Get a Grip!

Choices in the stick grip market.


Typical of Van’s products, their injection molded black nylon grip is no-nonsense, affordable at just $45, and offers only what you need: a comfortable grip, single drilled hole for a coolie hat switch, plus room for you to drill another hole for a PTT switch. It’s available strictly for 1-inch sticks and right-hand use. And because it won’t clash aesthetically with a plush pilot’s cockpit, it makes a good copilot’s grip in tandem seat aircraft, too.

It may not be the first thing builders talk about, but sooner or later, you’re going to need to select a stick grip. And like everything else today, there are more choices and considerations when it comes to dressing the top of your homebuilt’s control stick. From a polished axe handle to a jet fighter’s Christmas tree of switches and coolie hats, there’s no lack of choices in today’s market.

In a pushbutton world it’s easy to forget simplicity can still mother great things. This plain wooden ball is the grip atop Mira Slovak’s Bücker Jungmann, and what it lacks in sophistication is more than made up for by the talent holding it.

Define the Need

First, of course, you must decide on what it is you’re looking for in a stick grip. This is can be a deceptively simple task at first blush. But the more you consider what functions a stick grip can control, and that it’s both highly visible and a touch point in the cockpit, the more decisions you’re faced with.

For simple airplanes—LSA and aerobatic birds come to mind—the need can be only to cover the top of the stick’s metal tubing to avoid cuts and give a secure handhold. But thanks to headsets, just about everyone adds a push-to-talk (PTT) switch for radio and intercom duties—no one is picking up a microphone from the instrument panel anymore—and presto, you now have wires up the control stick and a momentary switch on the grip.

The fun begins as the panel fills up with electric gadgets. Probably the first to arrive is electric pitch trim, which needs either a rocker or toggle switch. Add in two-axis trim and you need either a second switch, or much better, a cone-shaped, four-way, coolie hat switch. By the way, such hat switches can easily be wired to work in just two directions if you want the good ergonomics of a hat switch but need only two functions.

Also common are electric flaps, which, while still often switched from the instrument panel, are finding their way to the grip. Chalk up another toggle or rocker switch to cover the “up” and “down” functions.

Sold by Aircraft Spruce in right, left and ultra (room for both a PTT and hat switch atop the grip and a trigger in the front) variations, the $56.50 Teakwood pistol grips give an organic, classic look to a cockpit. The polished wood texture has a natural feel and with their slightly compact sizing are great for tight cockpits or smaller hands. The right and left versions accommodate a single PTT switch atop the grip.

Autopilots are now the norm on cross-country airplanes, and here the typical need is to simply disengage the AP. Any old button on the grip eases that action, but it’s smart to place the AP disconnect a hair off the beaten path because inadvertently giving Iron Mike a smoke break can have interesting consequences that might take a few seconds to show up.

It doesn’t get any simpler than Aircraft Spruce’s rubber grip from BSP Aero. An easy $12.95, it’s thicker and cushier than it looks and damps buzz job machinery better than the hard vinyl alternatives. Designed for 1-inch sticks and T-88 adhesive application, its instruction sheet says a few wraps of electrical tape will make it work on smaller-diameter sticks.

Once the PTT, trim, flaps and autopilot are on the grip, personal preference and specialized needs seem to drive other operations we’ve found on grips. Some of these seem rather useful, such as controlling the frequency flip-flop on the com radio, flipping through EFIS displays, or even mounting a second PTT for the second com unit or intercom. But we’ve also seen the transponder ident button on the grip, which comes dangerously close to the same La-Z-Boy mentality which gave us an “auto” setting on our car’s headlight switch.

Of course, being able to toggle accessories on and off from the grip can be a real boon to piloting performance. Aerobatics go better with smoke, and where else to put the smoke switch than on the grip (or the throttle)? And if you’re having that much fun, toggling the on-board video camera into action is another stick grip natural.

One application we came across in our research was a switch on the pilot’s stick grip to de-activate all but the co-pilot’s PTT switch. Just the thing for Young Eagle flights or anyone else you don’t need re-trimming your airplane or who is afraid of “doing something wrong.”

The basic Tosten grip design is inherently ambidextrous and fits a typical PTT and momentary switch on the forward face (typically the lower switch is an autopilot disconnect). Coolie hat and switch options on the rear face allow four variations: CS-2, -4, -6, -8, with the $129.00 CS-6 (lower left) and $139.00 CS-8 (lower right) the most popular among customers who have autopilots. The $119.00 CS-4 (no coolie hat) is the best choice for those without an autopilot.

In many ways Tosten grips are at the happy confluence of design, features, and affordability. All Tostens feature a unique mounting where the grip has a molded-in steel post slipped into a Tosten bushing placed in the end of the control stick. A set screw allows clocking the grip in any heading, an adjustment easily reset at any time. Collateral considerations are the Tosten post mount requires six inches be cut off the stick, and there is a built-in angle to the grip. Rarely, this can be an issue in tight cockpits where the grip intersects the bottom of the instrument panel, but typically, as in the RV-12, the finished length and angle work out nicely.

Tostens, like Fatboys and Infinitis, come pre-wired for a worthwhile time savings. Furthermore, all Tosten grips are 66% nylon and 6% fiberglass for hammer-tough durability and acetone-friendly cleanability, plus Soft Touch coating is a $20 option. This is the same rubberized coating found on cell phones and high-end cameras. It gives a smoother grain and a warmer, more premium feel you’ll really like.

While visiting Tosten we got a glimpse at the future, a military style grip still being worked up as an injection molding fixture. It will use the Tosten post mount and a full suite of switch work. Uniquely, however, the side plates are separate, allowing unprecedented flexibility in switch mounting—even a side-mounted coolie hat for our editor-in-chief. This also makes the grip ambidextrous. Expect it to debut at AirVenture 2014 for around $180.

Design Considerations

We thought we’d find many variations in stick grip sizes, the better to accommodate different size hands, but we didn’t. Yes, a few grips are smaller than others, and a few similar looking grips have subtle shape differences that you can feel in back-to-back testing, but none of these were meaningful in our opinion. If hand-fit is a concern, all we can say is you’ll have to try a few on for size.

More meaningful are variations in feel between simple plastic moldings, wood, and rubber-coated plastic textures. This can be a big deal to some folks and a non-issue for others; you might want to consider test driving a few grips at the big airshows if you’re picky on surface feel. Tosten offers an especially attractive rubberized finish.

LSA or other basic aircraft are the market for Tosten’s approximately $55 CS-3 grip. It’s simple but nicely made, can be had with Soft Touch coating for $20 extra, and features a PTT trigger and a 2-way trim switch atop the grip. It also uses the adjustable Tosten post mounting.

Switch placement can loom large as a personal preference. Your aerobatically-inclined editor wants his coolie hat trim switch mounted at an ergonomic angle for natural action during vertical maneuvers; so far, all hat switches have been mounted perpendicularly atop the grip. Now it seems Tosten is developing just such a grip, so we suppose it doesn’t hurt to voice an opinion!

Flight Grips are modular, designed to be finished from a wide choice of switches as the customer wishes. Typical examples are the Model 2 (left) at $127.75 featuring a 2-way rocker trigger switch and a plain faceplate at top. The Model 4 (right) is $149.95 ($172.75 left-handed) and adds the two top-mounted buttons. Many other variations are possible.

One thing to watch for is clearance between the instrument panel and the grip (or more accurately, your hand). Smaller cockpits can have little room between the panel and a stick pushed well-into the nose-down position. It might be that a simpler, shorter grip gives more clearance.

Ray Allen makes a wide-ranging, popular line of grips and autopilot controls, easing integration of the two systems. This is Allen’s basic G101 foam grip (high-grip, vibration-damping). It has a nice barrel shape, a single PTT switch under the thumb, and sells for $36.95.

Another popular discussion is whether to mount the grip straight ahead or angled. We’ll get to that in just a minute, but from a design standpoint, understand that almost all grips are either glued or through-bolted to the stick. This makes reorienting them after installation practically impossible. The one exception is Tosten grips, which use a set screw arrangement for slick and quick grip reorientation.

Installation Thoughts

There’s nothing terribly taxing about fitting stick grips into your project, but it is one of those little corners of the airplane that benefits from thorough planning because the grip’s electrical tentacles can range from engine to wingtip to rear nav light. In short, it’s necessary to decide on the functions you want in the grip before shopping for grips.

Be aware that some grips, trims and autopilots require relays to operate. That’s not a direct issue when selecting a grip, but it is something to budget airframe space and, of course, money, for. If you have an electronically complex airplane coming together, fitting something like a Vertical Power circuit breaker box might help rationalize the wiring to/from the stick.

The two-way rocker switch in the trigger position is a constant of the Flight Grip line. It’s a clean way of getting two functions—PTT radio and PTT intercom—in a small area. Toggling the rocker upwards as shown isn’t quite as natural as toggling down, so we’d put an occasional use in that position.

To fit the grip in the straight ahead position or angled to the side is an argument for the ages. The straight position might look better to show judges if you’re into that sort of thing, and it offers more flexibility on long cross countries where you might want to switch hands occasionally.

On the other hand—very puny, we know—an angled grip can be less fatiguing to the hand/wrist it is angled for. And worries about an angled grip skewing the mental gymnastics of pulling or pushing the stick are moot. We’ve yet to find the pilot who said he wished he had put his grip on straight because the angled mounting was disorienting.

Obviously this straight vs. angled argument is a personal preference question, but we’ll observe more complex, anatomically-formed grips are likely best mounted at an angle, while simpler grips don’t matter so much.

Still using the G101’s foam grip, Ray Allen offers a line of inserts with multi-function heads to arrive at the $109.85 G205 and $148.95 G207 grips. These are the G205 and G207 heads by themselves, unlabeled, just the way they come out of the box. Ray Allen instructions are excellent and installation and wiring appear easy.

Preprinted, adhesive labels are provided with Ray Allen controls. They’re a bit basic, but provide great adaptability depending on how you configure your grip’s switches. There is a PTT button on the forward radius of the G205/G207 controls in addition to the switches seen here.

Interestingly, many smaller, more agile planes are mainly flown via the fingertips rather than the grasp Steve Canyon used to manhandle his F-102, and then the ergonomically-shaped grips can be confining on long flights. It might be a simple ball or rubber tricycle-handle grip that allows the desired flexibility in such cases.

Something else to consider, especially on installations with all the bells and whistles, is feeding all those wires up the stick. Sticks are commonly 5/8-, ¾- or 1-inch tubing, with a few warbird/military applications sporting a swaggering 11/8-inch stick. If you have a lot of wiring, we recommend a 1-inch stick for wire routing. Go smaller and you may have to re-wire a pre-wired Infiniti or Tosten stick (it’s been done). Go larger and you’ll be limited in the direct-fit grip installations and could likely need to fabricate an adapter to get your intended grip joined to the stick.

Ultimately grip selection is a personal choice as much as filling a mission requirement. The happy news is there are plenty of options to choose from.

Ray Allen also offers a series of hard plastic grips. All have a PTT switch in front and range from the plain-top, $64.50 G301 at left to the full-featured $157.75 G307 at right. There’s no molded-in thumb rest here, but the rounded top does make a good thumb perch, and allows resting the palm of the hand on top for a change.

In any group there is always one offering towering over the rest. In stick grips it’s the Otto B8 at $730.00 once fully-dressed. Functionally it covers the same ground and is the same overall size as the Infiniti military grip, but the difference is in finish and switch quality. In short, it feels like a million bucks—real Jet Command stuff—and because it’s a one-piece molding, there is no big seam running down the middle.

Probably the major variation in the Infiniti grip selection is if you have electric flaps or not. A metal toggle switch (push up is on/off, push down is momentary) is provided for flap-equipped aircraft. Non-electric-flap models get color-coded, round on/off switches. There are no exposed screw heads except for the single mounting bolt at the bottom.

Military grip fans naturally gravitate to the Infiniti line hovering at $199.95, although you might spend another $40 on optional switches or stick adapters. Options abound, such as this left- and right-hand pair; all are prewired with generous wire sizing, insulation and markings. Infiniti build quality is high, the instruction sheet a bit basic, but easily supportive of the guy who knows his way around the shop. Relays are required for the coolie hat wiring.

One area with few choices is matching throttle and stick grips. Luckily Fatboy Flightworks does offer just such a pair in their quadrant ($360 plus grips and switches) and stick grip. Both are customizable with a variety of nice switches, so chores can be spread between stick and throttle. Sounds like a natural for aerobatic ships. Pricing is based on the number and type of switches; the stock grip shown here is a $260 Romeo 3H. The throttle is a $225 2H.


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