Flight Simulator Buyer’s Guide—2022 edition
With 2022 coming to a close, it’s easy to say that digital pilots are borderline spoiled. There are hundreds of hardware options to help our simulated aircraft get airborne, ranging from $40 up to five-figure platforms. Starting fresh and finding the right option for your configuration can be somewhat intimidating, and that’s why we put together the 2022 Flight Sim Buyer’s Guide.
We’ll begin with an introduction to hardware by covering what yoke options we have in front of us. The yoke is the natural resting location for our hands and is able to relay to the aircraft (digital version) how we want the airplane’s nose to relate to the horizon.
Most Realistic: Honeycomb Alpha Yoke
The Honeycomb Alpha earns the title of the most realistic yoke due to its construction. With a steel shaft riding on metal ball bearings and bungee cords for the interior tension provider, this a very realistic yoke for anyone who has sat in the front of an airplane. One caveat is the lack of throttle control, but there are throttle options further on in this review.
Best Beginner: Logitech Yoke and Throttle
The Logitech Yoke and Throttle stands out as the best beginner yoke because it doesn’t break the bank and it comes with included engine management controls. The front-facing timer is a nice addition too, but one negative of the Logitech Yoke is it only travels 45 degrees left and right of the natural resting point. Other than that, it’s one of our most popular yokes.
Xbox Compatible: Honeycomb Alpha XPC
This upgraded version of the popular Alpha yoke (above) includes the chip needed for a yoke to communicate with an Xbox series S or X. (It’s also compatible with PC.) It features a new front grill design, a full 180-degree yoke rotation with upgraded hall effect sensors to provide precision with no center detent.
Let’s say you want the same control input ability but you have limited desk space. Then you would be in the market for a flight stick. These offer the same abilities as the yokes by controlling roll and pitch (left/right and up/down) but they also consistently offer engine control and additionally yaw control (an often overlooked control in flight simulation).
Best Beginner: Logitech Sim Flight Joystick
The Logitech Flight Sim Joystick is in my opinion the best beginner flight simulator stick in addition to the best beginner hardware piece overall. It takes care of all the needed features with a few wants sprinkled in. Pitch, roll, and yaw are all accomplished with the stick design and engine management is covered with the throttle lever on the back side of the base. Additional buttons can be configured for preferred view changes or parking brake actuation, but when it comes to the basics I like this stick.
Most Value: Thrustmaster HOTAS One
The Thrustmaster HOTAS One Flight Simulator Stick is the one I fly with the most. The base disconnects into two separate pieces, allowing either a first officer configuration (stick on right side, throttle on left) or a captain configuration (stick on left side, throttle on the right). Last but not least, it’s compatible with Xbox!
Most Realistic: Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog Stick and Throttle
If you’re wanting to buzz the tower in style while using hardware that looks like it was pulled out of an attack fighter, the Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog Stick and Throttle is for you. This stick is a 1:1 copy of what you’ll find in the USAF A-10C Warthog, and the throttle movement as well as stick durability are impressive. The separate throttle and stick weigh in at a cumulative 14 pounds and ensure that no matter how hard you’re cranking and banking the digital aircraft, they’ll stay in place.
If you purchase a yoke that doesn’t offer engine management abilities, then a throttle is what’s next on the shopping list. In today’s state-of-the-art flight simulation world, it’s almost criminal to use a keyboard or mouse for throttle control, and the market offers a wide range of options.
Best Beginner: Logitech Throttle Quadrant
If you’re looking for a minimalistic option to manage engine controls for a simulator then the Logitech Throttle Quadrant is the ideal option. It takes up very little space, offers multiple mounting options, and takes care of the basics with a throttle, prop, and mixture lever. Another great feature about this Quadrant is you can build upon it. If you decide to upgrade to multi engine simulation, you can place a second quadrant next to it, reconfigure the lever heads to be two throttle levers, two prop levers, two mixture levers, and a little bit of programming within your simulator and you’re all set!
Most Value: Honeycomb Bravo Throttle
For a more seasoned simmer I can’t recommend the Honeycomb Bravo Throttle enough. This throttle has six levers, a built-in trim wheel, a gear lever, flap lever, annunciator panel, and autopilot controls. It’s borderline overwhelming for an entry level sim driver, but for being one of the most popular flight simulation hardware pieces out there, you won’t have buyer’s remorse. If experiencing challenges getting the Honeycomb Bravo configured for your digital airplane, feel free to explore our Flight Simulation YouTube channel for programming tutorials.
Cessna 172 Realistic: Redbird Alloy Single Throttle in Vernier
If the digital aviator earned their wings in a Cessna like the majority of the pilot population, then the Redbird Alloy Single Throttle in Vernier style is the front runner for realism. This is one of the few throttle controls on the market that incorporates the unique “push/pull” or vernier style of controls, while also incorporating a landing gear control and a flaps lever control. If you’re planning to use a simulator as a training tool, rather than a toy, then the Redbird Alloy Throttle is worth considering.
One of the most overlooked flight simulator control input options are rudder pedals. Perhaps it’s because you can turn on a yaw damper as soon as you’re digitally airborne and have no use for rudder controls until you transition to the approach to landing phase of a flight. What most simmers don’t realize is that if you need to get from the hangar to the runway, it’s quite difficult steering the airplane without pedals. Don’t forget that in order to land the airplane correctly with a crosswind component above zero, you’re going to want to have a precise way to input yaw control for the aircraft.
Best Beginner: Thrustmaster Flight Rudder Pedals
The Thrustmaster Flight Rudder Pedals are a great starter set and are very competitively priced. They offer counter-sliding pedals along with toe brake actuation, and they’re compatible with the Xbox platform.
Highest Rated: Thrustmaster TPR Pedals
If you’re in the market for a serious set of pedals that won’t slide around on the floor when you use them, the robust Thrustmaster TPR Pedals will fit the bill for you. They weigh fifteen pounds once assembled, feature customizable footwell resting angles and tension, and they incorporate a rare pedal movement/sway due to a pivot point above the pedals rather than below. They’re the highest rated pedals we offer here at Sporty’s.
Most Realistic: Redbird RD1 Rudder Pedals
The most realistic award will go to the Redbird RD1 Rudder Pedals. These pedals are part of the platform (TD1 or TD2) from Redbird that allow you to log approaches or flight time from the convenience of your home. They look like they were pulled directly from a Cessna 172 foot well and customers enjoy using all 13 pounds of them.
Last but certainly not least we have the option for accessories or add-ons that aren’t required to get going as a digital aviator, but they can really improve flight simulation and bring us closer to the real thing.
Best for Student Pilots: Pro Flight Multi Panel
One of the most beneficial aspects of a flight simulator besides testing the aerodynamics of a digital aircraft, is the understanding and experience that can be gained from exploring the systems of an aircraft. The autopilot can be one of those systems that offers extreme value once understood completely, while invariably offering risk if involving assumptions. The Pro Flight Multi Panel from Logitech allows us to physically change the dials and settings for our simulations autopilot, and test what happens when using the different features of a single, dual or triple axis autopilot. Throw in a flap lever and a trim wheel and you have a potent add-on to any flight simulator.
Most Realistic: Flight Simulator Headset
For a step towards realism, I like to recommend the Flight Simulator Headset from Thrustmaster. Any pilot who’s sat in the front of a piston driven airplane will be familiar with the feeling of an over the ear headset, why can’t we simulate that same feeling while flying at home? The Headset is a great step towards digitally flying like you would in real life, and is a great complement to a simulator when practicing communication skills.
EFB Organization: Yoke iPad Mount
If you own either the Honeycomb Alpha, Honeycomb Bravo, Honeycomb Alpha XPC, or the Logitech Yoke and Throttle, the Yoke iPad Mount is an ideal solution to use an EFB with a simulator. The high-strength ABS plastic mounts take less than five minutes to be installed on the aforementioned yokes and will allow your EFB to rest on top of your yoke.
The most common question our customer service team hears regarding flight simulators these days is, “how can I use a flight simulator to log approaches and stay current?” In order to put ink in a logbook with a flight simulator, you will need what is called a Basic Aviation Training Device or B-ATD for short. These are machines that are tested and certified by the FAA and therefore require a high level of precision and sensitivity. Once a B-ATD is acquired, you are able to take advantage of FAR 61.51(b)(2)(v) which covers logging simulated flight time, and also FAR 61.57(c)(2) covering logging instrument approaches and staying current.
Here at Sporty’s we offer either the Redbird TD Flight Simulator (configured for Cessna 172 with either glass or steam gauges) or the Redbird TD2 Flight Simulator, which builds on the prior model by adding controllable pitch propeller, landing gear, and a high performance engine. Each TD option includes the required rudder pedals qualifying them as a B-ATD. A Basic Aviation Training Device offers the most functionality to experienced pilots, in my opinion. Not to say that a budding aviator can’t enjoy using one of these devices, but the appreciation for how accurate they are may not resonate with someone who is still in the early learning stages of an aviation career. Lastly, the amount of financial commitment for one of these devices equates to a few dozen hours at a local flight school, which is worth evaluating if you’d rather log simulated time than actual flight time.
One of the most pertinent quotes I heard recently from the CEO of one of the brands we highlighted in this buyers guide was, “Focus on saving hours, rather than logging hours,” and I can’t agree more. An at-home simulator can qualify as a tool to make legal entries in our logbook, but for the roughly other 98% of the flight simulation community a simulator is either for fun, learning, or proficiency. The “for fun” simmer is favorable for the aviation community, but in today’s high performance computing world and state of the art hardware, the flight hungry student or budding aviator can gain a lot from the average at-home simulator—and in return increase the chance of transforming the hobby into a career.
Didn’t see a product or topic you wanted? Please comment on what brands or items you would like to see in future posts and we’ll factor your input into future articles. As always, have fun digitally flying.
I would love to see someone manufacture input devices that could be physically configured to mimic historic conventional aircraft, with the stick on the floor, the throttle on the left, the pedals separable to varying degrees, trim control mountable in various locations, etc. I fly a Cub, and have found other arrangements to be fairly useless for skill building, as they are different enough to be confusing for muscle memory development. Only when I can rig something close to what I’m used to will I begin thinking about spending money on a sim system. I know software for cub/citabria/taylorcraft types is available, but any suggestions where such hardware might be found?
Hi Rebecca, depending on how much “DIY” you’re interested in, you could check out: https://authentikit.org. They create a series of self-built DIY kits for 3D printing. They’ve started with the Spitfire, but also have a strong community who might already have a template for the Cub. For example, I see on this page (https://authentikit.org/vintage-ga/) they say: “During the R&D for this project I also made good progress on a Robin DR400 and I will return to that. With small variations it should provide a good basis for many more great aircraft such as a Piper Cub.”
You could try reaching out to them to see how far long they are. Obviously, this requires some do-it-yourself work as opposed to a complete setup that you could just plug and play.