Don't make my mistake, buy cheap Flight Simulator gear this Black Friday

Maverick in the cockpit of a jet in Microsoft Flight Simulator
(Image credit: Microsoft)

With Black Friday in full swing, it can be very tempting to invest in your hobbies – I just bought a pair of cycling gloves and 96 toilet rolls. But when it comes to Flight Simulator, if you’ve only recently got into the game, there is a way to do Black Friday right and a way to do it wrong. I learned the hard way.

Do not, I repeat, do not buy an expensive flight stick. They’re getting some pretty significant discounts at the moment, there's a whole set of Thrustmaster peripherals, including some of the best Microsoft Flight Simulator peripherals, that are seeing hundreds knocked off their retail price, so I know it’s tempting. When a top-shelf yoke, throttle quadrant, and a set of pedals can cost you an arm and a leg in normal times, seeing them at 20% off or more can be all it takes to push someone to make the jump. Resist that urge.

If you want your first set of Microsoft Flight Simulator peripherals, you should buy the cheapest gear. It will be plasticky to the touch, have dead zones for days, and the buttons will stick a bit when you push them in, but I promise you this is the sensible investment.

In cockpit view of Microsoft Flight Simulator

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Full throttle

As a newcomer in a game like Microsoft Flight Simulator or Elite Dangerous, you will quickly be butting up against the frustrating limits of playing with a mouse and keyboard or even a gamepad. These are vehicles that require and reward fine motor control. Not only that, but to really get into the pilot fantasy, you want to have your hands on the tools of the cockpit.

And, I don’t want to do that down at all; I love playing games like Ace Combat 7 with a HOTAS flight stick and throttle – it lets me pull off maneuvers that are nigh on impossible with a mouse and keyboard. I think moving to specialized peripherals is a good idea if you enjoy flight games.

So if you know you like a game, why not get the best version of the controller that will improve it?

For one simple reason: you might not like it.

A flight simulator setup

(Image credit: Future)

I am the embarrassed owner of a Logitech Saitek Pro flight yoke and throttle quadrant and a Thrustmaster Pendular Rudder. This very expensive, very bulky set of flight sim gear gives you exceptionally fine control of your aircraft in Microsoft Flight Simulator. I thought it would deepen my enjoyment of the game. I didn’t realize my enjoyment of the game was contentedly shallow. So, now I have some very expensive kit sitting in a cupboard, covered in dust.

It’s not that they weren’t fun to use, but they were always a hassle to set up, and I wasn’t playing Microsoft Flight Simulator so often that it justified the desk space they took up. It turns out I was much happier to make do with a gamepad.

I’ve since got a much cheaper (much more portable) Thrustmaster joystick and throttle that lets me feel like a pilot in a way that fits my enjoyment of the game. A part-time pilot.

What I would recommend if you’re starting out with this hobby is that you start by buying a cheap flight stick first, something you won’t regret buying if your love for Microsoft Flight Simulator or Elite Dangerous turns out to be limited. And then, when Black Friday hits (and the deals will be better anyway) that’s when you pick up the more premium gear.

US deals

PXN-USB Flight Simulation Stick:

PXN-USB Flight Simulation Stick: $49.99 at Amazon
This cheap and cheerful joystick doesn't have the bells and whistles of more expensive gear but it's a fine starting piece. You can guiltlessly replace it down the line if you want something better.

Thrustmaster T.Flight HOTAS 4:Was $89.99now $58.99 at Amazon Save $30

Thrustmaster T.Flight HOTAS 4: Was $89.99 now $58.99 at Amazon 
Save $30 - If you're not looking for something as comprehensive as the FCS Flight Pack, this is an excellent entry point to Flight Sim peripherals. If you enjoy using it, expect to upgrade in the not-too-distant future. If you don't, well, you didn't drop $400 on a hobby that didn't take off.

UK deals

Thrustmaster T16000M FCS - Joystick for PC: Was £59.99 now £39.99 at AmazonSave £20

Thrustmaster T16000M FCS - Joystick for PC: Was £59.99 now £39.99 at Amazon
Save £20 - If you're a keen Elite Dangerous gamer, then one of the best ways you can improve your game is by investing in a joystick. The Thrustmaster T16000M FCS is an entry-level joystick in the grand scheme of things, but it's a fantastic start to the hobby.

Thrustmaster T.Flight Hotas 4 - Joystick and Throttle for PS5 / PS4 / PC: was £69.99 now £49.98 at AmazonSave £20

Thrustmaster T.Flight Hotas 4 - Joystick and Throttle for PS5 / PS4 / PC: was £69.99 now £49.98 at Amazon
Save £20 - We've not seen this Hotas set go any cheaper than this. If you're looking to up your game when it comes to flight combat, then this is a great entry-level joystick and throttle.

The better equipment is always out there ready for when you know you’ll really appreciate it. During this period of frantic cost cutting, even for budding pilots, the best approach is to try to stay grounded.

Julian Benson
Contributor, TechRadar Gaming

Julian's been writing about video games for more than a decade. In that time, he's always been drawn to the strange intersections between gaming and the real world, like when he interviewed a NASA scientist who had become a Space Pope in EVE Online,  or when he traveled to Ukraine to interview game developers involved in the 2014 revolution, or that time he tore his trousers while playing Just Dance with a developer.