This vacation-free pandemic summer has been a total bummer, but Microsoft Flight Simulator (MSFS for short) allows you to “slip the surly bonds of earth” with dozens of airports and planes and a world rendered in glorious detail. It looks like Microsoft finally figured out something useful to do with all that Bing map data!
Yes, you can play MSFS using an XBOX One gamepad or even a keyboard and mouse, but if you want the best, most immersive experience, you really need a HOTAS. That’s short for “Hands-On Throttle And Stick.”
Microsoft was good enough to provide a list of preferred peripherals, but we’re going to go a bit more in-depth and offer a few options at different price tiers.
Please note that prices are a bit wild right now, and many models are temporary out of stock, because the release of MSFS has created an enormous demand, not unlike the demand for sim racing equipment at the beginning of the pandemic. If past trends are anything to go by, more stock should be coming soon as companies adjust to the unexpected surge in demand.
This is the tier you want to check out if you’re not sure whether you want to really invest in a flight sim setup. These are fun gizmos to have in your house in case you ever get the itch to fly, and they’re normally priced as impulse buys.
This is a “just the basics” stick. That little slider on the side is the stand-in for the much larger throttles you’ll see below. The stick twists, which is a nice way to control your plane’s yaw since you don’t have any pedals.
Logitech is another reliable gaming peripheral company, and this is their budget entry into the HOTAS category. Thrustmaster has a more realistic vibe with its jet fighter stick look, while this stick is more game-oriented with a sci-fi vibe. Given how hard both are to get right now, just grab the one you can find!
If you dug the T-Flight Stick X, but you wanted a larger throttle, but you were both strapped for cash and space, this will do nicely. The throttle is fully detachable but can sit right next to your stick if you’ve got a tiny dorm room desk.
Now we’re talking. You’re here because you’re ready to turn this flight sim hobby into a flight sim obsession and you want the right tools for the job. You know your X-Plane from your Flight Simulator and you’re even eyeballing Elite Dangerous. At this price point, you’re looking at separate, full-sized throttles in addition to an improved stick.
This unit uses Thrustmaster’s H.E.A.R.T. (HallEffect AccuRate Technology), which involves magnetic sensors instead of the more basic, lower-resolution sensors in the budget tier. It’s also customizable for left-handed or right-handed fliers, which doesn’t matter at all until it really matters. This unit comes with a ton of programmable buttons as well.
At this tier, you’re also getting pedals for controlling toe brakes and rudder. Each piece (stick, throttle, pedals) is also available separately if you want to build your setup slowly.
Given that Microsoft Flight Simulator revolves around commercial flight, this unit is a great choice. The multi-engine throttle gives you additional control over multi-engine aircraft. These units come with desk clamps so you can get real muscle around the controls. You even get a stopwatch in front of the yoke for timing your landing approaches. If you want to control your plane’s rudder and toe brakes like a real pilot, you can also invest in a set of pedals.
This item also sets you up for an entry into the Logitech system of compatible flight sim products, including fully functional cockpit dashboards. If you feel like you’re going to go neck deep into flight sims, this sets you up nicely for some serious upgrades.
There are other games? Do you fly in them? No? GAME IRRELEVANT!
Here are the peripherals you want when flight simulators are your favorite (maybe only) genre of game. Keep in mind that once you’re at this level of quality, you’ll probably want to investigate hard mounting your HOTAS to a cockpit.
The HOTAS Warthog is a hardcore HOTAS designed to emulate the controls from an actual A-10 Warthog combat aircraft. But there’s no law that says you can’t adapt this setup for MSFS. The metal base plate on the stick is detachable, allowing you to hard mount the stick to a cockpit or your desk.
Note that the dual throttle has a center detente, which is great for people looking to play space sims and might need it to differentiate between forward and backward thrust.
Logitech also offers the X52/X52 Pro/X56 HOTAS which looks amazing and feature-rich but has a reputation for quality control issues. Some folks seem to really love them, but others get lemons right out of the box. If you do decide to go with this HOTAS setup, make sure you get it from a dealer with a good return/replacement policy.
Folks looking for the highest-end peripherals for MSFS should check out Virtual Fly. These guys build full-motion flight simulator cockpits made for flight schools. Hall effect sensors, load cells, full instrument panels, the works. If you have too many kidneys and a burning desire for the best in-flight sim hardware, this is the way to go.
Let everyone fly
The XBOX Adaptive Controller is also compatible with Microsoft Flight Simulator. This can let folks who might struggle with a HOTAS or a traditional XBOX One gamepad take flight. The skies are friendlier when we can soar through them together!