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I had an epiphany when Ars Senior Technology Editor Lee Hutchinson asked me to review the VPC MongoosT-50 flight stick grip, which he had sitting on his desk awaiting its turn at the front of the review queue. As I removed the mounting plate of my Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog from its place on the right side of my Volair Sim cockpit, I looked over at the empty space it had occupied, then at the handmade Eastern European MFG Crosswind rudder pedals nestled at the base of my cockpit, and then to the HTC Vive and its now-dusty Oculus DK2 predecessor hanging off the side of my nearby desk.
The epiphany was this: Lee had pulled me down into his special crazy place where dropping hundreds of dollars on flight sim accessories, all to play a single game, seemed like a totally normal and sane thing to do.
VPC designed this joystick to be modular, with the grip (i.e., the actual control column part) and the base available for purchase either individually or together as the “MongoosT-50 Stick.” VPC sent Ars just the grip for review, without the base. Therefore, we haven’t had the opportunity to measure firsthand the capabilities of the full system.
But, for reference, once the base is available, it will feature three sets of interchangeable, independent cams constructed of aircraft-grade duralumin. The cams come in “hard center,” “soft center,” and “no center,” as well as three spring types, the lightest of which should pair well with the “no center” cam for the rotary sim pilots out there. Additionally, the tension on the installed springs is adjustable, without opening up the case, via access ports on the top plate. The sensors are contactless digital proximity sensors, as opposed to the Hall Effect sensors in many other offerings, which VPC claims can detect stick deflections as small as 0.006 degrees.
Most important to space-combat fans, the MongoosT-50 is available in a left-handed version. This is a rarity among high-fidelity joysticks because aircraft control columns are all intended for use with the right hand (usually because the left hand operates the throttle, which is typically on the left side of the cockpit). Space-sim fans who want to build a dual-joystick control setup often have to use lower-quality ambidextrous sticks; the left-handed MongoosT-50 provides a high-quality left-handed option.
Stick with me, kid
Enough about the hardware we don’t have—let’s talk about the hardware we do have, starting at the base of the grip and working our way up. At the very bottom, you can attach an optional set of three metal spacers or extensions, measuring 50mm, 75mm, and 100mm, respectively, to make the stick taller. Lengthening the shaft has the dual benefit of lessening the force needed to deflect the stick and makes giving precise inputs that much easier.
The various combinations of these extensions allow for base-to-grip height adjustments from 50mm to 225mm. Using the extensions also allows the grip to be mounted with a rotational offset, which can greatly improve the ergonomics, especially for center-mounted setups. When combined with the optional VPC Desk Mount, which itself is highly adjustable, you should be able to construct a mounting setup that works for a wide range of uses, from casual stick-on-desktop to crazy simpits.
Topping things off is the Russian-style grip itself. Manufactured from a high-quality, durable plastic, the MongoosT-50 grip has struck a good middle ground between the lightweight but sometimes toy-like (and often wildly styled) desktop joysticks and the high-end metal or flight-sim dedicated setups to which the Warthog is merely a gateway.
Since we didn’t get a base to use with the grip, I reviewed the MongoosT-50 with an existing Thrustmaster Warthog base. The folks at VPC have designed their grip to mount directly onto both the Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog and older HOTAS Cougar bases without the need for a separate adapter. The transition was about as simple as it gets, with the MongoosT-50 plugging in smoothly. Even without the extensions, I was able to mount the grip rotated slightly off-center, which made it easier to articulate the hats on the centerline and the rightmost thumb buttons.
Pairing well with the rotated installation is an adjustable hand rest on the right side (or the left side on the left-hand version). The rest has a large vertical range, making this grip one of the most customizable I’ve seen in the ergonomic department.
Speaking of buttons: just like the Warthog, the MongoosT-50 comes to the party benefiting from the R&D that went into its real-life counterpart. I’m not sure how much usability testing goes into some of the more “marketed” joysticks, but sometimes you have to wonder what the designers were thinking. Here, there’s no fancy LEDs or flip-up “FIRE” toggle covers or silly decals—the MongoosT-50 is all business. The buttons have a very satisfying, if loud, triggering action and crisp breaking points, so there’s never any doubt if a button press registered.
Walking through the controls, we’ll start at the top with the two-stage primary trigger. The first stage has a fairly short break followed by a sizable and forgiving neutral throw before the second stage is engaged at the end of the stroke. Going in reverse, the second stage is instantly disengaged, and that same large neutral area allows the user to decide how much pressure to apply to keep the trigger between stages. This is useful for maintaining comfort while performing actions that require the first stage to remain engaged, while the second stage is being repeatedly cycled. The first stage also makes an audible click when finally disengaged.
Next up are the three four-way hats. The left-most is a POV-style hat with a nice concave shape that provides a good resting place for the thumb. The upper hat is the opposite, with a pronounced pyramid shape that makes a great target for quick thumb strikes. The remaining lower hat is pleasantly rounded to maintain a low profile that allows you to reach the hat above it with minimal effort.
Off by itself on the right side of the stick’s top is a two-position switch. Easily reachable by the index finger, this switch—which I first mistook for another hat—adds utility to a finger that typically doesn’t have much to do when there’s no trigger-pulling going on. I found myself constantly remapping controls to this switch because it is so useful. I never did finalize my choice before review time.
MMJoy2, a full solution for using an Arduino or similar board to turn basically anything into a game controller.) When used with a Warthog base, the MongoosT-50’s buttons all map to existing Thrustmaster Warthog stick buttons, so you can continue to use Thrustmaster’s TARGET software to create and modify specialized control mappings if desired.