Home Flight Simulator Setup – 3. Essential Hardware and Peripherals

This post is the third of a short series on how to develop your own home flight simulator. It’s for the complete beginner, keeping things simple, not meant to be a comprehensive guide.

In the previous post, I discussed how to “download and install” the X-Plane12 flight simulator (XP, XP12, sim), and that downloading and installing the Microsoft Flight Simulator is very similar.

Even though it’s possible to use keyboard commands to operate a home flight simulator, flying that way is completely unnatural and no fun. So, in this post, I’ll concentrate on the essential hardware and peripherals you will use to fly the sim and make it really fun.

Let’s take a moment to talk about computer screens.

You’ll want a good sized screen, and it has to have a fast refresh rate, 60 Hz being the bare minimum, 144 Hz better, and 240 Hz even better. The bigger the screen, the more you’ll enjoy the experience, and wider is more important than taller. A three-screen setup, like in the image above, gives you a wide-angle view which is really helpful and makes the experience more enjoyable, because a pilot often has to look far left and far right. But three screens are definitely not required to enjoy your sim. Do a search for images of flight sim screens and see the great variety of setups that people use. There’s no one best way. You’ll use what’s best for your physical space and budget.

And speaking of multiple screens, you should make sure your computer is able to handle at least 3 screens, preferably 5, to accommodate possible instrument screens in the future.

So now let’s talk about flight simulator controls. They are sold by many companies including but certainly not limited to Logitech, Thrustmaster, Honeycomb Aeronautical, CH Products, VirtualFly, Turtle Beach VelocityOne, etc, etc. On top of that, each company might have several options for the same controller, with varying quality and cost. The good news is that there are perfectly good controllers that will do the job at an affordable price. Of course, in general, the more you pay, the more you get. You might want to start economically, then gradually upgrade your setup over time. I find it enjoyable to do internet comparisons of various options from various companies at various price points.

So, where to start? How about with the main controller, the one you’ll use to climb and descend (pitch control), and to roll the plane to the left and right to help it turn (bank control.) This controller comes in two basic types–yoke and stick.

(The following images are just examples from random companies, not necessarily what I use or my recommendation.)

Yoke or Stick

Example of a yoke type of controller
Example of a stick type of controller

Depending on what type of airplane(s) you plan to fly in your simulator, you’ll choose to own a yoke, a stick, or both. Besides the primary function of contolling pitch and bank, these products tend to have numerous buttons that are easily programmable through XP settings–things like raising or lowering flaps or landing gear. In addition, some sticks also twist to control yaw and to steer the airplane while it’s on the ground, which is normally something you do with rudder pedals.

Throttle Quadrant

The simplest throttle quadrants have 3 levers to control throttle, propeller, and mixture. They are often bundled along with a yoke or stick as shown in the picture above, but they can be bought separately as well. For multi-engine airplanes, throttle quadrants are available that have more levers.

Rudder Pedals

As mentioned above, rudder pedals control yaw while in the air, and are used to steer the airplane while on the ground.

Multi-function Controllers

CH Products makes this interesting controller that has a yoke, a built-in throttle quadrant, and built-in rudder “pedals” that are really paddles you operate with your thumbs. This is actually a great way to get started in the world of flight simming, as the cost of this one product is much less than three components if you buy them separately. An additional benefit is that this unit takes up very little space, and is easy to attach to a table and detach.

Installing and Programming

You’ll be shocked at how easy it is to install these items. They almost always simply just plug into a USB port, and that’s it. They are powered through the same USB csonnection. They usually don’t require drivers or any additional software. After you first install them, you’ll go to X-Plane settings and X-Plane will walk you through a quick, intuitive calibration. While you’re in settings, you can explore a little and see how easy it is to program the buttons if you wish. Each button has a letter or number, and it can be assigned to a function from a drop-down list. Easy!

I will point out that as you add components, you can quickly run out USB ports on your computer, so you might have to use a hub to accomodate all your components and connections.

And that’s it for the essential hardware. You are ready to fly!

In a subsequent post, I’ll talk about more advanced hardware peripherals.

Your next assignment: Search the internet for flight simulator controllers, and check prices on the company websites or on Amazon. Then check your wallet. 😀

Next post: Flying by the Rules, or Not

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