Flight sims are probably the most popular type of simulator in the gaming market today. They have been around since the '70s and were originally used to train pilots, but were soon released to the general public, where they found a warm welcome among gamers.
As the years passed, they became more and more complex, simulating a moving plane with so much detail that the line between reality and simulation gets blurry.
Unfortunately, these programs are still missing something that no computer can emulate; the instruments, the yoke´s, the stick; everything that makes a plane’s cockpit the cockpit.
Microsoft´s Flight Simulator can´t put a control stick on your hands, after all. If you want to know what it is like to control an airplane with your own two hands, you need to get a pilot´s license and take to the skies ...or do you?
Truth be told, there are so many accessories made for the flight simulator genre, that you can probably find a counterpart for every single instrument that a real plane would have.
So, I´m going to do just that. I´m going to prove to you that you can recreate a cockpit on your desk using only flight simulators add-ons and accessories.
Before we start, there are two things that I must explain:
One, this is not going to consider VR headsets. While they can be used to put you in a 1:1 virtual recreation of a real plane, they are not the point of this article. We are going to recreate a cockpit as much as we can with real, physical accessories.
Second, we are going to use accessories compatible with Microsoft Flight Simulator X. While Flight Simulator 2020 is over the horizon (and is going to be compatible with most of these accessories), Flight X is the most well-known title, with the widest selection of add-ons available.
Let’s start with the...
First things first, you are going to need a way to control your plane in the air. You are going to need a control stick, to be more precise. Luckily for you, this is the most common accessory of them all, with a surplus of options.
Since we are going for realism, let´s use a replica from a real plane´s stick: The Thrustmaster Warthog HOTAS, a copy of the control stick and throttle of the A-10 warthog.
With this beauty, you can control your plane´s movements with one hand and it´s acceleration with the other, almost like if you were flying a real war machine.
But maybe the stick isn’t your thing. They are mostly used in military planes, and you want to emulate civilian flight. No problem, you can buy a yoke like this one: The Saitek PRO.
It also comes with its throttle, so you don´t have to worry about buying an additional one.
With these gadgets, you can now control your plane in the air, or almost, you are still missing the…
Pedals are used to control the rudder of the plane, which handles the yaw. No true plane is complete without them, but most joysticks setups opt to ignore them, as a HOTAS is usually all that you need to fly the plane.
But, we are trying to recreate a real cockpit as much as possible, so we are going to take the rudders into account. To control them, let´s keep using the Thrustmaster set of pedals, to keep in with the set.
With these add-ons installed, you can turn the rudder´s direction by pressing on each pedal.
All right, now that we can keep our aircraft in the air reasonably well, it’s time to look at the other flight instruments. The ones that tell us if we are not currently flying upside down and/or towards the ground.
Now, you must be thinking, surely there can´t be that many physical instruments available on the market, right? All the screens, monitors, switches, and buttons are simulated in the virtual cockpit of the flight sim, after all.
Well, that’s where you are wrong. You can buy pretty much every little panel and button that you see down here. All thanks to the Saitek Instrument Panel.
These little LED cubes can display any of 15 flight indicators available, including altimeter, airspeed, heading and many more. Thanks to the buttons and knobs that each panel has, they are fully operational.
Of course, the downside is that if you want to simulate a real plane, you´ll need to buy at least 15 of these little cubes. But we are not done, you will also need the Saitek Multi Panel:
This device lets you operate the autopilot, flaps, and pitch; while showing you your altitude and a variety of other indicators.
With all these panels, you have a plethora of information on how your plane is doing, but not much in the way of actually controlling it. This is where the Switch Panel comes in:
With its levers and fifteen switches, there is little reason to touch your keyboard and mouse when playing the flight sim.
With all the previous instruments, you have all the information you could need out of your plane and the means to control every aspect of your flight, but there is still one crucial part missing, the radio:
Yes, the radio. No, it will not let you listen to music from your local station. This radio will let you change frequencies inside your simulated, virtual plane. This saves you from the grueling task of zooming in on the cockpit to read a bunch of numbers out loud.
You are now as decked out as you can be. A real cockpit has nothing to envy you, except maybe your sense of tidiness. To recap, you should have at least fifteen flight panels, a radio, a switch panel, a multi-panel, a joystick (or a yoke) with a throttle and some pedals all strewn in front of your desktop.
To prevent that mess from looking …well, like a mess, you need to buy another panel to put them all in, like this one:
Or you can forgo having to buy each accessory individually and opt for a built-in cockpit-like this one:
You have all the instruments that a real pilot would also have access to, but let´s not stop the immersion there, let’s go further by acquiring a...
Sure, you might have everything you need, but you are still dependent on the mouse to look around your virtual cockpit. Do you think real pilots have a mouse next to their instrument panel? No! And neither should you!
You can buy the TrackIR 5. This is a gadget that you put over your monitor and around your headset to track the movement of your head.
With it, the camera will follow your gaze without you having to touch the mouse or the keyboard.
Combine this little gadget with all the previously mentioned flight instruments, and you have an almost identical flying experience compared to real life, the only thing you are missing is the g-force and a sweet...
The final piece that ties the cockpit together, literally, is the chair. You will need a special station to mount all your newly acquired gadgets. Your old desk isn´t likely to cut it. So, you can buy one of these the Next Level Racing Flight Simulator Cockpit:
Which has metal stands to put all your new gadgets in place.
However, you might already have a pretty good chair that you don´t want to part with. In that case, consider acquiring this Wheel Stand Pro to put everything in place:
Of course, there is another alternative, a premium chair made only for the most avid of fans. The Predator Thronos. This monster of a throne racks an impressive bill of 20.000 dollars. It doesn´t have space for all the gadgets, but it will make you feel like you are flying a spaceship. Probably because it looks like it was ripped straight out of Star Wars.
Side note, if you can afford this monstrosity, maybe you are better off walking to your local flight school and buying one of their actual flight simulators instead. It will cost around the same (or even less), and you will not have to buy all the other accessories on this list.
And finally, after all that, the only thing missing is a…
Because by now you have spent more than a thousand dollars to turn your computer into a makeshift airplane. You have nothing to envy from real captains, so might as well dress the part.
As you can see, it is possible to recreate a real cockpit using gaming accessories and add-ons. It is not a cheap endeavor, but doing so will net you the most realistic flying experience short of actually flying a plane.
As a bonus, most of these accessories work on MSF 2020. Read about it here!