Your home simulator setup can be as simple or as complex as you want. For example, you might start with nothing more than a laptop and a joystick. Then, as you progress further in your training or find that you enjoy the flight sim, you might add more monitors or realistic controls.
Home simulator setups run the gamut from nothing obvious to a room turned into an Airbus cockpit. The questions you need to answer about your simming are how far you want to go, how much you want to spend, and what you want to accomplish.
At a minimum, you’ll want a laptop computer with a simple stick controller. At the most, you’ll want a gaming PC, multiple monitors, yoke flight control with throttle quadrant, rudder pedals, and a desk area or stand to place them all.
Making a Simulator for Flight Training and Home Study
For the moment, let’s say that your interest is to help you study for your private pilot certificate.
What sort of simulator setup do you need? Flying at the private pilot level is about fundamental and foundational flying skills, so setting up a 747-8 cockpit isn’t very helpful.
For use while studying, the best choice is a middle-of-the-road flight simulator system.
The most important parts are the computer and monitor, the controls (yoke, throttle, and rudder), and any extras you might like.
While a home flight simulator can be beneficial during your flight training, it certainly doesn’t replace flight time.
Basic Home Simulator Setup
When building your system, focus on the plane you fly and how you can recreate the important parts at home. The four basic hardware components of your simulator system include the following:
- Computer and monitors
- Flight controllers
- Extra peripherals, like switch panels or tablets
- A place to set it all up
Computer and Monitors for Flight Simulators
Computing power is about which simulator program you want to run and how hard you will push it. More networked flying and integrations will need even more processing power.
Many people sim from laptops, and most Windows and Mac operating system computers will suffice. If your computer is on the lower end of the performance scale, consider trying X-Plane since it has lower overall system requirements.
Either way, compare the flight sim’s recommended performance numbers with what your computer can do.
A Windows machine is your only choice for flying Microsoft Flight Simulator, but it also enables you to choose X-Plane as well. Check out our comparison of what are the best flight simulators for all the details on the two programs.
Mac users will want to pay special attention when purchasing controls, as some are not officially supported. Many users have luck getting them to work in X-Plane, of course. Just search the internet forums for tips and tricks.
The hardest thing to overcome is figuring out how to look out the plane’s window. With just one monitor, you can’t turn your head and look out the side or the back windows. Doing so requires a keyboard shortcut or the hat controller on your yoke.
Adding more monitors can help, but it will always be a limitation of home setups. VR headsets are a new option that could make this task much easier.
When it comes to monitors, you need to see the panel, but only to the extent you need to maintain an airspeed or hold an altitude and heading.
More important is the view of the world outside through the windscreen. Can you view the horizon and the plane’s cowling? A large monitor or two means you can organize the cockpit view adequately to see everything you need while still being able to read the instruments and controls.
Flight Controls – Yokes, Sticks, and Rudder Pedals
The next step in setting up your home flight simulator is the flight controls. The motor control of flying is accomplished with flight controls. You need your hands in the correct positions, with motions that mimic what happens in the plane.
To aid your flight training, focus on recreating the aircraft experience as closely as possible. What trainer are you flying? If you’re in a Cessna or Piper, find a good quality yoke and rudder pedals. If you’re flying a Diamond, Cirrus, or Sport Cruiser, consider getting a nice stick controller in place of the yoke.
Rudder pedals are next on the list. Yes, most simulator programs can couple the rudder to the yoke, so you don’t need pedals. But this reinforces bad habits and lazy feet. So rudder pedals are the next most important part of the home flight sim setup.
Finally, a throttle and mixture control are very helpful. The throttle quadrant doesn’t need to look exactly like the one in your plane–the differences between a push-pull style and a sliding lever aren’t great. But having a physical control–and not using the mouse or keyboard–is a big upgrade to the flight sim experience.
In our next article, we will look at some of the major brands making hardware and the <link>best flight simulator controls</link> for your home setup.
Switches and Extras
What’s left? Many flight school training devices have realistic switch panels, radio controls, and autopilot modules. These are optional for home setups, especially for private pilot flying. If you get into simming or want to get your instrument rating, you may want to upgrade later.
Being able to set up your cockpit and fly real approaches is so much easier with the ability to dial in radios and fixes!
But most commercial yokes and throttle quadrants have plenty of programmable buttons that you can set up however you wish.
This can be handy for tasks you do often in the cockpit. It won’t be like flying a real plane, but it works. Another solution is adding a touchscreen for your flight simulator to display your instrument panel.
If you have a tablet or iPad, you can integrate its capabilities into your home flight sim setup.
For example, the Remote Flight apps work with iPads and Microsoft Flight Simulator to give you various add-on capabilities. They use the power of the tablet touchscreen to mimic many parts of the cockpit, like the glass cockpit PFD (primary flight display), MFD (multifunction display), steam gauges, or the radio stack. Y
ou can also add iPhones with other apps to give you smaller controls, like autopilots, HSIs, and NAV/COM radios.
Another fun extra to consider is the use of your real-world planning routines. Foreflight can connects with your flight simulator to make the experience more real.
You can use the app to provide charts and planning information without any work. But Foreflight supports Microsoft Flight Simulator and X-Plane, and once connected, it will simulate your position and function just like it would in the plane. For more information on getting Flight Simulator to work with your iPad, check out this tutorial.
These are a few examples of how you might want to use a tablet or phone with your flight simulator to get more capabilities. Browse the app store and flight sim forums, and you will likely discover many more.
Setting Up a Space to Sim
Lastly, as you plan your home simulator, give some consideration to where you’ll set it up. If you’re just a laptop and joystick, you can go anywhere. However, you might have to get more creative if you want a dedicated space. It may require a new table or its own corner of your office space.
It’s easier if you’ve got a desk where you can leave the controls setup–you’ll find you’re more likely to use it more often if you can just sit down and load it up. The more complex you make the setup, the more likely you are to leave it up all the time anyway.
Another option is to purchase a simulation chair or mount. These metal platforms hold your controls and allow you to store them separately. Their complexity ranges from stands for the controls to entire cockpit frames with seats. If you want a complete setup, think about one with monitor mounts.
Many of these stands are built for race car simulators, but they can usually be adapted to flight simulator setups.
Home Flight Simulators for Training Wrap Up
The perfect setup for a student would include a capable computer and a large (27-inch or better) monitor. This would be mounted on a flat desk, with room to clamp a yoke and throttle quadrant in front of the main display.
An office chair is perfect, so long as there is room for pedals on the floor. And that’s it, the start of the perfect home simulator setup.
Building a home flight simulator can get out of hand quickly. But commercially available sticks and yokes can provide an authentic experience for only a few hundred dollars.
Until you’re ready for that, a simple flight stick with built-in throttle and rudder controls, paired with your laptop, can suffice to get you started.
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Brian is an experienced digital marketer who joined Thrust Flight in 2022 as the Chief Marketing Officer. He discovered a passion for aviation at 10 when he went for his first flight in a Piper Cherokee and enjoys helping others discover a career path as a professional pilot. He is an experienced marketing consultant helping brands with a variety of marketing initiatives. Brian received a bachelor’s degree in Communications from Brigham Young University.