Great leaps and bounds have been made in recent years to make flight simulators more accessible to everybody. Gone are the days you would have to read a 500-page manual before even being able to take off, but one thing hasn’t changed much – they are still a pain to have fun with if you only have a keyboard and mouse at your disposal. With Flight Simulator 2020 coming to the Xbox it has meant Microsoft has had to do a lot of serious work on its mega-sim to get it controller-ready.
For sure plenty of players will be trying it out with a controller, but it is only once you have experienced playing a flight sim (or even a space sim like Elite Dangerous with a Yoke (and you can find our best ones here) or a HOTAS can you fully appreciate the feeling of soaring through the virtual skies.
Products at a Glance
How we picked
Well it should be apparent from our intro that you don’t actually need a joystick to play a flight simulator – however, to play them the way the devs intended you kinda do! The extra buttons, knobs, and switches bring far more controls to your fingertips and certainly make the games more enjoyable. yes, you can play with a controller, no you shouldn’t if you have the option not to. The thing is that most accessories, peripherals such as joysticks, yokes, rudder pedals, and the like tend to cost a pretty penny. And, unlike buying a new controller, can’t really be used for any other type of game. So it’s a bit of a niche purchase and you have to make sure you a) are going to use it long term, and b) spend the right amount of money in the first place.
With that in mind we have dug deep to find the best five joysticks out there today across a whole spectrum of budgets and features. There really is something for everybody in here – well everybody looking to buy a joystick at any rate. Let’s crack on.
Best Flight Sim Joystick (X-Plane, DCS World, FS2020)
Great starter stick
Reasonably priced for what you get
you won't feel the need up upgrade it quickly
Only easily availble in moire expensive flavor (with the throttle)
Orange detailing spoils the look a bit
You are going to see the name Thrustmaster appear a lot on this page. The company has been around in the flight seem scene for many, many years and seemingly is no reaching the top of the game. The clumsily named Thrustmaster T16000M HOTAS is absolutely brilliant in every department as a starter stick apart from its name. The HOTAS will serve you equally well in Flight Simulator 2020 and DCS World as it will in Elite Dangerous or Star Citizen. It’s been a tough time for gamers looking to buy peripherals for flight sims due to combined problem of the sudden popularity and general supply shortages of, well, just about everything across the board. this means that although the joystick on its own is, in theory, a purchasable peripheral, it’s nigh on possible to pick it up without the throttle as well, which pushes the price up, but, well you will also have a throttle for your flight sim which is great.
The stick is ergonomic and has plenty of triggers, hats, and inputs but we found the orange plastic a strange choice but it doesn’t make any real difference, other than giving the stick a more gamey look than you might appreciate.
The Thrustmaster T16000M is a great entry-level stick that you won’t need to upgrade any time soon and in terms of initial cash outlay, sits at a nice reasonable level.
Modular for both left and right handers
Difficult to find in stock
Great for airliners, not so much for fighters
Thrustmaster’s latest foray into flight sticks is this licensed Airbus controller. In 2020 it announced a partnership to bring branded products to the flight sim marketplace and the opening release is this great stick modeled on the actual sticks found in the Airbus 320 and 320neo. 17 assignable buttons, hats, and switches all make this a worthy competitor to the above, especially if you are intending to fly jetliners in Flight Simulator 2020 rather than fighter jets in DCS World. One of the most standout features is that the stick can be modified with a screwdriver for both left and right-hand use, this is a pretty unique feature and a great touch. You can pair it up with the matching Airbus throttle (assuming you can find it to buy anywhere).
The Officer Pack listed above bundles the two together and is the best opportunity at the moment to actually get your hands on one.
Sturdy as the real thing
Plenty of inputs
Designed to be incorporated into a larger setup
I remember the Warthog being released around the same time as I was really into Elite Dangerous and looking for a stick but couldn’t really justify its premium price at the time to play a single game. I always looked on admiringly though at its metal construction and even the fact it doesn’t actually come with a base and is intended to be screwed down into your own setup. this obviously risks taking a product for a niche market and making it even, er nicher. That should be a word.
It is based on the plane of the same name – the A-10 and oozes quality and should last a lifetime of flying. 19 action buttons, two POV hats, and plenty more to recommend it. Just make sure it covers all the bases you need before jumping in.
Cheap and cheerful
Rudimentary throttle control
Lots of buttons
You aren't saving the planet with this much plastic
Won't survive a lot of bashing around
You simply don’t need to spend hundreds at the outset when you are unsure whether you are going to get the right amount of use out of a flight simulator joystick. The T.Flight Stick X, once again from Thrustmaster is the baby sibling to our first choice item here and can be picked up for around $40 which is insane when you think how much a standard games controller can cost you these days. No, it doesn’t have the durability of something like the Warthog above, but you wouldn’t really expect it to. It’s considerably plastic feeling with plenty of plastic buttons for your inputs. There’s a slider on the base, that while a bit scratchy, is used as your throttle.
A serious deadzone in the center of the stick can be modded to be better if you are prepared to crack it open, but if you can live it it you will still find it about a million times better than not using any joystick at all!
At this price, it’s a serious contender if you aren’t sure how hard the flight sim bug will bite.
Little risk to try out joystick flying
Capable and better than not using it!
Plastic and lightweight.
We finally get to a stick that isn’t made by Thrustmaster but rather the other bastion of flight simulator peripherals – Logitech. In our other flight sim pages, we have raved about the Logitech G / Saitek collaborations but it is fair to say this stick is squarely aimed at the budget market like the stick above.
The Extreme 3D has a grand name but at a cost of around $30 – although even it is not immune from scalpers tax at the moment. This is not meant as a slur in any way but there really is nothing remarkable about this joystick. It does what it is supposed to for as little investment as possible. If you are looking for a low-risk / low-cost way to get into the flight simulator ecosystem then ta-daaa.
If you think of it as simply a better way of trying out Flight Simulator 2020 then you will be fine – of course, if you decide the game is for you this is quickly going to go onto eBay and be replaced with something more substantial so it might not turn out to be as cheap in the long run as you expected.
Things To Consider
What other accessories do you need to play a flight sim?
If you want to play Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020, you technically don’t need any accessories to get your flight airborne. However, as previously mentioned, by not utilizing the plethora of accessories on the market such as yokes and joysticks, you simply won’t be getting the full experience. We recommend at least picking up a joystick at a minimum as you’ll get some feel of what real flying is like without spending hundreds of dollars.
What is the best flight simulator?
Wow, that’s quite the question and the answer all depends on whether, for your gaming experience, you want to be a civilian-style pilot or start buzzing around in military jets. The main game for the former at the moment is undoubtedly the poster boy that is Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020, although X-Plane 11 is still highly thought of.
For all things military then check out DCS World. It’s free to get into but if you want to fly the good stuff it can get expensive real fast!
How much is a flight simulator?
So you really want to get into them eh? Many flight sims such DCS World or War Thunder (though some would argue that’s not an out and out sim) offer a free tier to snare you in. Games such as Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 cost upwards of $50 but can be played for ‘free’ if you an Xbox Game Pass (Ultimate for the PC version) or regular for the newly released Xbox version. Xbox Game Pass is a ridiculously good deal at the best of times but if you want to try a flight simulator, well it’s just paid for itself, hasn’t it?
It was actually a pretty close decision between the T16000M and the Airbus joysticks but while the Airbus one feels right for airlines, the Thrustmaster feels right no matter what aircraft you choose so it wins the day. it’s a modern stick that has a loyal following and the cost is not so high as to be off-putting. The biggest deal is being able to find one to buy, but if you see one available then you snap it up immediately.