With the launch of Microsoft's newest and highly anticipated rendition of Microsoft Flight Simulator, we at Micro Center decided to go and write up a Flight Sim Buyer's Guide!
Flight simulators can provide a truly immersive experience when you get your setup going, but you may not know where to start.
We will be going over various recommendations for equipment, starting from entry-level joysticks and flight sticks all the way up to the high-end offerings. We will also cover information on VR and head-tracking equipment. Some of these products will be available at Micro Center while some may be available at third parties.
*Be advised, while we normally sell some of these products, due to COVID-19 and the recent release of Flight Simulator, some products may be temporarily out of stock.
Entry Level Joysticks
Entry Level HOTAS (Hands-On Throttle-And-Stick)
TrackIR & VR
First things first, we’ll go over some popular flight simulator software since it will be referenced later on in this guide.
Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 - This is Microsoft's latest offering that was released on August 18th, 2020 for PC. This game is absolutely astonishing and detailed. Using cloud resources, Flight Simulator's game engine is able to leverage Bing Maps data to access over two petabytes of data on-demand to accurately depict details of anywhere in the world.
On the release date, after the 100GB+ download, Community moderator AlexS actually decided to take a short flight in Cessna Citation CJ4 Jet from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Meadows Field in Bakersfield, CA, his home town. Upon passing the grapevine, he decided to detour from the landing approach just to see his old neighborhood from 8,000 ft. However, this image does not do justice for what you will truly experience in Flight Simulator.
Digital Combat Simulator (DCS) - The go-to military combat simulator right now. It offers a large variety of modules and simulates a lot of different weapons systems.
Falcon 4.0 paired with BMS mod - The most complete F-16 simulator available.
Flight Simulator X - Still around as a well known civilian flight sim.
X Plane - A more modern alternative to Flight Simulator X and very well done in my opinion.
Elite Dangerous - While not a “real world” Flight Simulator, Elite Dangerous is one of the best space simulators on the market.
Star Wars: Squadrons - EA’s latest offering to be released this October will put pilots in the seat of an X-Wing or Tie Fighter as the dogfight for galaxy supremacy.
The entry-level options will get you flying in no time. However, they will not feature the options of a separate throttle or offer a stupendous amount of extra buttons and switches that can be mapped to other settings.
Thrustmaster USB Joystick - If you’re really on the cusp of getting into Flight Sim, Thrustmaster offers one of the most affordable joysticks. A very simple stick with a side-mounted throttle should get you off the ground in a short matter of time.
Logitech Extreme 3D Pro - This flight stick has been around for a while. It’s basic, but reliable and is a great option for beginners wanting to test the waters. It includes 12 programmable buttons and an 8-way HAT switch.
A HAT switch is a control to allow you to change Point-Of-View (POV) in a virtual world/simulator but can be programmed to do other options depending on what you need it for.
Thrustmaster T-16000M FCS Flight Stick - This is a great entry-level flight stick offering from Thrustmaster, but you may want to consider investing a little more to get the set with the TWCS Throttle as well.
Thrustmaster USB Joystick
Logitech Extreme 3D Pro
Thrustmaster T-16000M FCS
HOTAS or Hands-On Throttle-And-Stick is the first step to getting a more authentic feel to flying. Whether it’s an F-18C Hornet or an Airbus A380 commercial jet, the amount of control is more levied towards the controls alone and less keyboard/mouse.
Thrustmaster T-Flight X HOTAS - If you’re venturing into the Hands-On Throttle-And-Stick world, this would be a good starting point. The range of the detachable throttle is improved over the Extreme 3D Pro and it includes 12 programmable buttons and five programmable axes.
Thrustmaster T-16000M FCS HOTAS - This is a great all-around option and would serve as a good upgrade over the Extreme 3D Pro or T.Flight HOTAS. It has a good range and includes a paddle fore on the front of the throttle, which can be useful. It’s not as smooth as some of the high-end HOTAS throttles, but there are mods available to smooth it out if you’re into that sort of thing. It has 16 programmable buttons and 4 independent axes.
T.Flight HOTAS X
T-16000M FCS HOTAS
Logitech X52/X52 Pro - These two flight sticks originally came out under the Saitek brand, and are now owned by Logitech. It has a wide multitude of programmable buttons and you can easily switch between profiles via the LCD display. You can change the friction with a knob on the base and can lock the twist stick in case you get rudder pedals as well. The primary difference between the x52 and Pro is primarily the finish and a second spring for the flight stick to emulate stiffer handling from what I have researched.
Logitech X56 - This is another solid Logitech flight stick. The X56 has a good reputation and is one of the top tier complete solutions you can attain in flight sim. Logitech quotes that it has over 231 controls and includes toggle switches along the base of the throttle. It even has RGB if that’s something that interests you!
Logitech X52 Pro
Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog - This is one of the high-end flight sticks available to you, and it’s a replica of the HOTAS system in the A-10C Warthog. The stick, throttle, and most of the buttons (besides the HAT switches) are metal so it’s build quality overall is very good.
The stick is taken from an F-16C Falcon and the throttle is taken from an F-15E Eagle, so it features a lot of replica controls for aircraft in some of the flight sim games. Thrustmaster also offers an F-18 Hornet add-on stick that’s easy to swap in.
One thing to mention is that it’s not a complete solution as it doesn’t have a twist stick. You could use a HAT switch, but ideally, you’ll want to invest in a set of rudder pedals. The TDC cursor isn’t great either, but you can get a replacement from Deltasimelectronics.com that allows you to mod in an Xbox/PlayStation Controller thumb stick to replace it. If price tags aren’t an issue, then go for the Warthog!
If a joystick isn’t your thing and you wish to have that more authentic feel when flying a Cessna or a Boeing 747, then a Yoke should do the trick for you!
Logitech G Saitek PRO Flight Yoke Control System - This is a bit of the whole package here minus the pedals. This can clamp onto your desk (or cockpit if you have one) and the system comes with a separate three axis lever throttle! You will probably wish to get some pedals to make yawing (moving side to side) easier, however. (MC)
HoneyComb Alpha Flight Yoke - This yoke is produced by HoneyComb, one of the more recent manufacturers to enter the industry of flight sim (est 2015). This Yoke from HoneyComb comes with an integrated switch panel, plenty of programmable buttons, and even cockpit backlighting. This unlike the Logitech G Saitek does not come with a throttle however but can be pre-ordered separately on their website. (Non-MC)
Logitech G Saitek Pro Flight Yoke System
Honeycomb Alpha Flight - Yoke & Switch Panel
Thrustmaster TWCS Throttle - This is the throttle you would get with the T-16000M if you purchase it as a set, but also falls along with the Thrustmaster Ecosystem with compatibility for the T.16000M FCS, T.Flight Stick X, & TM USB Joystick. It’s useful and offers great throttle control. It uses a USB connection.
HoneyComb Bravo Throttle Quadrant - Quoted from their website, this is an all-in-one cockpit system featuring a configurable throttle setup, from single-engine general aviation to four-engine commercial aircraft. This product looks gorgeous and should be a popular choice among Flight Sim enthusiasts when orders begin to ship this fall.
Thrustmaster TWCS Throttle
HoneyComb Bravo Throttle Quadrant
Pedals are a very important factor in constructing your flight sim rig. This adds to the immersion of flying a plane and relieves functions on the joystick and/or throttle that can be mapped for different functions.
Thrustmaster TFRP T.Flight Rudder Pedals - These are a basic, functional option that can be very cost-effective. They even have toe-breaks so you could use them for racing simulators.
Logitech Pro Flight Rudder Pedals - These are a good mid-tier option and the pedals are spaced farther apart than the T.Flight TFRP pedals for better comfort. These include toe breaks as well, and you can even detach the heel rests if you wish. A good option to go alongside the Warthog flight system.
MFG Crosswind - These pedals are a solid high-end offering. You can adjust the angle on the pedals and the tension on the toe breaks, and they’re easy to calibrate with the provided software. These are manufactured and shipped from Croatia, but processing is generally quick for orders.
Thrustmaster TPR Pendular Rudder Pedals - These are considered one of the top offerings available, as far as rudder pedals go. They have an excellent build quality and have a range of adjustments you can make to suit your preferences. The only downside may be pedal width, but there are mods you can use to extend them.
TFRP T.Flight Pedals
Pro Flight Pedals
TPR Pendular Pedals
Images from Thrustmaster.com, Logitech.com & mfg-sim.com
Thrustmaster MFD Cougar Pack - This is targeted specifically at BMS and DCS flight combat simulators. An MFD or Multi-Functional Display is used to display relevant information and operate weapons systems or radar. It’s important to note that this co-aligns with the displays you would see in-game but do not come with mini-displays. DCS however offers a multi-monitor solution and you can move the digital in-game MFDs to a second monitor and overlay your physical MFD over the monitor like the photo below!
You can get these to work with any aircraft with MFDs with some adjustments. They’re a lot of fun to play with and if you’re operating a full-fidelity aircraft, it makes it much easier to use the MFDs than with a mouse, even if you don’t go through the trouble of projecting them onto another screen.
Logitech Flight Panels - When Logitech acquired Saitek, they acquired some of the best flight sim hardware in the industry. They offer additional panels like Switch Panels, Radio Panels, and even separate LCD Flight Instrument Panels! You can find them here on their website.
If you’ve purchased a majority of the https://www.microcenter.com/product/624291/pimax-vision-8k-x-vr-gaming-headset hardware to fly the plane itself, why stop there? To further your immersion, you can look in the direction of TrackIR or Virtual Reality (VR)!
TrackIR 5 - This is the latest iteration of TrackIR from NaturalPoint. It consists of an IR camera and a reflective clip that you mount into a visor or hat. It exaggerates your movements, e.g. looking 20 degrees right becomes a 140-degree head turn in the game.
It takes some time to get used to, but it does work very well. It’s cost-effective and it allows you to play a game on a 4K monitor with the ability to look around, which is difficult at this point in VR.
We’ll condense this into a single discussion and provide links to various products and mention them here as opposed to reviewing each one individually. The main problem with VR is performance versus resolution. You’re going to take a significant performance hit in VR.
With older games, there are compatibility concerns. I have played DCS in the Oculus Rift S. In this title, the resolution is lacking when you’re supposed to be able to see aircraft at 10 nautical miles. The field of view is also very limiting and makes it hard to keep your eyes on other aircraft in a dogfight.
The Samsung Odyssey+ offers better resolution and I’ve heard is very useful. Several other headsets work quite well. The only VR headsets that catch my attention for air-to-air combat sims are the Pimax VR headsets. Mainly as they offer a significantly better field-of-view than most VR headsets out there, and they have 5K and 8K offerings.
For one of the newest titles being Microsoft’s 2020 rendition of Flight Simulator, unless you’re going with a PiMax, it may be better to go with a 4K Monitor and a TrackIR to get a comfortable immersion until VR headsets as a whole make the jump to higher resolutions.
Oculus Rift S
While a 24” or 27” 16:9 monitor will easily get you going, if you wish to see more and your PC can handle wider resolutions, then definitely go with a 21:9 or 32:9 monitor. Flight simulators are a fantastic experience on Ultra-Wide monitors and if you’re a racing sim enthusiast, it could work doubly for you.
Samsung C49HG90 49” - This 32:9 ratio 1080P, 144hz monitor is the same as having two 27” monitors put together. It’s a great option for a multitude of games that support 3840x1080 resolutions like Flight Simulator, DCS, and even Grand Theft Auto V (which you can also fly planes in funny enough.)
Samsung C49RG90 49” - This is the 1440p version of the monitor mentioned above. The refresh rate is a little slower at 120hz but 1440p is very crisp.
MSI Optix MAG341CQ 34” - If 32:9 is a little too much, then a 21:9 ratio monitor like the MSI Optix may be perfect for you. This monitor only clocks at 100hz for the refresh rate but the 1440p resolution is a nice trade-off for the price you can get this monitor at.
Samsung C49HG90 49”
144hz Refresh Rate
1ms Response Time
32:9 Aspect Ratio
Samsung C49RG90 49"
120hz refresh Rate
4ms Response Time
MSI Optix MAG341CQ 34"
100hz Refresh Rate
8ms Response Time
21:9 Aspect Ratio
First, please comment on the opinions I’ve expressed in this article and suggest any alternatives or equipment you’ve tested. There’s a ton of flight sim equipment out there that wasn’t covered in this guide that may interest other flight sim enthusiasts!
I do plan to add a guide on the Thrustmaster Cougar MFDs in the future. Thank you again for reading and I hope this guide helps you decide when selecting the right Flight Sim hardware for you!
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