The best flight controls for PC gaming

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HOTAS

Source: Windows Central

Best HOTAS Joystick & Throttle Windows Central 2020

The best way to enjoy flight-based games like Flight Simulator and Elite: Dangerous is to use a hands-on throttle-and-stick (also known simply as HOTAS). This setup includes a throttle to control speed and a stick to manipulate yaw and pitch. Using a keyboard and mouse or even a gamepad can be rather cumbersome, which is where HOTAS shines with plenty of programmable buttons and increased accuracy. We rounded up some of the best HOTAS systems around.

Best Overall: Thrustmaster Warthog

Thrustmaster Warthog

Source: Thrustmaster

Thrustmaster makes some high-quality ticks and HOTAS setups. The Warthog is the company’s flagship offering, designed and built using the controls inside the U.S. Air Force A 10C aircraft as reference. Looking a the device, it positively screams premium and looks the part in any gaming cockpit.

Thrustmaster Warthog HOTAS is as good as it looks, designed after controls in an actual air force aircraft.

It’s one fine-looking HOTAS with plenty of metal resulting in a weighted build — this joystick alone weighs in at more than 6 pounds. For features, you’re looking at Thrustmaster’s HEART system with a 16-bit resolution for impressive precision. The stick has 19 action buttons and a hat, and everything requires the same amount of pressure as in the plane it’s modeled after.

It’s just a shame about the high price since some owners have complained about quality issues with some of the internal components, and there’s no twist (or z-axis rotation) support. But if you can overlook these shortcomings, the Warthog really is one of the best HOTAS setups you can buy.

Pros:

  • High-quality materials
  • High-end internal components
  • Solid build quality
  • Based on the U.S. Air Force A 10C aircraft
  • Backlit button layout

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • No twist support
  • Known issues with gimbal

Best Overall

Thrustmaster Warthog

When only the best will do

It’s possible to spend a lot of money on a HOTAS setup, and the Warthog from Thrustmaster is an excellent example of a solid but pricey investment.

Runner-up: Logitech G X56 RGB

Logitech G X56

Source: Logitech

Saitek was a brand every flight-sim gamer held in high regard. The company made some exceptional HOTAS setups but was purchased by Mad Catz, and some within the communities believed quality to suffer. Logitech has since picked up Saitek, and the X56 is the end result, packing some high-quality construction with plenty of programmable buttons.

Like the Warthog, this is one sturdy, hefty HOTAS, though Logitech hasn’t quite gone as far as to design it after a military jet, nor has metal been used throughout the design. That said, it’s still a good-looking piece of kit, and it’s designed to last for some time to come, even if you frequently find yourself in heated, tense dog fights.

The backlit button layout is great for low-light gaming environments and helps brings your virtual cockpit to life. For use in flight-based games, the throttle and stick are excellent, though you may find the actual placement of some buttons to be a little awkward to press while you’re using the main control inputs. And it’s a bit pricey.

Pros:

  • High-quality materials
  • High-end internal components
  • Solid build quality
  • Backlit button layout
  • Plenty of programmable buttons

Cons:

  • Some awkwardly placed buttons
  • Pricey

Runner-up

Logitech G X56 RGB

The best from Logitech

Logitech picked up Saitek, the company behind some excellent HOTAS setups, and the X56 is an excellent solution for flight-based sim games.

Best Value: CH Pro Throttle + Thrustmaster T-16000M

CH Products Pro Throttle Render

Source: CH Products

This is the ultimate HOTAS setup for the price and is recommended by plenty of gamers familiar with the PC accessories. Considered by many to be the ideal configuration when it comes to HOTAS, deploying both the CH Pro Throttle and Thrustmaster T-16000M will ensure you’ll have an instant and accurate response in flight. Plug-and-play and a host of programmable buttons help make them ideal for space simulation titles.

The CH Pro Throttle and Thrustmaster T-16000M is a match made in heaven for a HOTAS setup.

If you’re set to primarily play the likes of Elite: Dangerous and Star Citizen, this HOTAS setup will serve you well. The CH Pro Throttle offers a nice amount of resistance that enables you to control the amount of output for better ship maneuverability. And it’s CH, so the device itself is designed and built to last for thousands of hours of flight time.

With space simulation titles, you’re going to need a bunch of buttons available to map various functions. This is where the 24 buttons come into play with a total of 176 programmable features that can be configured with the control manager software. Unfortunately, there’s no detent for those who prefer to have a physical latch to prevent further activation without being disabled, but like all throttle sticks, you’ll get used to the travel.

As for the Thrustmaster T16000m, it’s not the best stick on the market. That said, it’s fully ambidextrous, sports magnetic sensors for highly accurate friction-free use, and features a plethora of buttons that can be personalized to pack even more functionality without having to reach for the keyboard. There are 12 located on the base and four on the stick itself.

If you have more plenty of cash to splash out on a HOTAS setup, you’ll be able to purchase higher quality products, but we feel CH Pro Throttle + Thrustmaster T-16000M is a solid combination.

Pros:

  • Good value
  • Great stick
  • Sturdy throttle
  • Plenty of buttons
  • High accuracy

Cons:

  • Separate purchases
  • Throttle not quite as good as others

Best Value

CH Pro Throttle + Thrustmaster T-16000M

Ultimate vlaue

These two products are priced aggressively, are well built, and just so happen to go very well together.

Best Budget: Thrustmaster T-Flight HOTAS X

Thrustmaster T-Flight HOTAS X

Source: Windows Central

The Thrustmaster T-Flight HOTAS X is your budget option. It costs little more than an official Xbox gamepad but offers additional functionality for flight-based simulation games. The throttle and stick setup opens up an entirely new world of physical interaction and movement.

Because it’s such an aggressively priced HOTAS, you shouldn’t expect premium materials here. In fact, the entire thing is plastic. This isn’t a major issue since even more expensive HOTAS setups rocks some plastic in one fashion or another, but you can certainly feel the cheapness with the T-Flight HOTAS X.

It also looks cheap. But the HOTAS isn’t all about looks. Thrustmaster made sure it’s a good throttle and stick to use in-game. There’s a noticeable dead zone with the stick, but once you grow accustomed to it, this HOTAS becomes one of the best purchases you’ve made for any game that can take advantage of the new means of input.

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Numerous buttons
  • Comfortable to use
  • Pretty good software
  • Cross-platform support

Cons:

  • Feels and looks cheap
  • Lack of premium materials
  • Stick dead zone

Best Budget

Thrustmaster T-Flight HOTAS X

The best budget stick around

When you happen to be restricted by a small budget but want something better than a mouse and keyboard for flight, this is the perfect solution.

Bottom line

The best HOTAS right now is Thrustmaster Warthog for design, functionality, and build quality. It’s not perfect, and no HOTAS setup is, but you will be able to enjoy your favorite flight and space sim games with enhanced immersion. It’s designed after the controls in an American fighter jet and uses plenty of metal for one hefty build.

Credits — The team that worked on this guide

Rich Edmonds is a staff reviewer at Windows Central, which means he tests out more software and hardware than he cares to remember. Joining Mobile Nations in 2010, you can usually find him inside a PC case tinkering around when not at a screen fighting with Grammarly to use British words. Hit him up on Twitter: @RichEdmonds.

Richard Devine is a Reviews Editor at Windows Central. You’ll usually find him deep in hardware, gaming, both or drinking root beer for which he openly has a mild addiction.

Cale Hunt is a full-time writer for Windows Central, focusing mainly on PC hardware and VR. He is an avid PC gamer and multi-platform user. When he has some free time, you can usually find him practicing the guitar or reorganizing his ever-growing library. If you hear him say, “Sorry!” it’s only because he’s Canadian.

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