Mouse and keyboard is the preference of many when it comes to flight and space simulators, but nothing beats a joystick for realism and immersion. We’ve rounded up the best joysticks to use with games on PC, and our number one spot goes to the CH Products Flightstick because it’s the best mid-range stick around.
Best Overall: CH Products Fighterstick
Source: CH Products
You’re probably wondering why I haven’t selected the Warthog or another premium stick as the best overall choice. While those expensive HOTAS (hands-on throttle-and-stick) are really good, they’re not without flaws, and mid-range units like the Flightstick (200-571) by CH Products are fantastic. I’d argue this stick is among the best on the market.
Sometimes classic products are the best, and if it ain’t broke, you really shouldn’t fix it. That essentially sums up the Fighterstick. This is a classic joystick that is clearly showing its age when compared to other, more modern alternatives. But there’s a good reason CH has yet to update the Fighterstick — it’s an incredible product. Should you have some cash to spare on a joystick, you absolutely must consider this option.
Interestingly, CH HOTAS products can be purchased as separate units or combined to create the ultimate cockpit experience. (The HOTAS is a full setup, including a joystick and throttle.) For the money — it’s easy to spend hundreds on a full setup —, it may seem odd that these units aren’t made of aluminum or some other sort of premium material. But the plastic used is fiber-reinforced nylon polymer. That means it’ll last a long time.
What makes this joystick particularly good is the internal components. It may look rather cheap on the outside, but this joystick has it all where it counts most. The software is excellent, too, allowing you to configure everything to your liking, and it’ll respond without issue in-game.
There are a few odd features, include the lack of twist support and the fact that potentiometers (commonly referred to as “pots”) need to be recalibrated after some time. That said, the product packs premium internal components, and the difference compared to cheaper joysticks is immediately noticeable.
- Excellent value
- Premium internals
- Good companion software
- Bunch of buttons
- No throttle
- Looks cheap
- No twist support
The Flightstick from CH Products is an old joystick that’s been around for years, but it’s still one of the best sticks you can buy.
Best Premium: Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog Flight Stick
Thrustmaster is the brand behind many quality sticks, and the HOTAS Warthog is its premium offering. From the outside, this is one fine-looking stick, packing metal parts, and a weighted build — this joystick weighs in at more than 6 pounds. It’s a replica of the same hardware the U.S. Air Force A-10C attack aircraft utilizes.
If you want to play a flight simulator game on PC, there’s no better way to recreate a cockpit without much effort than this. It looks as though Thrustmaster plucked the hardware straight out a jet. 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, allowing you to map plenty of functions that don’t require a keyboard or some other form of input. This makes it vastly more convenient to manage flight controls and other essential tasks with little effort. Everything requires the same amount of pressure as it would inside the plane it’s modeled after.
Some owners have complained about quality issues with the internal components, and there’s no twist (or z-axis rotation) support.
- Solid build
- Excellent design
- Metal chassis
- 16-bit resolution
- 19 buttons
- Cheaper internals
- No twist support
High external quality let down by cheaper internals
The HOTAS Warthog Flight Stick is made of metal but houses some cheaper components, though it feels solid in hand.
Best Mid-range HOTAS: Logitech Pro Flight X-56
The Pro Flight X-56 used to be by Saitek until Logitech bought out the vendor, and it’s now part of Logitech’s gaming family. It’s a decent mid-range HOTAS solution that offers not only a joystick with a four-spring system but twin throttles, too. Depending on what games you’ll be using the system with, you can use both components or rely on the stick alone.
Some have had quality control issues with faulty units, but there are fans of the HOTAS who swear by it. There are a bunch of advanced features, too, including backlighting and programmable controls. That’s right, you can not only program a whole host of functions to physical buttons on the HOTAS, but it’s also backlit.
The Pro Flight X-56 is a highly accurate HOTAS with numerous customizable buttons. We even recommend it for a VR setup, but for flight sim games, it’s equally as good.
- Full HOTAS
- Great stick
- Solid design
- Works for VR
- Cool-looking switches
Best Mid-range HOTAS
Good value full HOTAS setup
The Pro Flight X-56 is a solid HOTAS solution if you get a fault-free unit. The reliable and accurate stick is excellent.
Best Value HOTAS: Thrustmaster VG T16000M
Are you looking to save big on a high-quality stick? Look no further than the Thrustmaster VG T16000M. Don’t let the low price fool you into thinking this is a cheap stick because it’s not. Thrustmaster packed in high-quality internals with the same HEART tech found in the more expensive Warthog stick.
If you can ignore the rather poor aesthetic, you’re getting a Windows 10 stick loaded with buttons, hats, and sliders, plus twist rudder control and adjustable resistance. It’s ideal for playing Elite: Dangerous, Star Citizen, and other space simulators. There’s also no button on the handle, which may prove to be a hindrance to quick action mapping.
- Great price
- Reliable stick
- Twist support
- High-quality internals
- No handle button
- So-so design
Best Value HOTAS
Thrustmaster’s VG T16000M is an excellent stick for gaming on PC. You get similar tech found in the more expensive Warthog.
Best Budget HOTAS: Thrustmaster T-Flight HOTAS X
Source: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central
This Thrustmaster HOTAS is a must-buy for anyone looking to get started with space or flight simulators who isn’t entirely sure if a throttle and joystick system is right for them. The inexpensive price tag ensures money isn’t wasted, and the reliable performance doesn’t leave one feeling regretful for not spending a hundred or more.
Although it feels a little cheap to use and the stick has some dead zone, it’s sturdy and plays well with supported games. HOTAS setups can run into hundreds of dollars. But the T-Flight X offers an affordable entry point for gamers looking to replace the mouse and keyboard or gamepad with something a little more immersive.
- A good number of buttons
- Comfortable to use
- Sturdy build
- Feels and looks cheap
- Lack of premium materials
- Stick dead zone
Best Budget HOTAS
A budget-friendly, sturdy HOTAS setup that’s not that bad to use. I still frequently use my three-year-old unit without issue.
Looking for a PC gaming stick, you’ll want to consider the excellent CH Products Flightstick. It’s made of hard, durable plastic, and while isn’t the best-looking of the sticks out there, it’ll last for ages. It’s also not ridiculously expensive. This makes it possible to improve your game and immersion in titles like Elite: Dangerous and Star Citizen without paying out an arm and leg.
When you want to take your immersive flight experience to the next level, the Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog Flight Stick is an excellent choice. Not only does it look the part, rocking the same design of the hardware found in the U.S. Air Force A-10C attack aircraft, so you know this HOTAS setup means business. That’s as long as you can overlook the rather high price tag.
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Rich Edmonds is a word conjurer at Windows Central, covering everything related to Windows, gaming, and hardware. He’s been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a device chassis. You can follow him over on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.
Cale Hunt is a staff writer at Windows Central. He focuses mainly on PC, laptop, and accessory coverage, as well as the emerging world of VR. He is an avid PC gamer and multi-platform user and spends most of his time either tinkering with or writing about tech.
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