VIRPIL is a relatively recent newcomer on the market of flight controls. Founded in 2016, their first products left the factory in 2018 with the creation of the MongoosT-50, a reproduction of the Sukhoi PAK-FA fighter joystick. The company, originating from Belarus, targets the combat and space simulation users and quickly established themselves as quality manufacturers. For the purpose of this hardware review, VIRPIL provided FSElite with the WarBRD Grip, Base, and VPC Deskmount V3 – L size. The specific WarBRD devices we are reviewing today were designed in cooperation with Roman Dorokhov, aka “Baur” who uses BRD as a trademark. Baur is famous in the world of custom high-end joysticks for flight simulation. He is now the Chief Designer at VIRPIL. This collaboration with VIRPIL puts his designing skills at a more affordable and wider scale. We will see how this goes for the simmer in this review.
The VIRPIL line of products
Before reviewing the products we will venture into the VIRPIL line of products. The VIRPIL concept is that most of their products are modular at several levels, to ensure the products fit exactly to the customer demand. There are two bases and five grips to choose from. All of them are interchangeable. In addition, both bases can also welcome either the Thrustmaster Warthog, Cougar or F/A-18C grips. The VIRPIL grips can also be connected to the Thrustmaster bases but with limited functionalities on the most advanced grips. The modularity of the line is not only a matter of cross compatibility, as we will see with the various options offered. Since the dawn of flight simulation on personal computers, there has been an aftermarket to replace pots, springs, arm levers. This was due to poor quality of parts, and to either compensate for the lack of support by companies, or to allow for some to enhance their experience so their products will behave exactly as they wish. The difference with VIRPIL Controls is that all these small mods and enhancements have been thought from the beginning and the serviceability of their products is here by design, as we will see below. This means that 3rd party makers can also offer their own sets of springs and cams. This review concentrates on the WarBRD Base and Grip, so let’s focus more specifically on this range.
The VIRPIL products come in simple packaging. The items are packed separately, in a bigger box. They are wrapped using bubble wrap and tape. There is not much to add, and the items came in perfect condition in spite of the infamous delicacy of the parcel handlers.
Let’s start this review with the WarBRD Base and the Deskmount. The WarBRD base was designed with compactness in mind for desktop setups. The base casing is entirely made of metal painted in black with polished chrome edges and screws. The base has no throttle axis, as you usually could find in many entry level joysticks. This is the first clue of where VIRPIL is standing. So using any VIPRIL base and Grip will mean you will have to buy a separate throttle if you do not own one already.
What first struck me during unboxing is that WarBRD Base is relatively compact, being 13cm long, 9cm width and 6cm height. Turning it upside down, the internal mechanism is reachable through the bottom of the base which has no plate. The gimbal is surprisingly compact. This is made possible because each axis features a double cross cam mechanism with one spring. This is the exact signature move we would expect from “Baur”. This allows for great deflection angle and great smoothness, but we will see about this further ahead in the review. Finally, the base comes with a rubber cache on the top, where the connector is located, which is interesting because it avoids dust going into the mechanism of the base, which is one of the flaws of the Thrustmaster Cougar and Warthog base. In the long term, this means sticks and bases with apparent gimbals, whatever the brand, will need to be disassembled to be cleaned; sadly most of them are absolutely not designed for. But let’s get back to the WarBRD base.
The USB cable length is 190cm, which may seem long for average desktop users, but is comfortable for cockpit builders, where the most direct path is not always possible nor wanted. Considering the target audience of the VIRPIL Base I would have rather liked if the cable was removable, but that is not a necessity.
Before setting up everything it is worth taking a look at the installation manuals. All of them are available on the VIRPIL website with many images and clear explanations all of which was very thorough and straightforward to understand. There was also a single A5 sheet of paper in the box with simple instructions on how to connect the grip to the base. The X plate below the grip is removable so that the grip can be screwed to a base plate or any custom setup. I tried the X plate which did its job, however, I found it would slide on my desk from time to time if I became really brutal.
Considering I already use a side mount with a Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog, I elected to set up my WarBRD base as such. The assembly on the Deskmount requires the use of a hex key that was not included in the package. Since I had a good collection of hex keys that was easily overcome, but I found it too bad VIRPIL did not include one, considering even your cheapest furniture will always come with a dedicated key. That being said, the Deskmount is clamped to the desk using a screw beneath it. Users should be careful because the entire mounting requires a lot of space below the desk, so if you want to use the stick in the center, you might not be able to set your seat at the height you wish. Interestingly, the grip can be twisted on its base upon connection, which means you can orientate it exactly how you wish for a perfect handling. While this is perfect for center mount adjustment depending on your seating and arm length, I was disappointed that I could not twist the base itself on the provided mount. The reason is that when using a side mount, the arm movement when pulling the stick is not exactly perpendicular to the desk and mount and naturally comes roughly in the direction of your shoulder. This means that you always apply a slightly left stick movement (or right if you have your stick on your left), unless you are able to twist the base itself and put the axis exactly in the direction where you arm pulls the stick. This is not too noticeable when putting the stick on a desktop, but can be prominent when your stick is on your side as in my setup. Some other competitors offer this possibility, which I regret. In the end, adjusting the height and twist so it would perfectly fit in my hand was actually what took me the most time of the entire process.
As mentioned in the foreword, the base was also designed in order to easily change the internal springs. The WarBRD comes with standard springs fitted but optional heavy springs can be installed. Using springs of various resistance will simulate the return to center due to the force of the air applied on the control surface of the aircraft. Users can also purchase cams that will create a linear deflection force. This accessory is designed primarily for the space simmers for example on Elite Dangerous, where obviously there is no air resistance on the control surfaces, with a further option of no center detent; this particular configuration will also interest helicopter pilots. Finally, the grips can also be mounted with an extension, which gives a larger deflection angle of the grip. Users should be careful using the extension on the WarBRD base, because it becomes possible to hit the Deskmount and damage your device, depending on your setup. While VIRPIL cross compatibility between lines of products enable you to do so the company themselves advise not to do so on the WarBRD unless you know exactly what you are doing. For such use, the Mongoose T50CM2 Base is more appropriate.
Overall, this setting up of the VIRPIL WarBRD Base on the Deskmount gives a very good first impression, with clearly lots of details that have been thoroughly engineered. The best in all this, is that apart from switching springs or cams which should not happen every day, most of the common issues that would be the reasons to tear apart your base and stick are mostly offset by a better design than average. Once they are set up, the VIRPIL are here for good.
Continuing this review on the grip itself. The VIRPIL WarBRD grip is actually an almost 1:1 size replica of a stick that you could find in several western jet fighters of the 50’s and 60’s, among them the F-86 Sabre and the F-4 Phantom. The Grip features a dual stage trigger, two buttons, one 8-way+press switch similar to a hat and one 4-way + press switch. The major differences with the original grips are the addition of a LED at the top of the Grip and the thumb button on the left which is replaced by a 4 way + press switch. Overall that’s 10 buttons + the hat, which is not bad either. The only slight drawback concerns the button that is under the pinky. It will be easy to reach but hard to press for small hands, as the movement is unnatural.
Judging by the dimensions of the actual F-4 Phantom stick the reproduction of the grip is faithful in this matter. Wondering how this design flaw could have been missed, I tried the grip with actual flying gloves issued to military pilots, and it then felt much better in place. As real as it gets! However, since 99% of simmers will use their bare hands (after all, fire hazard in front of your sim should not be your primary concern), I thought that VIRPIL could have adjusted the layout of the grip by moving slightly the position of the pinky button to accommodate a wider range of hand sizes. That being said, this is only a minor remark and the grip is usable as is.
The WarBRD Grip is made of high quality polyurethane plastic and feels very solid, but is surprisingly lightweight. It is noticeable when compared to my Warthog stick, which is made of metal and is quite heavy – more about this below. The WarBRD Grip comes in two versions, one with an additional lockable yaw axis, and one without any. The version we were provided includes the yaw axis, but I locked it for my everyday use since I own rudder pedals. Alternatively, you could use this yaw axis as a tiller for taxi.
Mounting the Warthog on the WarBRD Base
To conclude on the grip part, I have tried the WarBRD Base with my Warthog grip. First a word of caution. In order to not damage the connector of the Thrustmaster stick, it is important to remove two bolts that are located on the connector grip socket so the stick can be rotated without damage. I find it a shame this was not mentioned in the paper documentation that came with the grip and that I only found this almost by chance wandering in the VIRPIL FAQ. Once this was done, the stick mounted perfectly on the base, and I was also able to adjust and lock the twist of it just like any VIRPIL stick. The handling however felt quite different, and as previously hinted this is mostly due to the weight difference between the VPC WarBRD Grip and the Warthog stick. The Warthog alone weighs 1.3kg while the WarBRD Grip is only 292g. This has a direct impact on the default spring which is too soft to properly hold the weight of the stick.
A slight touch on the stick will incur a movement and it will slide from one side to the other if you let it be after releasing the stick during a turn. While this freedom of movement may please space simmers and helicopter pilots, I recommend anybody who wishes to use Thrustmaster sticks on their WarBRD base to also plan for a spring exchange. And, as modularity is one of the good deeds of VIRPIL, the heavier springs are already enclosed as standard in the WarBRD Base, and the instructions of how to proceed are readily available in the documentation and through a Youtube Video. However, even if the WarBRD Base was designed for interchangeable springs and cams, it is not that easy and will require patience.
Changing the springs only is easy though and probably took me less than half an hour, using the right tools. Once it was all set, the feeling of the stick was much better, as the stiffer springs really gave it the right amount of resistance that was needed. The Warthog was recognized by the VPC Software, and then I proceeded within the sim for a tryout. All buttons and functions were recognized instantly, electronically speaking there was no difference, but the butter smoothness of the WarBRD base made a huge difference in terms of precision of flying. This completely renewed my sensations with the Warthog stick.
Once plugged in, the base and grip were instantly recognized. The first time I launched the VPC Software, it told me the firmware of my stick was outdated. Not exactly comfortable with the idea of bricking a brand new stick because I flashed the ROM without knowing what I was doing, I decided to take a look at the documentation. It took me only a couple of minutes to figure out how to do so. The process is explained in the documentation that is available on the VIRPIL website. Users should go to the “Firmware”. There is a “Start Auto Firmware button” which will take care of this automatically. It will take about one to two minutes, during which you will here the device connect and disconnect from Windows several times. Just make sure your computer does not reboot and that the device remains plugged in at all times during the process and you should be good. Once this is done, we can go through the configuration of the stick.
The software comes in two modes: lite and pro. It may look simple at first, but it is actually quite advanced. It allows the creation of profiles based on the combination of base, grip that you are currently using. This ensures the hardware is configured exactly as you want it. Just like any advanced configuration software, this will however require some time to get into properly. The VPC Software is very powerful, and the interface is not the clearest. Once initially set up the joystick is usable in sims, but those who want to take advantage of all the possibilities offered by the VIRPIL products will need to take a deep dive into the software documentation.
The documentation covering the software is well written, and gives several advice on how to properly connect the hardware, but the learning curve will be hard. For example, it is possible to create binding and cross configurations virtually expanding the amount of buttons you use. This is also through the software that will configure the color of the LED, but I did not find any utility nor compatible sims with this function.
Overall the configuration software works well but is not easy to grasp at first. We recommend users to read it carefully before connecting any VIRPIL hardware. In any case you encounter trouble, it is easy to reach out to the support team of VIRPIL. There is a dedicated Support Desk on their website with a ticketing system, a forum and plenty of documentation available.
Well, after all this hassle setting up our devices, the time has come to try them in my favorite sims. I am not much of a combat simmer anymore. So the apparent lack of buttons and switches on the WarBRD Grip compared to my Warthog stick and the other VIRPIL grips did not bother me much. In my everyday configuration, the buttons on the stick are more than enough for aileron and elevator trims, yaw damper, autopilot and autothrottle disconnects, a TOGA switch and a push-to-talk radio when flying on VATSIM. In essence, the WarBRD Grip, despite its name, is probably the most adapted grip of their range to civilian simulators.
In combat sim, it will mostly depend on what type of aircraft you are flying. The concept of a HOTAS “hands on throttle and stick” means that most controls are on the stick and throttle and that the “cab driver” should almost never have his hands off the controls. These appeared on aircraft only with 3.5 and 4th generation fighters. So, first of all, if you are into 5th generation fighters and space simulation, there are probably many other products that would suit you better. If you fly mostly World War II aircraft, then the WarBRD Grip should be more than enough for you.
The grip is much lighter and feels less sturdy than its metal counterpart, but it actually handles pretty well. Compared to the Warthog the stick is slightly smaller, so any hand that feels good on the Warthog will have no trouble with the WarBRD Grip. The plastic used is soft and slightly grainy, so the hand does not slip on it and I like how soft the touch is. Thanks to the quality of the polyurethane plastic used at manufacturing, it does not feel cheap either; but it differs considerably from the sensation of cold metal of the Warthog. After this one I thought I would never go back to plastic but in the end I find the WarBRD Grip very enjoyable.
The WarBRD Grip and Base are really designed to work together, and I can definitely feel it in the sims. The smoothness of the controls continues to surprise me after weeks of handling, and this is maybe the bigger advantage of this entry-level combo from VIRPIL. Flying in close formation with my comrades of FSElite during a group flight on Microsoft Flight Simulator, I really enjoyed the precision of the controls as each slight movement of my hand was transmitted to the aircraft. Hand flying has become more enjoyable and less tiring, as it is with the VIRPIL WarBRD that I flew for the first time for more than 2 hours of constant close formation only using the stick and trims. In combat sims, the precision becomes terrific in dogfights and ground strafing. The precision of the small inputs make it easier to reach the target. Because it is very precise, the WarBRD Combo is an excellent tool for serious simmers. Flying helicopters has also become much more realistic on the condition of using the right cams and springs.I can find again this greatness of the small movements around the center that remain precise.
Here lies why the WarBRD Combo is so great. Precision is not only a matter of high quality contactless sensors, but it also needs a full suit of cams, springs, grips and bases that were engineered to work together. There is where VIRPIL stands above the competition in my opinion. I like to fly helicopters, WarBRD, airliners and sometimes combat aircraft and the WarBRD Combo can do it all without constantly buying new hardware for each purpose … which I don’t have the money for anyway.
Considering the price tag, there is one important item that I will bring up last is the durability of the product. The VIRPIL products use contactless sensors where applicable, which are less prone to wear than regular pots and provide a very superior precision. As stated before, the WarBRD Base has a rubber cap covering the top of the connector, making it almost impossible for dust to collect inside the mechanism. Should it happen, the base was designed with disassembly in mind anyway, so cleaning will be very easy. The WarBRD base is definitely here to stay for a decade or more. Regarding the grip, while it has overall enthused me in terms of day to day use, I will be more conservative regarding the life expectancy of the buttons. The stick itself will not break unless you decide to throw bricks at it, and the plastic seems to be of real quality which should not see any signs of wear before years and years of abuse.
My concern has more to do regarding the various buttons of the grips.This review actually started with a WarBRD grip off which the hat did not work properly. It was of course hastily replaced with a functioning unit by VIRPIL. But on both grips I received some of the buttons – the red ones, to be precise – all have slight play in them. I suspect this is due to the fact that their push resistance is made using a spring under each button. This was done on purpose by design, as real buttons on real sticks need a fair sheer of strength to be activated in order to avoid inadvertent presses. The buttons need to be pushed harder than your keyboard to be activated, but this means the cap of the button itself can be quite jumpy. In all fairness I have noticed this on many joysticks that are not only VIRPIL. Some of them still work well and others have come completely loose and unusable. I disliked that, and the VIRPIL ones may last long, but what I fear again is after a few years of use, dust will have settled inside tempering with the buttons … just like with entry level joysticks.
I hope the future will prove me wrong on this point, and considering the care that has been put in the rest of the engineering, I am relatively confident this has been rigorously designed as well.
Depending on your usage, my advice considering the current line of products at VIRPIL would be as follows. If you are a mostly civilian pilot, get the WarBRD Base and Grip and a separate throttle, maybe one more designed for civilian use than the combat styles offered by VIRPIL. If you are more combat sim oriented but remain in props or early jets eras, getting the WarBRD Combo as well as one of their throttles would make a great start. If you fly any modern era jet fighter, then the WarBRD Grip might not be your best choice among the VIPRIL line of products and you should maybe think about some of their more advanced (and expensive) grips.
The WarBRD Combo is the cheapest you will get in the VIRPIL range, yet it retails at €251.91 excluding shipping and VAT and with a 10% discount on combo purchase. The WarBRD Combo has no throttle, the cheapest throttle at VIRPIL retails at €319.95. With a total cost of €571.86, if you start from 0 the price is steep. But, the quality is there. In spite of the small interrogation regarding the durability of the buttons, make no mistake that the VIRPIL controls are of excellent quality.
- Excellent overall engineering
- Great precision device
- Pricing is right in range for what they offer.
- Lightweight toyish feeling at first glance
- Very powerful software but with a steep learning curve
- Unsure of the durability of the buttons
Where are scores?
After listening to your feedback, we have decided that from February 5th 2020, we will no longer implement review scores. We will continue to provide high-quality reviews via our written, video and imagery to help you make an informed decision about a product. You can read more about it on our Review Guidelines Page.