New flight simulator pilots
No matter how much experience you have in an airplane, if you are just getting started with home flight simulation, then your first flight controls should be cheap and plastic. If you are a student pilot, you should be spending the majority of your allotted aviation dollars at your flight school until you can prove the efficacy of your simulated flying at home. If you are a certificated pilot, you may want to splurge on realistic simulator controls, but the same logic applies: Start small until you know that you enjoy home flight simulation and until you determine that it helps your flying. While the advantages of flight simulation are evident, you may decide that you would prefer to allocate more of your flight simulation budget to time in the aviation training device at your flight school.
You can purchase a serviceable plastic yoke for under $100. However, since flight sim controls have been flying off the shelves this year, you may find some price gouging online. If you are not purchasing directly from the manufacturer or a trusted reseller, then plan to research more than usual to ensure that you receive a fair price.
Experienced general aviation pilots
If you have ample experience in the cockpit and with home flight simulators, then the quality and accuracy of the flight controls should take precedence over their price. Ultimately, the return on investment will be greater from flight simulator controls that are durable, realistic, and that enable a positive transfer of training to your aircraft.
To create the most realistic flight simulator experience at home, purchase metal flight controls. In addition to holding up better to years of training, metal simulator controls move more accurately than plastic ones. For example, many metal rudder pedals allow you to apply pressure to the rudder as opposed to only forcing rudder travel. You also will notice a stark difference with a metal yoke, which should allow you to achieve full control deflection without increasing spring tension.
Because these controls have a higher price tag—with three or even four digits—you may want to prioritize a configuration that can simulate a broad range of general aviation aircraft. A versatile single or twin-engine throttle quadrant and a high-quality general aviation yoke provide the most value for a variety of simulated aircraft.
While a versatile flight control configuration is preferable for most experienced pilots, it may not make sense for you if you only fly one aircraft. For example, if you always fly with a sidestick, then a flight stick may feel more natural than a yoke system for your home flight simulator.
With any flight simulator control, there inevitably is a trade-off between accuracy and features. Whereas the most accurate simulator controls adhere to the look and feel of your aircraft controls, the most feature-rich simulator controls provide additional buttons and switches for the simulation environment. Presumably, you want buttons for push-to-talk, autopilot disconnect, and electric trim, but what about programmable buttons for panning around the virtual cockpit or switching to an exterior view of the aircraft? Many pilots value the added functionality for training with flight simulation software, while others prefer that their simulator controls mimic their aircraft controls to a tee. Before you invest in expensive flight simulator controls, research your options to find the right mix of accuracy and functionality for your training preferences.
Redbird Flight Simulations
Established in 2006 to make aviation more accessible, Redbird has delivered more than 2,000 innovative, high-quality simulators to flight schools, universities, K-12 schools, and individual pilots around the world. Redbird designed Guided Independent Flight Training (GIFT), a simulator-based, AI-powered, maneuvers training supplement to help pilots achieve their aviation goals faster and for less money. For more information about GIFT, please visit gift.redbirdflight.com.