A flight simulator can be a great tool when learning to fly. It will give you the ability to practice maneuvers and procedures at home, saving you a lot of money in fuel, aircraft rent and instructor fees!
One of our members shared a great article about 5 ways that a flight simulator can make you a better pilot. In this guide, we will share some of the best hardware, software and books to enhance your flight simulation experience and training!
To start flying with a simulator you will need the right 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!
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.
Let's start with the most basic hardware you'll need: a stick or yoke. A simple USB joystick like the Thrustmaster T-Flight Stick X is cheap and will to for most people. You can even buy the more advanced option with the detachable throttle lever.
If you are flying a plane with a yoke, like a Cessna, Piper Tomahawk etc, a yoke will give you a more accurate and realistic experience while practicing in the simulator. Flying with a yoke and stick both require different movements and if you use the one similar to what you fly with in real life, it will only help you enhance the experience and give your training more value. I personally use and love the latter, the Saitek Pro Flight Yoke for my home flight simulator. It's great because it resembles the yoke-fitted aircraft I fly during my real-life flight training, a Piper PA-38 Tomahawk.
To really enhance your flight sim experience, here's a great bundle with the Pro Flight Yoke System and rudder pedals!
$329.98Buy now on Amazon
Sadly, I have noticed the Saitek Yoke is currently unavailable on Amazon.. But the following is a great option as well!
Another company that makes great flight simulator hardware is CH Products. Their Eclipse Yoke with built-in engine controls levers can a great substitute for Saitek's Yoke and throttle quadrant. Its six analog 10-bit axis give you control over aileron, elevator, propeller pitch, fuel mixture, throttle, and rudder movement, and the colored knobs for throttle, prop, and mixture let you fly with ease and confidence.
$201.66249.95Buy now on Amazon
Without any separate rudder controls, the simulator will just use auto rudder, which means it will control the rudder automatically in the sim. However, for a better and more realistic experience, we recommend using some sort of rudder controls to give the sim the extra dimension needed for a realistic and accurate training experience.
The Thrustmaster joystick we mentioned before has built-in yoke controls, this is the rotating axis of the stick. If you're using a joystick without those extra rudder controls or a yoke, we advise buying separate rudder pedals. Again we can recommend the Saitek Pro Flight rudder pedals and as a cheaper option the CH Products pedals.
Again, if you're planning on buying both the Pro Flight Yoke and Rudder, Amazon has a great deal on the bundle!
$120.99126.94Buy now on Amazon
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 Saitek 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!
Instruments and Switches
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 Saitek Switch Panel (you might have guessed we love Saitek 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.
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 hardware. Take for example their GNS530, a simulator version 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.
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. ASA also has a great guide on this same topic.
$22.4129.99Buy now on Amazon
One of our members, Clay Benfield, shared this great article with 5 ways a flight simulator can make you a better pilot some time ago. Definitely worth reading as well if you ask us!