Although it’s possible to control desktop flight simulators using a mouse and keyboard, most simmers purchase add-on hardware to make the experience more realistic. From yokes and joysticks to throttle quadrants and beyond, there’s hardware available that will allow you to truly make your sim your own. Some simmers even go to the lengths of building full-size cockpits in their homes, sheds, and garages!
This guide covers:
- Advice for Beginners
- Basic Hardware Components
- Advanced Hardware Setups
- Additional Hardware Considerations
- A list of our Hardware Partners
Treat this guide merely as a starting point. You should always conduct your own research to determine what best meets your requirements.
Discounts AvailableFlight Simulation Association partners with many of the hardware developers listed on this page to provide discounts to our members. If you’re planning a hardware purchase, you can save $50+ on some items with our exclusive member discounts on flight simulation hardware.
Advice for Beginners
A good rule of thumb in flight simulation is to start with the basics and build over time. This guideline is particularly true with hardware, which can become very expensive very quickly.
If you’re a newcomer, start simple by investing in either a yoke or joystick, and perhaps a set of rudder pedals. Continue reading for specific hardware recommendations within these categories. After making an initial hardware purchase, relax and enjoy flying your simulator! Spend some time learning what type of flying you like to do and what you’d ultimately like to get out of your setup. Then, if it makes sense, consider adding to your setup with some of the more advanced options discussed in this guide.
A challenge with hardware is that each piece of equipment works and feels a little differently. Therefore, it's best if you can find a way to "try before you buy". Live events like FlightSimExpo in the United States or Flight Sim Show in the United Kingdom are ideal for evaluating multiple types of hardware, as you’ll find a variety of demonstrations all in one place.
Let the team at FSNews introduce you to some of the most popular hardware essentials for flight simulation.
As you review this guide, be thinking about:
- Consider a yoke if the aircraft you fly are mostly controlled by a yoke, and if it fits well in the space you have available on your desk.
- Consider a joystick for a more flexible setup. Joysticks often have built-in throttle and/or rudder controls, thus reducing the need to for additional hardware, and generally fit in a smaller space.
- If yaw control is important in your setup, rudder pedals are a great enhancement for improving the overall experience.
Type of Material
- Plastic controls tend to be cheaper and more widely available but may not last as long and tend to offer a less realistic feel.
- Metal and other controls have a heavier and more durable feel
- Where will your controls go? If you plan to mount a yoke to your desk, where will your keyboard go? Do you have space for a joystick beside your mouse?
- Can you place a piece of carpet under your chair or desk to prevent movement while operating rudder pedals?
Basic Hardware Components
Yokes and Joysticks
Yokes and joysticks are the pieces of hardware used to control aircraft pitch and roll, and they are a must-have for anyone getting started in home simulation.
We polled 100 experienced simmers. 99 of them said a new simmer should purchase a yoke or joystick as part of their initial setup.
When purchasing a yoke or joystick, consider which makes sense for the type of simulator flying you think you’ll get into. For example, if you plan to fly military jets, helicopters, or Cirrus or Airbus aircraft, a joystick is normally used to control those aircraft. If you’re a Boeing or Cessna pilot, a yoke is more common.
Also consider your broader setup. For example, a joystick might fit easier beside the keyboard on your desktop, whereas a yoke would need to be mounted to your desk. Additionally, some yokes and joysticks have buttons and switches that are customizable for various aircraft functions. Depending on your use case, such a unit may be more desirable.
Some of the most popular yokes and joysticks include:
Quick Start Guide for the Honeycomb ALPHA and BRAVOHoneycomb’s ALPHA Flight Controls and BRAVO Throttle Quadrant have become some of the community’s favorite flight controls in the past year. Our one-page quick start PDF includes links and resources to help you get set up. Download it here.
Rudder pedals are used primarily for controlling aircraft yaw, and for ground steering while taxiing. Pressing the tip of each pedal operates the brakes. In addition to a yoke or joystick, a set of rudder pedals completes an initial flight simulator setup.
We polled 100 experienced simmers. 50 of them recommended purchasing rudder pedals as part of an initial setup.
Some of the popular rudder pedal options for home simmers include:
Throttle units are typically highly configurable add-ons that control aircraft thrust and a variety of other functions. For example, the Honeycomb Bravo unit pictured below is configured by default for a twin-engine general aviation aircraft, but additional hardware is available that converts it to represent a 2 or 4 engine airliner.
In many cases, throttle units are sold with a yoke, joystick, and rudder pedals in a single “combo pack”. Check with your retailer, as purchasing units in a bundle often results in cost savings.
Because of their versatility and relative cost, throttle units are typically a good “next step” after completing your initial setup.
Some of the most popular throttle units include:
The Hands On Throttle-and-Stick, or HOTAS, is a combination unit that includes a throttle, joystick, and customizable buttons and switches. Originally designed for the military, a HOTAS configuration is typically found in fighter jets and helicopters. Although it is less common in airliners and general aviation aircraft, the HOTAS remains a popular hardware add-on in flight simulation because of its compact size and versatility.
Some of the most popular HOTAS options for home simmers are:
Gauges and Avionics
Depending on your setup, you may wish to consider add-on gauges such as GPS units, avionics stacks, and autopilot control panels. There are a wide variety of “plug and play” options available across the internet, ranging in price. It’s not possible to discuss every type of add-on available in this guide, so you will need to conduct your own research depending on what you are looking for. A good place to start is by searching the flight simulation stores that sell hardware or dedicated websites like Flight Velocity, RealSimGear, or Simkits. Large online retailers like Amazon carry hardware from some of the major brands, such as Logitech.
To highlight what’s available, below are popular gauges and controllers from our Hardware Partners:
Advanced Hardware Setups
Some advanced setups use panels, like the ones shown below, to help organize displays, yokes, and other hardware elements. These can be purchased as full kits, or as blank panels for you to “fill” with individual gauges. Fully customized panels are also available depending on your specific requirements.
If you’re thinking about creating a panel setup for your home simulator, there are three options:
- Do it yourself: lots of simmers that have created setups on their own, using tools and materials sourced from home improvement stores. A home cockpit building website such as Cockpit Builders is a good place to start asking for advice.
- Purchase a “blank” panel: Flight Velocity and Stay Level Avionix both produce “blank” panels, which can be custom-created to fit any flight simulation hardware. You would then separately purchase your own flight simulation hardware to mount in it.
- Purchase a complete kit: this option includes the panel and flight control hardware, like in the examples below from Flight Velocity and OpenCockpits.
Those who wish to go beyond desktop mountable hardware or panel kits enter the world of home cockpit building, which is a hobby in and of itself! Home cockpit building is such a vast topic that it isn’t practical to discuss as part of this guide. Instead, we’ll just provide an overview. If you’re interested in learning more, there are entire websites and communities like Cockpit Builders dedicated specifically to this topic, and are a great place to start.
Typically, home cockpit building is based around creating a full-size simulator setup from scratch, sometimes using parts from real aircraft. Home cockpit building is about the journey and learning experience, with most builders slowly building and adding to their setup over a number of years.
After 20+ years of desktop simming, passionate home simmer Tony built this Boeing 737-800 simulator. You can hear Tony describe his simulator journey, as well as learn more about home cockpits building in general, by watching this webinar.
You can search Google for real-world aircraft parts or purchase complete setups from companies, some of whom supply real-world airline training departments. A few of the websites you may uncover for large-scale, modular flight controls for airliner simulation include:
- Cockpit Sim Parts
- Flightdeck Solutions
- Jetline Systems
- Ruscool Electronics
- SKALARKI Electronics Member Discount
- Virtual FlyMember Discount
Because of the specialized nature of this equipment, companies who provide home airliner setups are located all across the world. Doing your own search may be valuable because you’ll find companies who are located closer to you, helping reduce shipping and import costs. Also note that while it is possible to purchase a full-size cockpit, completely configured and ready to fly, expect to pay five or six figures for these setups!
If you’re looking to get further home cockpit building, Cockpit Builders has a large forum community designed to share tips and advice from experienced simmers. By searching Google, you’ll also find the websites of several home simmers who have built their own home simulator (like this one). These websites are often full of helpful links and great information from people who have already done this!
Your Actual Aircraft
If you’ve purchased some of the high-end flight simulator controls, you know that it’s easy to spend $1,000+ on your home setup. But what about using your actual aircraft as the simulator? With plug-and-play sensors that can be Velcro-attached to your aircraft’s control system, Sim Your Plane allows you to use your aircraft as a joystick in a desktop flight simulator. Best coupled with a VR computer and headset, the sensors connect to your computer, phone or tablet through USB or Bluetooth and function just like a joystick, allowing you to sit in your airplane and use it to control MSFS, Prepar3D, X-Plane, and other civil flight simulators. Find out more.
Additional Hardware Considerations
Displays and Visuals
Advanced simulator setups commonly make use of multiple monitors, particularly because of their ability to create that “wrap-around” effect of looking out the window at your wing. An in-depth discussion of advanced visuals is beyond the scope of this guide, but the images below from FlightSimExpo 2019 provide a sense of what’s possible.
A multiple monitor or television setup is a significant investment, so consider your long-term plans and goals for flight simulation first. If you decide to pursue such a setup, a home cockpit community such as Cockpit Builders may be a good place to begin your research and ask for help.
In general, you’ll need to decide whether traditional computer monitors or small 4K/HD televisions are more cost-effective for the setup you’re creating. If you’re purchasing displays specifically for flight simulation, websites recommend at least 1920 x 1080 resolution, with a reasonably high refresh rate (120 Hz or better).
Some simmers also use projectors and screens as part of their setups. However, as the price of 4K televisions and monitors has been consistently dropping, these are becoming less popular. If you plan to use a projector in your home setup, ambient lighting and physical space become important considerations. Projector displays can be easily washed out by bright sunlight.
Head Tracking and Virtual Reality
In addition to physical hardware, more simmers are embracing various forms of Virtual Reality (VR) in their setups. Instead of purchasing physical control hardware, you might elect to have a very simple physical setup and spend more time looking through VR goggles.
Head Tracking software allows you to “look around” in the sim naturally. As you turn your head, the camera view in the simulator follows that motion. The next step is Virtual Reality, which allows you to see a three-dimensional picture of the environment, including the cockpit and surrounding scenery. Most major desktop simulators support both Head Tracking and Virtual Reality. Check out our Virtual Reality Guide for more information on getting started with this new technology!
If you plan to fly online with ATC, or if your setup is located in a “noise sensitive area” of the house, you may wish to consider a headset. Many simmers configure the audio from their simulator (i.e., the aircraft and background sounds) to come through speakers, and use the headset to communicate with ATC. If you’re in a noisy area, you may want everything coming through the headset. In most cases, you can configure sound options from within your simulator’s settings.
If you're a real-world pilot and already own a general aviation headset, it’s possible to purchase adapters to use your headset with a computer. However, you may find your general aviation headset is “overkill” for the home simulator, especially if you have one with Active Noise Reduction (ANR). You might also consider replica general aviation headsets available specifically for the PC, like the T.Flight U.S. Air Force Edition from Thrustmaster.
Most home flight simmers who use a headset tend to purchase one specifically for PC gaming. You can find plenty of options at local stores or online. Search “best PC gaming headsets” and you’ll find plenty of reviews from top gaming publications, with both wired and wireless options. Just remember that if you’re planning to fly with ATC, a boom mic is a must!
Other Desk Equipment
Racing and other gaming chairs are also popular in home flight simulation. Beyond chairs, you may want to consider other pieces to compliment your setup. Popular desk additions include LED lighting, tablet holders or mounts, monitor mounts, and carpeting (to prevent chair/pedal movement as you operate the rudder pedals).
Hardware PartnersSuggest an Addition
The full suite of flight simulation hardware available extends well beyond the examples on this page. The list below provides an overview of FSA Partners who design and manufacturer add-on hardware. It is meant to be a starting point in conducting further hardware research.