VPC’s MongoosT-50 joystick: A rare Russian-style controller for skies or space

Enlarge / The MongoosT-50 stick in a Warthog base, left, compared to a standard Thrustmaster Warthog stick at right.
Lee Hutchinson

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.

This time around, the newest shiny in my office isn’t shiny at all, but rather a svelte matte black: the VPC MongoosT-50 BE Grip, the Black Edition of the new company’s freshman-effort flight sim controller. Unlike most flight sticks for sale on the US market, which tend to be based with varying levels of verisimilitude on US fighter aircraft control columns, the MongoosT-50 is built to mirror the control stick on Russian aircraft—specifically, the fifth-generation Russian Sukhoi Su-35 and PAK FA (T-50). Few existing peripheral manufacturers offer Eastern-style controls, so this stick from Belarus-based VirPil Controls (VPC) is a bit of a rarity.

What do we have here?

Specs at a glance: VirPil MongoosT-50 grip
Manufacturer VirPil Controls
kvice type Flight sim joystick (base not included)
Material High-quality durable plastic
Weight 340g
Height (stick only) 26cm
Optional extensions 50mm, 75mm, 100mm (225mm combined)
Buttons Dual-stage primary trigger, folding trigger, 5x standard buttons, 3x four-way hat switches, 1x two-position lever, analog brake lever
Price (standard & lefty) €159.95 ($178)
Price (Black Edition) €179.95 ($201)
Availability May 2017

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.

The push buttons do their job without fanfare. There is a pinky button, a thumb button on the left side of the stick, three buttons for the thumb up top, one on the left above the POV hat, and two on the right arranged vertically just like the neighboring hats on the centerline.

But my favorite part of this thing has to be the folding trigger, situated on the top of the stick. In the raised position, the trigger’s completely out of the way, and it features a small stud on the underside that you can use to flip it down while barely moving your finger off the primary trigger. It is a little looser than I’d like in the down position, but it’s also super fun to play with.

The analog brake lever on the bottom-front of the stick is in the same location that the Warthog has its similarly shaped paddle button (or secondary trigger, as I’ve seen some call it). This is the only actuator on the entire grip with a silent, non-clicky engagement. It’s important to note that the lever only functions in an analog fashion when paired with the MongoosT-50 Base. When used with the Warthog’s base, it functions digitally, as does the Warthog grip’s paddle, since that’s what the software is expecting to see.

Which brings us to the software. The VPC configuration software was not available for testing, but it does have a strong pedigree: the VPC team boasts as one of its members long-time flight-sim software and hardware DIY community contributor MegaMozg. (He was responsible for developing and releasing 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.

Blue Yonder versus the Black

There’s a noticeable divide in the flight-sim community between those interested in traditional flight sims and the growing number of folks more narrowly interested in the space-sim genre. I want to call out this distinction to highlight some of the small differences in joystick design that have large effects on the suitability of a joystick to a given type of flying—most notably, the presence (or absence) of a twist axis.

Traditional flight sim enthusiasts—especially those playing sims on “realistic” difficulty levels—tend to eschew twist-axis sticks because real aircraft don’t have them. They also dislike a twist axis because it can introduce unintended inputs and make isolating single axes more difficult.

However, modern space simulators almost universally now include six degrees of freedom—and a twist axis starts to make more sense. When you are controlling a vehicle without the bounds of gravity and with the ability to translate your vehicle directly up, down, left, and right, roll becomes much less useful than yaw. It’s much easier to point your ship, and your weapons, in any direction with yaw bound to the x-axis (at least, unless you’re playing Elite: Dangerous). But if you’re using the stick for pitch and yaw, where then does roll go to? Unless you buy some pedals or a second joystick, that twist axis makes a lot of sense.

The MongoosT-50, as you’d guess by its real-world inspiration, is targeted squarely at the traditionalist. With the cube-like form factor of its base and its lack of twist, it’s far more suited to DCS or Microsoft Flight Simulator than to Elite or Star Citizen.

That’s not to say it doesn’t do a great job in space games, because it very much does a great job. It’s simply a matter of target audience and design philosophy. Keep in mind your intended uses when considering dropping this kind of coin on a device you’ll be touching literally the entire time you are playing.

The red zone

As you might have guessed from the introduction, I am firmly in the “space sim” camp. The first time I tried the MongoosT-50 with a realistic flight sim the results were less than stellar. So, I turned to a game I’ve spent countless hours HOTAS on with my trusty Warthog: Elite: Dangerous.

As mentioned before, when coupled with a Warthog base the MongoosT-50 pretends to be a Warthog joystick, with each of its buttons and hats mapping to an existing Warthog button or hat (here’s a diagram showing the correlations). All my control mappings were maintained when I started up Elite, though, of course, the buttons had all changed locations, and I had to do some tweaking for the new layout. Once that was done, I shot out into the black. I had adjusted the hand rest to be rather high to accommodate my smaller hands, and, I have to say, the fit was far better than the Warthog’s, with all the top controls within easy reach of my thumb.

I was able to smoothly pull away from my landing pad and exit the space station, deactivating the flight assist to gracefully pirouette toward my selected destination. I felt a slight improvement in ship handling thanks to the lighter nature of the MongoosT-50 versus the weighty Warthog. The lighter grip—340 grams, versus the Warthog’s 1,015 grams—makes giving smaller inputs easier.

Grip gripes

Another area where the MongoosT-50’s overall design plays favorites is the optional cube-like base, which is a necessary component if you don’t have a spare Warthog base lying around. The base’s small footprint, coupled with the stick’s nearly 10.5 inches (about 26 centimeters) of height, makes it difficult to use just sitting on top of a desk. You really do have to mount it to something; either the optional desk mount, or your cockpit/simpit’s native mounting options, or a completely DIY solution.

One ergonomic issue I had with the MongoosT-50 came during idle moments, like when I was coasting in Elite for long periods. The stick’s hand rest is perfectly adequate while keeping your hand on the grip and manipulating buttons, but the hand rest tends to rattle around when it’s not supporting much weight. This issue goes away when the hand rest is cranked down to its lowest position, but that was too low for me to use comfortably.

While putting the grip through its paces during combat, I found the pinky button to be nearly unusable when the brake lever is fully engaged. It’s probably not an issue for slower paced games or if you have your controls arranged with this in mind. If you are like me, though, and tend to panic when weapons fire erupts unexpectedly against your canopy, it can be an issue.

Final thoughts

The MongoosT-50 grip is a great option for sim fans. The grip itself is a high-fidelity part with an overall fantastic build quality. It can be purchased separately from the base for use in a competitor’s base, if you want to change up your existing kit. And most importantly, it comes in a left-handed version, for both left-handed users, as well as space-sim enthusiasts who take full advantage of two joysticks for six degrees of fun.

The standalone VPC MongoosT-50 grip costs 159.95 euro, or approximately $180 at time of writing. This is a relatively high price considering the grip requires a base, but it’s not too far out of line with other high-end consumer flight sim gear (and it provides an entry point for enthusiasts with a Warthog who want to upgrade).

The full MongoosT-50 stick comes in at 289.95 euro (about $325 USD), which is slightly more than the standalone Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog flight stick (throttle not included). The VPC extension set costs 64.95 euro (about $73 USD). There are matching MongoosT-50 rudder pedals and a throttle in development, but no pricing has been announced.

I’m excited to see where VPC takes this new product and how the company’s throttle and rudder pedals (due late this summer) perform against existing offerings. I’m not sure if I am ready to give up my Warthog just yet, but I did enjoy my time with the Mongoos. If I decide to settle into this crazy place Lee has led me, I might just give up my Warthog throttle for the lefty version of this thing.

The good

  • Faithful recreation of an iconic design
  • High-quality construction
  • Super-fun folding trigger and super-useful two-position switch
  • Available in a left-handed version
  • Optional mount and extension accessories
  • Natively integrates with Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog, Cougar bases, and TARGET software

The bad

  • Pinky button can be blocked by brake lever
  • Availability limited to vendor’s website
  • No 8-way hat switches

The ugly

  • Not suitable for use directly on a desktop without mounting options
  • Adjustable hand rest is loose unless bottomed out, which kind of defeats the purpose of being adjustable

Matthew Hirsch has been in the IT operations trenches since the end of the last century, working in both human spaceflight and energy industries. He has an inexplicable love for the original run of Doctor Who and lives in the Houston, Texas, area.

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