Easy Home Flight Simulator Setup Guide (2024)

Whether you want to use a flight simulator for flight training or fun, this guide is for you.

Embarking on the journey of home flight simulation can feel like flying into uncharted airspace. There’s hardware to consider, software to understand, and, let’s not forget, the actual flying part. 

We’re here to help!

Whether you want to use a flight simulator for flight training or fun, this guide is for you. 

This guide will break down exactly how to get started with flight simulators, so that you can get in the air and start flying – without hours of research.

In this guide, we’ll explore:

  • Entry-level, mid-range, and high-end flight simulator costs.
  • What you need for a flight simulator.
  • Which controls and hardware (e.g., computer) you should buy.
  • Which flight simulator program you should buy.

Getting Started With Flight Simulators

Because of the vast range of prices, training goals, and aircraft, no two flight sim setups are the same. Even expensive, complex setups generally start small and evolve over time. 

We recommend you do the same.

Start by assessing your current needs and goals for flight simulation, as well as your budget (we’ll do this later in the guide). Once you have a goal and budget in mind, choosing the right setup in a sea of options becomes much easier.


That being said, what do you need for a flight simulator, regardless of budget or purpose?

What You Need for a Flight Simulator

To run a flight simulator, you only need a handful of surprisingly affordable items. We’ll provide more specific buying advice later in this article.

PC / Xbox / Mac

The first thing you’ll need is something to run the simulator on. 

While mobile options exist (on the iPad, for example), their performance doesn’t match that of PCs, Xbox, or Mac, so we won’t focus on them in this article.

Joystick / Yoke + Throttle Quadrant

It wouldn’t be much of a flight simulator without a joystick or a yoke. 

While some joysticks offer built-in throttles, a separate throttle quadrant will take your experience to the next level.

Keyboard / Mouse

A basic keyboard and mouse will do, preferably wireless. 

You’ll use the flight controls to fly and look around, and the mouse to click around the cockpit.

Headset / Speakers

Audio is often overlooked when it comes to flight simulators, but a good sound system makes a world of a difference (especially since it isn’t that expensive).

Surround sound speakers are great, but they can be pricey and difficult to set up.

A $60 headset, however, will provide excellent audio with the added benefit of a microphone (more on that later).

How Much Does a Home Flight Simulator Cost?

Before we determine what your goals are (and what setup you should get), let’s explore the price range for a home flight simulator.

Entry-Level Home Flight Simulator Price

$450 – $1,000

If you already have a gaming PC or an Xbox, you can get started with flight simulators by purchasing a $60 copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator and an $89 joystick + throttle combo.

That’s it. $149, and you have everything you need to start flying.

If you don’t have a PC, the $260 Xbox Series S will deliver crisp visuals and reliable performance in Microsoft Flight Simulator for a fraction of the price of a gaming computer (more on that later).

Mid-Range Home Flight Simulator Price

$1,500 – $3,000

A mid-range home flight simulator can deliver an incredible amount of bang for your buck.

By adding rudder pedals and a better PC, you’ll find your flight simulator experience will improve dramatically.

With a $250 joystick, throttle, and rudder pedal combo, you’ll have everything you need to fly accurately in any simulator.

If you’re looking for a high-quality flight simulation experience, you’ll have to invest in a gaming computer. A budget of $1,500 should provide you with a computer with adequate performance in everything other than Virtual Reality (VR).

High-End Home Flight Simulator Price

$3,000+

A high-end home flight simulator will depend on your specific needs, but if you’d like a setup with good graphics and the ability to use a VR headset, you should budget around $4,000.

Remember that you can start small and slowly upgrade your setup over time.

1. Determine Your Goals

Now that we’ve had a look at what you can expect to pay for a home flight simulator, let’s determine the flight simulator setup that’s perfect for you.

Get your notepad!

The first step is determining what you’d like to use the flight simulator for.

Generally speaking, home flight simulators are used for two primary reasons:

If you plan to use your flight simulator for fun, your setup will need to be more flexible to accommodate a wide range of aircraft and flights.

If you plan to use the simulator to simulate real-life flying, you’ll want a setup that gets as close as possible to the aircraft you fly in real life.

If you want to do both, try to make your simulator similar to your real aircraft, but also make sure that you can modify it for other aircraft when you want to.

2. Determine Your Budget

As we saw earlier, there is no need to break the bank to have an enjoyable flight simulation experience. 

Determine your initial budget; you can always add and upgrade in the future.

3. Choose Your Hardware

Now that you have a budget and goals, it’s time to determine which flight simulator setup you should buy.

To use a flight simulator, you will need at least:

  • A PC, Mac, or Xbox
  • A computer monitor or TV
  • A joystick, yoke, and throttle
  • Rudder pedals (optional)
  • A headset or speakers

Should I buy a PC, Mac, or Xbox for Flight Simulator?

The PC is a powerhouse that can be enhanced to meet future needs, while the Xbox offers solid performance at a fraction of the cost. The Mac will only run X-Plane, but it may be a great option if you don’t want to purchase new hardware.

Let’s clarify.

PCs are workhorses, offering an unmatched level of power and flexibility. If you’re interested in utilizing third-party add-ons and online Air Traffic Control networks, the PC is the way to go.

Simply put, if you want a machine that grows with you and your evolving needs, a PC is your best bet.

Then comes Xbox, specifically the new Xbox Series S and X. It’s a reliable, budget-friendly option that’s great for beginners. You can get amazing performance at a great price, but you won’t have the customizability of the PC.

Additionally, the Xbox only runs Microsoft Flight Simulator.

The Mac, known for its seamless design and intuitive user interface, isn’t as popular in the flight simulation realm. While it’s a fantastic machine for various tasks, it’s only compatible with X-Plane. 

If you already have a Mac, you can jump into X-Plane and start your flight simulation journey without purchasing an expensive PC.

Which Flight Simulator Should I Buy?

Ah, the age-old debate; Which flight simulator is the best?

As of the 2020s, there are two primary contenders for civilian aviation:

DCS World is the most popular military flight simulator (e.g., fighter jets) and hands down the best choice if you’re interested in military aviation. 

Microsoft Flight Simulator

MSFS is by far the most popular flight simulator on the market. It has also significantly improved in reliability and features since its release.

Microsoft Flight Simulator is the king of graphics. It features stunning textures and detail, and its use of satellite imagery and (in certain areas) 3D images from real life, makes it the ultimate flight simulator.

The audio is crisp and realistic, completely immersing you in the virtual world.

Additionally, with a huge community and the backing of Microsoft, the simulator is continuously improving. Microsoft Flight Simulator will likely remain the most popular flight simulator for several years to come.

It’s not all sunshine and roses, however. MSFS has suffered from significant reliability and performance issues since its launch. While most of these have been addressed and major improvements made, the simulator continues to be less reliable than its primary competition, X-Plane.

Additionally, while the flight model is great and a major improvement over previous generations, X-Plane continues to produce the most realistic flight model compared to MSFS.

You also won’t have the customizability of X-Plane. If you’re trying to simulate the aircraft you fly in real life, do a little research and see if the aircraft (and the avionics) are available in MSFS. If they aren’t, chances are they will be in X-Plane.

MSFS Setup Course
Master the settings used to configure your simulator and learn how to set up flights.
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X-Plane

There’s a reason why X-Plane is used in professional flight simulators – it’s the most realistic feeling, the most customizable, and the most reliable.

Do you fly with a custom Frankenstein-like avionics panel made up of various different avionics in real life? X-Plane has you covered and will allow you to install and create the panel just the way you want it.

X-Plane does lack the graphical, and particularly terrain, detail of MSFS, however. You’ll have a more difficult time navigating via visual references in X-Plane. However, this does not affect its usability for Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) flying.

DCS World

DCS World is an aviation combat simulator that allows players to experience military simulation across various aircraft. 

As you may imagine, flying high-performance fighter jets is not a walk in the park, so it’s no surprise that over half of DCS World players are pilots in real life.

While it is certainly possible to start your flight simulator journey in DCS, we recommend you learn the basics of flight in MSFS or X-Plane and then explore DCS later in your journey. 

But be warned – DCS is addicting!

Which Controls Should I Buy for a Flight Simulator?

When deciding what flight simulator joystick and throttle you should buy, consider the following:

  • Does the aircraft you intend to fly the most feature a joystick or yoke?
    • Depending on which aircraft you will fly the most, you may want to purchase the equivalent control.
  • Do you intend to fly a range of different airplanes, and do you intend to fly helicopters too?
    • If you intend to fly a wide range of aircraft or helicopters, you should purchase a joystick.
  • Will you need to use several buttons (for example, when flying a military aircraft)?
    • If you need several buttons, you may want to opt for a throttle or joystick with the appropriate buttons for your aircraft.

Here are our recommendations:

Do I Need Rudder Pedals for a Flight Simulator?

Rudder pedals offer a more realistic flight simulation experience.

They give you additional control, especially when on the ground or dealing with crosswind landings.

But what if you don’t have rudder pedals? Are you doomed?

Not quite.

Most joysticks feature a twist action or a rocker switch that can emulate the rudder’s function. It won’t be as immersive or precise as actual pedals, but it’s a viable alternative if you’re on a budget or have limited space.

Even if you have no rudder input whatsoever, most flight simulators can automatically use the rudder for you.

Simply put, if you want to have the best flight simulation experience (and intend on flying long-term), buy a set of rudder pedals. If you’re on a tight budget or just want to get your feet wet with flight simulators, you can wait a little while before purchasing rudder pedals.

Popular options include:

See our Best Flight Simulator Rudder Pedals Guide for a full analysis of available rudder pedals.

Which Monitor Should I Buy for a Flight Simulator?

When it comes to computer monitors for flight simulation, you don’t actually need anything too expensive.

Let’s explain.

Your flight simulator’s visuals are paramount, and resolution plays a key role in determining their clarity and detail. A higher resolution monitor (like 4K or 1440p) will provide a more detailed and realistic view of the world. However, keep in mind that running games at high resolutions demands powerful hardware.

The refresh rate of a monitor refers to the number of times it can update with new information per second and is measured in hertz (Hz). A higher refresh rate (such as 144Hz or even 240Hz) can provide a smoother experience, crucial when you’re soaring through the virtual sky.

There’s a bit of a catch, though.

To take advantage of the smoothness, your PC needs to keep up. Because flight simulators are so demanding to run, you’ll need a high-end computer to take advantage of high refresh rate monitors.

So, how do you get the best bang for your buck?

Buy a high-resolution (4K or 1440p) monitor with a standard 60Hz refresh rate for flight simulators.

You also don’t need a screen the size of a wall. Larger monitors can provide a more immersive flight experience, but as screen size increases, so should resolution (to maintain a sharp image). 

27 or 32-inch screens are the sweet spot for flight simulators. At this size, a 4K resolution looks crisp.

If you want an even more immersive experience, consider purchasing three monitors. A single widescreen monitor is a great option, too!

Here are our recommendations:

Which Headset Should I Buy for a Flight Simulator?

A fantastic pair of headphones can amplify your flight simulator experience, enhancing realism and immersing you further into the virtual cockpit.

The best part?

They aren’t expensive.

A good quality wired headset with a microphone like the HyperX Cloud II is only around $70.

If you have a bigger budget, consider purchasing a wireless headset. Wireless headsets provide freedom of movement, but you’ll have to manage battery life.

If you have a large budget, a surround sound speaker system will provide the ultimate experience (but your neighbors will hate you). We recommend sticking to a headset and investing the savings into other parts of your flight simulator.

Do I Need Head Tracking or Virtual Reality for Flight Simulators?

Head tracking and virtual reality (VR) can enhance the realism and immersion of flight simulators, but they aren’t strictly necessary.

Head tracking can allow you to look around the cockpit without using your mouse or controls to manipulate your view.

Head tracking can be especially useful for flight simulators where you need to move your head often, such as with military flight simulators and VFR (visual) flying.

VR takes things a step further by immersing you in a fully 3D environment. With a VR headset, you can look around the cockpit and experience depth perception.

That being said, you can still enjoy and benefit from using a flight simulator without head tracking or VR, particularly for IFR flights (in the clouds) that don’t require outside visual references.

Many flight simulator setups feature multiple monitors, which provides the benefits of normal displays with some of the advantages of VR or head tracking.

We recommend you start with a standard monitor and give head tracking or VR a try later on in your flight simulator journey.

Advanced Avionics Setups

There are great options available for adding physical buttons, knobs, and switches to your simulator. Setting your radios or GPS with a mouse can be frustrating and slow. 

These panels allow you to use real knobs and buttons as you would in a real aircraft, helping you build valuable muscle memory.

If you want to fly with the G1000, check out our comprehensive guide to G1000 hardware panels and controls.

Two of the most popular options include RealSimGear and Air Manager.

RealSimGear offers a wide range of hardware ranging from standalone G1000 panels to full Cirrus cockpit setups. The system requires little setup, and their team offers comprehensive customer support.

RealSimGear Cirrus Simulator

Air Manager allows you to display custom aircraft panels on external monitors. If you use it in conjunction with a touchscreen, you can easily simulate and interact with the buttons on avionics panels like the G1000

The downside is that it can require more technical skill to set up.

Then there’s the Knobster, which many pilots use in conjunction with an Air Manager panel. In a single, compact device, the Knobster allows you to manipulate the knobs on your panel without needing to use the mouse. 

Some pilots also use it to control knobs while flying in VR, when the use of a mouse is not possible.

There are also standalone panels sold by Logitech for specific functions such as radios and autopilot.

All in all, if you have the time or money, a home flight simulator can get surprisingly close to the real thing.

What Now?

Okay, so you’ve determined your budget, goals, and what you need to buy.

Now you need to put it all together!

To avoid spending hours trying to figure out how everything works, get a flight sim setup and tech support session here.

If you’re already up and running and want to supercharge your flying, book a session with one of our coaches here (they’re real flight instructors!).

If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch to see how we can help.

Happy flying!

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