It's all about having the right flight sim hardware…

Helping You Find the Best Joystick for Flight Simulator

So what exactly makes a good flight simulator joystick? There are many differences in design and function that make a joystick more suited for flight sim. At one point a joystick was literally a left-right forward-backwards type of affair. Nowadays however there is a huge range to choose from, each doing slightly different things, and in a range of modern and innovative designs.

There are joysticks with throttles (HOTAS – ‘Hands on Throttle and Stick’), joysticks with force feedback, those with LCD displays, programmable options and much more to provide you with that feel of flight sim realism you’re after. You can even find left-hand joysticks that are ambidextrous, as most are actually designed for right-hand people.

Compare the Best Controls for Flight Sim

This table shows you the best and most common joysticks used for flight simulator. I’ve included ratings and reviews from Amazon, together with a rough price indication based on the following key:

  • $ = 0-50USD,     $$ = 50-100,    $$$ = 100-150,    $$$$=150-299,    $$$$$= 300+
Thrustmaster T-16000M FCS HOTAS Flight ControllerThrustmaster T16000M FCS HOTAS Flight Controller$$$4.5
Thrustmaster T Flight HOTAS Flight StickThrustmaster T-Flight HOTAS Flight Stick$4.4
Thrustmaster Warthog HOTAS JoystickThrustmaster HOTAS Warthog Joystick$$$$$4.3
Saitek Pro Flight X-65F Combat ControlSaitek PRO Flight X-65F Combat Control System$$$$$3.9
Saitek X52 Flight Control SystemSaitek X52 Flight Control System$$$3.9
Logitech Extreme 3D Pro JoystickLogitech Extreme 3D Pro$3.9
Cyborg FLY5 StickCyborg Fly5 Gaming Joystick$$3.5
Saitek Aviator FlightstickSaitek Aviator Joystick$3.3
CH Products Flight StickCH Products Flightstick$$4.4

So how do I choose the best joystick for my needs?

Cyborg FLY5 Joy StickIt’s probably useful to consider what exactly you want to use the joystick for, will it be for cruising through the airways in an A320, or tearing through the skies in a fighter jet? On a design side of things there are designs that have the ‘combat’ user in mind, and the other less angry looking models. The combat joysticks typically look like a proper fighter jet stick with all the bells and whistles to keep any trigger-happy user happy.

Here are some other features that you should consider when choosing a joystick:

  • Programmable Buttons – most joysticks these days allow you to assign different profiles or functions to sets of buttons. This allows you to switch between different joystick profiles for when you’re flying Microsoft Flight Sim or X Plane, and other non-flying games. You can set the buttons to do pretty much whatever you want, from raising or lowering flaps, to using them to look out of the side windows when required.
  • HOTAS (Hands on Throttle and Stick) – this rather long-winded acronym simply means that there is a throttle lever either attached to the joystick or as a separate self-contained unit that links to the joystick. This gives you the advantage that a big meaty throttle will make powering up that 747 all the more enjoyable – especially when you turn the speakers up!
  • Force Feedback – Not all joysticks are created equal, some use force feedback to give a more realistic experience. A traditional control column or stick in a plane would need force to hold in position – basically due to the aerodynamic forces the control surfaces are subjected to. A basic flight sim joystick might not give you any feedback, so you wouldn’t get any indication (other than visually on the screen) of how hard you’re applying pressure. A force feedback joystick which although more expensive, would give you a much more realistic feel.

What about a control column and rudder pedals?

Good question! Whilst a modern joystick is a vast improvement on the steam-powered versions of yesteryear, and light years better than using the keyboard. For anybody that hasn’t tried to control an aircraft in flight simulator just by using the keyboard, then trust me when I say it’s not something that you need to make time to do. To say it’s frustrating just doesn’t do it justice!

Anyway, enough waffle… the point of this paragraph was to discuss the merits of using a control column or yoke and rudder pedals instead of a flight sim joystick. A control column could be used if you’re looking to take your hobby to the next level, and when combined with rudder pedals will make it seem even more like you’re flying a real plane. What’s more, you’ll develop your hand/eye/foot co-ordination from having to control the rudder pedals with your feet whilst using the control column to ‘steer’ the plane through the skies.

If you’ve not got that much space on your desk then a joystick will probably be the option to go for, as the control columns such as the CH Products or Saitek ones aren’t exactly ‘space saving’. If on the other hand space isn’t an issue, and you want that added bit of realism then perhaps you should consider a control column and rudder pedals after all.

My Favourite Joystick – Saitek X52

Saitek X52 Flight Control System

Check out the star-trek-like use of metal and blue LEDs!

I’ve tried many different joysticks over the years starting with the old classic, the Microsoft Sidewinder. Whilst not a bad piece of hardware, things have luckily moved on since the first Sidewinder on the market. My current favourite is the Saitek stick, the X52. I find it’s fairly sturdy overall, and responds well to all but the most ‘enthusiastic’ of manoeuvres! It’s got quite a loose feel, however this isn’t really a problem and it still returns to the central position quite easily.

It does feature a ‘twist rudder’ that may or may not be to your liking. It’s a vast improvement over just using auto-rudder, or  (gasp!) using the keyboard, but it might be a bit awkward for some. If you’re not a fan then you can always upgrade your flight sim controls with a set of rudder pedals from either Saitek or CH Products. Both are great bits of kit at quite reasonable prices.

The real advantage of the Saitek joystick is that you can completely programme and customise every axis and button. The star-trek looking blue LCD display gives easy indication of what mode program you are in, and so you can have your joystick set up perfectly to your preferences for different aircraft at the press of a button. You can practically keep your hands on the joystick for every phase of flight.

All good pilots should have some sort of watch / clock / stopwatch to stay on top of your instrument approaches, navigation legs, and quite handily the Saitek has built in clocks / stopwatch on the multi function display. It can even display the time in multiple timezones so it’s more than just a basic bit of hardware!

Another benefit of the HOTAS X52 is its price to value ratio. It’s available at a great price compared to the more expensive CH Products controls, and is streaks ahead of the Thrustmaster models.

What is your favourite joystick?

Well that’s enough from me, now it’s your turn – what flight sim joystick do you like the best? Have you got any that are your favourites, or ones that you really didn’t like for one reason or another? If so then we would love to hear your opinions, as these will help inform other dedicated flight simm’ers to make the best purchasing decision. Please leave your comments below and hopefully we can get a bit of a discussion going as to the merits (and sometimes faults!) of the various joysticks.

Thanks for reading this far, you really must be dedicated!

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