I finally bought an Elite Dangerous HOTAS and I might dare to call it my best hardware purchase of the year.

I’m by no means an expert when it comes to Elite Dangerous. In fact, with a grand total of 10 hours of game time before writing this post, it’s fair to say I’m pretty fresh when it comes to ED. Nine of those 10 hours were spent struggling with the controls in some way or another. I started with a mouse and keyboard (“How hard could it be?”) then graduated (forcibly) to using a Bluetooth gamepad; this got me closer, but I gave up in frustration before long.

Enter the Elite Dangerous HOTAS

More than a year on, one of my friends finally convinced me to splash out on an Elite Dangerous HOTAS. “HOTAS” is an acronym for “Hands On Throttle-And-Stick” and really makes you feel like you’re in the cockpit. It’s a little intimidating, but I found within minutes of using it that I was in for a smoother ride – literally – this time around.

I’ve joined the legion of gamers that have purchased a HOTAS for the sole reason of playing ED. There’s pretty much one go-to model: Thrustmaster T-Flight Hotas X Flight Stick . My previous reference to “splashing out” was a bit of an overstatement; the Thrustmaster is a steal and comes very highly rated.

The top five HOTAS setups on Amazon are shown below.

Bestseller No. 1
Thrustmaster T.16000M FCS HOTAS Controller
  • The T.16000M FCS HOTAS is compatible with PC via USB in Windows 10, 8, 7 and Vista (32-bit and 64-bit)
  • 16 action buttons with braille - style physical button identification
  • Exclusive precision:Hall Effect accurate technology 3D (Hall Effect) magnetic sensors located on the Stick (us patent: Us08471815)
  • 4 independent axes, including twist rudder (controlled by rotating the Stick)
  • 14 action buttons + 8-way POV hat: two 4-Way switches + 3 buttons + one 2-position Slider + 1 push mini-stick + one 8-way point of view hat switch
Bestseller No. 2
Thrustmaster T-Flight Hotas X Flight Stick
  • Wide hand-rest for optimal comfort
  • Programmable: the 12 buttons and 5 axles are entirely programmable
  • Dual-system aerodynamic control: by rotating handle (with integrated blocking system) or by progressive tilting lever
  • Internal memory: to save all of your programming, even with the joystick disconnected
  • High-precision joystick with adjustable resistance
SaleBestseller No. 3
Thrustmaster T16000M FCS Flight Pack - PC
  • The T.16000M FCS is compatible with PC via USB in Windows 10, 8, 7 and Vista (32-bit and 64-bit).
  • The T.16000M FCS offers you a precision level greater than current systems, which will not decrease over time, thanks to the joystick's H.E.A.R.T technology (U.S. patent US08471815).
  • Fully ambidextrous joystick: 3 removable components allow the joystick to be perfectly tailored for left-handed or right-handed use.
  • The joystick includes 16 action buttons with "braille"-style physical button identification + one 8-way Point of View hat switch and 4 independent axes, including twist rudder
  • The T.A.R.G.E.T software allows you to load and create specific mapping profiles for each game.
Bestseller No. 4
Thrustmaster T.Flight Hotas 4 Flight Stick for PS4 & PC
  • Ready for takeoff with adjustable stick resistance, real-size detachable throttle, dual rudder system and built-in PS4/PC sliding switch; Realistic joystick is designed to adapt to all types of flights (aerial combat, space adventure, civil flight, etc.)
  • Adjustable stick resistance with large hand rest; Dual rudder system: by rotating handle (with integrated locking system) or by progressive tilting lever.
  • Comprehensive flight gear: 5 axes + 12 action buttons + 1 rapid fire trigger + 1 multidirectional hat switch (navigation / panoramic view)
  • PC compatibility (Windows 10/8/7/Vista/XP) ensured thanks to Thrust master drivers available for download from our website; Internal memory and upgradeable firmware via the PC drivers
Bestseller No. 5
Logitech G X56 H.O.T.A.S. RGB Throttle and Stick Simulation Controller for VR Gaming
  • Military-grade Space and Flight Sim Precision. Customizable options including all the control surface options required to achieve the exact level of performance that aspiring combat pilots demand
  • New Mini Analog Stick Control Surfaces: Control pitch, roll, yaw, backwards, forwards, up, down, left and right as well as gimballed weapons that are controlled separately from the space craft
  • RGB Backlighting: Many PC peripherals now feature RGB backlighting and the X-56 is no exception. Use the software to set the color of the lighting to match the rest of your gaming rig
  • Ideal for VR: The X-56 places controls perfectly under your fingers where subtle distinctions in button feel and shape help you navigate the control set with ease
  • Fully Featured HOTAS: Accurate 16-bit aileron and elevator axis with hall-effect sensors. Adjustable Stick Force via Advanced 4-Spring System. Twin Throttles with Friction Adjuster and Throttle Lock

Configuring for Elite Dangerous

With the number of buttons and axes available in a HOTAS, combined with the complexity of controls in ED, configuration can seem an insurmountable challenge, especially if you just want an easy way to play the game (like me). Luckily, many others have already figured it out. You can find a vast number of “bindings” files pre-configured – just Google something sensible.

I went with a this bindings file and performed the edits below. The edited version is available here. Note that I didn’t configure this bindings file; it was something I picked up from the official Frontier Forums and have stored for posterity.

Elite Dangerous HOTAS - Bindings diagram
Elite Dangerous HOTAS – Bindings diagram for linked .binds file. Google diagram available here.

Note that I actually have Elite Dangerous: Horizons , for which the linked file was created, but I don’t imagine there’s too much difference between bindings compared to the base game.

Step-by-Step Bindings Installation Guide

  1. Download the bindings file (either the original or my edited version). The file will have the extension .binds.
  2. If you’re using the original you need to manually edit a single line. You can edit by right-clicking the file and opening it in a plain text editor such as Notepad. The second line will start <Root PresetName="TMHotasXModsSM"… and will contain a MajorVersion and MinorVersion. The MajorVersion needs to be set to "2" and the MinorVersion to "0" so that the full line will look like: <Root PresetName="TMHotasXModsSM" MajorVersion="2" MinorVersion="0">
  3. Copy the bindings file to C:\Users\<Username>\AppData\Local\Frontier Developments\Elite Dangerous\Options\Bindings.
  4. Rename the bindings file so that the version 1.8 in the name is changed to 2.0.
  5. Make sure to select the TMHotasXModsSM preset in the in-game Controls menu.

And you’re done!

HOTAS Installation Debug

The Thrustmaster claims to be plug-and-play, but if it’s not working, you might want to try the following:

  • Use one of the rear USB ports in your computer; the front one probably won’t work.
  • Make sure the “Home” button on the front of the HOTAS is green by pressing it.
  • Make sure the HOTAS is configured for PC if you’re using it on the PC. (It’s also got a PS3 mode but, come on.)
  • If it’s still not working, download and install the latest drivers from the Thrustmaster website.

This should be all you need to do.

Acclimitisation

There is still some learning to do when it comes to using the Elite Dangerous HOTAS. There are so many ways to control your spacecraft in ED that it would be silly to think otherwise. The advantage is that pretty much everything is at your fingertips thanks to the ergonomic design of the system. The training missions will give advice according to the new bindings so it will tell you which actual buttons to press; you won’t have to be constantly referring to the controls menu.

What does take a little getting used to is button combinations. There are four buttons within reach of your left thumb (on the “throttle”) which can be held before pressing some other button with your right hand (on the “stick”) to perform an action. Thinking about the buttons on the throttle as a modifier (in a similar way to CTRL, ALT, or SHIFT on a keyboard) can help you get used to these combinations. Indeed, with a couple of hours of practice, the bindings for the HOTAS were sticking with me in a way that the mouse and keyboard or gamepad weren’t.

Hat-Switch Hat Trick

One thing I particularly like about the Thrustmaster is the tiny control pad on the head of the joystick, called a hat-switch. This can be used to navigate menus instead of a mouse or the arrow keys. But there are two functions that I particularly enjoy using it for:

  • fine adjustment when docking – with one of the aforementioned modifiers, you can use this pad to thrust in the x-y plane;
  • quick power redistribution between system, engine, and weapons.

This latter function in particular really struck me. There is a lot of power in being able to balance your subsystems in the middle of a dogfight, but this wasn’t really feasible with the other control methods. The HOTAS lets you do it, and let me tell you: it’s brilliant.

Verdict

I wish I’d got one of these sooner. If I had, I might not have shelved ED so quickly the first time. Just do yourself a favour and get one!


Have you got a favourite HOTAS? A particular bindings file? Some other way of playing Elite Dangerous? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter. If you want notifications for more simulation game related articles, consider subscribing to Odin Gaming.

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Comments (11)

  • Yan
    November 24, 2017 at 01:39 Reply
    Hi, I followed your instructions directly and I see the preset listed in the in-game presets list, but when I select it, none of the joystick controls work. The default Thrustmaster Hotas X setting works fine, so I know it is not a hardware issue. I would still like to use your bindings file if possible. I made sure the version number in the file was changed to "2" and "0" as instructed. Please advise.
    • November 24, 2017 at 19:57 Reply
      Thanks for reaching out! I'm sorry you're experiencing difficulties. It sounds like you're most of the way there. I seem to remember having similar problems while I was setting this up first time, but I can't quite remember what I did to resolve the issue. I expect I faffed with it until things worked and didn't remember the exact order. You might try the following, though:
      • Follow all of the HOTAS Installation Debug steps listed in the post above.
      • Make sure you don't have any other game controllers plugged in or active on your PC. This includes any gamepads or other joysticks you might have (but not mouse and keyboard). You might need to restart your computer so that the HOTAS is recognised as the default game controller.
      • I've seen some reports that the Home button on the HOTAS has been red rather than green when it finally got round to working. Try toggling this to see if it makes a difference. Try toggling it both when you're in-game and before you launch the game.
      • After activating the TMHotasXModsSM, try making a trivial change to the control setup so that it becomes a custom bindings file. Change it back. Use the custom bindings file rather than the TMHotasXModsSM one.
      I'm sorry there doesn't seem to be an obvious solution to this! Please let me know if any of the above suggestions fix the problem for you; I'd be happy to add it to the article.
      • Adrian
        January 17, 2018 at 12:38 Reply
        Having the same issue as Yan with a Hotas X, using your bind file (the 2.0 version). Despite showing up in the list of custom bind files, on checking you can see the file doesn’t contain any actual bindings, .Making a minor edit doesn’t work, as your just saving blank settings
      • Nikgrid
        March 24, 2018 at 08:44 Reply
        I love your setup it is FANTASTIC, however when I’m in the galaxy map and I move I can’t select amy systems. Help please!
  • Cmdr Kalisto59
    January 4, 2018 at 17:39 Reply
    Thank you very much for this post and bindings. Im now playing ED again and thinking about an Hotas. Just seen a second hand set fo 20 euro and I think i´m going for it.
    • January 4, 2018 at 17:49 Reply
      You're very welcome! I hope it works out for you!
  • Commander
    January 9, 2018 at 17:11 Reply
    This might help people that is having problems with the T.Flight H.O.T.A.S 4. You need to open the binding file and replace all the lines that say “ThrustMasterTFlightHOTASX” with “ThrustMasterHOTAS4” You can do it real easy with WordPad and the replace function.
  • McAlien
    January 27, 2018 at 04:16 Reply
    Hey, I’ve stumbled over your post that pointed to this while looking for some help with setting up my Hotas. I’ve just got my Oculus Rift and I’ve actually never planned to get Elite Dangerous right now, but hey, the CE was on sale for only 15 Euros, so… And then I’ve decided to go full in right from the start and get me a Hotas.Your config file (and the diagram of the key settings you’ve kindly posted along with it) were immensely helpful, those settings are just great. Especially the way the assignment of multiple functions for the keys works great; I’ve only needed a couple of training flights in 2D to get along with this and memorise most of it. This helped a lot to jump right in!The only thing I have changed is that I’ve switched the axes for Rolling and Sheering, the way this was set just felt unnatural to me. I’ve used to play Wing Commander a lot with a MS Sidewinder and my version of those settings and it seems, that specific muscle memory is still there…Anyway, thanks again and greetings from Germany!
    • January 27, 2018 at 09:35 Reply
      Thanks so much for your feedback! I'm really glad you found the information useful. It's true - a good setup like this with a HOTAS makes it much easier to play the game and immerse oneself in it.
  • McAlien
    January 27, 2018 at 19:41 Reply
    Hey, I am just saying how it is. One remark though, maybe as something to keep in mind for later. I am experimenting with voice attack at the moment and trying to figure out which key to use for the "voice command" button - I am not exactly sure if I can use one of the function key for that and how to do it. As I understand, the buttons on the back of the throttle, especially Nr. 10 (Headlook Toggle) are not used in VR anyway, so I guess one could use those?

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