Thrustmaster TCA Sidestick Airbus EditionSource: Matt Brown | Windows Central

Best Sticks for Microsoft Flight Simulator Windows Central 2020

Microsoft Flight Simulator sets a new bar for virtual aviation, leveraging the company's cloud empire to fuse satellite imagery and artificial intelligence, creating a spitting image of the globe. Picking up one of our best flight sticks amplifies the realism, enabling accurate control over dozens of included aircraft. The Thrustmaster T.16000M FCS HOTAS is one of the best, both feature-rich and comfortable in an affordable bundle.

With Microsoft Flight Simulator newly-launched on PC, many of the best joysticks and flight sticks remain hard to come by with instances of price gouging in August 2020. We continue to hunt down the best-priced links multiple times per day.

Best Overall: Thrustmaster T.16000M FCS HOTAS

Thrustmaster T.16000M FCS HOTASSource: Thrustmaster

When looking to elevate your Microsoft Flight Simulator experience beyond the entry experience, securing the best hands-on throttle-and-stick solution is an investment you won't regret. While there are dozens of sim-ready peripherals out there, the trusty joystick is a must-buy to improve the adventures ahead. The best flight sticks come with myriad benefits, including granular input over fundamental control surfaces and components, with assignable keys for everyday functions.

The Thrustmaster T.16000M FCS HOTAS is a staple from a revered manufacturer in sim gear, checking numerous boxes for those with a taste for Microsoft Flight Simulator. The joystick axes provide high-precision control over pitch and roll, with a twist of the stick also handling yaw for horizontal adjustments. It primarily comes down to the in-house HEART technology, providing accurate 16-bit resolution for stick inputs, and tension that feels right. The internals almost mirrors its enthusiast-geared Warthog joystick, nailing that same robust functionality at a more palatable price.

The flight stick delivers a comfortable, ergonomic design when in-hand, with a variety of inputs to bolster functionality. That includes an eight-way hat switch placed up-top, which is essential when looking outside the cockpit with Microsoft Flight Simulator's stunning backdrops. Other inputs include a rear-mounted trigger and another 16 assignable buttons, ideal for mapping essential functions inches from your fingertips. Thrustmaster's aesthetics aren't for everyone, with its all-black plastic and orange accents and backlighting, but help create a centerpiece for your flight setup.

While Thrustmaster sells its T.16000M as a standalone flight stick, current availability makes it hard to hunt down the peripheral without an accompanying throttle quadrant. The matching TWCS throttle builds on shared design philosophies, with another 14 buttons and a POV hat switch to maximize your inputs. The throttle makes it easier to tame even the most advanced airliners while serving a cohesive experience with minimal investment. And if you're looking to get deep into the range, matching pedals and panels are also on the market.

Thrustmaster is the leader in simulation accessories, with this HOTAS solution providing insane value for its price. While better build quality comes with premium alternatives, including its high-end Warthog HOTAS, it's a balance of function and savings that makes this the best joystick in 2020.

Pros:

  • Affordable all-in-one solution
  • Insane functionality
  • Comfortable
  • Durable

Cons:

  • Better build quality available

Best Overall

Thrustmaster T.16000M FCS HOTAS

Get started with the all-in-one T.16000M.

The T.16000M remains a best-seller through the launch of Microsoft Flight Simulator for a reason. This HOTAS setup covers all the necessities for virtual pilots, with robust and accurate control, with an abundance of assignable buttons and switches.

Best Premium: Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog Flight Stick

Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog Flight StickSource: Thrustmaster

Venturing into the premium-tier flight sticks further opens your options, but the Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog Flight Stick has remained on top for several years. The peripheral is a favorite among enthusiasts, granting both responsive and precise control over your aircraft, with a build quality that surpasses closest rivals. The result is a consistent and robust stick for all forms of flight, including the new Microsoft Flight Simulator in 2020.

The Warthog Flight Stick design comes from the similarly-nicknamed A-10 Thunderbolt II, which helps nail down an ergonomic in-hand feel, while also grounded to realism. The construction is on the high end, lining the plastic stick with metal accents you wouldn't find on cheaper alternatives. It also includes a detachable metal base which helps on the desk, while still adaptive to integrate into a cockpit setup. And weighing in over 3kg, this joystick won't be moving anywhere even if you're not using the included mounting solution.

Thrustmaster's HEART technology seen in the best flight sticks backs the Warthog, using magnet sensors for 16-bit resolution high precision, while also durable for multi-year usage. The company also boasts its five-coil spring system, which it claims provides tension and consistency without dead zones. The stick also packs plentiful inputs, with 19 action buttons, two eight-way hat switches, and various other assignable buttons to get you into the air.

The Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog Flight Stick retails at $280 in the U.S., which falls just above full mid-range HOTAS solutions. The stick can be used standalone or part of a larger modular set, and like many on this list, it shines when paired with other accessories. The Warthog Flight Stick is just one piece of the puzzle, with the Warthog and Cougar throttle quadrant suitable solutions to assemble a complete Thrustmaster ensemble.

Pros:

  • Smooth, precise controls
  • High-quality construction
  • Great in-hand feel

Cons:

  • Less functional when standalone
  • Expensive

Best Premium

Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog Flight Stick

The HOTAS Warthog might demand a higher price, but amps up the build quality, comfort, and performance for enthusiasts.

Best Value: Thrustmaster TCA Sidestick Airbus Edition

Thrustmaster TCA Sidestick Airbus EditionSource: Thrustmaster

Thrustmaster unveiled its collaboration with Airbus earlier in 2020, introducing a new flight accessories line under the aerospace icon's name. The partnership birthed an officially licensed range combining a legacy in accessories with iconic A320 signatures, under the "Thrustmaster Civil Aviation" series.

The Thrustmaster TCA Sidestick Airbus Edition headlines the range, replicating the real-world sidestick used in the Airbus A320 and A320neo. The TCA design takes influence from its existing T.16000, bolstered with features and design improvements, alongside its blue-tinted makeover. That came at a relatively affordable $70 starting price, flying off shelves ahead of the Microsoft Flight Simulator launch.

The fundamental features of the T.16000 translate to this sidestick, including the same HEART technology, promising the precision of 16-bit resolution, also seen in its more expensive products. It also features 17 assignable buttons distributed across the stick and the base, an eight-way hat switch to look around the cockpit. Thrustmaster has also designed this to work seamlessly with the new Microsoft Flight Simulator, with simple plug-and-play.

Thrustmaster TCA Officer Pack Airbus EditionSource: Thrustmaster

One of the most notable changes comes with considerations for Airbus craft, including left-handed and right-handed capabilities, as seen in an A320 cockpit. It delivers this through a modular head, with four included modules to customize the buttons, with aid from a crosshead screwdriver. This makes it an ambidextrous stick in the process, as reflected by a physical switch underneath to change between left-hand and right-hand modes.

Thrustmaster plans to launch a replica throttle quadrant, providing more control over engines. But it doesn't drop until September, making it best to use the stick's integrated throttle control instead. The stick's throttle, while simple, includes features designed with the A320 in mind, including reserve thrust when pulled back.

The TCA Sidestick Airbus Edition is a personal favorite, and I recommend this stick, especially for Microsoft Flight Simulator users mastering airliners. But it was hard to find one before the title launched, and following its August debut, it's near-impossible. With availability scarce, your best bet is securing remaining stock on the upcoming Officer Pack, which bundles the stick and throttle into one unit. It releases September 24, starting at $160 in the U.S.

Pros:

  • Feels great to use
  • Impressive features geared to Flight Simulator
  • Slick Airbus-inspired styling
  • Durable

Cons:

  • Better build quality available

Best Value

Thrustmaster TCA Officer Pack Airbus Edition

Take to the skies and look the part.

Thrustmaster and Airbus join forces with an official replica of its A320 sidestick and an accompanying throttle quadrant. The TCA series elevates its precise, high-quality accessories with various upgrades geared for airliners, but also suited to control any virtual aircraft.

Best Budget: Thrustmaster T-Flight Stick X

Thrustmaster T-Flight Stick XSource: Thrustmaster

While it's tempting to drop hundreds on building a setup around the best Microsoft Flight Simulator joystick, the same fundamentals can come in significantly less. The Thrustmaster T-Flight Stick X is the proof, packing all the core functionality you need when sky-bound, but available at a price that won't dig into your savings. You can find this all-in-one joystick as low as $40, including a stick, throttle, and the buttons you need to take your experience beyond a keyboard and mouse.

The T-Flight Stick X has been on the market for a decade, but its dated hardware doesn't fall short on the latest simulators. The stick will handle all essential control surfaces for flight, with relatively accurate input, and adjustable resistance control. It also has 12 remappable buttons for primary controls, while its integrated throttle slider allows you to control speed. You even have a top-mounted hat switch for looking around Microsoft Flight Simulator's stunning vistas in 2020.

The classic phrase "cheap and cheerful" best fits the T-Flight Stick X. While relatively durable, its all-plastic design isn't winning awards. The stick dead zone also means this isn't as precise as alternatives on this list, with smaller movements often not registered. It's not going to blow you away, but it's still hugely preferable over using a mouse and keyboard. But of all, it costs less than the new Microsoft Flight Simulator at launch, while many budget alternatives remain out of stock.

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Features all essential controls

Cons:

  • No premium touches
  • Dead zone limits precision

Best Budget

Thrustmaster T-Flight Stick X

Cover the essentials and a little more.

When tied down to a smaller budget but want something better than a mouse and keyboard for Microsoft Flight Simulator, this is a purchase you won't regret.

Bottom line

The new Microsoft Flight Simulator is here for 2020, bringing virtual globetrotting on an unprecedented scale. The series' revival brings a newfound demand for dedicated flight hardware on PC, with a handful of impressive peripherals on the scene. Thrustmaster remains a market leader with the best joystick technology for the price, with the Thrustmaster T.16000M FCS HOTAS our recommended pick for August.

With Flight Simulator-ready hardware in high demand and short supply, the T.16000M is one of the few high-value all-in-one solutions available at a reasonable price. That includes a reliable hands-on throttle-and-stick combo covering everything you need to get started, with a robust build, and features for even the most sophisticated aircraft.

Credits — The team that worked on this guide

Matt Brown is a staff writer at Future for Windows Central. Following years of professional consumer technology and gaming coverage, he's focused on the world of Xbox and Windows PCs. You can follow him on Twitter @mattjbrown.

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