|Specs at a glance: Thrustmaster Pendular Rudder pedals|
|Device type||Flight simulator rudder pedals with toe brakes|
|Sensor type||3D Hall effect magnetic|
|Controller precision||16-bit (all axis)|
|Price||$499.99 at Amazon|
As someone who’s gone so far as to put money in a Polish bank account for a Belarusian man named Slaw in exchange for high quality pedals, I was overjoyed when Thrustmaster’s PR people reached out recently and offered to send a review sample of their new TPR rudder pedals. As a long-time Thrustmaster Warthog owner, the key question I had about the company’s new rudder pedals was about build quality: would they be worth the $499 MSRP, or would they be like the Warthog stick and throttle—beautiful on the outside but stuffed full of crazy wires and hot glue and plastic?
Let’s answer that question right up front: no, they’re not like the Warthog. I took the things apart, and there were no loose wires and no hot glue. It’s all neat and tidy in there (and we’ve got pictures and more details a little further down).
Overall, the TPR pedals are an impressive freshman effort by Thrustmaster in a niche field where they haven’t played before—that is, high-end rudder pedals. The quality is there, but the design itself feels less like a cohesive whole and more like a design-by-committee product. It gets the job done—very well, in fact!—but I don’t think anyone could call it pretty.
I need to get this out of the way right up front: I’m coming into this review at a disadvantage.
That disadvantage—as silly and dumbly privileged as this sounds—is that I haven’t used any “mass market” flight sim pedals for literally years. Instead, I’ve been living in what’s called the “specialty boutique” world: first with a set of Slaw Device BF-109s and more recently with a set of Slaw Device RX Vipers. These are devices with production runs of a few hundred units, max, meticulously designed and hand-assembled by a single Belarusian engineer in Poland. They cost more than $600 shipped to the USA, and there’s a months-long waiting list if you want a set for yourself.
The Slaw Device pedals aren’t the only entrants in the “specialty boutique” field—there are also the MFG Crosswinds, the VKB T-Rudders, and a small number of others. They all share certain features: low production runs, high price, and exceptional build quality and precision.
Thrustmaster North American Marketing Manager Tim Gorham refers to the specialty boutique manufacturers as “indirect competitors,” which is a phrase worth unpacking. On one hand, just being realistic, it’s impossible not to compare the TPR pedals to the specialty folks as the competition—they arrive at either the same price point (compared to the Slaw Device offerings) or a appreciably higher price point (compared to MFG, VKB, and some others). They’re aimed at precisely the same customer demographic (that is, “crazy people who have $500 to spend on a single flight sim peripheral that isn’t all that useful unless you’ve already also spent money on a joystick and throttle”).
But the TPR has a couple of advantages that, at least so far, none of the other specialty boutique brands can offer. Most importantly, it’s manufactured in quantity by a major peripheral OEM, and you can buy the thing at retail. Considering that the wait time for a new set of Slaw Device pedals is measured in months—and can be as long as half a year if the one-man show that is the entire Slaw Device manufacturing chain decides to go on vacation—that’s a pretty powerful advantage.
Great versus supernal
Almost all buyers will be stepping up to the TPR from something less-good—less precise, less moddable, less solid, less well-built. Stepping down to them—moving, as it were, from amazing pedals to pedals that are merely really damn good—requires some adjustment of thinking.
Having flown exclusively in the boutique world for several years, a considerable amount of this review will involve tempering or resetting expectations. I flew a number of sorties with the TPR, and I found myself making comparisons, not to down-market devices like Logitech’s G-Pros or Thrustmaster’s own TFRPs, but to the expensive hand-built monsters I’m used to flying—and in those comparisons, the TPR sometimes comes up wanting.
But even though the TPR is (as Gorham notes) an “indirect competitor” to the boutique aftermarket, those comparisons aren’t necessarily fair because I’d guess the vast majority of TPR buyers aren’t ever going to have the opportunity to use a set of Slaw Device or MFG pedals. Taken in the correct context, the TPR pedals are a powerful and competently executed statement from Thrustmaster that it’s not willing to go unchallenged in any segment, from budget to pro.
(Well, OK, I’m necessarily leaving out the highest-end segment of flight sim gear, because at the highest-end level, people are just buying surplus aircraft components and wiring them up to work in sims. But if you’ve achieved that particular level of crazy, you’re not looking at what Thrustmaster makes. You’re looking at what Boeing makes.)
Design and functionality
All right, enough navel-gazing. Let’s talk rudder turkey.
The TPR is visually striking—a humped, articulated shape that looks at first glance somewhat like the top half of a malevolent R2 unit with angry metal arms. It departs significantly from the traditional flat “horizontal parallelogram” layout most pedals exhibit and instead prominently displays what Thrustmaster calls its “PENDUL_R” mechanism—indeed, “TPR” stands for “Thrustmaster Pendular Rudder.”
The “pendular” part (I am not typing “PENDUL_R” any more than absolutely necessary because I don’t want the Ars copydesk to stab me with their fell pencils) refers to the pedal mechanism itself, which has the rudder pedal arms descending like pendulums (pendula?) from a pivot at the top of the humpy housing.
Going this way over a traditional flat parallelogram-ish layout has a ton of advantages, even if it does look a little odd. “They’re built in the way a set of rudders is built inside a real plane,” explained Gorham, noting that the company sought extensive feedback from commercial and military pilots in designing the TPR.
Beyond fidelity to the real world, this kind of mechanism is considerably less vulnerable to one of the most notorious problems of flat parallelogram pedals—there’s no sliding track that can collect dust, hair, and other crud and foul the pedals’ movement. The pedals will articulate just as smoothly after a year of sitting under your desk as they do when they’re fresh out of the box.
From a materials perspective, the pedals are almost entirely made of metal. The prominent swing arms and stirrups are “high-grade die-cast aluminum alloy,” and the device’s body is “high-grade punched carbon steel” (Thrustmaster says it prefers to keep the exact aluminum and steel grades confidential to avoid helping out competitors). The pivot shafts are stainless steel, and the few plastic bits are “high-grade thermopolymer from the German automotive industry” (more on those plastic bits in a bit). Every part that has a range of motion has a corresponding (replaceable!) rubber bump stop to limit noise and wear.
But for all the obvious care and love lavished on the device, the overall look is, in this reviewer’s opinion, a swing and a miss. There’s no attractive through-line in the TPR’s design—it looks haphazard. Products like this necessarily draw their industrial design from the physical necessities of the underlying mechanism, but in this case, it just looks… ugly. It’s a weird stumpy black tower with enormous robot grasshopper legs. It looks unbalanced and awkward. Compared to those “indirect competitors” Gorham mentioned, it’s not anywhere in the same aesthetic league.
Is it nit-picky to pick nits about how a product like this looks before we’ve even gotten to how well it works? I’d ordinarily agree it is, but these pedals cost $500 dollars. That price point should include at least some attractive industrial design, as long as that design doesn’t compromise functionality. This is, in my opinion, the one area where the TPR falls resoundingly short of what I would have liked to see.
(On the other hand, you’re not going to be looking at them very much after you’ve got them set up, so please contextualize this criticism appropriately.)