Here is our expert advice on choosing the best joysticks for MS flight simulator, Star Citizen, Elite Dangerous in 2020. We’ve tested six flight controllers of various types, with prices ranging from under $50 to $400, with plenty in between, and all of them will get the basic job done.
When it comes to choosing which joystick is right for you. though, there’s a few factors to consider.
The first is whether you just care about terrestrial flight or space flight too. For conventional aeroplanes, you just need two axes of movement: pitch and roll. To control these axes, the stick tilts forward and back and left and right. Then, you can control the rudder (yaw) either with separate pedals or via keyboard input.
If, however, you’re working in space, you want to not only control pitch and roll but yaw as well. In which case, you’ll want a flight stick that twists to provide the most intuitive all-in-one system for controlling all three axes. Such three-axis sticks also offer a convenient way to incorporate rudder control into one stick for aeroplane flight.
For any single-stick setup, you ideally want it to also incorporate analogue throttle control, with at least one hat switch or D-pad, plus a handful of programmable buttons and triggers. A hat switch is like a D-pad, but it tends to have a domed top for easier control with the side of the thumb. They’re used for many controls, including providing a means of quickly switching your direction of view.
Beyond a single-stick setup, you can also add a second stick for controlling the forward/back, up/down and left/right thrust of your craft in space sims. In addition, you can buy separate throttle controls that provide a more sophisticated analogue throttle control (often with independent left and right throttles) and a host of extra buttons, dials and hat switches that your left hand can control.
We tested all the sticks in a variety of games, including the latest Microsoft Flight Simulator, Star Citizen and the air combat sections of Star Wars Battlefront II. The latter requires very rapid control of movements and throttle, plus precise control in the central portion of the stick for finessing your dog-fighting manoeuvres.
Flight Simulator is a much more placid experience, but its in-depth controls can make use of the many extra buttons (and split throttles) on higher-end sticks. Meanwhile Star Citizen’s space exploration is best experienced with a dual-stick setup. All the sticks tested and worked fine with all three games.
List of Best Flight Sticks Microsoft Flight Simulator
Here is our round up on the best joysticks for flight simulator, Star Citizen, Elite Dangerous in 2020.
- CH Products Flightstick Pro USB 4-Button Joystick 8-Way Hat Switch (Best Joystick Flight Simulator)
- Logitech Extreme 3D Pro Joystick for Windows (Best Controller For Flight Simulator)
- Logitech G X56 VR Simulator Compatible HOTAS Joystick (Best HOTAS For Flight Simulator)
- Speedlink Phantom Hawk Gaming Flight Stick for PC with Hand Rest (Best Flightstick For Microsoft Flight Simulator)
- Thrustmaster Hotas Warthog (for PC/Windows)
- Thrustmaster 2960778 T.16000M FCS HOTAS Controller
1. CH Products Flightstick Pro USB 4-Button Joystick 8-Way Hat Switch
The CH Products Flightstick Pro is a bare bones joystick that offers just four buttons, one hat switch and two-axis control. It’s also been available almost completely unchanged for 20 years, and yet it still costs $100.
As you may have guessed, though, the reason for the high price is its far higher level of build quality and precision than your typical joystick.
Not that this build quality is obvious at first sight. The Flightstick Pro is a utilitarian-looking device, with a dull black plastic used for all but the thumb buttons, and even they’re white and grey. As you can probably guess. RGB lighting hasn’t made the feature checklist either.
However, the moment you get your hands on this joystick, you notice just how well it’s put together. It’s surprisingly large and heavy, and there’s a smooth yet weighty quality to the movement of the joystick. The buttons have a precise response too and you immediately get the sense that the whole setup is built to last.
It also helps that the Flightstick Pro’s design is almost completely symmetrical making it ideal for left and right-handed use. The only non-symmetrical features are the pitch trim and throttle dials, which sit on either side of the stick.
This makes it less convenient to dynamically adjust throttle with your right hand if you’re left-handed, but you can certainly cope by simply crossing your right arm under your left.
As well as the feeling of quality, the Flightstick Pro’s design also makes it feel very comfortable in your hand. The joystick grip is large enough to not require too tight a grip, while all the buttons and the hat switch fall easily under thumb, as does the trigger under your index finger.
Obviously, people with particularly small or large hands may struggle, but that’s true of nearly all one- size-fits-all controllers. Even then, the action is light enough that you can easily control smaller movements with just your fingertips holding the base of the stick – ideal for small adjustments when cruising.
The joystick’s movement is superb. Rather than having a two-axis ball joint, it has two single-axis barrel joints, one inside the other.
This approach has enabled CH Products to make the action of each axis much smoother and more precise than any other stick on test, bar the much more expensive Thrustmaster Warthog. You can effortlessly move the joystick very precisely, even in the centre of its movement range, while still having plenty of maximum movement.
The inherent problem here, though, is the lack of a third axis or rudder control. That’s not a major problem for most flight sim situations, as you can fairly easily get by with using keyboard input for rudder control.
However, if you do want a more precise, analogue input, you’ll need to accompany this joystick with a set of rudder pedals. What’s more, for space sims, twist joysticks offer an even more intuitive way of controlling that third axis.
CH Products also offers the Combatstick and Fighterstick, which up the button count from four on the Flightstick Pro to 18 on the Combatstick and 24 on the Fighterstick, although both these controllers still only offer pitch and roll control.
Summary: The CH Products Flightstick Pro doesn’t offer the masses of features and third -axis control of some flight sticks. However, for the core two-axis, pitch and roll movement and analogue throttle control that’s key in most flight sims, this joystick delivers the goods, and does so in a way that far surpasses some of its fancier-looking rivals. A fantastic quality flight stick even if it’s light on features.
2. Logitech Extreme 3D Pro Joystick for Windows
It’s astonishing just how low the price of capable joysticks can drop. This Logitech Extreme 3D Pro costs just $35, yet it includes three-axis stick control, a throttle control and 12 programmable buttons, along with an 8-way hat switch.
The flight stick market sits in stark contrast to racing wheels, where you generally have to spend well over $150 to get even a passable experience.
But back to the Extreme 3D Pro, this joystick doesn’t just impress with the sheer number of features for the money, but with its build quality too. While it’s all made from plastic, it all feels solid enough to survive plenty of years of gaming abuse, as well as tumbles onto the floor. The base also has a plentiful 200 x 200mm footprint, which provides a surprisingly secure footing on any large and stable flat surface.
Meanwhile, the stick itself feels well planted, with only a modest amount of wobble in its centre before each axis’ resistance is engaged. The buttons aren’t the absolute crispest and most satisfying ones to press on a test, but they’re still good for the money – there were no occasions where we weren’t sure if a button had been triggered or not.
We also found the grip of the stick to be very comfortably contoured, with all the controls falling into the right place and the resting platform for the side of your hand helping to take the strain off your arm.
It’s a bit of a shame Logitech didn’t just extend that platform round to the other-side, though,as this would make the whole sticks design a bit more ambidextrous – you can otherwise just about get away with using the stick with your left hand.
Also, the stick movement is a little stiffer than the likes of the CH Products Flightstick Pro, making it slightly more tiring to hold in position for long periods – especially if you’re also twisting the stick at the same time – although it’s still manageable.
The twisting stick action allows it to control rudder movement on aircraft although it’s actually not as intuitive as using a separate rudder control for terrestrial flight. Instead, it comes into its own for space flight, where you’re truly controlling all three axes of twist at once.
Unlike Logitech’s X56 HOTAS (see p54). you don’t get on-board dials for allowing control of all thrust vectors as well so you’ll need to invest in a second joystick if you want analogue control of those inputs.
It’s the movement and sensitivity of this joystick that’s most surprising for the price though. While you don’t get anywhere near the accuracy and smoothness of the CH Products Flightstick Pro or Thrustmaster Warthog.
It’s still satisfyingly responsive in its center, and has a much smoother transition from its center to extreme angles than Logitech’s X56 HOTAS. The throttle control also works well and smoothly. For just $35 inc VAT. it’s astonishingly accomplished.
The only real gripe we found was the very basic software. Logitech does provide an app to program all the buttons, but support isn’t integrated into the company’s main gaming software app, and the separate app clarity hasn’t been updated in years. For such a major peripherals manufacturer, we’d expect more up-to-date support.
Summary: Don’t let this joystick’s low price put you off. While its stick movement can’t compete with the best models out there, it’s surprisingly capable and puts several more expensive models to shame. With true 3D control, plenty of buttons and throttle control, it covers all the essentials for getting started in most terrestrial and space flight sims. A low price, capable performance and a decent feature set makes the Extreme 3D Pro a standout bargain.
3. Logitech G X56 VR Simulator Compatible HOTAS Joystick
If features per pound were the only scoring criteria, the Logitech (previously Saitek) X56 HOTAS would easily romp home with the win. This two – piece, Hands On Throttle And Stick (HOTAS) system, with separate joystick and throttle sections, is absolutely packed to the gills.
The joystick offers three-axis movement and is festooned with buttons and hat switches. Meanwhile the throttle control has separate left and right throttle controls, so you can control the engines of multi-engined craft independently (or both controls can be locked together).
There are also loads more buttons and hat switches on the throttle control along with arguably the single feature that really elevates this whole setup in terms of core features, which is two further dials for left/right and up/down throttle control.
Combined with the main throttle sticks, these dials allow for full control of all thrust vectors in space flight sims. The system isn’t as slick as using a second joystick, as the main throttle controls are quite stiff and not ideal for quick or small adjustments. Also, both the dials are controlled by the thumb, so sophisticated multi-vector movements are tricky. But still at least the option’s there.
As with the other flight sticks on test that pack in loads of features, all those buttons and controls have been optimized for right-hand only use, and unlike the Logitech Extreme 3D Pro, you really can’t use this 666setup the other way around, in a left handed configuration.
There are extra buttons on the side of the stick that would get in the way of your hand, and the throttle control’s extra buttons are nearly all accessed via the thumb.
When it comes to build quality, you’re also very much paying for all those features rather than premium build quality. There are a few metal pieces, such as the bars that protect the switches on the throttle control but otherwise it’s all plastic although it does all feel solid enough.
Thankfully, though, Logitech has recently given the X56 a bit of a makeover from its garish styling of before. The physical design is the same, but the bright blue color scheme has gone, and instead you get a muted all black and grey affair, other than the RGB lighting used to backlight some dials and other controls.
All the various controls are of middling quality. They’re responsive and solid enough, but they don’t have the same level of satisfying tactility as truly high-end flight control gear.
The bigger problem, though, is the joystick action. The joystick uses a spring and cup tensioning system that is a bit like a buckling spring key switch keyboard, offers an initial resistance then falls away as the spring buckles.
This means the stick feels stiff and unresponsive in its crucial central zone – where accuracy is so important for activities such as dogfighting – then suddenly the whole stick lurches too far outwards as the spring collapses. Logitech provides several different springs of different tensions for you to try. but they all suffered the same core problem.
Some users may not mind this style of movement but we found the X56 to be the worst stick on test for ease of smooth flight controls, even if the tracking of the stick is more accurate than cheaper options.
Summary: A festival of buttons and extra dials makes this a hugely versatile and capable HOTAS flight stick combo. However, the core movement of the flight stick lacks the smoothness and subtlety of movement of even far cheaper options. A mass of features is let down by a flight stick that feels stiff and unresponsive in its crucial central zone.
4. Speedlink Phantom Hawk Gaming Flight Stick for PC with Hand Rest
Speedlink is well known for churning out incredibly keenly priced peripherals, and the Phantom Hawk is no exception. Readily available for under $30, it packs in as many features as the Logitech Extreme 3D Pro and, like that stick, it proves that even very cheap flight sticks are still worthy investments if you only occasionally dabble in flying games.
The overall feature list and design of the Phantom Hawk is very similar to the Extreme 3D Pro, with a square base that gently slopes down towards the edges, and upon which you’ll find a simple throttle slider and half a dozen programmable buttons.
On the stick, you get a single 8-way hat switch as well as a D-pad-a feature that the Logitech lacks. There’s also a thumb trigger and forefinger trigger, along with a button that sits under the little finger.
It’s a decent array of features but the slightly more symmetrical design of the Logitech feels more intuitive in use. In the case of the Phantom Hawk, the throttle sits on the left side, rather than the front so it’s not as easy for either hand to reach it Also, the shape of the handle isn’t as amenable to being used in a different hand as the Logitech.
In addition, there’s a silver plastic protective piece that wraps over the front of the stick, as though it were a handle guard for a sword. It serves no purpose here, unless you plan to upend the stick and use it as the hilt for your next cosplay weapon.
The base of the Phantom Hawk is a little narrower than that of the Logitech, and it’s equipped with four small suction cups on the underside. These cups hinder more than help the stick though. For those surfaces to which they do stick, they’re not overtly reliable and the stick still has some wobble to it.
Meanwhile, for the majority of surfaces to which they don’t stick, they end up narrowing the effective width of the base, making the stick much less stable. Thankfully, you can remove the cups, and although the Logitech is still more stable, removing the cups does greatly improve the stability of the Speedlink.
When it comes to the action of the stick, it offers control of all three axes, again thanks to the stick rotating. It works reasonably well too, offering a fairly smooth and accurate input that’s at least suitable for arcade-style flight games.
There is a fairly significant dead zone in the center, though, which makes it difficult to make fine adjustments. In this regard, it’s noticeably worse than the Logitech Extreme 3D Pro. so that stick is definitely worth the extra few pounds.
Summary: If your budget really can’t stretch even as far as $35 for the Logitech Extreme 3D Pro. The Speed link Phantom Hawk just about does the job as an even cheaper alternative. However, this price difference is minimal, and the step up in quality with the Logitech is significant enough that we’d recommend most people spend the extra cash.
The dead zone on the Speedlink Phantom Hawk’s stick, and its less ambidextrous layout and shape, means the Logitech is not only better quality but better suited to a wider range of gamers too.
Super-basic but still capable and cheap, this is a reasonable option but it’s well worth paying the extra few quid for the Logitech Extreme 3D Pro instead.
5. Thrustmaster Hotas Warthog (for PC/Windows)
The Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog has been a standout product in the flight stick martcet for almost ten years now. Modelled after the control system of the A10 aircraft from which this flight system gets its name, the Warthog is a serious piece of engineering.
Built almost entirely from metal, its weight is colossal. The stick alone weighs over 3kg. and with its wide, relatively thin metal base, you definitely don’t want it to fall off your desk and land on your foot.
That metal base does make for an immensely stable platform, though, and there are holes in it making it easy to screw down the whole setup to your simulation rig.
Nearly every switch is on par with the real deal too, with metal levers and the sort of reassuring switch action that only properly made equipment can create. Every aspect of this HOTAS system is satisfyingly hefty and high-quality All of which is, of course, as you’d hope, given the high price of this system.
Even though lockdown has inflated prices and limited availability of most flight sticks, you could still expect to pay over $300 for this setup or around $200-$250 for the stick alone, even before these trying times.
The flight stick itself has no controls on its base but does have plenty up top. There are three 8-way hat switches and a 4-way hat switch, along with two thumb buttons, two little finger buttons and a hefty metal trigger.
The stick can also be removed and swapped out for an F-16C Viper grip or an F/A-18C Hornet grip. Each of these grips costs around $170. while the base on its own costs $120.
Meanwhile, the throttle control is as packed with features as you’d expect. There are twin throttle sticks, two trim wheels, an 8-way hat switch and masses of toggle switches, all of which again have the same satisfying high quality you’d expect from professional equipment. It’s a bit of a shame the throttle controls themselves are made of plastic, as they feel noticeably less robust than the rest of the system.
The feel of the joystick is fantastic though. Its movement is smooth and it’s surprisingly easy to move, despite the clear weight of the handle itself. It’s easy to just operate the stick with your fingertips from its base. Compared with the likes of the Logitech X56. It’s a difference of night and day.
However, one feature you miss here is third axis control. There are no rudder buttons as such, and no twist control in the stick: this setup is reality only for terrestrial flight sims. You could still use a second stick to control an extra axis and thrust vectors, but you’d then still need rudder pedals and one further control surface.
There’s also a steep learning curve in getting all the gear set up property and. ultimately, it’s overkill for the vast majority of users. We’d strongly recommend trying a more basic stick first before taking the plunge.
Summary: Every aspect of this HOTAS setup screams high quality, with nearly every switch and surface built to replicate the real deal. It’s a hugely satisfying, tactile piece of equipment. It’s also hugely capable, but only when it comes to terrestrial flight sims.
The lack of third axis control makes it less suited to space flight sim control, and even for flight sims, you’ll still need to invest in some rudder pedals for the full effect. A fantastic, high-quality flight stick but its high price and lack of third-axis control inherently limits its appeal.
6. Thrustmaster 2960778 T.16000M FCS HOTAS Controller
The Thrustmaster T.1600M is a feature-packed HOTAS flight control system with a separate 3-axis joystick and throttle control. It doesn’t look dissimilar to the Logitech Extreme 3D Pro with the addition of a throttle control, except this whole system is considerably more expensive than that controller, with the joystick alone costing nearly double the price of the Logitech.
What does that extra outlay get you, other than the throttle control? Well, for a start, the joystick Is truly ambidextrous. All the buttons are arranged in mirror image and the additional single throttle slider (so you still get throttle control, even without the separate throttle control) is right in the middle. You can even swap out the contoured panels on the stick to use it in a left-handed configuration.
This ability to use the T.1600M in both left and right-handed configurations makes it a clear top choice for making a twin-stick space sim setup, sometimes called a Hands On Stick And Stick (HOSAS) setup. Forget the throttle control, just buy two of these sticks and you’re in space flight sim heaven.
Each stick houses an array of buttons at the top. Consisting of a front trigger, one hat switch and three more buttons that can be activated by your thumb. That’s not a huge selection but enough to get by.
The base of the joystick is also home to that throttle slider and a symmetrical array of 12 buttons, with six on each side. We found these buttons to be a little awkwardly placed and difficult to tell apart by feel alone, so they aren’t ideal in some situations. That’s less of a concern in a HOTAS or HOSAS setup, but it’s not ideal for a single joystick setup.
Meanwhile, the separate throttle control uses an unusual linear sliding action where the whole unit glides forward and back on rails, rather than rotating about a point. That’s not necessarily uncommon when compared with real-world plane throttles, but the pivoting type works better on flight sticks.
It also houses a rudder control at the front that you operate with your fingertips, along with three more hat switches for your thumb. On balance, it’s a very well thought out addition to the main joystick, and the combination successfully covers all flight and space sim situations.
Getting back to the main joystick, it offers a largely similar feel to the Logitech Extreme 3D Pro. with just a touch more smoothness and precision. It’s a relatively subtle difference, though, and along with the generally plasticky build, you feel like you should be getting more for your money.
Summary: Offering a solid balance of features, versatility and price, the Thrustmaster T.1600M is a great option, whether you just need a joystick or want a more sophisticated HOTAS or HOSAS setup. Both the stick and throttle control offer loads of features and the stick being ambidextrous is a real boon. It’s just a shame the overall build quality isn’t a little better.
For twice the cost of the Logitech Extreme 3D Pro. The T.1600M doesn’t feel like a huge build quality upgrade. A very capable and versatile flight control ecosystem for a decent price, even if it looks and feels a little cheap and plasticky.