What Is the Best Flight Simulator?

Flight simulators continue to evolve rapidly. This article will look at five of the best flight simulators you can have at home at a reasonable price.

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There are a lot of mindblowing aspects of aviation, but perhaps one of the greatest is the rapid  innovation the industry saw following the first flight in Kitty Hawk in 1903. Just 66 years later, less than an average person’s lifespan, we were landing on the moon. Now, through similar rapid developments in digital technology, pilots of all skill levels can experience flight from the comfort of their own home.  

A home flight simulator is much more than a video game — it’s a program and corresponding equipment that can truly educate pilots and provide a realistic  piloting experience without leaving the ground. 

Virtual reality advancements have allowed flight sims to become even more immersive, but a standard desktop pilot training flight simulator still offers plenty of valuable experience … and fun!

Let’s take a look at five of the best flight sims for training at home. 

Quicklook: Best Flight Simulators

  • Best for all-round features: Microsoft Flight Simulator 2021
  • Best mix of usability and realistic features: X-Plane 12
  • Best for professionals with limited download space: Aerofly FS 2
  • Best viable flight simulator: Infinite Flight (IOS – Android)
  • Best for techies willing to wait for upgrades: FlyInside

5 Best Flight Sim Options

Here is a look at the 5 best options for flight simulation programs you can have in your home. 

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2021

Users of the current iteration of Microsoft Flight Simulator describe it as “breathtaking” and “unbelievable.” Fly around more than 24,000 destinations, and pilot anything from small helicopters to the biggest jets in the world, all with a competitive price tag.

Users have the ability to customize controls, from the simplest functions to the most complex. Use the program to simply control speed and pitch, or activate a fully-immersive experience with advanced flight controls and instrumentation.

It’s worth noting that while this is the most current edition, Microsoft announced in June 2023 that a new version of Flight Simulator would be released in 2024 with some exciting new features. As of May 2024, no formal release date has been made public, so keep enjoying the 2021 version for now.

Best for: All-round features

System Requirements: 

  • CPU:Intel i5-4460, Ryzen 3 1200
  • RAM: 8 GB
  • OS: Windows 10 64-bit
  • Video card: NVIDIA GTX 1050 Ti
  • Pixel shader: 5.1
  • Vertex shader: 5.1
  • Dedicated video RAM: 2 GB
  • Storage: 150 GB

Controls: Controls are not included. Keyboard and mouse can be used, but aren’t recommended if you’d like to enjoy the total plane simulator experience.

Memory: 42.4 GB (online); 59.7 GB (offline)

Special Features

  • Unmatched graphics
  • One of the first PC flight simulators (dating back to 80s)
  • Maps made from aerial photography (you can fly to your house!)
  • 35 aircraft choices

X-Plane 12

X-Plane 12 is certainly keeping Microsoft honest, and this iteration of their flight simulator program is quite fantastic as well. It has beginner to expert features, and can be used by kids just getting an interest in flight, or professionals wanting to test their IFR skills. Fly to 13,000 airports around the globe in one of (some for a fee) thousands of aircraft. 

Best for: Enthusiasts looking for a nice mix of usability and realistic features

System Requirements:

  • CPU: Intel Core i3, i5, or i7 CPU with 2 or more cores, or AMD equivalent. (Dual-core CPUs slower than 3 GHz should try the demo before purchasing.)
  • Memory: 8 GB RAM
  • Video card: a DirectX 11-capable video card from NVIDIA, AMD or Intel with at least 1 GB VRAM

Controls: Controls not included; many compatible options are available.

Memory: 73.6 GB

Special Features

  • Some airplanes are outfitted with Garmin G1000 integrated flight deck simulated interface
  • IFR flight options on all aircraft
  • VR compatible (Oculus, HTC, WMR)
  • Thousands of add-on aircraft

Aerofly FS 2

Aerofly FS 2 is a simulator that offers a lot of the same features as Microsoft, just on a much smaller scale. Aerofly FS 2 supports virtual reality, has realistic features including wind effects and accurate stall and spin simulations, and can be used on your phone or tablet, making it a very versatile option for people on the go.

There aren’t as many maps nor aircraft as some of the other options on this list, but that also means a much smaller download size, at approximately 2.6 GB.  

Best for: Professionals with limited download space

System Requirements:

  • CPU speed: Intel Dual core CPU 2.4 GHz
  • RAM: 4 GB
  • OS: 64 bit versions of Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 10
  • Video card: OpenGL 3.0 compatible 3D graphic card with at least 1 GB of RAM
  • Pixel shader: 4.0
  • Vertex shader: 4.0
  • Sound card: DirectX compatible sound card
  • FreE DISK SPACE: 35 GB
  • Dedicated video RAM: 1 GB

Controls: None included, compatible with most PC controls. VR doesn’t require new controls.

Memory: 2.6 GB

Special Features

  • Mobile version available (compatible with VR)
  • Small download size (shouldn’t slow down your PC)
  • Flight school in a Cessna 172

Infinite Flight

This simulator is fully mobile (i.e. an app for your phone or tablet) but doesn’t lose all that much compared to the much larger PC-based programs. It’s available on iOS and Android devices, and has a wide range of aircraft, a surprisingly large number of maps for a mobile app, customizable conditions, and multiple skill levels, including IFR. 

Best for: People who want a viable flight simulator at their fingertips at all times

System Requirements: Android 7.0 or newer; iOS 10 or newer

Controls: No controls – all either touch screen or via VR controls

Memory: 106.1 MB

Special Features

  •  Fully mobile
  •  Surprisingly immersive (for being mobile)
  •  Very inexpensive entry options; layered pricing after that

Pricing: Like most apps, there is a base price for Infinite Flight ($4.99) and then a ton of other options. You can pay monthly for the PRO version to try it out, but it’s cheaper if you pay for a full year.

FlyInside

FlyInside was one of the first simulator programs created with VR in mind. It does work on a PC screen, but to get everything out of it, having a VR setup is almost a requirement for users of FlyInside. The program is already wildly immersive, with surround sound and full visibility features not available on programs that don’t utilize VR.

There are only about 10 aircraft available at present, and a limited number of maps, but they are creating more on a rolling basis.  

Best for: Tech heads willing to wait for upgrades

System Requirements: 

  • Requires a 64 bit processor and operating system
  • OS: Windows 7
  • Processor: Intel i5 or equivalent
  • Memory: 8 GB RAM
  • Graphics: DirectX 11.1 compatible GPU
  • DirectX: Version 11
  • Storage: 16 GB available space

Controls: Not included; uses VR controllers or added controls for PC

Memory: Minimum of 16 GB

Special Features

  • VR ready
  • Customizable controls (e.g., make a keyboard button your pitch control)
  • Frequent upgrades and updates

Pricing: Currently it’s only $35 for the program but is expected to increase as more features get added and tweaked

What Is a Flight Simulator?

Generally personal computer-based, a flight simulator is any device that recreates the environment of flying an aircraft. The very basic flight simulators aren’t recommended as training tools, but someone who has never been in a light airplane would still learn a few things from playing around with an entry-level simulator. 

More immersive simulators include motion, and can mimic how an aircraft would react to things like turbulence, changes in wind direction and air density, visibility issues, and night operations. The top-of-the line pilot simulator training technologies can even receive a designation from the FAA and provide official training for aspiring pilots, all the way up to commercial. 

How Do Flight Simulators Work?

All flight simulators use a screen that acts as your window to the digital landscape, some form of a yoke (this can be as simple as a video game joystick controller, or a device designed specifically for use with flight simulators), and an audio interface to mimic environmental noise and communication with the faux air traffic control teams. 

Higher-end simulators, like the ones with which you can log actual flight time according to the FAA, may include a mechanism to simulate motion, and the extremely immersive models can pitch across all axes. This list will stick to the simulators that are more suited to have at your home, however. 

What To Consider With Flight Simulators

Here’s what to look for when deciding which flight simulator to set up in your home. You should also consider the level of fun versus practicality, as some of these simulators are for Boeing 747s or fighter jets, which aren’t aircraft most people reading this will be flying in real life… but it’s fun to simulate! 

System Requirements

With new evolutions in what flight simulators can offer, the system requirements of your PC may also have to evolve. Before buying a simulator, be sure that your home computer can support its functions. 

Controls

Akin to system requirements, some simulators require additional equipment such as a yoke or headset, so if you have a tight budget, be sure you’re considering everything that is required by a given simulator. 

Memory Needed

If you want a simulator that is the most realistic, or one that provides the most unique maps (some companies are working towards allowing simulator pilots to see the entire world via their sim), you may need a lot of memory on your computer. 

This is kind of a system requirement, as well, but additional memory can be added to your current machine if needed. 

Simulator Versions

Some simulators require frequent updates, so if you’re someone who likes to settle into your ways, you may want to consider a simulator with less-frequent updates. 

On the other side of the cockpit, you might be someone who wants all the updates all the time, and reaching for a simulator that frequently releases new versions may be a better option for you. 

Pricing

Pricing varies greatly, and in most instances the adage, “You get what you pay for” is pretty accurate when discussing flight simulators. The five we chose range between ~$35 and ~$200 for the program itself, but there are also controllers to consider, and downloadable content like new aircraft or airport locales to explore. 

Flight Simulator Controls

Home flight simulator controls are designed to provide the most immersive, authentic experience possible without having to actually go anywhere.

Some of the most popular types used to elevate the realism of simulated flights include:

  • Yokes or joysticks: These replicate the aircraft's control columns or joysticks, allowing you to control the pitch, roll, and yaw movements of the aircraft.
  • Throttle quadrants: Mimicking the aircraft's throttle levers, these units enable you to control the engine power.
  • Rudder pedals: Control rudder movements for yaw control and coordinated turns with foot pedal accessories.

If you’re looking for some recommendations, check out our picks for the best flight simulator rudder pedals and the best HOTAS flight stick options.

The Real Deal

Flight simulation continues to evolve, and with advances in virtual reality, some of these simulators are incredibly realistic. If you’ve ever thought about trying out an at-home flight simulator, regardless of budget there are options that allow you to fly all over the world without leaving the comfort of your living room. 

FAQ

What flight simulators do pilots use?

Some flight simulators are realistic enough that the FAA allows them to be used for loggable training. These simulators can be either FTD (flight training device), ATD (aviation training device) or FFS (full flight simulator) as approved by the FAA. None of the at-home simulators on this list carry an FAA approval for logging flight time.

Is a flight simulator good for beginners?

Flight simulators serve a lot of purposes, and one is introduction to aviation. Most at-home flight simulators have beginner settings, making them great for beginners, indeed.

What is a good reason to use a flight simulator?

First and foremost: fun! Flight simulators are enjoyable experiences, and have a lot of realistic aspects… but if you make a mistake you won’t owe anyone tens of thousands of dollars, either!

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