Imagine being inside a Boeing VC-25 or the Lockheed Martin jetfighter F-35 Lightning. The flight stick is in your hands as you responsibly maneuver the skies to get your squad to the wedding destination.
You could experience the same feeling while sitting in your cozy gaming cockpit, glued to your Ultra HD screen and using a joystick that is better than a real one. It’s a great idea!
Are you on the verge of achieving the gaming nirvana that every true gamer dreams of? Well, we know the feeling because we have experienced it not once, not twice, and not even three times. Ten times this week, all while testing to bring you the best joysticks and flight sticks.
Find out what works best for you… whether you’re a space sim fan or a DCS World veteran!
These days, flight sticks are a norm, with HOTAS peripherals bringing you an immersive gaming experience. Without it, are you even playing the game as it should be? (No we are not stealing nVIDIA’s tagline.) Check out these top 10 gaming flight sticks and build your realistic cockpit today.
Be a VC-25 pilot; check out the reviews of the best joysticks and own one today:
Top 7 Best Joysticks and Flight Sticks In 2021
1. Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog Flight Stick – PC
We talked about and imagined the incredible feeling of sitting in the cockpit of a fighter-bomber. Well, this near-perfect flight stick by Thrustmaster (TM) is as good as controller technology gets.
The Warthog flight stick boasts of a fully metallic casing that not only gives it weight but also makes you feel like you are operating the real flight stick. That wouldn’t exactly be incorrect because this bad boy here is inspired from the flight stick of U.S. Air Force A-10C attack aircraft by Fairchild. Even if you go overboard with your flight simulation, the Warthog is going to stay intact.
With controls and switches that let you put on the fighter pilot hat, the Warthog is known for its synchronicity and precision. Just plug and play, and we promise you won’t be able to move from your gaming desk. There are a plethora of features you can toggle, but that means going through the settings in the complementary TARGET software. But who has time for that? When you are joyriding through space in Frontier’s Elite Dangerous cushioned on your Obutto rig?
If you can afford it and look at flight sim as the most rewarding experience in gaming, investing and getting this little beast would be the second-best decision you make this year. (The first one would be going through this guide, y’all.) Look at it in a way that would put Logitech’s Saitek and even Thrustmaster’s own T.16000M to shame. It’s a privilege to own the Warthog flight stick.
2. Saitek PS28 X52 Flight Control System
There is a long-running debate about which flight stick manufacturer Saitek is the best for gamers. Gaming junkies around the world still discuss the topic in the dark passages of online gaming communities despite the recent acquisition by Switzerland’s overlord of computing, Logitech.
Saitek is not an underdog, however. A popular flight stick that spawned a pro version (#4 below) and a pro version of that pro version (#9 below), the X52 is known for its illuminated buttons and switches and a high level of in-game controller customization. This peripheral can be programmed for each game, so when you prepare to annihilate your squad in Elite: Dangerous, your best settings will be ready.
With its twist rudder controls – which are absent from the TM beast – the Saitek X52 is a charming addition to any gaming rig. There’s no need for additional bells and whistles, as this one here allows you to twist, throttle, and maneuver without a hitch. The rubberized stick base reduces stiffness in such flight sticks, giving you a more comfortable grip.
Despite the revived popularity of space sims – games such as Flight Simulator X and Star Citizen now capturing gamers’ attention – having a HOTAS that provides versatility and flexibility is a necessity. In that regard, there’s no doubt about Saitek’s capabilities.
3. Thrustmaster T.16000M FCS HOTAS Controller
In addition to our top two choices for the best flights sticks in the market right now, there is no doubt as to what comes third, both in terms of price and quality. Thrustmaster is back with the enhanced version of the original heartbreaker T.16000. The T.16000M offers quite a few features that put the above two heavyweights to shame in certain areas.
Based on Frontier’s Elite Dangerous, the Thrustmaster T.16000M is the epitome of style, balance, and precision. At the middle of a game, one would pause and marvel at the sheer precision of its magnetic sensors effect for realistic space sims and a God-like weight distribution mechanism. Jacob, we hope you don’t do that because gaming is not a joke!
The T.16000M is one of the few joysticks that allows four independent axes, twist rudder control, and up to six degrees of movement. Even if you’re not a flight simmer seeking to build a tournament rig, buying this one is a no-brainer.
The T.16000M also syncs seamlessly with VR (we tried it with Oculus Rift). With a few simple changes in the TARGET software, you are ready to go.
4. Saitek X52 Pro Flight System Controller
If you have decided to get your hands on the X52, let us explain why the Pro version is better. This one has a dash of metal and customizable illumination. You can then match (or contrast) your existing rig.
We know how important customization is for a serious gamer (or simmer). Considering the psychology of such a person, we recommend the X52 Pro, which has smooth, precise control and superior alignment. The ability to turn the 3D rudder twist ON or OFF, the keyboard-free approach, and the better configuration LC display (thanks to Logitech) make the Pro version slightly better than any other mid-range model here.
There’s no need to second guess yourself if budget is an issue for you because when you combine the technology of Saitek with the popularity and versatility of the X52, you get a superb simulation experience. It might be a minor bell, but we love the grip adjustment, which can be changed from game to game.
5. Thrustmaster T-Flight HOTAS X Flight Stick
Most gamers have encountered the gatekeeper of realistic gaming: the Microsoft SideWinder, one of the most popular yet most criticized joysticks in gaming history. Its daddy is the Thrustmaster T.Flight joystick, one of the cheaper models on this list, if you like plastic buttons and the sound they make when you hit them in the middle of a battle.
We didn’t find any metal bearings here, nor will you find enough switches if you’re stepping down from any of the models we reviewed. Luckily, the basic functions include z-axis rotation, a detachable throttle, and keyboard syncing.
This joystick, which falls on the lower end of the price and feature spectrum, is certainly charming for a price less than ten times that of some of the heavyweights. Thus, this is for the casual gamer who stays away from tournaments and does not want to consider it as a calculated investment. However, this is Thrustmaster – a manufacturer renowned for its quality and performance – which supports our claim that “you get what you pay for”. Right here we have a slick deal.
6. Mayflash F300 Arcade Fight Stick Joystick
If there is no mention of a Chinese brand on a list of gaming tech, then the list is incomplete. The Mayflash F300 is one of the best arcade joysticks for fighting games and the like.
It’s not your usual HOTAS, but a “serious toy” that packs a punch due to its phenomenal ability to be modded. If you like to customize the knobs and buttons on your gaming peripherals, then you are in the right place. The F300 is affordable, super responsive, comes with a swappable square restrictor plate, and can also be modded with Seimitsu or Sanwa elements to your taste and design. The degree of customization you can achieve with this little piece of Chinese technology is limitless.
When it comes to fighting games, Street Fighter and Super Smash Bros are among our favorites. Why not grab the Mayflash at the end of your busy day if you already own a HOTAS and are tired of space simming. The joystick is compatible with PC, Android, PlayStation, and Xbox consoles, making it one of the most popular and widely-purchased joysticks.
7. Extreme 3D Pro Joystick for Windows
In creating a list like this and ranking the best joysticks and flight sticks, there are always even more great things to come even after the top 5. One such wonderful gaming device is Logitech’s Extreme 3D Pro Joystick, probably their most popular and non-trolled stick. (Note that Logitech markets this under its own brand name, not Saitek, which it acquired from American video game tool brand Mad Catz in 2016.) Take a look at #8 if you are a “Catz” fan.
This one has a wider and heavier base than most of its competitors, so don’t be fooled by its childish (and somewhat cheap) looks. We played for three hours on stretch (mainly dogfighting or trying to dogfight in Star Citizen’s Arena Commander) without picking up the stick from our desk once. Brownie points for the build and the black-and-grey color scheme.
We also enjoyed using the rapid-fire trigger in Gaijin’s WarThunder, which has a default setting for the Extreme 3D Pro. It requires more force to push, which can be both a good and a bad thing, but we found that it causes fatigue, especially during gameplay. Another area where Logitech’s stick suffers is with the throttle controls, but only when compared with TM’s T.Flight or the Warthog.
Best Joysticks and Flight Sticks Buying Guide
Here is a quick guide to help you make a wise purchase, since buying a joystick is not like downloading a free game from Steam or GOG. The investment is long-term and requires some sacrifices (we know, because we spent sleepless nights testing these for you).
What is the Relevance of Joysticks/Flight Sticks?
As space simulation games make a comeback using advanced graphics and functionality, and as virtual reality games spread, immersive gaming is becoming a reality. Hands-on Throttle-and-Stick (HOTAS), flight pedals, and driving wheels make up a flashy gaming rig/pod that makes the old keyboard-mouse combination obsolete. In order to move away from life’s actual reality, we no longer use gamepads or toy joysticks because we want more immersive technology. (Let’s discuss this in the comments.)
What All Should I Look for?
As brands such as Thrustmaster, Logitech, and Mad Catz unleash their technological prowess, there are numerous features to choose from. A gamer should focus on these few:
- Stick Tension – The sweet spot lies between not too stiff and not too loose
- Throttle –For advanced gamers, a detachable throttle control is essential
- Z-axis rotation – A flight stick should mimic a real stick, and to achieve that, it should have the ability to control yaw and rudder, which is only possible by rotating the z-axis
- Base Weight – The heavier the stick, the better
- Buttons and Switches –It depends on the user, but the mantra of the more the better is not applicable here. A hat-switch (four-way or eight-way) and a few buttons on the stick should do the trick
- Ambidexterity – See the Mad Catz V.1 (#8 above)
Any Side Dishes?
Complementing your flight stick with complementary peripherals can significantly enhance your experience. Perhaps you will even break the record of “most gaming time logged” by your parents, spouse, or um, kids.
The best joysticks and flight sticks money can buy. It is important to note that these models have been tested over time and continue to be the best in what they offer and how they do it.
The Warthog HOTAS from Thrustmaster is the most desired flight stick right now, but we also want to give some slack to Logitech’s Saitek. They compete with the T.16000M and the T.Flight HOTAS; underdogs Mayflash and CH Products are also in the game and are more popular with gamers who are on a budget.
Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog should be on every gamer’s desk, and if we can help you to create such a world (at least in your house), then we have achieved what we set out to do. Isn’t this a great time to be a gamer?