Blackhog B-Explorer…how’s it getting on?

It’s been a few months since I wrote my first impression review of the Blackhog B-explorer and I did say I would do a further write up once I’d got more used to using it and give my impressions of it.

Since the review I had some further contact with BlackHog and they’ve sent me a second mounting point for the Thrustmaster Warthog base as I was finding it difficult to use the two controllers with one attached to the throttle and the other on the MonsterTech mount to my right, I was struggling to find the switches as I never actually used the side mounted stick and it really got in the way. This is not a problem with the MonterTech attachments, they’re really sturdy and good if the MonsterTech mounts are how you mount your stick; but as they were not the primary mounting system for me they caused more problems than they solved. Had I been using the stick on the MonsterTech mounts it would’ve been a lot better for me.

The B-Explorers with the dual mounting system on the Warthog Throttle

There are mounting points on the Warthog Throttle baseplate in three different positions, so I asked whether it was possible to mount two controllers on one plate; the answer was yes, it’s designed with it in mind! Bonus! As a result I have been using two controllers since December.

Using the b-Explorer with the F-14 in DCS World while in VR using the Rift-S

Challenges:

First off, the niggles of using more than one controller. It’s not the easiest thing to use in VR at first. In my first review I said it would be easier if the controls were grouped like the A model, and I stand by this, it is. The difficulty I have is in knowing which controller I have got my hand on, and which knob I’m trying to turn. Once I’ve been in a twisting turning fight it can be a bit disorienting and I’m not sure whether I’ve got my hand on the right or left controller. The only way for me to establish this is through feel, this is where some kind of tactile feedback would be really handy; I’ve just not had a chance to come up with something yet. For the most part this is absolutely fine, I don’t tend to have too many critical controls on them, everything that is essential is within reach of my thumbs on either the stick or throttle. As a result it’s not like I tend to be fumbling around in the middle of a fight. It’s mostly assigned to engine, UFC modes and non-critical switches.

Plus side:

I’ve since tested the controllers in other sims, without VR, such as IL2 Cliffs of Dover and they’re perfect. I’ve got easy access to the dials for controlling lights, gunsight brightness as well as adjusting ranges and wingspans. I can add prop pitch, flaps, landing gear, and radiators to an axis control. I’ve got enough buttons to cover all eventualities and they’re really easy to use with Track IR, as I can see what I am pressing. I can make fine adjustments to controls, they’re all in easy reach of the fingers on my left hand, so I don’t really need to let go of the throttle. If you are not using VR and you’re lacking buttons and sliders/dials then one of the controllers is a really good addition to your setup; two of them is probably more than most would need, or be willing to pay for, but I don’t use the CH Products Throttle Quadrant anymore; this has completely superseded it and left my with buttons to spare.

I now have covered buttons for starting each engine in twin engined aircraft in either IL2 sim, I have buttons to replicate the UFC in the F-16, Hornet or Harrier in DCS, I have buttons to activate NVGs, adjust their brightness on switches, I have a PTT for TeamSpeak, that is separate to the controls for my radio on the throttle; and it is all within easy finger reach. For the most part I get the right controls first time when in VR, muscle memory takes care of that, it just take some adjustment and getting used to. It definitely helps if you can see the buttons, switches knobs etc. But you’ll be able to adjust quickly, and with one it’s no issue. I have the left controller at an angle and the right controller perpendicular to the throttle axis, so that help to identify which one I have my hand on as well.

The covered buttons have been really useful for things like engine starts in IL2, as it is a single button press to get everything going/to get everything to stop it’s important you only press it when you want to and not by accident! I also have it assigned for different jettison modes in DCS so that I can quickly, but also intentionally, ditch stores when I need to.

Starting up the DCS World F/A-18C Hornet with the B-Explorer, Warthog, Voice Attack and Rift-S

Conclusion:

I would still highly recommend purchasing the B-explorer if you are in need of further buttons and axis controls the build quality is excellent. They’ve not suffered from my 3 year old twins insisting on playing with them; especially the cover over the yellow buttons – which is their favourite thing in my whole setup! If they can survive that test (repeatedly!) then they’ll last a long time with the good care and handling that most people would treat them with! (For reference they broke one of the levers on the CH Throttle Quadrant!)

I am still very happy with the set up that I have, and I would not remove either of the controllers, I’ve come to depend on them too much. Most people who buy one of these will probably not need a second, but I think that it is worth knowing that sims will support them and that they can be mounted onto a single solution, whether that is a MonsterTech mount or the Warthog throttle base. If you don’t use VR you’ll have absolutely no issue using these. If you do use VR it will take adjustment and some fine tuning to make sure you get them mounted just right for you, but you’ll soon find that you have no issue using them and you’ll wonder how you got by without them before.

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