With Star Wars: Squadrons on the way, it’s time to build the cockpit of your dreams
Star Wars fans let out a collective gasp when Electronic Arts announced Star Wars: Squadrons in June. It looks every inch like the first-person, in-cockpit space combat game that fans have been waiting for since the original Star Wars: X-Wing and Star Wars: TIE Fighter classics. Even more exciting is the fact that it will be compatible with modern flight sticks, throttles, and virtual reality headsets — including PlayStation VR. Squadrons is scheduled to be released Oct. 2 on PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One. That means the clock is ticking for you to build the dedicated cockpit you’ve always wanted.
I’ve spent part of the last few months of quarantine tinkering in my garage, refining my own flight simulation setup for use primarily with Elite: Dangerous. As designed, this same rig is also fully compatible with DCS World, MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, Star Citizen, and War Thunder. I’ve also built it with an eye on Microsoft Flight Simulator, which is expected to arrive later this year.
Here are a few creative solutions I found for making a video game cockpit — also called a “simpit” — without breaking the bank, as well as a couple of must-have items to take your build to the next level. I’ll finish things off with a complete shopping list of everything I’ve included in my rig as pictured. Even if you’re not going whole hog with a VR headset, there’s still plenty of great information below.
Choose a platform
Right now, EA isn’t giving all the details on which peripherals will be compatible with Squadrons. It mentions PlayStation VR and Oculus-brand devices by name in its FAQ, and says the game will be compatible with other headsets as well. There’s also a full list of system specifications for the PC you’ll need to run it, both with and without VR. EA promises more information on which flight sticks and HOTAS (hands-on throttle and stick) solutions will be fully compatible sometime in the future. Polygon has reached out for more details.
My recommendation if you’re starting from scratch is to build your cockpit around the PC. That’s because there are already plenty of games that you can play on PC right now that can make use of a quality simpit, so even if Squadrons comes up short when it finally gets released you’ll still have some excellent games to play.
For my PC setup, I’ve opted for the HTC Vive Pro, mainly because that’s what was sitting around in the Polygon library when I started the build. There are plenty of excellent options right now for VR, and we’ve detailed all of the leading devices in our Half-Life: Alyx buying guide.
HTC Vive Pro
Prices taken at time of publishing.
The HTC Vive Pro Starter Kit includes the VR headset, two Steam VR base stations, and two Vive controllers.
Choose a flight stick, throttle, and pedals
On PC, the two most popular commercial flight sticks on the market right now are the Logitech X52 and the Thrustmaster T16000M. Both are sold with a matching throttle, and both feature a special twist axis on the stick itself to let you simulate a rudder. I’ve used both of them, and recommend them highly. The Thrustmaster also has a matching pedal assembly, which attaches directly to the throttle and looks great. You can purchase all three components together in a bundle. The Logitech G Pro Flight Rudder Pedals, on the other hand, aren’t quite as elegant, but they get the job done.
If you’re looking for an upgrade, consider the Thrustmaster Warthog HOTAS. The system has been in production for a long time, and for good reason. The $549.99 set has lots of metal components, and plenty of switches for even the most demanding sims. Paired with the Thrustmaster TPR pedals, you’ve got a setup that can take a lot of punishment and last for years to come.
Prices taken at time of publishing.
Thrustmaster’s stick and throttle system “has been designed for advanced fliers looking for comprehensive, realistic controls as an alternative to using a mouse and keyboard.”
Get a comfortable chair
Next, you’ll need a seat. My recommendation? Go to a junkyard. Car seats are perfect for building a simpit, and just about any seat you can fit in will do. I pulled mine out of a 2002 Ford Taurus, just before donating it.
If you don’t have a junker sitting in the driveway, racing seats are pretty easy to come by on Amazon and fairly inexpensive. You’ll also find a decent selection at your local auto parts store. The benefit of buying a new seat is that it will likely be easier to mount than a junkyard car seat. New seats will have mounting points that are leveled off, designed for universal installation. The seat from my old Taurus, on the other hand, required some ugly wooden shims to get it to sit right.
If I had to do it over again, I’d likely go with something like this Jegs offroad seat, which comes with a flush mount and a spring assembly that allows you to slide it back and forth once it’s installed. You could also use the seat from an old office chair or a modern gaming chair. Just be sure that whatever you choose allows you to sit leaning backward a bit, especially if you plan on mounting rudder pedals.
JEGS 702120 Off Road Seat
Prices taken at time of publishing.
Repurpose an old car seat for your cockpit, or pick up a new one.
Find a mounting solution
The next part is the hardest, and that’s fitting it all together.
For my build, I just used extra wood that I had lying around in the garage. The lower frame is all 2x8-inch pressure-treated timber that I had left over after building a garden. It’s meant to be used outdoors, which is overkill. But as a result, it is extraordinarily heavy and doesn’t move around. For the platform on top — where the seat gets attached — I used the solid top from an old dresser, but I could have just as easily used more of the same pressure-treated timber.
The important part is to make sure you extend your lower frame behind the seat by a foot or two, so that you don’t tip over backward. Mount your seat with some sturdy bolts, and you’re good to go.
The fiddly bit is attaching the flight stick and the throttle. All of the flight sticks that I’ve included in this piece have holes built into them to allow you to permanently attach them if you want to. You could slap together some hasty armrests, drill a couple of holes, and call it a day. But I actually found a much more elegant solution.
The team at OpenWheeler sells prefabricated racing rigs for PCs and consoles. They look excellent, and feature solid all-metal construction. The company also sells kits that allow those same racing seats to be converted into flight simulation seats. Those kits come with heavy, pre-drilled mounting plates for Logitech and Thrustmaster equipment. They’re fully powder-coated, and nearly indestructible.
OpenWheeler’s mounting plates attach to a matching black metal tube, which is designed to slide over a bright silver metal arm. That means you can move the throttle and the flight stick up and down to get them in just the right position. The standard kit sold on Amazon only comes with enough parts to make a complete assembly for one side or the other, so be sure to reach out to the manufacturer and let them know you need two silver metal arms and an additional pair of tension knobs for your build.
Combined with a seat that moves back and forth, these OpenWheeler mounts will allow me to easily adjust the whole setup for different games and accommodate different-sized players.
Flight Simulator mount kit
Prices taken at time of publishing.
OpenWheeler sells kits that include everything you need to mount your HOTAS system to an existing OpenWheeler brand seat. If you’re building your own rig, however, you might be short a few parts. Contact the manufacturer via Amazon and they can help you out.
You still need a desk
Even with all the buttons on your flight stick and throttle, even with a VR system, you’re still going to need a monitor and a keyboard. That means you’re also going to need a desk.
Luckily, I have a recipe that ensures it’s actually one of the least expensive parts of the build.
First, start with a desktop. You can get the Ikea Linnmon, like I have, for just $8.99. Alternately, you could get a nice big solid piece from your local hardware store, or slap something together with scraps you’ve got lying around the house. Next, I recommend adjustable-height legs. Again, Ikea offers an affordable solution in the Olov at $15.99 each. That’s a whole adjustable-height work surface for less than $75.
Adjustable height gives you three advantages. First, you don’t really need a monitor arm if you can’t afford one. Just raise the desk itself until you reach a comfortable height. Second, it gives you enough room to work the pedals underneath. Third, if you plan on playing Microsoft Flight Simulator when it comes out this year, you might want to remove the flight stick and replace it with a yoke. Yokes, like the Logitech G Flight Pro, traditionally mount to the front edge of the desk, so this design can effectively serve as an adjustable dashboard to mount a yoke onto.
Finally, you’ll want to think about adding a keyboard tray. You can just put the keyboard on the desk and lean forward to hit the keys, but that tends to break the immersion and will eventually do a number on your back. It’s also really hard to do in VR.
I opted for a sliding, articulated keyboard tray by Regency, which moves forward, back, up, and down with a single tension wheel. At around $80, it wound up costing me more than the desk itself. But it slides out of the way when I need it to, allowing me to get up and out of the simpit. It also lets me lower the keyboard down onto my lap when I’m typing articles for work.
Right Hand Keyboard Tray
Prices taken at time of publishing.
A keyboard tray mounts to the underside of your desk and slides out when you need it.
That’s it! Hopefully you found some or all of these tips useful. Below is a list of all the hardware included in my home office simpit — minus the wood, screws, and the 2002 Ford Taurus. I included some notes on why they’re excellent choices for your build. Note that there are a few items that went into my build that are no longer manufactured. I recommended replacements for those as needed.
If you’ve got questions, drop them in the comments below. I’ll do my best to offer some guidance.
- I’ve been using this MSI GS65 Stealth, modified to 32 GB RAM with an extra 2 TB NVMe drive, as my main work computer since late last year. Coming from a desktop, I’m astounded that it can run VR as well as it does. It’s also nice being able to move any AAA game I want around the house.
- The 24-inch Dell S2417DG gaming monitor was a natural addition, as it features Nvidia G-Sync. The contrast is very high, however, and there’s no fine adjustment. That has caused me some grief in Elite, where most everything you look at is set against the deep black of space. But in just about every other game, it’s hardly noticeable. If I had my way, I’d have gone for the 27-inch version instead.
- The HTC Vive Pro is only the second VR system that I’ve spent quality time with after the original Oculus Rift. I’m a big fan of how it’s able to accommodate my reading glasses, thanks to a sliding front face on the HMD. The extra resolution is also handy when viewing buttons and dials on in-game instrumentation.
- I can’t fly outside of VR without the TrackIR 5 and the Track Clip Pro. They translate minuscule head movements into dramatic changes in your field of view, letting you look up, down, and all around while seated in the cockpit. I first learned to love them playing DayZand Arma 3, where they give your character a neck that allows you to look in one direction and shoot in another. Now, whether I’m lining up my final approach in War Thunder or landing inside a space station in Elite: Dangerous, I consider them to be essential.
- Pretty much any keyboard will do, but you’ll want to avoid a traditional mouse with the Regency keyboard tray in this build. I’m a big fan of the Logitech M570 wireless trackball, which gives you all the flexibility of a mouse in a very small footprint.
- These Audeze LCD-GX gaming headphones are currently a reference set that I use as a benchmark for high- and low-frequency response for Polygon’s annual gaming headset roundup. The price point — $899 when purchased directly from the manufacturer — is outrageous, but the sound quality is extraordinary. You might take a look at the Audeze Mobius headphones instead, which include head tracking (akin to the TrackIR) that shifts the in-game sound field all around you. I have a feeling it will come in handy when Microsoft Flight Simulator launches, but it’s tremendously effective in MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries as well.
- The Sennheiser GSX 1000 is a stand-alone audio amplifier and digital-to-analog converter. I dig it because it allows me to set up a pair of satellite speakers and a pair of headphones, and switch between them with a single button press — without going into Windows’ audio settings.
- I’ve tried cheap amps for driving my speakers, but recently switched to the Fosi Audio TB10A Mini Power Amplifier. All the click and hiss I was used to hearing is gone. My speakers are from an ancient surround-sound system, but try these Polk bookshelf speakers instead.
- I really like Echogear monitor arms. Having used old-school Ergotron arms for a very long time, these are lighter and stronger by comparison. The price is also right at just $59.99 each. They pair well with the AmazonBasics notebook tray, which allows you to mount your laptop off the surface of the desk and easily move it out of the way when you need to.
- The desk shown above includes a white top — the Linnmon model — from Ikea, but other colors, sizes, and textures are available online. You can find table legs at Ikea as well. The Olov legs I used can be adjusted to roughly pub height, giving plenty of room below.
- A single Anker seven-port powered USB hub ties all my various bits of tech together. I should probably get a second one. There’s also a 10-port version that will allow you to power up to three additional devices that don’t need to be connected to your PC. The robust metal construction is ideal, especially if you’d like to mount it to the bottom of your desk to keep it out of sight.
- I’ve always thought that the Thrustmaster Warthog HOTAS and the Thrustmaster TPR Pedals were overkill, but after spending time with them for a few months, I finally see the allure. The metal switches are very satisfying, and after using my simpit as my primary workstation for the last few weeks, I have yet to break anything getting in and out of the rig.
- Late at night, I use Luminoodle bias lighting to mirror the custom blue HUD that I’ve modded into my version of Elite: Dangerous. It’s nothing fancy, but it makes a big impact when you’re flying through space. There’s also a handy remote that lets me easily switch between red, yellow, and bright white to match whatever game I’m playing at the moment.
- Of course, some rugged power strips are a must. You’ll need at least two, as well as a few 6-foot USB extension cables, some cable ties, and a few 3M Command hooks to keep your headphones and VR headsets tidy. Smaller 3M adhesive strips can also be used to mount other items — like the Vive’s micro controller — to the wall or underneath the top of the desk.
Thrustmaster TCA Sidestick Airbus Edition
Prices taken at time of publishing.
The newest PC compatible flight stick from Thrustmaster is a replica of the stick used to fly the Airbus A320. It’s also fully ambidextrous, including hot-swappable buttons on the left and right side of the stick. If you plan to build a two-stick setup — perfect for Star Citizen or MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries — they’re just the thing.
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Star Wars: Squadrons to support HOTAS controls on PC
With the announcement of Star Wars: Squadrons comes all sorts of questions. Though the game promises 5v5 spaceflight dog fights using the iconic Star Wars franchise, we have little to go by outside of the cinematic trailer. That said, some questions are being answered little by little, one of which regards controls. Squadrons’ creative director recently proudly announced that the game would see HOTAS (hands-on throttle-and-stick) peripheral support on its PC edition.
Star Wars: Squadrons Creative Director Ian S. Frazier answered the matter of joystick support from his personal Twitter on June 15, 2020. When questioned on the matter, Frazier was initially cagey about what he could and could not reveal, but he eventually let players know that Squadrons’ on PC would feature full joystick support, including HOTAS rig set-ups. Unfortunately, there was no world on similar support for consoles at this time, but it’s good to know that at least PC players will be able to enjoy a full-blown space flight sim experience if you have the peripherals for it.
Star Wars: Squadrons promises to be an incredible new experience in the Star Wars universe. Where many recent Star Wars game have used ship combat as a bit of a sideshow to the main experience, Squadrons is going to be leaning hard into a full-on and fleshed out X-wing vs TIE Fighter experience this coming October 2020. What’s more, it will feature 5v5 competitive play. We could legitimately be looking at the possibility of a Star Wars flight combat esport, which just sounds like it could be delightful if done right.
With everything in place for launch on PC, PS4, and Xbox One on October 2, 2020, it’s great to hear that PC will be getting HOTAS support. In addition to the VR support, playing on PC with joystick and throttle might just be the way to experience Star Wars: Squadrons, barring an as-of-yet unconfirmed launch on next-gen consoles PS5 and Xbox Series X.
TJ Denzer is a player with a passion for games that has dominated a lifetime. When he's not handing out beatdowns in the latest fighting games, exploring video game history, or playing through RPGs with his partner, he's searching for new food and drinks in the constant pursuit of good times with good people inside and outside the South Texas area. You can also find him on Twitter @JohnnyChugs.
Real pilots control a plane's throttle using a large sliding lever that makes it easier to quickly throttle up or down. That’s vital in air combat or aerobatics, where throttle control is as important as the stick to maneuvering. This is the idea behind the “hands-on throttle and stick” (HOTAS) approach of controllers like the Logitech G X52 Professional (Rating: 9/10, WIRED Recommends).
It comes in two parts: a large, button encrusted stick and an equally enbuttoned throttle slider. Typically, you use the stick with your right hand and the throttle with your left. The sliding throttle control definitely adds a lot to the experience. You really feel like you are getting things started when you slide the control forward and the engine starts to roar, and it feels much more natural to carefully throttle back when cruising or landing.
The entirety of the X52 is covered in buttons. There are six buttons, two hats, three toggle switches, and a dial on the stick, plus six buttons, four dials, two hats, and a small slider on the throttle. All of these are illuminated with LEDs, and there is also a safety cover that sits over the main weapons trigger on the stick. Flick the cover open and the trigger button underneath glows a frightening red.
That trigger might make it obvious that the X52 isn’t really about just flight simulation. It is just at home in air or space combat games like Elite: Dangerous that rely on flying skill and reactions to defeat those pesky aliens. These buttons are great for flight sims as well though. They are all assigned to essential controls by default in FS2020, and you can reassign any of them. Even the trigger gets assigned to something: flick open the cover and press the trigger (which usually fires a missile) and your autopilot is engaged. Pull the finger trigger on the back of the control stick (which usually fires a secondary weapon) and your view changes to the nearest point of interest—usually the airstrip you are trying to land on. With so many buttons at your disposal, you can handle an entire flight without using the keyboard.
All those buttons can be confusing though. The buttons are labeled, but these don’t correspond with the labels used in FS2020. The big button on the top of the throttle slider, for instance, has a big “E” on it, but FS2020 calls it Joystick Button 8. It’s inconsistent and makes figuring things out harder. In one flight, I accidentally pressed one of the buttons on the throttle that turned the engine off right after takeoff and crashed just off the end of the runway. But at least with this setup, I can try to nail that takeoff again, which I probably wouldn’t be able to do with a real plane.
12 Jul 13 Best HOTAS Joysticks in 2021
Posted at 04:43h in Reviews by Johnny
Calling all my gamer friends … If you’re similar to me and you like a serious flight simulator, then you’ll love what I have in store for you. I enjoy a detailed simulator as much as the next man which is why I’m delighted to pass on this product information. I’ve not just reviewed 5 of the best Hotas joysticks, I’ve actually reviewed 13 of them! Ideal for those of you that want to know everything there is to know about one of the years must have, purchases.
A computer joystick or hands on throttle-and-stick, also known as a H.O.T.A.S., is an input device used in video games and simulations for flight simulation, 3D computer graphics systems, piloting aircraft, or controlling heavy machinery. It consists of a hand-held stick that moves the cursor around the screen (or controls the player’s vehicle), and one or more buttons to activate or deactivate certain functions; each function could have its own button on the same stick or different functions can be mapped to different buttons on different sticks with multiple controllers.
I’m a serious gamer so you can trust my word and use it to figure out what you want to do with your hard-earned money. And because I’m a serious gamer, you can give some serious thought to my opinions because you know I’ve done my research. So, without further delay let’s take a look at the first entry on my list.
Best Hotas Joysticks for Flight
1. Thrustmaster T-Flight Hotas X Flight Stick
These guys know their joysticks so it should be no surprise that they’re the ones kicking off my list. Here’s what I thought folks…
I liked the wide hand rest, it makes gaming confortable
The hand rest is a thing of beauty because it is just so comfortable. The width was perfect for my hand which is everything you look for in a joystick. If you place comfort right up there with playability, then this could indeed be worth a second look in a little more detail.
With 12 programmable buttons I think you’re going to be able to find your dream setup
I like that you can independently program each of the buttons this thing brings to the table. With a dozen of them to choose from you should be able to find the perfect position for every control you want to utilize. Ideal for those of you looking to create a custom setup that will allow you to take your gaming to the next level.
The throttle control fits like a glove and is so well thought out I can’t see how to better it
The throttle control on this piece of kit is right up there with the very best I’ve ever played with. If you love the feel of a professional-grade throttle and the response it gives you, then this should be near the top of your shortlist. It’s near perfect if you want to live and breathe your gaming like never before.
Internal memory ensures your well thought out settings can never be wiped
The final thing I want to say is that this joystick comes with an onboard memory that saves your settings. That is ideal as you’re going to be able to move your joystick around without having to reload or reprogram your settings.
2. Thrustmaster 2960720 Hotas Warthog Flight Stick
That’s three in a row from the Thrustmaster team! Here’s what I thought of their latest creation…
You need Proper controls to get a fully immersive gaming experience. The best controls are those that look similar to those in real planes. When you’re operating a commercial flight sim, you need a yoke and quadrant controller. This indicates a good joystick for fighter simulators. And if you’re searching for a good controller, ThrustMaster makes a lot of them.
Hall effect technology ensures you can control any vehicle to the nth degree
The Hall effect isn’t just something that you’ll find in a school science book; it’s now revolutionizing the gaming world. By using the power of electromagnetism to optimize the control of each of your axes, it allows you to game with even greater precision. The other thing that it does is create a reliable and robust piece of kit that won’t fade over time.
Replica of the famous US A-10C’s joystick that is actually flown in combat
The joystick’s design may make you do a double take because it looks like you’ve seen it before. Well, I’ve got news for you folks…this is a perfect replica from the famous Warthog that has been flown thousands of times in combat. If you want to have something that allows you to immerse yourself in the flying experience fully then this could be perfect for you. Add it to your shortlist and then give it some extra thought folks!
16-bit resolution allows you to do everything you’ll ever want, and more…
The resolution is right up there with the very best on this list which is great news for those of you that want nothing but the best. I couldn’t find any areas where it was wanting or not quite what it could be. The design was first class, and the level of precision enabled me to take my flying to the next level.
Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog design and features
The stick itself is equipped with a trigger, another pinkie trigger, four hat switches and three other buttons. Two of these hat switches are eight-way, and the other two are four-way. However, one of the hat switches can be pulled in to push a button.
16-bit ‘Hall Effect’ magnetic sensors
The joystick’s movement is controlled by 16-bit Hall Effect magnetic sensors, which makes it extremely precise and, in principle, should not degrade over time.
The fun doesn’t stop there
The throttle is fixed on a strong base with holes for attaching it to various objects. The throttle is separated into two sections that can be used to regulate things such as the thrust in either left or right engines, or they can be linked together if you’re not doing anything complicated.
The throttle has only one button but also features double eight-way hat switches, three extra switches and a clickable track ball that doubles as a hat switch. This was especially helpful for me when I needed to execute mouse-like tasks without having to move your hands.
You can use one of the switches to alternate between going forward and backward. The third is physically lockable in three modes, whereas the other has three positions. As an added benefit, there’s a three-position flip switch on the far left side of the throttle. Each switch has a distinct feel, which helps in finding the correct one as you are playing in the heat of the moment.
Precision doesn’t taper off over time which is a testament to the quality of the engineering
I loved how the precision that I achieved straight out of the box was just what I got a few weeks later. That allowed me to keep flying without having to alter my style as the performance tailed off gradually. If you want a piece of tech that you can rely on for years to come then this could be just what you’ve been looking for guys! I’m going to keep going with my fatigue testing, and I’ll check back with you if I find any tail off in performance.
3. 200-571 CH Products Fighterstick USB
Ok, so we’re over the halfway mark so it’s time to take a look at this beautiful piece of tech. See what you think and then you can decide whether to add it to your shortlist folks…
Designed to mimic the handle of the F16 Fighting Falcon
If you’re a fan of all things airborne, then there’s nothing that captures your imagination like the F16 flying overhead in all its glory. This joystick not only combines style and substance, but it’s also designed to mimic the hardware used by the US Air Force when they pilot this legendary fighter. If you want to be able to fly like a pro, then this is perfect for flying like a true ace.
Three axis control offers a realistic experience when every split second, counts
The triple axis control is one of the most realistic flying experiences that I’ve had in a long while. I loved how easy it was to get to grips with because it allowed me to speed through the air in a whole host of simulators. If you’re looking for something that allows you to enjoy your time in the sky, then this could be just what you’ve been looking for. Recommended by one of the most serious flyers out there!
Fully programmable via USB so that you never have to try and remember your settings
It’s so easy to program this thing that all you need to do is plug in the USB and get to work. That is much better than trying to do everything from scratch each time you power it on. In fact, I found that because it stores everything that I could fine tune my setup across days. This was a super rewarding experience because it allowed me to make those little tweaks that took my flying to the next level.
4. Thrustmaster T.Flight Hotas 4 Flight Stick for PS4 & PC
There’s another entry here from the guys at Thrustmaster for good measure! Here’s how it got on when I put it through its paces folks…
Simple flick of a switch allows you to use it with your PC or PS4
I love that you can use this model on different gaming platforms. That means that you can play even more flying simulators without having to get used to a different set of controls. There is no fiddling around with driver issues either which was really cool. Instead, they’ve added a simple selector switch that allows you to choose whether you’re playing on your console or gaming PC. That is an extremely beneficial touch because it just simplifies things so much.
5 axis control is ideal if you want the most realistic experience yet
I love that you can actually, correctly control your plane with this thing. The twisting motion, in particular, was really realistic, and you could feel it turning back against the pressure of your hand just like the real thing. If you’re someone who wants to make the response feel as real as possible, then this could be an ideal candidate for your shortlist.
Downloadable drivers, but are they more hassle than they’re worth?
You do have to download the odd driver here or there to keep things up to date, but the process is very easy to be fair. All you have to do is select which model of controller you’re using, and the software takes care of the rest in a few seconds. As driver updates go, this was one of the easiest I’ve experienced.
Progressive tilting mechanism responds just like the real thing
The progressive tilt was an interesting experience because it integrated the nonlinearity that a real response would have. I enjoyed using it, as it allowed me to immerse myself in my simulator like never before … really! If you want to feel like you’re pushing the limits, then this is a great option to take a closer look at.
5. Logitech G Saitek X52 Pro Flight Contol System
These guys have been in the game for as long as I can remember, so I was eager to put this joystick to the test. Here’s how they got on when yours truly put them through their paces guys…
Illuminated buttons focus your eye when the splits seconds matter
I like that the buttons light up as they give you that little-added focus that can make all the difference. Don’t get me wrong; this is far more than an arcade controller with flashing lights. They really do help optimize your performance by training your eye to take in everything with your peripheral vision. I think that’s perfect if you want to keep your eyes fixed on the screen.
Constant spring force is designed for realism, but does it hamper gaming?
I love the spring force and the way that it progressively kicks in. You might think that having to push that little bit harder would slow your response times, but I found quite the opposite. In fact, with just the right amount of resistance to smooth out any of my twitches, it actually helped me improve the precision of my flying. To say I was impressed would be an understatement.
Five position handle allows gamers of all hand sizes to optimize and personalize
The handle can be easily moved in a couple of seconds to optimize the setup for your hand size. That is really nice because it means that you can get everything just how you like it before embarking on a new mission. If you’re someone who takes pride in making those little tweaks that can make all the difference, then this could be an excellent option for future consideration.
LCD display is a nice touch, but did I find it distracting?
I wasn’t distracted by the LCD and it’s easy to keep it out of your direct line of sight. It’s a nice little addition that allows you to check your settings at a glance and I think you’ll appreciate it. Highly recommended by one flying ace to another!
Best Hotas Joysticks for PC
6. Thrustmaster VG TWCS Throttle Controller (2960754) – PC Mac Linux
This was an interesting piece of tech to test so let’s jump straight in and tell you all about it!
Works with 32- and 64-bit Windows which is great for compatibility
I liked that it works with multiple Windows versions which, is great for those of you that can’t stand the hassle of having to fiddle. I’m very much in that camp, so it was good that I could plug this thing straight in and get down to some serious flying. No matter what you think of Thrustmaster, you have to admit that they place usability right at the top of their list of priorities.
Unique smooth action slide rails are a nice touch, but do they hamper fine control?
The slide rails are super smooth, and they didn’t get slowly clogged up with dust and debris which was a real relief. I hate it when I start to get that spongey response from my older joysticks as it usually only gets worse. This is an interesting new approach that I think will satisfy even the most discerning of pilots.
TARGET software allows you to save settings for specific games and instantly load them up
The software is really at the top of its game if you ask me, folks. It was so easy to create a profile for a specific game and load it up. That was refreshing because it allowed me to really feel at home with the joystick, and not have to use different devices for different simulators.
14 actions buttons are more than enough for any game I can think of
The action buttons are well positioned and easily accessible when every split second does count. If you want to be able to customize your setup fully, then this could be just what you need. I managed to keep a couple of spare in most simulators which, is a good sign because it means there’s plenty of room for future expansion.
7. Thrustmaster T.16000M FCS HOTAS Controller
The T.16000M has been making a lot of noise recently so I didn’t need much of an invitation to give it a try. Here are my thoughts for your consideration…
Simple USB connection makes this thing a pleasure to set up the moment you unbox it
I like that it uses a simple USB connection to talk to your PC rather than a fancy connector. This meant I could plug it straight in and get playing in a matter of minutes after getting home. Ideal for those of you that believe all tech should be plug and play.
Hall effect sensors use the power of science to create a truly precise control mechanism
The beauty of the Hall effect sensors lies in how they maintain their precision for years and years. There’s no gradual fade with them because they rely on electromagnetism to keep your movements on track. This is perfect if you want to be able to use it for years without ever having to upgrade it or replace it.
16 action buttons are more than enough for any game you decide to conquer
The action buttons are all independently programmable which is an excellent option for those of you who love to customize your setups. I found the process really easy and I think that you’ll find it very straightforward. There are no complicated button sequences to remember. All you have to do is work calmly down the list, and then your new setup will be up and running in no time.
The twist rudder is just what you need to ensure you have complete control when it counts
I love the twist rudder so much that I just had to give it its own section! With this little addition to the controls, they’ve taken a classic joystick and brought it right up to date in an awe-inspiring way. If you want to have the full control that you thought you never could in a game, then you’re mistaken, my friends! With a gentle twist you’ll be able to fly through the air with grace and style just like the pros.
8. Thrustmaster VG 2960773 T16000M FCS Joystick, Black – PC
Thrustmaster have a lot more products in their arsenal if this is anything to go by. Let’s take a look and see what I made of it when I put it through its paces.
Works with any OS from Vista onwards which is great news for Windows gamers
The great thing about this piece of kit is that it is super flexible about what OS it will work with. No matter what Windows OS you’re running, it will work provided you’ve not got anything earlier than Vista. That covers just about anything which is an excellent news for those of you who have multiple PCs and want one joystick you can get to grips with and use over and over again.
Ergonomic grip is perfect for those of you who like to be entirely in control
The hand rest felt so natural in the palm of my hand the moment I unboxed it that I was in love with it! Ok, so maybe that may be a bit of an exaggeration but take it from me; this is one piece of kit that you’re going to enjoy. I loved playing with it night and day for a couple of weeks and hadn’t sent my trial version back yet!
16 action buttons allow you to control anything without having to stretch
The action buttons are in the best possible array of positions if you’re someone that wants to have complete freedom to choose. There are so many options that allow you to pick the best orientation that you’ll be able to optimize your setup like never before. Great news for those of you who really want to take your flying to the next level.
Create a specific mapping pattern for any game and load it with the click of a button
The mapping feature is something that I was really impressed with as it was super usable. If you want to tweak your layouts for different games and vehicles, then this is just what you want in your gaming arsenal. I loved fiddling with my different setups and getting things exactly as I wanted them. If that sounds just like you, then I’d suggest taking a closer look.
9. Thrustmaster Hotas Warthog Dual Throttles and Control Panel
The Warthog is a piece of tech that comes with a big reputation. Let’s see if this similarly named joystick carries on the mantle.
Additional friction system allows you to personalize your experience to suit
The friction system is easily customized which is perfect if you want to be able to tweak things so that they’re exactly how you want them. I found it straightforward after a quick glance at the manual and I think that bodes well for anyone else who opts to experiment with it.
6.5 lb weighted base gives a reassuring feel when your gaming gets tense
The weighted base is a nice touch because it allows you to get really into your gaming without anything working loose. I loved the feel of it, and it added some real momentum to my turns because I could throw myself into the controls.
17 action buttons, but are there so many it’s just confusing?
The action buttons are quite numerous, but to be honest, I don’t see that as a downside. If you want to be able to have as much choice as possible, then this is precisely what you’ve been looking for. After a few minutes you’ll get used to the layout, and from then on you’ll see your gaming really take off. Pun, definitely, intended there folks!
Authentic metal hand rest felt great during late night gaming sessions
I loved the metal hand rest because it added some real weight in the palm of my hand. That gave me the confidence to totally throw myself into the turns and takeoffs like I hadn’t before. I think that you’ll like the way it feels in your hand and that you will get to grips with it very quickly. Highly recommended by me, to you, one gamer to another!
Best Hotas Joysticks for Xbox One
10. Thrustmaster VG Thrustmaster T-Flight HOTAS One – Xbox One
Onto the final entry on this list then guys! Remember there are no rankings here so I may well have saved the best till last; you be the judge!
A great little device that you can use with Windows or your Xbox
I liked that you can use it with an Xbox as well as a PC. That meant I was able to expand the number of simulators I could fly in without much effort on my part. No one likes to have to fiddle with drivers and come up with workarounds, so it was nice to be able to skip that all together. If you’re a fan of pure usable tech that is the definition of plug and play, then this could be just what you’ve been looking for.
Detachable throttle gives you all of the customization options you could ever want
I like that you can detach the throttle. By being able to tweak your layout, you can make the small changes that add up to big differences in your flying experience. I also found it really easy to revisit a previous setup, to make some comparisons. That is a testament to the high-quality engineering that the design team brings to the table. I think you’ll fall in love with it the moment it comes out of the box my friends!
Five axis control gives you everything you need to tackle any type of game or simulator
With five independent axes, you’ll have everything you need to take your flying to new heights. I loved how easy it was to get to grips with compared with other joysticks. That tells me that they’ve put a lot of effort into adding useful features, and not just adding stuff for the sake of it. Ideal if you want a realistic experience that you’ll enjoy every time you.
Best HOTAS Joysticks for 2021
11. Logitech X52 Pro Flight Control System
If you want a realistic gaming experience that won’t cost you hundreds of dollars, the Logitech G Saitek X52 Pro Flight Control System definitely provides increased gameplay with an incorporated LCD.
When I first came across it, I was impressed by how it comes packed with a few outstanding features that make it a great contender. It may seem a little complex but it was designed primarily to give seamless and authentic combat flight simulator gameplay.
Pressing both the throttle and joystick will make you realize how much similar the level of resistance exists. You need the same amount of pressure applied on all of the controls. Because of the built-in detents, one gets a realistic feedback when they adjust their afterburners or just let the engine run idle.
Furthermore, a balancing mechanism will accurately bring the joystick to the center as you release the pressure. The X and Y axes generate a steady spring force using no-contact technology, so every movement is fluid and precisely designed while you’re in charge.
You will not fail to see a small yet highly lighted LCD panel on the left hand throttle. It allows you to perform up to 282 distinct programmable commands with the accompanying PC software.
Hate playing in the dark?
Most of the time, sim players like to play in a dark or poorly lit environment where the lighting isn’t ideal. Not everyone feels the same. The Saitek X52 features highly illuminated controls that make it easy to see what you’re doing.
12. Logitech G X56 H.O.T.A.S Throttle and Joystick & Flight Simulator
If you’re the type of gamer who’s into VR gaming like I do, this Logitech G X56 is worth the short. With all the space simulation re-surfacing happening, Logitech really came through with this device.
Experience 6 levels of freedom
I enjoy it when controls are more sophisticated and diverse in modern space simulations with more dynamic spaceship dynamics than in classic atmospheric flight simulations. The six degrees of freedom are pretty much forwards, backwards, roll, pitch, left, right, up and down. The X56 offers four additional axes of control, including a double button that are special, functional small analog sticks.
Incredible response in the heat of action
If you happen to be in the heat of the moment, the X56 provides the heroic setting that will make you feel like you’re just about to land gear at a space station. With feature-rich software, you may customize the full-spectrum RGB lights to your preference.
Twin throttles double the fun
The revolutionary twin throttles were perfect when I was simulating dual-engine space crafts. During times of war when my engine fails and I was left with only one engine, this feature was such a life saver. I was also able to modify the friction needed to transfer each throttle. The throttle lock essentially merges the twin throttles into one unit in case your craft comes as a single engine.
13. HORI Ace Combat 7 Hotas Flight Stick for Xbox One
When it comes to choosing a HOTAS flight stick, there are two factors to consider. Engagement and greater levels of control. An excellent flight stick can leave you feeling like you’re actually flying the plane in your simulation. Engagement and control should both be intertwined, with one influencing the other.
It doesn’t matter if you believe in the hype or not, but the HORI Ace Combat 7 is said to be one of the most realistic and intense air combat simulations ever developed. A quick look at the game is intriguing for any lover of the Ace Combat series, as it has been in production for nearly a decade. It’s always fantastic to see outstanding flight simulators made more available to consoles, even if you’re not a big fan of the series in general. I liked this one in particular because:
It has a convenient design
Just like other HOTAS flight sticks, this one comes divided as the joystick and throttle. They enable you to easily tilt the axis, pitch, or reorient your aircraft when used together. Each console has a solid foundation that measures around 1-inch thick with each one being roughly three pounds in weight.
The HORI Ace Flight Stick’s design is partially based on genuine aircraft controls. The goal is to simulate most of the realism and thrill of flying a real aircraft when playing a simulator. With this stick, I could actually tell the difference when I tried to take off using the console controller’s button and utilizing a throttle and steering wheel.
In terms of an engaging experience, both controllers feature haptic feedback, which allows them to shake and rumble at a somewhat higher intensity than a regular Xbox 1 controller. Vibration can be a wonderful addition to make the experience even better when the aircraft gets damaged or when a portion of the wing gets torn away in the game.
The best PC joysticks in 2021
The best PC joystick will make a huge difference to both the level of control and the level of immersion you feel playing any flight or space sim. Whether ripping the wings off a Cessna in the expansive Microsoft Flight Simulator, exploring the far reaches of the galaxy in Elite Dangerous, or bulls-eyeing thermal exhaust ports not much bigger than a womp rat in the action-packed Star Wars Squadrons, you can live out your flyboy fantasies right at home.
We also recommend a good wireless gaming keyboard and gaming mouse combo since it's a good way to navigate a game's menu during one of your 'flights.' But a joystick is the building block for setting up a home cockpit. Serious flight sims are played best with a HOTAS (Hands-On Throttle and Stick), which can be a bit of an investment, but once you're set up, it's near impossible to even think about playing a flight sim without one.
Easy is the name of the game; the joysticks on this list all require minimal setup, though if you're looking for the full cockpit experience, and more importantly, have the finances, by all means check out the likes of VKB and Virpil. You can customise your setup to the nth degree with either of those super-premium manufacturers, but you will have to pay through the nose.
So, here's a list of our favourite PC joysticks, ones we've personally tested over the years, and ones we think will make a real difference to the experience of most PC gamers.
Best PC joystick
1. Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog
Simply the best joystick for PC gamers
Type: Throttle and stick
Buttons: 36 action buttons
Weight: 14 lbs
Reasons to buy
+Heavy, durable, and sturdy+Impeccable action+The best money can buy
Reasons to avoid
-No Z-rotation on the stick-Accompanying software isn't great
The Thrustmaster Warthog is hands-down the best PC joystick you can buy. It's beautifully made, looks like it was ripped straight out of an A-10, and comes with an industrial-strength that means the only thing left in our post-apocalyptic future will be a bunch of cockroaches trying to figure out how to use these sticks.
Sure, it's an expensive unit, but you will know your money's been well spent as soon as you lift the lid on the packaging and pull the setup out. The stick alone weighs a kilo even before it's been screwed down onto the solid, wide metal base. That's something to behold, but the throttle is something else.
It is one of the finest pieces of PC peripheral engineering I've ever experienced. Its casing is entirely made of metal and festooned with buttons. And not just buttons either; extra hat switches adorn the throttle itself, one that can be split in two should you need discrete control, and there are a host of toggles and metal flick switches too. I will honestly just sit there idly flipping switches even when the thing's unplugged, so satisfying is the action.
All that weight means it practically sticks to your desk as you fling your Cobra MkIII around in Elite: Dangerous like a BSG Viper, and if you're so inclined, the drill holes are there if you want to make it a permanent addition too. It feels great to use in-game, too, providing you with all the possible control permutations you could need without ever having to go near your keyboard again.
The only slight miss, and one that owes to its A-10C Warthog replica status, is the lack of Z-rotation on the stick to offering rudder control. However, that's easily mapped onto any number of extra hat switches or even extra analog joysticks.
The Warthog was originally released over ten years ago now and yet is still the best you can buy. This explains why the price has steadily crept up since then too. But trust me, if you're serious about the best PC joystick, this is it, and once you pick it up, you'll never think about its price again.
2. Logitech G X56 HOTAS RGB
The next best joystick
Type: Throttle and stick
Buttons: 31 action buttons
Weight: 5 lbs
Reasons to buy
+Clean design+Durable hardware+Switches and Knobs!
Reasons to avoid
-More plastic than you'd think-Surprisingly light
An update to the aging X55, the Logitech X56 HOTAS improves nearly every aspect of the older Saitek design, but it still has many of the same features that made its predecessor great. The throttle can be unlocked to provide inputs for left and right engines individually. The throttle panel also hosts an entire series of metal switches and knobs that feel absolutely awesome.
I was a bit disappointed to find out that the metal top plate on both the flight stick and throttle doesn't extend to the base and that both the stick and throttle are composed mostly of plastic. The hardware still feels sturdy, but the seam running along the joystick handle is a bit jarring given the quality present on the rest of the build.
The entire setup for the X56 is deceptively light. While it does come with suction cups that can be attached to the base for increased stability, without them, I found the stick and throttle far too eager to slip around on my desk. However, for those inclined to make this indulgence a more permanent part of their setup, the X56 has holes present in its bases to allow you to affix it to nearly any surface with the appropriate hardware.
Featuring adjustable stick tension and over 180 programmable controls, this throttle and joystick combo is a quality setup. It's not quite in the same league as the Warthog, but it is a little cheaper. If you're ready to kick tires and light fires, the X56 is a good way to go.
Best controller for PC gaming | Best gaming monitor | Best mechanical keyboard | Best gaming routers | Best graphics cards | Best gaming mouse
Level up your Flight Simulator setup
Type: Throttle and stick sold separately
Buttons: 33 action buttons (17 on joystick, 16 on throttle)
Weight: 3.97 lbs
Reasons to buy
+All you need for a solid flight sim experience+Additional throttle accessory+Nod to real-world Airbus design+Ambidextrous
Reasons to avoid
-Feels a little cheap-No button labels
With the arrival of Microsoft Flight Simulator and Star Wars: Squadrons last year, we saw a sonic boom in interest for compatible flight sticks. The Thrustmaster TCA Sidestick Airbus edition arrived just in time... and swiftly sold out. But it's back now and a solid upgrade for any wannabe long-haul pilot looking to ditch the controller for Microsoft Flight Simulator.
It's good for other games, of course, but as a piece of officially licensed Airbus kit, it feels best suited to the flight sim of the moment. With that in mind, it features a fluid and responsive control with a comfortable stick bolted on for long-haul flights. The joystick can also be reconfigured to your liking with a modular design, making this stick particularly friendly to lefties. There are a heap of buttons within reach to keep shortcuts accessible at an instant, too; we wish there were some clear indication which button was which—it can be tough to track down 'button 14' in a bind, especially if you have flying skills are a little rusty.
But kick in for the full kit, and you can divvy up even more shortcuts to the throttle quadrant module ripped right out of an A320—they got the color spot on, anyways. Baby blue isn't my first choice for gaming PC accessories, but I suppose it's a change from the standard black garb.
And when the Thrustmaster TCA Sidestick comes in at £69 in the UK, and the complete set at £154 (the TCA Quadrant throttle is actually pricier than the stick itself), you can hardly bash it for price. The Thrustmaster T.Flight Hotas X below is a more affordable alternative. Still, if you can splash out on this more airworthy kit, then the Thrustmaster TCA Sidestick Airbus edition won't let you down.
4. Thrustmaster T.Flight HOTAS X
The best budget joystick
Type: Throttle and stick
Buttons: 12 action buttons
Weight: 4.5 lbs
Reasons to buy
+Thrust can detach from the joystick+Great value for money
Reasons to avoid
-Limited buttons and hats-Can be noisy when pushed
The Thrustmaster T.Flight HOTAS X is a testament that you don't have to spend a fortune to get a good stick. It's a much cheaper build and design than the Warthog, but for a tenth of the ticket price, you can forgive the use of plastic and lack of buttons and hats.
The key elements are there. The detachable throttle is probably the neatest feature: given that you're going to need easy access to your keyboard for its extra buttons, being able to split these components around it is a definite advantage.
It's also got the much-needed Z-axis rotation for rudder control, although the press of a switch will enable you to operate the rudder via a rocker on the front of the throttle grip. You get plenty of programmable buttons too, but they feel very much the sort you'd expect to find on a budget controller.
The action on the stick and throttle aren't great either, and you'll likely notice some graunching plastic noises as you push and pull the controller around. But it's still robust and feels solid on the desk. This is an excellent value pick if you can't convince yourself that an X56 or Warthog is a sensible purchase.
The best joystick FAQ
Aren't there any cheap joysticks?
You can spend the sort of money generally reserved for a new graphics card on a decent stick. But it can be possible to get an experience that's very close but for a fraction of the price. However, it can be tricky at times.
Prices of joysticks increased dramatically at the end of 2020, which meant even the cheaper end of the market got pricey as stock disappeared. The market is slowly returning to normal now, though, so have another look around if you've been previously frustrated.
Do I need a separate throttle control?
For serious simulation, you're going to need some level of throttle control. This is the biggest thing that separates the joypad from a flight stick setup, and the granularity of speed it delivers when dogfighting can mean the difference between virtual life and virtual death. So that's number one: make sure your stick comes with a decent throttle.
But that doesn't mean you need a separate one, no. However, the best and most respected flight controllers have entirely separate control for the throttle, with extra toggle switches and LEDs. Others, such as the AV8R, have the throttle control built onto the base of the stick itself. So long as there's a decent amount of travel in the throttle, you'll have a good level of control in-game.
How many buttons do I need?
Some of the controllers in this test have gone overboard on that front. But sims do demand many different controls, and having them all directly to hand can be beneficial. Just don't forget that your trusty keyboard can make up for any buttons lacking on your controller. You will need at least four buttons arrayed around the stick itself and, ideally, a hat switch on the top of it.
What should I watch out for a space flightstick?
Maybe it's time we spoke about the Z-axis. Traditional joysticks have pitch and roll control—forward, back, left, and right—but some are configured for 3D movement. That means as well as controlling the X and Y axis; you can also twist the stick clockwise or anti-clockwise to control the Z-axis. Generally, this is used to control yaw and replicate the rudder controls of an aircraft.
In space, that three-dimensional control can be vital for accuracy, especially when you're zeroing in behind an escaping Sidewinder in an Elite dogfight. It is sorely missed on a stick with other controls that can mimic the rudder but on budget sticks that allow no such added control.
What does HOTAS stand for?
This exciting acronym stands for the rather mundane-sounding 'Hands-On Throttle And Stick' and denotes a dual controller where one hand rests permanently on the throttle and the other remains on the stick.
What is a Hat Switch on a joystick?
A hat switch is a multi-directional button akin to the d-pad on a controller. However, on a flight stick, the d-pad has a hat on top, which the thumb can easily push to activate the switches. They come in 4-way or 8-way flavors.
Dave has been gaming since the days of Zaxxon and Lady Bug on the Colecovision, and code books for the Commodore Vic 20 (Death Race 2000!). He built his first gaming PC at the tender age of 16, and finally finished bug-fixing the Cyrix-based system around a year later. When he dropped it out of the window. He first started writing for Official PlayStation Magazine and Xbox World many decades ago, then moved onto PC Format full-time, then PC Gamer, TechRadar, and T3 among others. Now he's back, writing about the nightmarish graphics card market, CPUs with more cores than sense, gaming laptops hotter than the sun, and SSDs more capacious than a Cybertruck.
A top 5 popular HOTAS rigs list with a quick description, review, and where to get them.
Read more for links
Here are their pages on amazon for more detailed info and reviews
Thrustmaster T-Flight Hotas
Saitek X52 Flight System Controller
Saitek X52 Pro Flight System Controller
Mad Catz Saitek Pro Flight X-55 Rhino HOTAS
Thrustmaster Hotas Warthog
Three bonus HOTAS (not in video)
Saitek X45 Digital HOTAS
Saitek X52 Pc Flight Control System
CH makes great HOTAS parts, more info here
Top 5 gaming Joysticks list
Here is a link to the RSI forum post this video was inspired by.
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