Flight Simulator Hardware
As with everything flight sim related, the virtual pilot can choose from a wide array of extra hardware and controls to maximise their experience and increase the level of realism. Using dedicated flight simulator hardware is also a great way for real-world pilots to practise procedures and techniques such as practice forced landings due to engine failures for example, or practising asymmetric flight. This turns it from just a game into a valuable training aid. Whether you use Microsoft Flight Simulator or XPlane, you can achieve pretty much the same things.
So What Flight Sim Hardware Is Out There?
I’d say the first thing you’re going to want to upgrade are the actual controls you use. Instead of using your joystick (or keyboard – yes I’ve done that a few times – needless to say it was a painful experience!), you can upgrade to having a control column or yoke, and combine it with rudder pedals for the best experience. A range of control yokes are available that look different but achieve much the same thing. There is the traditional CH Products Yoke that was the first one released for flight sim. This to all intents and purposes is the same as the control column in a real plane, and it has a clamp to hold it on your desk.
Many people I have heard from say that it really does make the whole flight simulator experience a lot more real, especially when combined with their other accessories. It’s easy to install on your computer, and is just a USB plug and play type device. One of the issues however with these is that the axis can be a little jerky as the movement isn’t completely smooth. Additionally you don’t get the ‘force feedback’ that aerodynamic force provides to the pilot on a regular aircraft’s control surfaces.
The CH Yoke is currently around $120 for the basic model, or $180 for the upgraded version. Both are available from Amazon, together with other control columns by Saitek for example. Here’s one of the CH ones:
At the higher end of the scale there are control columns such as the ‘Precision Flight Controls’ yoke. This is a great bit of hardware that is used by FBOs as part of their approved flight simulators. Their kit is very pricey (~$500+), however provides a lot more life-like feeling.
A radio stack is basically a black box that usually sits next to your monitor. It holds all the radio controls and dials / displays, together with the navigational radios such as VOR and ADF. Having a radio stack in your flight simulator hardware arsenal will greatly assist in practising changing frequencies and task management, as you’ll still have to fly the aircraft whilst managing the radios (unless you press pause that is!).
Changing the radios on the stock flight sim installation is a bit of a pain, as you’ve got to get your mouse exactly over the radio dial and it doesn’t always change easily by the amount you want. Having it sat next to you on a separate radio stack is great as it’s easy to see your current settings, and easy to make changes. Most radio stacks also have a ‘Com 1’ and ‘Com 2’ box, allowing you to get the next radio frequency set and easily switch between it.
There are a number of radio stacks on the market, from a range of suppliers including Saitek and CH Products. As time goes on we will add more and more reviews for different bits of hardware.
Flight Sim Rudder Pedals
We have a specific page detailing the pros and cons of flight sim rudder pedals, however it goes without saying that adding to the hardware mix with rudder pedals will make your flying seem lot more realistic. You will no longer have to reach for the keyboard or a twist joystick (such as the Saitek X52 HOTAS) as the pedals completely control the rudder. This allows you to control the yaw during flight, and also to control the differential brakes when on the ground.
It is important to bear in mind build quality when choosing your flight sim hardware. It has been said by some that Thrustmaster is no longer what it used to be, and perhaps Saitek or CH Products would be a better choice. CH Products controls tend to be a bit less aesthetic than the Saitek ones, however both bits of kit do a great job of providing a much more realistic flying experience. Unless you’re after a really complicated cockpit for your home flight sim then Amazon has a vast range of hardware to get you started.