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!
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!
UPDATE: Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 is launching August 18!
Pre-orders are now live and FS 2020 will come in three editions, standard ($59.99), deluxe ($89.99), and premium deluxe ($89.99), with the more expensive versions featuring more planes and handcrafted international airports.
You can read more about FS2020 and the differences between each edition here.
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.
Below, we have listed some of the most popular flight simulator yokes on the market, each with their own advantages.
The Logitech Pro Flight Yoke (formerly built by Saitek) is probably one of the most popular and widely-used flight simulator yokes available today. It offers a beautiful design, and a separate throttle quadrant that's extendable for use with multi-engine aircraft.
The Yoke offers a realistic feeling and has a nice LED display for showing and interacting with convenient flight timers.
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 Logitech Pro Flight Yoke for my home flight simulator. It's great because it resembles the yoke-fitted aircraft I flew during my real-world flight training, a Piper PA-38 Tomahawk.
The Honeycomb Alpha Yoke is one of the newer models on the market today. It features rotating switches on the yoke, as well as a full switch panel to control anything from avionics to lights.
What's cool about this yoke? Not only does it feature lots of realistic switches, there's also adjustable cockpit backlighting built-in!
All these extra features do come at a price, with the Honeycomb yoke being the most 'expensive' on in this list, retailing for just under $250. We haven't had a chance to try it ourselves, but looking at some YouTube videos and reviews, it does seem very promising!
Buy now on Amazon
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 axes 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.
CH Products has been building yokes long before many other players on the market. You might get the impression their product design is a little outdated, but they still perform very well and are an affordable option.
This standard CH Products Yoke is the most affordable one on this list.
The Eclipse Yoke is the more advanced model of the older CH Products Yoke.
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.
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!
A simple USB joystick like the Thrustmaster T-Flight X is inexpensive and offers a great flight simulator experience.
If you want a little bit more flexibility, Thrustmaster also offers the T-Flight Stick with a detachable throttle quadrant: the HOTAS 4.
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.
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 only 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.
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.
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.
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.
Thrustmaster's latest model, the Thrustmaster TFRP Pedals look quite different from their previously-mentioned model. 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.
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!
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.
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.
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 and 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)
TIP: Garmin offers free simulators to get used to the GNS430 and GNS530. You can download them here.
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.
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!
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!
$174.99Buy now on Amazon
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 Homall Gaming Chair, a top-rated gaming chair that's perfect for some hours of virtual flying!
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!
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.
Here are some additional guides and stories about flight simulator worth reading:
Have any questions, suggestions or remarks about this guide? Let us know!
Last updated on August 04, 2020 by Senne Vandenputte