I don’t know if you’ve heard, but after 14 years without a sighting, Adobo took control of the flight stick and landed a new Microsoft Flight Simulator in our laps. Now, you could grab an Xbox controller and whip around the skies but this isn’t an arcade flight game, it’s a true simulator. If you plan on spending more than a few hours in the cockpit you’re going to need something a little better than a controller to get the most out of the game. I wouldn’t expect a newbie to build a 747 cockpit in their basement but I’ve gathered up some flight sticks and accessories to help up the realism and provide more immersion in Microsoft Flight Simulator. Please note, if you are still contemplating the purchase of a flight stick you are behind the curve, and prices have started to jump well beyond the “regular” pricing listed here.
Low Tier Joystick – Thrustmaster USB Joystick
The first step up from using a controller to fly is a joystick. The Thrustmaster USB Joystick is as simple as they come but even at this level, you’ll quickly notice the added precision a joystick affords over the small thumbsticks of a controller. With only 4 buttons, a trigger, and an 8-way hat switch you are still limited on programmability, but what can you expect for $20? As an added bonus there is a small lever on the base for throttle control, something you don’t usually find at this price.
Mid Tier Joystick – Logitech Extreme 3D Pro Joystick
Still coming in under $50, the Extreme 3D Pro Joystick gets you a little closer to the true flight stick market and is still a value option, but don’t expect the solid feel of the higher tier flight sticks at that price point. If you are willing to put up with the cheap plasticy feel – it’s still quite sturdy and durable – you will start to experience the programmability that a joystick can offer. There are a total of 12 buttons (6 on the base and 6 on the stick) that can be assigned to flaps and landing gear, or any other shortcuts you desire for that matter. The 8-way hat switch on the top of the stick works perfectly for quickly changing the camera view and there’s a small lever on the base for throttle control. The stick also twists left and right (Z-axis), making it perfect for adding rudder control without adding costly pedals to the mix.
High tier Joystick – Thrustmaster TCA Sidestick Airbus Edition
Modeled after the real-life Airbus sidestick, this little dandy is the best joystick you can grab for about the same price as an Xbox One controller. With the TCA we get all the same amenities of the Extreme 3D Pro – 16 buttons, hat switch, throttle control, and joystick rudder control – with a higher quality feel. To top it all off, the TCA is ambidextrous, with modular stick buttons that can be swapped around for the left-handed gamers out there.
Low tier HOTAS – T.Flight Hotas X
If you’re ready to move into the big leagues you’ll want to consider a hands-on throttle and stick, or HOTAS. Most people think a HOTAS has to cost hundreds, but the Thrustmaster T.Flight HOTAS X proves that isn’t the case. The T.Flight comes in at the same price as the TCA Sidestick and replaces the little throttle lever of the joysticks above with a full-throttle, taking your second hand off the keyboard and into the immersion. With only 12 buttons, 1 hat switch, and throttle and rudder control the T.Flight is definitely at the bottom end of the HOTAS market, but at least it won’t send your budget into a tailspin.
Mid Tier HOTAS – Logitech X52 HOTAS
150 bucks may not seem mid-tier to the casual player, but the X52 is well worth the price tag. Along with all the buttons and switches, you can shake a stick at, the X52 has 3 hat switches, 2 sliders to control trim and a twisting flight stick for rudder control. The throttle also has a mini mouse controller built-in. As a special bonus, the throttle base houses a small multi-function display. While this MFD won’t replicate the displays you see in the cockpit, it does give rudimentary information like the date and time, along with a stopwatch and the name of the most recent button press (handy when you don’t recall if you lowered your landing gear). The X52 is the first controller on this list that can virtually move all the keypresses you need from your keyboard and place them on the stick and throttle.
Logitech also offers a Professional model of the X52. For the extra $50 bump in price, the X52 Pro gives a few tweaks and upgrades to the regular model, but the biggest difference is the upgraded MFD, capable of relaying in-game data in real-time.
High Tier HOTAS – Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog
Thrustmaster has pulled out all the stops with the HOTAS Warthog. A replica of the throttle and stick from the U.S. Air Force A-10 Warthog, you can pretty much put your mouse and keyboard away when you plant this beast – all 14 pounds (6.35 kg) of it – on your desk. You start its long list of features with 55 buttons and switches spread across both pieces, a dual throttle to control 2 engine banks, a TRIM wheel, and two hat switches. The unit is backlit and has an addition 5 programmable LEDs, very useful when flying at night. There are so many things to push, pull, and press you’ll be thankful it comes with its own software suite with 3 programming levels: Basic, Advanced, and Script. The Warthog doesn’t come with a twisting flight stick (it’s a replica and the A10 has rudder pedals), so you will need to look elsewhere for rudder control. Unless you plan on setting up a full-blown rig in your house, which can cost thousands, the Warthog truly is the cream of the crop.
Flight Yoke – Logitech Pro Flight Yoke System
The flight stick and HOTAS choices so far are great options to get you into the air and will serve you well in other flight sims as well. Most of the planes in MFS don’t use a flight stick, though, so I would be amiss if I didn’t add a flight yolk to this list, and the Logitech Pro Flight Yoke System is a great setup to start your adventure into enthusiast level of flight sims. The yoke replicates what is found in most civilian applications and comes with a separate throttle quadrant. With the additional accessories available, like the matching rudder pedals and panels, you are well on your way to building your own cockpit.