Realistic flight simulation is kind of a niche gaming genre at this point, but for fans, a new version of Microsoft Flight Simulator is about as close to combining several birthdays at once. If you want to jump into this exciting new entry fresh, or you haven’t played in a while, you’re going to want some flight controls.
Sure, it’s possible to play Flight Simulator 2020 with a keyboard and mouse, or on the Xbox One with the standard game controller. But that’s no way to fly. If you want to get the immersion that the amazing new graphical and mapping system provides, you want some inputs that at least approximate the controls of a real airplane.
Update, 9/12/21: Checked content for accuracy. Updated link for Hori Ace Combat 7.
Which brings up an important point: should you go with a more old-fashioned joystick controller or a yoke (the kind that looks sort of like a steering wheel)? The “Hands On Stick And Throttle” setup (HOTAS, for short) is more common, if only because it works for both fighter plane simulators and sci-fi spaceship games. But Microsoft Flight Simulator isn’t about combat, all of the planes in its lineup are civilian aircraft without weapons.
Unfortunately, there really isn’t a one size fits all solution here. Both a yoke and a HOTAS will work with Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020, and you can pilot all of the planes with either. But the smaller one- or two-seater leisure airplanes like the ICON A5 tend to use a joystick, while large commercial airplanes like the Boeing 747 use a yoke and various ancillary controls.
So, make your decision based on which type of plane you think you’ll be flying more in the game. Oh, and you might have to exercise some patience—with the game recently releasing, both HOTAS and yoke controls are hard to find in stock at the moment.
Unfortunately, flight controls for the Xbox One are kind of hard to find. The only one being currently manufactured is a Hori stick-and-throttle set, originally made for the fighter jet game Ace Combat 7. But Hori is a reliable manufacturer, and this set includes all of the standard combat controls (plus handy labels for the default Xbox buttons.) It includes adjustable sensitivity for all analog controls, a 10-foot cable for couch pilots, and a direct headset jack. It’s also compatible with the PC, and according to Hori, will work with the Xbox Series X as well.
If you need a HOTAS setup for your PC without spending an arm and a leg, this Thrustmaster all-in-one controller will do just fine. It includes five axes of motion (four for the stick, one for the throttle) and twelve buttons, adjustable resistance on the stick, and the option to separate the stick and throttle for a more ergonomic position. You can also remap the buttons on the hardware itself, and bind multiple layouts to the stick’s internal memory. It’s a surprisingly packed package for the cheapest entry on this list. (Note the PlayStation branding: it works for both PS4 and PC.)
Thrustmaster T.Flight HOTAS 4 (PS5, PS4 and PC)
This throttle and stick combination works great for flight simulation on a budget.
While this all-in-one system lacks the bells and whistles of more elaborate yoke systems, it does accurately simulate the “feel” of a larger commercial aircraft. The CH Products design includes full five-axis motion and twenty separate controls, using either the included software or custom controls in-game. You can stick with this controller alone and supplement it with your keyboard, or add on a control pad for more complex operations.
CH Products Flight Sim Yoke USB ( 200-615 ), Black
This basic yoke setup includes five axes of control and 20 separate buttons for game interation.
If you want to go all-out with a HOTAS setup, Logitech’s X56 design is what you’re looking for. This military-style setup was inherited from Saitek’s much-loved X52 (Logitech bought Saitek in 2016). The variety of controls and quality of components on the X56 are unrivaled, including dozens of buttons, dials, sub-sticks, switches, and RGB indicator lights. The stick uses adjustable tension on each of four springs, and the dual axis throttle is split into two pieces for fine control of multiple virtual components. The system combines for 13 different axes, all customizable via Logitech’s G software or the game itself.
If you prefer a yoke control, Logitech is also the best option at the high end. Its combo pack of a full yoke plus pedals is for serious simulators who prefer to go for large-scale commercial aircraft. This multi-part setup includes a tension-adjustable, five-axis yoke with a single-line LED screen and a variety of hand controls, a three-throttle, three-switch ancillary control cluster, and two pedals for adjusting foot controls under your desk.
If even that isn’t enough for you, you can add on the Flight Multi-Panel, Switch Panel, Radio Panel, Instrument Panel, or any combination thereof for more dedicated controls. (Or, of course, simply bind additional functions to your controller.) This system isn’t for anyone without quite a lot to invest in a simulation gaming setup, but for those who have it, it’s hard to beat without going into full simulator rig territory.