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The Best Flight Simulator Software and Hardware in 2021

115.1k views | 13 min read | Posted on July 06, 2021 by Senne Vandenputte | Last update September 02, 2021

The Best Flight Simulator Software and Hardware in 2021

Flight Simulators are not only fun to use, they also offer a tremendously valuable tool during flight training and beyond. A flight simulator can be a great tool when learning to fly; for example, it gives you the opportunity to practice maneuvers and procedures at home, saving you a lot of money on fuel, aircraft rent and instructor fees!

We have written numerous articles about flight simulators before, but in this guide, we’ll dive deeper into some of the best flight simulator software and hardware. At the end, we’ll also list some interesting books to enhance your flight simulation experience and training!

The Best Flight Simulator Software in 2021

To start your virtual flying adventures, you will need the right flight simulator software. These days you have the choice between various flight simulator software, but two software packages remain the most obvious and best choice: Microsoft Flight Simulator and X-Plane.

These have been around for many years and have given aviation geeks the chance to feel like a real pilot, including us.

For the best experience, we recommend using the latest versions of each software, Microsoft Flight Simulator X and X-Plane 11. There are hundreds of add-ons you can buy to enhance your flight simulator experience even further!

Microsoft Flight Simulator X Standard DVD – PC

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X-Plane 11 Global Flight Simulator

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The Best Flight Simulator Software

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020

Recently, Microsoft launched the newest edition of the Flight Simulator Series, MSFS 2020, which will come in three different editions.

You can read more about FS2020 and the differences between each edition here.

Microsoft Flight Simulator Standard – PC

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Microsoft Flight Simulator Deluxe Edition – PC

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Microsoft Flight Simulator Premium Deluxe Edition – PC

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The Best Flight Simulator Software

Besides software, you will also need the right hardware. You could fly using just your keyboard and mouse, but to get a more accurate and realistic feel, the proper hardware will give your flight simulator experience a whole new dimension.

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The Best Flight Simulator Yokes in 2021

The market currently offers many different great flight simulator yoke options. Brands such as Logitech, CH Products and recently Honeycomb have created some very nice products to help you get the most out of your flight training.

People might argue it doesn’t matter whether you use a joystick or yoke with your flight simulator, as you will never get the real feeling of flying a plane. Although that might be the case in some way, we believe a flight simulator yoke still offers plenty of added value when using a flight simulator as a training aid.

Here are some of the most popular flight simulator yokes on the market:

Logitech G PRO Flight Yoke System

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Honeycomb Alpha Flight Controls Yoke & Switch Panel

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CH Products Flight Sim Yoke USB

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CH Products Eclipse Yoke

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The Logitech Pro Flight Yoke is a great all-around option, and one of the most popular and widely-used flight simulator yokes available today. It offers great value for money, with lots of programmable buttons and a very convenient separate throttle quadrant, which is extendable for use with multi-engine aircraft.

This is the yoke I used to practice during my own real-world flight training, where I flew a Piper PA-38 Tomahawk.

Next, we have the brand new Honeycomb Alpha Yoke. This more advanced flight simulator yoke offers a next-level flight simulator experience for those who have a little more to spend. It has a beautiful design and is packed with great functions and realistic buttons and switches.

Tip: We also created an article comparing the Logitech Pro Flight and the Honeycomb Alpha yokes.

Finally, there’s the CH Products Yoke and CH Products Eclipse Yoke. These are older models, but still offer plenty of value and are packed with great features. Both a great option if you’re on a tighter budget.

If you’re looking for a (new) flight simulator yoke, we highly recommend you check out our definitive guide to flight simulator yokes. We will talk about the different options in more detail, and also include a buying guide with things you should look out for!

The Best Flight Simulator Joysticks in 2021

If you prefer flying with a (traditional) joystick instead of a yoke, there are quite a few great options as well. Here, we’ll list some of the top-rated and most popular joysticks you can get this year!

1. Thrustmaster T-Flight X

A simple USB joystick like the Thrustmaster T-Flight X is inexpensive and offers a great flight simulator experience.

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2. Thrustmaster HOTAS 4

If you want a little bit more flexibility, Thrustmaster also offers the T-Flight Stick with a detachable throttle quadrant: the HOTAS 4.

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3. Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog Flight Stick

If you’re looking for a more fighter jet-like feeling, the Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog Flight Stick is one we recommend. This flight stick is part of the Thrustmaster HOTAS products: a replica set of the joystick, dual throttle system and dual throttle control panel of the U.S. Air Force A-10C attack aircraft. With an average Amazon rating of 4.5/5 (460+ reviews!), this flight stick is one of the top-rated flight simulator joysticks available at the moment.

The dual-throttle system and control panel can be purchased separately here.

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If you purchased the Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog Flight Stick, you can even upgrade it with different grip add-ons to resemble different military jets like the F-16C Viper or F/A 18!

Thrustmaster F/A 18 Grip Add On

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Thrustmaster F-16C Viper HOTAS Add-On Grip

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To make sure your valuable HOTAS flight simulator hardware remains protected and dustfree, there are some handy dust covers for the HOTAS series available on Amazon!

You can also extend your Thrustmaster HOTAS flight stick with this handy extension kit:

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4. Thrustmaster TCA Sidestick Airbus Edition

The Thrustmaster TCA Sidestick Airbus Edition is an ergonomic 1:1 scale replica inspired by the iconic Airbus sidestick, the TCA Sidestick Airbus Edition ensures unique handling.

Compatible with the Thrustmaster T.Flight Rudder Pedals (TFRP) and Thrustmaster Pendular Rudder (TPR) rudder systems, as well as with the TM Flying Clamp (all sold separately).

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The Airbus sidestick can also be bought together with the matching throttle quadrant (see below) in the Thrustmaster TCA Officer Pack Airbus Edition.

5. Logitech G X56 HOTAS RGB Throttle and Stick

The Logitech G X56 HOTAS RGB Throttle and Stick provides complete control featuring analog thumbsticks, RGB lighting, 16-bit aileron and elevator axis, 189 programmable controls, and an updated stealthy black and gray finish.

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The Best Flight Simulator Hardware

The Best Flight Simulator Rudder Pedals in 2021

Now, why would you need rudder pedals when you can just turn the plane on the ground by using your joystick or yoke axes? Most flight simulators offer an ‘Autorudder’ option, right?

There’s some truth in the above statements, but how will you be practising crosswind take-offs and landings? Using just the aileron axis of your yoke might get you of/on the ground safely, but it won’t resemble the experience of using both stick and rudder, like you would in real life.

Also on the ground, rudder pedals can improve your flight simulator experience. Not just for steering but for braking as well. Most popular flight simulator rudder pedals feature differential brake pedals at the top of your toes, just like you would find in most real-life aircraft. This offers extra possibilities when virtual taxiing or making narrow turns on the ground.

Below, we have listed some of the most popular flight simulator rudder pedals on the market, each with their own advantages. Just like with the yoke hardware, popular brands include Logitech, CH Products and Thrustmaster.

1. Logitech Pro Flight Rudder Pedals

The Logitech Pro Flight series is a family of popular flight simulator hardware, including instruments, switches, throttle quadrants, yokes and pedals. The Logitech Pro Rudder Pedals (formerly built by Saitek) are probably one of the most popular and widely-used flight simulator pedals available today. Their fluid motion enables accurate command over your aircraft, while differential braking provides independent control of the left and right toe brakes.

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2. CH Products Pro Pedals

CH Products has been building flight simulator hardware long before many other players on the market. You might get the impression their product designs are a little outdated, but they still perform very well and are an affordable option.

The standard CH Products Pro Pedals remain some of the most affordable and simple options on this list.

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3. Thrustmaster TFRP Pedals

Thrustmaster’s latest model, the Thrustmaster TFRP Pedals is another great high-quality option. They offer the so-called S.M.A.R.T slide rails system for smooth steering, removable heel-rests, differential braking and a self-centering rudder axis.

The TFRP Pedals are compatible with PS4, XOne and PC.

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4. Thrustmaster TPR Pedals

If you’re looking for something a little more sturdy and advanced, the Thrustmaster TPR Pedals might be a good fit for you. The brand uses its more advanced technology to create smooth and fluid movements, offering the perfect precision. While most rudder pedals use plastic sliders, the TPR Pedals use a suspended mechanism for minimal resistance.

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If you’re looking for (new) flight simulator rudder pedals, we highly recommend you check out our definitive guide to rudder pedals for flight sim. We will talk about the different options in more detail, and also include a buying guide with things you should look out for!

The Best Flight Simulator Throttles in 2021

If you’re joystick or yoke does not have the accurate engine controls like throttle, mixture and prop, it could a good option to add an extra throttle quadrant. The Logitech G Pro Flight Throttle Quadrant (which is standard included with the Saitek yoke) is a great and inexpensive add-in to your hardware and offers all the throttle controls you will need for a single-engine aircraft. You can even add more quadrants and switch the levers to adjust the controls for a multi-engine aircraft!

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CH Products offers a great throttle quadrant as well, with enough levers to simulate a twin-engine aircraft – something you would need two Saitek throttle quadrants for. It has six programmable axis and 12 buttons, that can be configured using the custom software this product comes with.

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Thrustmaster recently launched its Airbus Series flight simulator sidestick (mentioned above) and throttle quadrant. The Thrustmaster TCA Quadrant Airbus Edition is an ergonomic replica throttle quadrant, inspired by iconic Airbus flight controls. With 2 navigational axes, 16 buttons and controls (detents, switches and even a thrust reverser mechanism) for a multitude of possibilities during takeoff, in flight, upon landing and when on the ground.

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The Airbus throttle quadrant can also be bought together with the matching sidestick in the Thrustmaster TCA Officer Pack Airbus Edition.

The Best Flight Simulator Instruments and Switches in 2021

Although not really necessary, some physical switches and knobs can greatly enhance your simulator experience compared to using your mouse or keyboard to control those functions. It’s easy and fast to turn on the master switch, start the engine, turn on the lights and retract the gear with this Logitech Switch Panel (you might notice we love Logitech simulator products!).

If you really want to take your simulator experience to another level you can even buy physical flight simulator instruments, on which you can show 12 separate instruments with a touch of a button.

Logitech PRO Flight Switch Panel

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Pro Flight Instrument Panel

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Now, if you really, réally want to improve your flight simulator experience, especially while learning procedures and navigation: the company RealSimGear builds some awesome flight simulator GPS hardware. Take for example their RealSimGear Garmin GNS530 and RealSimGear Garmin GNS430, simulator versions of Garmin famous GNS navigation systems. It’s a lot more convenient to turn actual knobs then zooming around with your mouse trying to turn the simulated switches and knobs by clicking them.

From their website: The GNS530 and GNS430 simulators are compatible with X-Plane 10,11, Prepar3D v3 and v4, and FSX Steam and Boxed Edition. Plugin software is provided for X-Plane v10 and v11, P3D v3 & v4 and FSX. Note P3D and FSX require Reality-XP GNS430 or the Mindstar GNS430 (sold separately through Reality XP or Mindstar)

RealSimGear Garmin GNS430 for X-Plane and P3D

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RealSimGear Garmin GNS530 GPS for X-Plane and P3D

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TIP: Garmin offers free simulators to get used to the GNS430 and GNS530. You can download them here.

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Other Great Flight Simulator Hardware in 2021

To help you get the most out of your flight simulator experience, there is some additional hardware that could prove very useful.

One of the problems you might experience when buying a complete set of yoke/stick, throttle quadrants, rudder pedals, switches,.. is the question where to put and mount everything. A company called Wheel Stand Pro developed a simulator stand that is compatible with all Saitek Pro Flight hardware, such as the Saitek Yoke, throttles, switches and rudder pedals. It’s a stable, portable and adjustable stand, heavily reviewed and highly recommended on Amazon by other simulator enthusiasts and pilots.

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In case you’re looking for something a little more compact, PEIN Gear has developed the J-PEIN, a desk mount for your flight sim joystick, throttle and Hotas systems. Fully support almost all of flight sim game hand-control devices, such as the above-mentioned Thrustmaster HOTAS and HOTAS Warthog joystick/throttles!

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Most joysticks are equipped with a head-switch, making it easy to look around the cockpit. The only downside is that it takes time to look around using a switch, and the view can sometimes “get lost”, costing you valuable seconds during a virtual approach. That’s where a so-called optical head tracking system comes into play! The TrackIr5, for example, offers you the possibility to look around the cockpit by just moving your head, just like in real life!

Tip: there is also a low-budget $10 head tracking app for flight simulator!

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Since you’re investing in all those fancy flight simulator systems, it might be a good idea to invest a small part of your budget in a decent gaming chair. Unlike normal desk chairs, gaming chairs are developed to offer more support for your neck and back, giving you the most comfort possible, for longer periods at a time. And luckily, they are often more comfortable than the cockpit seats of most older aircraft!

We personally recommend the Hbada Gaming Chair, a top-rated gaming chair that’s perfect for some hours of virtual flying!

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If you’re planning on using a lot of USB-connected devices at the same time, it’s a good idea to buy a powered USB-hub. All those devices like yokes, throttles, rudder pedals, instruments, etc can draw quite a lot of power from your computers’ USB ports, especially when using a laptop. A powered USB hub plugs directly into a power outlet, taking the load off your computer’s USB ports.

This powered USB-hub provides 7 USB 3.0 ports to connect and charge 7 devices at the same time, perfect for all your flight simulator hardware!

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The Best Flight Simulator Books in 2021

A good pilot is always learning. Books are a great way to do that. There are a number of great books and guides out there specifically focused on using Flight Simulator as a training aid for student pilots.

Wiley's Microsoft Flight Simulator X For Pilots Real World Training is one we own and use to get the most out of Microsoft Flight Simulator.

Microsoft Flight Simulator X For Pilots Real World Training – Wiley

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Microsoft Flight Simulator as a Training Aid

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Scenario-Based Training with X-Plane and Microsoft Flight Simulator

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Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020: Complete Guide

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Recommended reading

The Best Flight Simulator Yokes for a Realistic Experience in 2021

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The Best Flight Simulator Hardware That Resembles a Real Aircraft

Here are some of the best flight simulator hardware that resembles a real aircraft, such as joysticks, yokes, throttles and other hardware!

How to Build a Home Flight Simulator in 2021: A Step-by-Step Guide

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5 Ways That a Flight Simulator Can Make You a Better Pilot

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