You might have heard the term HOTAS floating around when discussing flying joysticks, flight simulator games or even the design of real aircraft, but, What does HOTAS stand for?
HOTAS stands for Hands-On Throttle-and-Stick. It´s a special configuration of an aircraft´s cockpit that, in military aviation, means that the pilot can fly without moving his hands away from the controls.
In the gaming world, however, HOTAS is a type of flying joysticks that comes with an integrated throttle.
The HOTAS goes further beyond a single joystick. Meant to imitate their peers on real cockpits, they include a throttle and a bunch of extra buttons as well (depending on the model). As a result, they provide a realistic experience at the cost of being more expensive and bulkier.
You control the HOTAS by having one hand on the stick and the other on the throttle. The stick steers the plane while the throttle controls the speed and acceleration of the aircraft. Combine the two and you can pull off some pretty advanced maneuvers in the virtual skies.
What games do I need them for? Flight and Space Sims.
To be clear, you don´t need a Hotas joystick to play any kind of game, they are not a requirement for any flight games that I know of. However, flight simulators, like the titular Microsoft Flight Simulator, are often compatible with these controllers as they are used to enrich the experience.
Flight sims are a popular genre of games because they let step you on the shoes of a captain without having to pay for flight school nor having to worry about the stakes of carrying hundreds of people on a multimillion-dollar metal bird across the sky.
Because of this, the more realistic and immersive the experience is, the better.
And what better to make it realistic than buying a real joystick and throttle that a HOTAS offers? The flight sim genre is so popular that you can pretty much buy the whole cockpit, including the rudder pedals, panels, radio and pretty much everything else.
However, Hotas are not limited to flight simulators. You can also use them for more arcade flight experiences, like Ace Combat 7 or War Thunder. Be warned, however, that they don´t give you the competitive edge that you would expect from using a real flying joystick.
Space sims are another genre that uses HOTAS. In these kinds of games, you use them to steer your space ship. The gravity is different, the sky starry, and you can shoot lasers, but they are still used to make the experience more immersive and realistic.
If you are buying a Hotas, odds are you are going to play Microsoft Flight Simulator or Elite Dangerous, but it doesn't have to be limited to those games, the peripherals got a resurgence recently thanks to another popular technology that broke into the market.
HOTAS and VR
These flight sticks have recently risen in popularity by piggybacking on the success of the VR headsets.
Virtual Reality already strives to be the ultimate immersive experience in gaming. When it comes to VR flying games, playing with a HOTAS will net you more or less the same experience as soaring the skies like a real pilot, only with *slightly* worse graphics and no G-force.
If you also buy rudder pedals on top of it, then you have a poor´s man flying simulator (“poor man”, of course, being relative. Between the headset, the HOTAS, and the pedals, you can easily spend a thousand dollars on the whole set).
HOTAS Vs mouse and other joysticks
If you compare a HOTAS versus a mouse and keyboard, you will notice that the former is more responsive. Controlling your aircraft with them is smoother, and, once you know what you are doing, you can make it dance across the clouds.
You could argue that you can do the same with a cheaper flying stick, but if we are to examine the HOTAS vs joystick in a competition, the former has the edge in being both more immersive and having an easy way to control your acceleration.
That might not sound like much, but being able to deaccelerate and accelerate on a whim can allow you to pull pretty tight turns and loops.
So, if you are looking for a way to feel like a real pilot when playing games like Elite Dangerous, Microsoft Flight Simulator or even more arcade experiences like Ace Combat, a HOTAS is the controller for you.
Which HOTAS to buy
Interested in buying a HOTAS? Then try this one, Thrustmaster's T-Flight Hotas It is everything a HOTAS ought to be without costing as much as some of its high-end peers. It´s also the only one available for the PS4.
The T.Flight has a relatively simple design and doesn´t require as much set up as some of it´s most specialized competition. This makes it quite the intuitive controller, you won´t have to worry about not knowing what to do.
If you are left-handed, don´t worry, you can unlatch the thruster and joystick to swape them around.
If you rather have a more realistic alternative, you can buy Warthog Hotas. It is designed to imitate the real stick and throttle of an A-10 aircraft. It is a bit more complex than the T.Flight, with a lot more buttons, but not too many. Certainly not so much that you can´t manage.