller axes and buttons, but also load game-specific controller profiles, launch games, and find links to manuals and online support all from this single interface. It's extremely convenient.

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HOTAS Warthog TARGET GUI Fly Now Launcher by COMBATSIM.COM, on Flickr
Clicking on the name of one of your "Fly Now" links will load the profile for that game into your controllers and launch the game.




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HOTAS Warthog TARGET GUI support links by COMBATSIM.COM, on Flickr


If you don't have the TARGET software disk, you can always download it for free from TM's support website.

Updating Your Firmware
The first thing you want to do after you get the TARGET GUI installed is to check your controller's firmware version. Now, normally, when I hear the phrase "update firmware" I get all anxious and reluctant to pursue such requirements. I'm not sure why I get that way, I've really never had too many problems with such things, but still, I'm not a fan of firmware updating and will avoid it when possible. Thankfully, TM has taken the pain out of updating your firmware.

Simply start the TARGET GUI and right there, in the main content window on the right-side of the interface, are two 3D representations: one of your throttle, the other of your joystick. Click the link below each that says "Get Firmware". A message pops up in place of the link with your controller's firmware version and serial number of the controller.

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HOTAS Warthog TARGET GUI interface by COMBATSIM.COM, on Flickr


In a perfect world, you could just click that link again and the firmware would get updated, but there is an extra step we need to take. If you haven't already done so, install the TM HOTAS Warthog driver file, which at this time is 2011_TMHW_1.exe. Once installed, you'll have a new HOTAS Warthog program group in your start menu with links to "Firmware Update" and "Update Service".

Use the Firmware Update to update both your joystick and throttle's firmware. It's dead simple, here's some pics that show the process.

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HOTAS Warthog Firmware Update application by COMBATSIM.COM, on Flickr


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HOTAS Warthog Firmware Update application by COMBATSIM.COM, on Flickr


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HOTAS Warthog Firmware Update application by COMBATSIM.COM, on Flickr


And you are done. Repeat the process for the throttle. After the Firmware Updater has gone through its paces, restart the TARGET GUI interface and click on the Get Firmware link below each controller. You should see your controller's new FW number listed along with the serial number. I wish all hardware was so easy to update :)

Programming the HOTAS Warthog:
First and foremost: RTFM! The programmability of these controllers can be as easy or as complex as you want to make it, so in order to reduce your frustration, you need to read the TARGET User Manual. If you master all the areas covered in that document, you can move onto the TARGET Fast Script Basics document. Links to both of these PDF documents can be found in your TARGET GUI as well.

You have several options for programming your HOTAS Warthog. I'll give a brief overview of each.

  • Plug and go:
    As mentioned above, you can simply plug-in your controllers and use your favorite simulation's in-game controller mapping utility. Again, the downside is you won't get any of the advanced programming features such as layering.
  • Load a pre-compiled profile:
    The TARGET GUI comes loaded with a few pre-compiled profiles. If the game you seek is not listed, you will either have to find someone else's profile to download or move onto the next option. (Note: as of this time, I have only found one repository of profile files on the DCS website. Please post links in the comments below if you know of such a resource!).
  • Create your own custom profile
    If you are the uber simmer, this will be your preferred route to getting the most out of your new Warthog controllers. I won't even begin to try to outline how that is done because it's a field of study all on its own. Suffice it to say, you will need to read the manuals and all the dedicated online tutorials if this is a new area for you. Also, TM gives you some extra tools that will aid your efforts to make your own custom profile configurations, including a device analyser and a virtual keyboard utility.

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    HOTAS Warthog Virtual Keyboard utility by COMBATSIM.COM, on Flickr


    Posted Image
    HOTAS Warthog device analyser by COMBATSIM.COM, on Flickr


    At present, we haven't any in-depth programming tutorials here on COMBATSIM.COM, but please check the comments below for links to same.


Programming - Not All Wine and Roses:
I have to admit that I am not an expert programmer of TM controllers. I never owned the HOTAS Cougar and I only did the most basic of programming using Dr. James Hallow's Foxy software for the earlier TM F22 Pro and TQS Throttle. Therefore, in preparation of this article I did a scan of veteran TM user postings and I found some frustration amongst a handful of users with respect to the programmability of the Warthog gear. These users may be frustrated simply by having to make the change from Foxy to the TARGET software, but then again, perhaps there are real shortcomings to the new software.

Whatever the case, good or bad, the Warthog TARGET software and drivers are definitely going through some growing and teething pains at this time. For example, the printed text on the box for the Warthog and the printed Hardware User Manual inside the box both proudly proclaim that the throttle has programmable backlit LEDs. I searched for some time to find where in the TARGET GUI these LEDs were programmed and found nothing. Finally, after some days, I discovered a note at the bottom of one of TMs support website pages with this message:

The CONTROL PANEL BACKLIGHTING ADJUSTMENT and 5 PROGRAMMABLE LEDS MANAGEMENT features (mentioned in the Hardware User Manual) are not available in the “T.A.R.G.E.T SOFTWARE_RELEASE CANDIDATE RC3” version. They will be available in a future update.

So, fellow simmers, be aware that you will encounter hiccups and hurdles with this gear as they work out the bugs and wrinkles.

Unboxing the HOTAS
Half the fun of top-end gear like this is the unpacking. In recent years, computer hardware review sites have popularized what can only be akin to a type of geek striptease show where the hardware in question is slowly and deliciously extracted from its packaging. It's silly, really, but who are we to buck a trend? So here, without further ado, is a gallery of the TM HOTAS Warthog stepping out of her packaging:


Hover your mouse over the bottom edge of the gallery to see all the pics. Click on a picture to see description text.


A Closer Look at the Joystick and Throttles:
Without a doubt, this is by far the sexiest looking throttle and stick I've ever laid eyes on. The replica USAF A-10C stick is a study in minimalist industrial design, whereas the replica USAF A-10C split throttle is a visual and tactile feast!

Overall Quality:
The overall quality of the fit-and-finish of the Warthog's joystick and throttle are superb. From the aluminum casting of the removable joystick handle to the high-impact plastic of the throttle handles, everything looks and feels top notch. The buttons, hats, switches, sliders, and pushbuttons feel like they are military spec. I'm not sure if they are military grade buttons and switches, but if heavy springs and satisfying "kerchunk" sound of the toggles are any indication, then they wouldn't be out of place in a real combat aircraft.

Joystick Exterior and Interior:
The beauty ring on the base of the joystick, with its 8 Phillips head screws isn't just a snap-on bit of faux chrome, it is functional and covers up the more industrial centering ring components below it. The large steel base plate works well not only on the desktop, but is ideal for installation in the homebrewed cockpit. In fact, TM has gone to great lengths to ensure that the TM Warthog is the first choice of homebrew cockpit builders by including instructions and drawings for mounting the Warthog in a custom cockpit environment.

The entire joystick assembly is painted with a high quality black powdercoat finish with the exception of the matte finish aluminum beauty ring mentioned above.

Here's a gallery of closeup images that detail both the external and internals of the TM HOTAS Warthog joystick:


Hover your mouse over the bottom edge of the gallery to see all the pics. Click on a picture to see description text.


Flying with the HOTAS Warthog Joystick:
The joystick uses Hall Effect sensors rather than analog pots to send joystick position information to the game. With 65,536 points of discrete resolution on both the x and y axis, this is going to be about the smoothest joystick you've ever used. The sensors are contained within a ball and socket arrangement, as shown here:

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HOTAS Warthog joystick disassembly step 10 of 10 by COMBATSIM.COM, on Flickr


In my preparation for this article, I came across a post on a forum from an individual who was an avid formation flyer, and who was critical of the plastic ball and socket arrangement of the joystick. His contention that the plastic-on-plastic nature of the union, despite the addition of friction-reducing grease, made it difficult for him to effect fine input controls necessary in close formation flying.

In my testing, I did not experience any loss of controllability, if anything, it was slightly smoother, no doubt a function of those over 65K discrete resolution points with the Hall Effect sensors. Oddly enough, where I noticed the greatest improvement in joystick input performance, however, was not in flying, but in driving sims. What? Did he say driving sims?!

Yes, that's right, driving sims. For whatever reason, I've always preferred a joystick over a wheel in driving sims. There's absolutely no doubt that wheels have finer control, but I just prefer a joystick. When I ran laps in Grand Prix Legends at Silverstone and Monza with the Warthog stick, I noticed immediately that I had smoother steering control and could pinpoint my corner entries and exits more easily. The actual physical sliding of the ball and socket of the joystick was never a problem. If there was any "sticking" which I don't think there is, my hand-eye coordination compensated for it and I was none the wiser.

But let's get back to flying.

One of the first thing I noticed when flying IL-2 with the Warthog is that there are no external trim wheels on the joystick. External trim wheels are good if you are like me and are too lazy to program trim into your HOTAS. But since the Warthog isn't designed for the programmatically lazy, like me, then it makes sense that these external trim wheels would be omitted. Besides, omitting such extra gee gaws helps to maintain the joystick's sleek no-nonsense authentic appearance.

In my testing I flew a variety of aircraft in ArmA 2 such as A-10's, F35s, Harriers, and Osprey in ArmA2 with no difficulty whatsoever. Controls are smooth, accurate, and predictable.

In IL-2: 1946, I flew single-engine F4U-1D, -1C, and jets in both the 4.10m stock version and with the Ultra-Pack mods where I flew 4-engine B-17s. Again, the HOTAS Warthog joystick is more than up for the task in terms of controlling these aircraft, both in mundane tasks like straight-and-level flight, and more exciting situations, like turning dogfights and landings with less than a fully functioning aircraft (e.g., damaged rudder, ailerons, landing gear, and ailing engines with low power).

TM HOTAS Warthog Split Throttle:
The TM HOTAS throttle unit is a whole lotta WOW! Sorry, it sounds a bit too gushing, I know, but this thing really is a beauty. The first thing you notice about it as you take it out of the packaging is its weight. In order for the dual throttle not to come flying off your desktop during aggressive combat, TM had to make the unit heavy. To accomplish this, they installed not one, but two full-steel base plates on the unit---one layered upon the other. If that wasn't enough, they went further and added an additional three steel bars, stacked one atop the other, inside the housing that are attached to the inside of the inner base plate. If you drop it on your foot, you're going to be sorry.

Once you get over the shock of how heavy it is, your eyes are immediately drawn to the control panel with its eight stainless steel toggle switches, and military style white lettering beneath the toggles. But wait, there's more!

Because I go through life utterly oblivious most of the time, I had no idea, until the moment I plugged the throttle into my computer, that the control panel on the throttle is backlit. Seriously, even if this throttle was a piece of garbage, which it is not, the green backlit lettering beneath all the switches is just about the coolest thing I've seen in simming hardware ... ever! Perhaps I'm too easily impressed, but I can't deny that I was awed by this feature alone. You can see a picture of the backlit panel in low light in the following gallery:


Hover your mouse over the bottom edge of the gallery to see all the pics. Click on a picture to see description text.


You'll notice in the gallery above that there's a picture of the internals of the throttle's base. The yellow arrows pointing at yellow rectangles are simply pointing out the location of the friction blocks that can be tightened or loosened via the friction wheel. I wasn't all that impressed with this feature as tightening and loosening of it seemed to have very little effect.

Throttle Internals
Speaking of the throttle's internals, I did notice that there was a lot of plastic used in the pivot joints. I'm sure it's top quality thermoplastic, and I'm sure it'll stand up just fine to the average user's usage, but I'm not sure how well it'll stand up to above average usage, like in a retail "Come Fly Our Simulators" environment. Only time and many hundreds of hours of usage will tell if the action stays as solid and silky as the day it comes out of the packaging. Perhaps that's the reason for the friction dial? To compensate for eventual slop in the action? Again, unless I hook this thing up to an IKEA drawer tester, only time will tell.

Throttle Handles
The split throttles themselves have a little steel locking latch to join the throttles together in situations where you are flying a single-engine aircraft, or flying in a game that doesn't allow for multiple engine control. When you physically join the throttle together, or split them apart, it actually changes the throttle axis designations when you go to program the unit either in the TARGET GUI or in-game. Nice!

The throttles feature all the standard switches and POV hats that would be appropriate for such a replica, including a clickable mouse ball under your index finger and a momentary push button, ideal for keying your microphone, under your pinky finger.

Throttle Movement and Detents:
The throttles feel tight and silky smooth as you push and pull them forwards and backwards through their entire range. There is a permanent idle detent that requires you to lift the throttles slightly to bring the throttles all the way back to their "OFF" position. This is great if you want to program your throttles to turn your engines completely off when fully back, and the lift-over detent ensures you won't accidentally kill your engines in mid combat.

The afterburner detent can be set to be a lift-over detent or eliminated so you can power through to afterburner without any lifting of the throttles at all. This is achieved with the afterburner detent module which must be physically removed, turned around, and then replaced to achieve one or the other detent effects. Here's a little gallery showing how that's done:


Hover your mouse over the bottom edge of the gallery to see all the pics. Click on a picture to see description text.


Flying with the TM HOTAS Warthog Throttles:
I was really hoping to use the Warthog throttles on 4-engine bombers like the B-17 in IL-2: 1946 v4.10m, but alas, one cannot group the pair of left engine and the pair of right engines to be controllable under the separate throttles. At best, at this time of writing, one can only control one left engine and one right engine, which, granted, is ideal for two-engine bombers, fighters, and transports, it's not going to do you any good on the four-engine aircraft. You can still bind a keyboard command to switch power from a single throttle to either the left set of engines or right set of engines, but that really defeats the feature of a split throttle.

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Setup of the dual throttles in IL-2: 1946 by COMBATSIM.COM, on Flickr


My hope is that the IL-2 mod community will design a way to combine left and right engine groupings to be individually controllable by the left and right throttles of the HOTAS Warthog.

Aside from this pesky problem of grouping engines, what, really, is the advantage of split throttles? Well, when it comes to dogfighting, not a whole lot. Oh sure, I suppose you could crank out a bit tighter turn in your P-38 if you finesse your throttle controls, but if you are doing that on a regular basis, you're probably not fighting all that smart to begin with. As for straight and level flight, there's no advantage other than to perhaps dial in a bit of trim.

Really, the two main advantages to a split throttle, in my mind, are rather unglamourous: making turns while taxiing on the ground, and for nursing a damaged aircraft home. In IL-2, I found taxiing a P-38 on the ground was a breeze with the split throttle, but that advantage alone is really no reason to invest in this gear. Nursing wounded aircraft home is the other reason because if setup properly, you can quickly shut down an ailing engine simply by pulling that engine's throttle back. If the engine is only partially damaged, you can reduce power as required to extend its life, hopefully long enough to get home safely. This is something you might not bother doing if you have to detach your focus to isolate the engine with a series keystrokes or button presses on the HOTAS just to change power levels.

But the above is just a practical argument. Split throttles look bitchin' and that's all the justification I need for owning one, frankly :)


Finishing Up:
Overall, I'm hugely impressed with the TM HOTAS Warthog. This is a top-quality piece of gear, and although the software is still undergoing some growing pains, at a retail price of $499.00 I think it's a fantastic bargain for the serious simmer.

Posted Image
Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog


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#2 Donster

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Posted 07 March 2011 - 05:29 PM

Sweet review! :thumbsup:
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#3 Stans

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Posted 07 March 2011 - 06:10 PM

Great review! Kind of expensive, but Thrustmaster has never been considered entry level. Looks great and I like the illumination feature... not that I fly at night... much. :ph43r:
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#4 Whizkid

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Posted 07 March 2011 - 08:01 PM

Doug, when you're finished with wrecking it, can I have it?....................PLEASE!

#5 Schatten

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 11:32 AM

That thing is so pretty that I almost want to move to California so I could marry it. They allow that stuff out there right?

Great review too Doug. :thumbsup:
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#6 Madman

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 01:27 PM

Nice job Doug!!! :thumbsup:
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#7 Fork

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Posted 16 March 2011 - 09:41 AM

So, I take it you're keeping them Doug? Lucky bastige! :)

#8 Joker

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Posted 16 March 2011 - 10:08 AM

Outstanding review, Doug! :thumbsup:
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#9 mane_raptor

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Posted 17 March 2011 - 01:52 PM

Nice write up, Doug, but what about pedals? Or has that damn thingme got a twisty stick too?
check six and aim for the cockpit



#10 The Dude

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Posted 17 March 2011 - 02:17 PM

Nice write up, Doug, but what about pedals? Or has that damn thingme got a twisty stick too?


Dang! I had a sentence about pedals in my first draft and it must've got dropped in the edit.

You'll need separate pedals, but it plays real nice with any other USB pedals. I used my CH Products USB Pedals and there were no conflicts whatsoever.

#11 Revvin

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Posted 20 March 2011 - 11:06 AM

Very thorough review!


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#12 The Dude

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Posted 20 March 2011 - 02:46 PM

Very thorough review!


Thanks, Revvin'. Good to see you on our humble little board. How are things over at the hangar these days? :)

#13 Revvin

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Posted 21 March 2011 - 11:53 AM

Not bad, just had a bit of trouble with a move to a new server but fingers crossed its sorted out now :-s


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#14 The Dude

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Posted 21 March 2011 - 04:21 PM

Not bad, just had a bit of trouble with a move to a new server but fingers crossed its sorted out now :-s


Ugh! Been there, done that. I know what you're going through. No fun.