Review: Thrustmaster TCA Captain Pack Airbus Edition

The TCA Airbus pack is now complete, but how does it work with the major simulators.

Posted: 31-Oct-2021 @ 13:26z
Review: Thrustmaster TCA Captain Pack Airbus Edition

Thrustmaster first introduced the TCA Airbus Series in 2020 with the TCA Airbus Sidestick as their first entry into the civilian market. While Thrustmaster has produced a variety of sticks and flight sim hardware in the past, this was the first time they collaborated with an airline brand to create a bespoke model for a specific series of aircraft. The sidestick was then followed by the TCA Throttle Quadrant, which added engine starters and throttles as a separate product. Finally, the TCA Throttle Quadrant Add-On was released, enhancing the package further with flap, spoiler and other controls. Due to unforeseen circumstances, getting the hardware was extremely difficult for many, with some simmers able to get some of the hardware, but not all of it to make up the complete set. Whilst the newly released Thrustmaster TCA Airbus Captain’s Pack won’t solve the hardware availability problems, it will help those seeking the full set in one convenient package. How does it all tie together and is it worth the price? Let’s find out in this FSElite Review.

Inside the box, you have everything you will need. From the two control units (stick and throttle quadrant and add-on) to the manual and additional screws you may need. It was neatly packaged and a fitting “remove before flight” tag was placed over the contents on the covering sleeve. For those wondering, both the throttle quadrant and the sidestick are powered by 2 USB-A cables (the throttle quadrant is powered by a USB-C to USB-A cable).

The Airbus set is clearly designed around the iconic line of aircraft. Everything from the colours down to the ergonomics of the product have all been designed and inspired by Airbus aircraft. This is really evident, in my view, from the TCA stick. From a design standpoint, it looks almost identical to the real-world sidestick found on Airbus aircraft. Everything from the curves and ergonomics to the structure and button placement – all of it has been designed to replicate the real deal. Not only that, but it’s incredibly comfortable to hold. Place your hand around the stick and it feels perfectly natural.

Moving the stick there’s a nice amount of resistance that helps you feel like you’re being conscious of your input. That’s not to say there’s a silly amount of dead zone or that it feels unrealistic, far from it, but I’m trying to express that moving the stick doesn’t feel cheap or flimsy. Speaking of dead zones, I wasn’t able to identify much of one when using it on the default settings, and it reacted to my input almost immediately. To help ensure a long life with the product, Thrustmaster has included its H.E.A.R.T [technology] inside to ensure a precise movement every time. Ultimately this means that your stick won’t degrade or pick up nasty movement spikes in the future.

The sidestick itself also features one trigger button on the underside, a hat switch in the centre at the front and also two buttons on either side, representing the autopilot disengage (red) and push to talk (black) buttons. The stick covers all axis directions and also features a twistable rudder mechanism that can be used for rudder or nose wheel steering. You can also lock the rudder movement if you use rudder pedals. On the base, there are also 12 programmable buttons and a throttle slider which also has built-in reverse thrust mechanisms. However, as you have the complete throttle set in the package, you won’t have to worry about the throttle slider, which I do find sub-par in terms of quality thanks to its wobbliness. I do love the fact there are so many buttons on the sidestick as it gives plenty of options. Don’t fret as all the Sims I used had pre-configured controls for each of the buttons, but are all adjustable through their various menu options.

One thing that is really unique about the sidestick is the fact that you can swap out the top buttons to replicate either a right or left-handed stick. The ambidextrous design means regardless of your preference, you can comfortably enjoy the stick. Swapping the parts is easy and everything you need to use to do so is included.

The other half of the Captain’s Pack is the included TCA Quadrant and the TCA Quadrant Add-On. As mentioned earlier, inside the box, both of these components come pre-assembled, but you will need to use the included cables to connect the throttle section to the add-on part.

Looking over the unit itself, you can tell immediately that it has been modelled based on an Airbus aircraft. As with the sidestick, the colours, layout and design all resemble an Airbus aircraft. Without a doubt, the centrepiece of the unit is the throttle controls. They are big and dominant, but above all, they’re comfortable and fun to use. You can easily wrap your hand around them and feel a true sense of power when you push them forward into the TOGA position. They are nice and smooth the move and each of the detent gates have a nice satisfying click to them as you pass through them. My only complaint about the gates is that they don’t have enough resistance in each one. If you push forward past the CLB detent, it’s a little too easy to go past the gate itself. Knocking the throttles won’t push them out of position, but when the focus is on controlling the aircraft, I found myself pushing a little too far beyond what I desired to do. That said, the reverse mechanism is fantastic. You won’t be able to engage reverse thrust without first pulling up on the clips on the underside of the controls. From there, you can then bring them towards you and apply idle reverse or full reverse. When you go back to idle, the clips position back to their original place with a clunk reminding you they have been reset.

Alongside the throttles, you have the flaps and spoiler controls, which come from the add-on package. From the first glance, they look like very good replicas of the components used in the real aircraft. Both of them feel very solid and sturdy and feel really nice to move. I do, however, dislike the direction Thrustmaster went with the spoiler controls. Each quarter of the spoiler control has a detent, which, from my understanding, isn’t representative of Airbus aircraft. The spoiler lever should be a single movement from retracted to full. It’s also worth noting that the ability to arm the spoilers by pulling up the lever isn’t present. As for the flaps, there are detents for each of the four stages of flaps. However, despite the physical appearance of the spring-loaded pulley system (not the technical name) under the flap controls, there isn’t anything to operate and instead, you just need to move the flaps up and down.

Other controls on the unit include an AUTO BRK system with 6 stages of auto brake (more representative of an A380 with functions such as Brake to Vacate), a gear lever (up or down), engine start switches, parking brake and also a spring-loaded rudder trim switch. The gear lever was nice to use, and having physical engine start-up switches felt really nice to use when turning on the engines. Although all of the switches are functional and work just fine, there was a little bit of quality degradation, in my opinion. The engine starter switches felt a little flimsy, as did the parking brake. I don’t fear it breaking over time, but there’s just a noticeable difference between other controls on the unit.

As a complete unit, the whole set feels very complete. There are plenty of button combinations and uses. The unit is clearly designed for Airbus aircraft in any simulator you may use, but each of the controls can be adapted and set-up for any aircraft type. They’re fairly standard key-bindings and axis controls, so applying the controls to your favourite aircraft isn’t too complex.

Speaking of set-up, I was impressed with the simplicity of getting it to work in particular with Microsoft Flight Simulator. Clearly, the teams have worked together to provide accurate profiles for the default A320 in the simulator. You can literally plug in and play, and everything is set up on your behalf. My experience with the FlyByWire A32NX wasn’t as great, with some of the controls needing to be manually adjusted. Luckily, it only took a few minutes to get going and using the built-in EFB to help with the throttle detents made the process easier.

As for Prepar3D, this took a little longer. Using the FlightSimLabs A320-X, I was given a prompt when loading the aircraft to ask me if I wanted to apply the control options defined by FSLabs. I chose to do so and found that most of it worked fine. There was one issue where when applying TOGA power, the view changed to the spot-view. I also had to configure the spoiler and flap controls through the P3D control menu. Again, none of this was difficult or complicated – nor a problem with the hardware – but just goes to show how when there’s good collaboration, the process is incredibly seamless for the end-user.

Once everything was set up, using the controls was incredibly immersive. Actually having the chance to physically adjust the flaps, or use a proper reverse thrust throttle was sheer joy. We often talk about how the simulator or specific features make you feel immersed, but the TCA Captain’s Set helped bring that level of immersion for me to a new level.

From a pricing perspective, I feel as though the Captain’s Pack represents the best value out of the whole TCA series. With each component working well individually, and being priced accordingly as separate packages, having the whole set in one feels like a better proposition – especially for those who don’t own any of the components yet. The stick or throttle quadrant alone would feel like a lesser experience to me than having the set as a whole. Of course, if you already own a part of this set, then the Captain’s Pack isn’t for you (but I would highly recommend finding whatever may be missing). If you don’t have any of it, then this collection is certainly worth checking out as you get everything in one and ready to go straight away. Plus, there’s no guarantee you’ll find each of the different packages if you opt to buy the packs one at a time thanks to the current manufacturing and shipment conditions.

To sum up, I’m really pleased with the Airbus TCA Captain’s Pack from Thrustmaster. This is a well-realised and ambitious product that has come together nicely which creates an authentic experience for Airbus aircraft. To be able to have physical interaction with the controls that go beyond just standard button presses is extremely immersive and the simplicity around set-up makes this affordable package a win-win.

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Calum Martin
Calum has been an avid fan of Flight Sim since the release of FS2000 and has developed his love for aviation ever since.

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