One of the most exciting projects to do at home if you’re interested in flight simulation is to set up your own flight sim cockpit.
While that might sound like a complicated and expensive project, it doesn’t have to be.
How simple can your flight sim cockpit setup be?
By making use of a joystick and PC, you could have a basic, ready-to-use cockpit. But if you want a more realistic and immersive experience, that won’t be enough.
It’s pretty pointless to set up a flight sim cockpit if you’re not going to have at least some immersion and accuracy that feels like the real thing, right?
So, with that in mind, let’s look at how you can start enjoying flight simulation that feels more like the real thing and less like a game.
Step One: Choose The Cockpit Style You Want
Before you can think about the type of equipment you’ll need to purchase to make your flight sim cockpit come to life, it’s important to take some time to think about the type of cockpit you want to create.
Is it focused on civilian or combat aircrafts?
This is important because it will influence some of the gear that you use. For example, if you’re interested in combat flight simulation, such as Combat Flight Simulator or Microsoft Flight Simulator X: Gold Edition, you would do better to choose a joystick instead of a yoke because this works much better on combat planes. For other aircrafts, yokes are ideal because of how they’re standard in many real-life aircrafts.
Some HOTAS (Hands On Throttle And Stick) also emulate the controls that have been found in certain aircrafts, such as combat planes, so these will also be something that would appeal to you if you want to build a combat flight sim cockpit instead of one that’s focused on civilian planes.
Step Two: Get Your Gear
The most important gear you’ll need for your flight sim cockpit include the following:
Make sure you invest in a gaming computer that has all the features you’ll need to make the most of flight simulation. Some of the most important features are a fast CPU, a lot of RAM, and a video card that has lots of memory.
A good starting point could be to check out flight sim software you want to buy and what its requirements are in terms of the computer you need.
For example, if you’re using X-Plane flight simulator, you’ll need the following specs:
- 16 to 24 GB of RAM
- i5 Intel Core CPU that’s 3.5 GHz or faster
- DirectX 12-capable video card from AMD, NVIDIA, or Intel that comes with a minimum of 4GB VRAM
Pro tip: It’s always a good idea to get a slightly more powerful machine with more memory than what is required, such as an Intel Core i7 CPU and 20GB of RAM.
Top PC Picks For Every Budget
- Alienware Aurora R10. It has excellent CPU performance and is easy to upgrade. It costs $1409.29.
- Dell G5 Gaming Desktop 5090. It costs $1249.99. Get it because it stays cool during games and is also easy to upgrade, while allowing you to play games as soon as you unpack it.
- Cyber Power PC Gaming Desktop. It’s a more budget-friendly option, coming in at $599.99 on Best Buy.
Now for the joystick. This is an important piece of gear that will influence how comfortably you can fly, but you will have to figure out if you want a yoke instead.
Note: We outline the differences of each in greater detail in “Flight Sim Yoke Vs. Flight Sim Joystick: What’s The Best Flight Simulator Control?” so it’s worth a read if you’re not sure which one is right for you. The one you choose will largely depend on the types of aircrafts you want to fly.
One of the benefits of a HOTAS (Hands On Throttle And Stick) joystick is that it combines the joystick with throttle functions, therefore giving you better control during flights and a more comfortable experience. Joysticks are generally also cheaper than yokes. You can find entry-level joysticks that will cost you around $80 to $200, like the Thrustmaster T.Flight Hotas 4 Flight Stick for PS4 & PC that costs just $79.00 and has all the solid features you need. But, you can get more expensive ones that cost upwards of $1,000, like the Thrustmaster Hotas Warthog for PC. Its joystick, control panel, and throttle are all replicas of the U.S. Air Force’s A 10C aircraft.
However much you’re willing to spend, make sure the joystick you choose has important features, such as buttons that are staggered so that you can find them easier without having to look at your hands, an ergonomic design, and exceptional customization.
You want to be able to program the buttons or change your throttle resistance so that you can fly the way you want. Extra features, such as a hand rest that’s included, can also help to make your gaming experience more comfortable.
Maybe you want a yoke instead of a joystick, such as if you feel that it’s more realistic and looks the part, too. In that case, the Honeycomb Alpha Flight Controls Yoke And Switch Panel is a good option.
It costs $249.99, and was designed and developed by aerospace engineers and pilots so it’s both accurate and realistic. It has good tension, making it a step up from entry-level yokes.
Another option is the CH Products Flight Sim Yoke USB (200 – 615). It’s a solid flight yoke that’s been said to lack the luxuries you’ll find in some other products but it certainly gets the job done. Some features it has include an ergonomic design and precision adjustment wheel, while being really easy to set up so it’s great for beginners.
It’s also a lot cheaper than other yokes on the market, coming in at $149.95 on My Pilot Store.
It’s quite unrealistic to have a flight simulator cockpit without pedals, especially when it comes to things like the yaw. At its most basic, the yaw of a plane is basically when it turns.
When the plane’s rudder turns to one side, the plane’s nose will be pointed in the direction of the rudder. By having pedals, you can better control the yaw in a more realistic way than if you depend on your joystick to do this for you.
Some great pedals to purchase are Thrustmaster Rudder Pedals. These provide a natural and accurate movement when used, thanks to their Sliding Motion Advanced Rail Track technology. They cost between $227.96 and $269.99 from Amazon sellers.
Another solid buy is the Logitech G PRO Flight Rudder Pedals. When you use them, they will move in inverse directions to give you the same feeling as if you were flying a real-life aircraft. You can control the rudder and toe brakes with these. Toe brakes refer to the brakes that are activated by the top section of the pedals in aircrafts. These Logitech pedals cost $169.99.
Once you have your flight stick, you’ll need a throttle to allow you to control your acceleration. If you’ve got a HOTAS setup in your flight sim cockpit, you’ll be sorted. If, on the other hand, you’re using a separate throttle, you’ll need to ensure you get one to match your flying requirements.
Here are two good choices to consider:
- CH Products Throttle Quadrant. This gives you wonderful control for a multi-engine plane and it feels sturdy to use, plus you can customize it – you can set up 176 functions on it! Although it’s currently unavailable on Amazon, you can get it from other websites, such as My Pilot Store where you’ll pay $149.95.
- Thrustmaster TWCS is a throttle that’s best if you want to make use of military flight. You’ll need more buttons for this type of flying, so the Thrustmaster will meet your needs and allow you to customize it. You can also make use of Thrustmaster’s T.A.R.G.E.T software that enables you to connect the throttle to other Thrustmaster devices and create specific mapping profiles for each game. You can purchase this Thrustmaster throttle from Amazon sellers, and can expect to pay between $140.00 and $229.95 for it, depending on whether you want a used or new model.
You want to be comfortable when playing flight simulation for hours at a time, but you also want a chair that looks like it fits in with the rest of your cockpit design. A simple desk chair might look out of place if you’ve hooked up your cockpit with joysticks, throttles, and pedals that look like they’ve come straight out of a real airplane.
The good news is that you can customize your own flight seat with a DIY project. Draw inspiration from this Polygon article and repurpose an old car seat or purchase one from Amazon. If you don’t want to use an old car seat, you can buy a flight chair for your flight sim cockpit and best of all it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money.
The Next Level Flight Simulator Cockpit Chair from My Pilot Store is a professional-looking chair that’s actually used by pilots as a training tool. It has some great features, such as adjustable throttle, yoke, and joystick positions, and it’s also compatible with all the main flight simulator brands, such as Thrustmaster, Logitech, as well as CH Products. This cockpit chair costs $795.00.
Step Three: What About VR?
When it comes to flight simulation, for the ultimate immersion you might want to consider adding VR headsets to the setup.
One of the biggest benefits of VR is that you can set up your cockpit in a much easier way. Having a flight sim cockpit that makes use of computers and multiple monitors isn’t always easy to set up, whereas with VR via something like Bigscreen you can have all the monitors you want right in front of you without having to actually have them on your desk.
VR also creates elements during simulation that will never be perfected with your monitors, such as scale and depth, as VentureBeat reports. That said, if you don’t have a powerful computer, a flat screen monitor that makes use of TrackIR could be better, as Medium points out. The same goes for if you want to be able to take notes during long flights – a VR headset might just get in the way.
When it comes to setting up VR versus monitors, it’s worth knowing that you can’t use VR on all flight simulators. An example is Microsoft Flight Simulator, although it has been said that this should change soon. Microsoft Flight Simulator will only be compatible with HP at first and then it will slowly accommodate other platforms.
When setting up your VR, like if you have Oculus Rift, you’ll have to download the app, plug in your headset, and set up your headset software via the app. You’ll also have to do tests to ensure that your headset is adjusted properly.
On the other hand, when setting up three monitors to your PC, the problem you will encounter is that the PC will treat them all as separate monitors, preventing you from being able to have the same images spread out over three screens.
To correct this, graphics drivers such as AMD and NVIDIA have gaming modes that you can access to allow this to happen. AMD does this with Eyefinity, although you need a 1 DisplayPort connection or adapter if your PC doesn’t have that port. NVIDIA does this with Surround.
It’s also important to note that Eyefinity requires all your monitors to plug into the GPU, whereas NVIDIA doesn’t. So, there are some important steps that you have to follow to ensure that you achieve the display you want. This can prove to be a bit more finicky than setting up your VR headset.
What’s the best VR headset?
Oculus Rift S is considered to be the best VR headset when it comes to PCs specifically, as PCMag reports. It costs $399.
Can you use VR on a laptop?
You can, but make sure your laptop has the graphics you need to run VR. Most of the big VR headset brands require an AMD Radeon RX 480 or Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060, at the very least, as PCMag reports.
If you’re serious about flight simulation, you’ll want to have your own flight sim cockpit in the comfort of your home and feel like you’re a true-life pilot.
Setting up your own cockpit doesn’t have to be that hard. In this article we’ve outlined the most important things you need so you can make the most of being a simmer, from the computer you need to the best types of joysticks and yokes to make your experience feel realistic.