The 10 Best Flight Simulator Controls
This wiki has been updated 7 times since it was first published in July of 2020. Though it's possible to control a flight simulator with a mouse and keyboard, most people find the experience is significantly more enjoyable with a dedicated flight controller. We've put together options suitable for a wide range of budgets and preferences, including standalone joysticks and HOTAS systems with dedicated throttles, yokes, and additional peripherals for further enhanced realism. When users buy our independently chosen editorial choices, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
August 27, 2020:
If you're just starting out with flight simulators and aren't sure how much money you're willing to spend on your rig, standalone joysticks like the Logitech Extreme 3D Pro are a good place to start. Though it might not provide the most realistic experience, this model still allows for complete control since it features a small integrated throttle and can be twisted for rudder adjustment. Though it lacks the absolute realism of more advanced systems it's still relatively well built, and those that only play occasionally or are dealing with games that have relatively simple flight mechanics may find that this option is perfectly adequate. If you feel that even this choice might be too much for your needs, the Thrustmaster USB Joystick could be the right way to go. This stick doesn't have a twist axis and has only a few programmable buttons, but it is by far one of the most affordable. It's not inconceivable that you could learn on this stick and upgrade later on.
The next step up would be HOTAS controllers such as the Thrustmaster T.16000M HOTAS, Saitek X52, and Thrustmaster T-Flight HOTAS One, which feature robust dedicated throttle levers in addition to their joysticks. The first two selections would be considered good midrange choices since they provide smooth actions and an abundance of programmable tactical controls, though it would be safe to say that the T.16000M has an edge. This is because it's a newer model that utilizes a Hall effect sensor for its joystick gimbal rather than analog potentiometers, which is generally recognized as superior in terms of precision and longevity. While the T-Flight HOTAS One is a slight step down regarding build quality and tactile inputs, it is definitely the best option for some since it is one of the few designed to work with consoles in addition to PC systems.
If you like the HOTAS layout but are looking for even more realism it may be worth checking out the Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog. This model differs significantly from the aforementioned selections because of its heavy-duty metal construction, as well as some added features like a split throttle lever and backlit controls. It's one of the best choices for combat simulators since it is an exact replica of the controls in a US Air Force A-10C, and additional grips are available if you'd rather emulate an F/A-18 or an F-16.
We've also included a couple flight yokes on our list, and while they aren't inherently higher in quality than a HOTAS style controller many simulator users prefer them because they better emulate the controls found in most modern commercial aircraft. Both of the models we've included are great options, but it would be fair to say that the Honeycomb Alpha Flight Yoke is slightly superior in terms of its build-quality and the smoothness of its gimbal. That being said, the Logitech G Pro Flight Yoke is more affordable and comes with a separate dedicated throttle quadrant, so it's worth seriously considering both before making a purchase.
After you purchase a primary controller it might be worth considering additional modules such as the Logitech G Pro Rudder Pedals or the Logitech G Pro Switch Panel for enhanced realism. Beyond controllers your simulation experience can be benefited even further by accessories such as ultrawide monitors, motion simulating seats, and high quality gaming headphones.
VKB Controllers VKB offers replica flight sticks intended for combat simulators. Their lineup is small, but options for a wide range of budgets are available and almost all of them utilize the same high-quality gimbal. Besides joysticks the company also makes a set of rudder pedals that feature a durable metal construction. vkbcontrollers.com
Virpil Controls In addition to combat grips and rudder pedals Virpil offers a dedicated throttle unit that features a metal enclosure, an abundance of tactile controls, and a split lever. Those in North America may encounter extra shipping delays or fees since the company is based in the EU, but many have found their products to be worth the wait. virpil-controls.eu
Virtual Fly Yoko Some may be perplexed by the price of this controller given how minimalist it appears to be compared to other options, but this is because the Yoko is truly a professional product. It was originally created for professional flight training and the piloting of unmanned vehicles, but many avid flight simulator users have taken a liking to it due to its excellent construction and the realistic feeling it provides. virtual-fly.com