Thrustmaster has been a household name when it comes to flight simulation hardware over the past 30 years, producing some of the most popular input devices for the entire gaming industry. Back in June 2020, Thrustmaster announced that it was going to produce a range of input controls in partnership with Airbus, based upon real Airbus controls as part of its Thrustmaster Civil Aviation range. This would include the Sidestick and Throttle Quadrant modules as well as a single additional release, comprising of two units that would work in conjunction with the Throttle Quadrant, separate speed brake and flap control levers which also includes park brake switch and landing gear lever to be released at a later date. After reviewing the Sidestick, I was excited to get my hands on the Throttle Quadrant.
Out of the Box
When the TCA Throttle Quadrant first arrived, I was immediately shocked at how small the box was. Once opened, the throttle quadrant is secured by two pieces of thin cardboard. The box contains the Throttle Quadrant – secured by two pieces of thin moulded cardboard, a separate USB-C/A cable, two connector plates, one attachment rod, a set of black, square stickers detailed with ‘ENG 1,2,3,4’ and a single-page quick start guide.
The base of the unit has the colour of the original Airbus A320 flight deck which immediately lets you know which aircraft the unit is modelled upon. On each of the sides of the base, Thrustmaster has put their literal stamp on the unit by way of their logo and branding. Although this seems quite a lot of branding on one product, the only decal you notice is on the lower end of the product near the engine switches which isn’t too intrusive.
The quadrant unit is instantly recognisable and looks just like the real thing. Thrustmaster has chosen to replicate the A320 family throttle quadrant which differs slightly to the A330/A350 family. The black plastic – part gloss part matte finish – thrust levers and handles are of a good size and fit my hand nicely. Each thrust lever has a red button located on the outside of the handles in the centre which give a satisfactory click when pushed. These buttons on a real Airbus are typically used to disengage the auto-thrust system. When using the thrust levers, I have noticed that the two individual levers can easily be squeezed together with not much pressure which is disappointing as it takes away from the otherwise acceptable build quality. Thrustmaster has included an attachment rod if you wanted to lock the thrust levers together, so they will not be able to advance independently. To secure the levers, you simply thread the rod through two small eyelets in the front of the levers to lock them in place. Although this does do the trick, it is easy for this rod to fall out if you move the throttle quadrant from your desk.
When pushing the levers forward from idle, they settle into three detents for climb, flex and TOGA thrust. The detents are pleasantly noticeable and give an audible click when reached, the levers sit comfortably in the detents and require a little extra effort to advance them onwards. Along with the overall resistance, this makes it feel like you are operating the real thing, something that many other quadrants lack. The detents are noted on the base by small white arrows and lines above idle and yellow below, to give you a visual cue as to how much thrust you are requesting from the engines. There is also a 0-45-degree decal in the centre of the thrust levers to denote the angle of the levers from idle. This indicates as to how much thrust the engines should be producing at that current angle. The space in which the thrust levers move in the base is left wide open. This concerns me as it is easy for dust to build up, or worse, something larger to fall into the space and disrupts the mechanism from working. Having two flexible rubber strips on either side of each of the levers would easily prevent the majority of things from getting into the space.
The TCA Throttle Quadrant takes advantage of Thrustmaster’s Hall Effect AccuRate Technology or H.E.A.R.T for short, to enable the very best in precision that works time and time again. This system uses magnetic fields to detect the movement and position of the flight controls. This gives a more accurate reading and requires less input from the user to affect change within the sim. It is worth noting that due to the technology used, there are less moving contact points inside the quadrant, and therefore the sensors will remain in tip-top condition throughout the extended lift of the product.
Under the handles on the front of the thrust, levers are where we find two latch levers. These enable the thrust levers to reduce below the engine idle marker on the base, to engage reverse thrust. The reverse levers feel like that they have been made to a high quality and require a comfortable amount of effort to raise them over the detent, and they flick back when the reverse thrust is cancelled which gives a manual mechanical feel to the process which I like. On further inspection, the latch resistance is given by just a single, flimsy spring that is quite exposed just within the base. Given that the spring is no bigger than those you find in retractable clicker pens, make me think about the life of the mechanism and how long it will be before they become loose or out of shape. The spring mechanism is far enough into the base to limit access, but close enough to the top that if something was to fall in or disturb the mechanism, the spring may come out of its fastenings as it is only looped into a small hole, with little chance of being able to reattach it.
The base of each of the thrust levers has a small dial that when turned to the off position, annotated with a 0 symbol, locks the reverse thrust latches open to enable the levers to be used with their full range of motion freely. To disable the reverse detent, you need to pull the latch fully up before engaging the lock switch. The manual details how to do this correctly, which is better than trial and error. These dials feel as though they may break if they are forced into position.
To the bottom of the thrust levers, sit the engine starter switches, the engine mode selector and two generic black square buttons that, in the real aircraft are fire/fault warning lights for the engine start and ignition system. Thrustmaster could have easily just included these as decals but they have chosen to include these well-made buttons to give the user much welcomed additional functionality. These five switches and an appealing ‘Airbus’ logo are set in a raised panel within the base of the unit, which gives the modular feeling of a real aircraft instrument. The switches themselves do appear to be very small compared to the near 1:1 feel of the throttle levers. The engine switches are small, solid, silver pieces of shaped plastic which resembles its real-world counterpart, mounted onto a simple on/off switch. On the real aircraft, these switches require you to lift them up to operate them, this is to prevent you from accidentally knocking them and switching the engines off mid-flight. This is not the case on the TCA Quadrant but it does not take away from the experience. I have not managed to turn off an engine accidentally, as of yet. Even though they are made of plastic, they have a metallic appearance and seem very durable. Other than ‘ENG’ and ‘ON/OFF’ labels on the base, out of the box, these are left blank, this is what the stickers are for. In the box, you have a set of four stickers to attach here, each denoting which engine you would like to use the switch for. Thrustmaster has been very clever to include stickers for engines one through four, just in case you buy another quadrant to fly an A340 or A380. If this is the case, there is a small switch on the very lower left-hand corner on the base to switch the quadrant to either engines one/two or three/four.
Again, the engine mode selector is rather small but unlike the start switches, this switch feels very cheap as it is made of hollow moulded plastic. The only detail is given to small indicator to denote which mode the switch is in which is disappointing. It is very easy to remove this switch by simply pulling it away from the base which makes it very easy to be replaced by a third-party item of better quality. This switch has three settings, notated by white writing on the base of crank, norm and ign/start in the same typeface as the real aircraft.
Setting up the TCA Throttle Quadrant is a little tricky depending on what simulator and aircraft you wish to use it with. I have tested the unit with Microsoft Flight Simulator and X-Plane with varying success. Both platforms recognised the full unit, including additional speed brake and flap lever additions, on a plug and play basis with even some of the controls having functionality assigned to them. Setting it up through MSFS proved trickier than I expected from a new platform. From the beginning, the thrust levers and reverse motion worked well although I noticed that the detents were a little bit mismatched. Subsequent reading leads me to the idea that the variations in manufacturing may result in these detents being misaligned. This didn’t take me long to rectify using the MSFS sensitivity functions. Things started to get a little more tricky when it came to assigning the engine start procedure for the lower panel of switches. Initially, these switches are assigned many functions that just do not seem to work as they should on the default A320. When turning the engine one switch to off, either the opposite engine switch would be turned on or the intended switch would be turned on for a moment and then return to the off position. After some research on the internet, I finally found some key bindings that had the most realistic, but not spot-on, function. In MSFS, the engine mode selector only has two positions that will register, crank and ign/start, these are easy to set up but if you want to return the switch to norm, you will have to bind one of the other keys to this function as moving the switch will not register.
In X-Plane, the setup is a little easier. The simulator will register the device as well as the detents and reverse thrust functions right from the start, which is very helpful. Other functionality is left rather blank as there is no default Airbus aircraft to logically bind the other inputs to. After updating my Airbus fleet, which includes the FlightFactor A320, ToLiss A319/A321 and the JARDesign A330, I managed to put together different control profiles for each aircraft that utilised the full functionality of the quadrant. Most of the aircraft have their own drop-down menu in the control inputs list which helps to identify each of the functions. It was necessary to consult the settings of individual aircraft to get the thrust levers to work correctly, but they worked seamlessly once this was selected.
If getting to grips with multiple platform setup proves too difficult or frustrating, Thrustmaster has included support through their Thrustmaster Advanced pRogramming Graphical EdiTor or T.A.R.G.E.T software which helps programme the throttle and to build custom response curves for the axes. The functionality of the software far surpasses what you will need for the use with the throttle quadrant as this programme supports the entire range of more complex HOTAS products. I have found that even with using the T.A.R.G.E.T system, further changes still need to be made in the sim to get the throttle quadrant to work as I like.
Once everything is set up the way you want it, the product starts to shine. There is something about having a product that is made for a specific aircraft that you just can’t beat. I am not sure whether it is the ease of use or the next level of immersion you get from the product but it feels like you are operating the real thing. Having a throttle quadrant specifically made for the Airbus family makes flying in the simulator a lot easier. The TCA Throttle Quadrant works seamlessly with the previously released TCA Sidestick which adds to the experience. That being said, operating the two together is not a requirement, both the quadrant and the sidestick work in conjunction with any other input device you may want to use.
The TCA Throttle Quadrant allows you to not only feel when you put the aircraft into climb or flex power detents but hear it click into place as well. This saves you having to look at the position of the thrust levers in the sim or on the Primary Flight Display as to when the power mode changes.
I have found that when operating the thrust levers, it requires very little input to advance the throttles quite far. Just a few millimetres and it is easy to overpower the aircraft and exceed regular taxi speeds. I believe this comes from the relative size of the quadrant. The distance between idle and the first detent seems rather condensed and therefore a small movement here will equal a much larger space on the quadrant in the sim. I subsequently changed the sensitivity and response curves within the sim to make this space a little less reactive but it would be good if the product was a little larger in scale to reduce the overall misalignments. I also enjoy the ability to manage the power on an engine by engine basis. I have never had experience with multi-engine throttle systems before and so the novelty of being able to use operations like a single-engine taxi or practising engine out procedures properly for the first time in the sim was exciting.
Managing the aircraft through the engine start-up and shutdown as well as in-flight emergency procedures is a lot easier with the additional engine switch panel on the quadrant as you don’t have to keep switching views to get the aircraft started which enables you to monitor the process from the MFDs or even externally with ease.
Without using much force, pushing the thrust levers to TOGA or to full reverse power does cause the front or back of the unit to lift off from the desk which is frustrating. Thrustmaster has included a way of securing the quadrant to your desk by way of two small screw holes (screws not included) in the base of the unit, this is more of a permanent solution and seems a little over the top for an average simmer that may use different setups. A more common alternative mounting system or sticky pad solutions used by other manufacturers would have been preferable. The unit does have small rubber legs that are effective in protecting your desk as well as stopping any slipping and sliding that you would expect from operating thrust levers.
Thrustmaster has included lots of ways you can tailor the TCA Throttle Quadrant to your liking. If you want to increase or decrease the tension or resistance you feel when advancing the levers, you simply have to loosen or tighten the screw with a Phillips screwdriver, you can also use the attachment rod to do so. If you loosen the tension all the way, the levers simply fall forward or backwards with gravity – even when sat in the detent – so I would advise leaving some tension. The throttle quadrant comes default at around 50% tension so this will give you an idea as to the limits of this feature. I have found a pleasing resistance at around 80% but this is, of course, personal preference.
On the bottom of the front of the base, just next to the tension screw, is a small female connector annotated with TFRP pedals. This is an RJ12 slot for the connection of Thrustmaster’s own TFRP T.Flight Pedals. This feature allows two input devices to use one USB slot on your PC but it would also suggest the possibility of future support for different platforms with limited USB slots such as the new Xbox.
If you wanted to use the TCA throttle quadrant for an aircraft that is not from the Airbus family, you can disable the reverse thrust latches to enable the full range of the levers, as well as removing the detents completely. To remove the detents, all you need to do is locate the two long plastic pieces that are secured by two screws on the bottom of the panel. Simply unscrew each panel, rotate the panel 180 degrees and refasten the panel. This will now allow you to advance the thrust levers through their whole motion without being impeded by the detents or the reverse latches. I like this feature as it doesn’t limit you to using the throttle quadrant for just airbus’ or even airliners. I have tried using the quadrant with multi-engine turbos as well as single-engine turbines, all with the same satisfaction as I get from flying with all the functionality.
The Thrustmaster TCA Throttle Quadrant is a unique and fun piece of hardware that enables you to enjoy flying Airbus across platforms or even any aircraft with the use of a dedicated throttle quadrant. Overall, the look and feel of the unit is that of high quality with only a few areas letting it down such as the engine mode selector and the lightweight feel of the base unit. The throttle quadrant comes in at £89.99 which is the equivalent of around €100 or $120. In my opinion, I do feel that this is on the slightly more expensive side considering the overlooked features but the shortfalls are made up with the use of the Hall Effect Sensors, something I didn’t expect from a product in this price range. For those who are considering their first throttle quadrant or those that are looking to change their current setup, you would be silly to not consider the TCA Throttle Quadrant in your search, given the all-round customisation nature of the product.
- Reverse Thrust Latch mechanism.
- Dedicated Switch panel for engines.
- Overall customisability.
- Use of Hall Effect AccuRate Technology.
- Engine Mode selector is cheap and flimsy.
- Too light in the base.
- No feasible way of securing it to the desk.
- Takes way too long to setup software wise.