Best joystick: The top flightsticks for your home cockpit

1. Thrustmaster Warthog

Price £280
Manufacturer Thrustmaster
Separate throttle Yes
Programmable buttons 22 (5 on stick, 17 on throttle)
Hat switches 4x 8-way (3 on stick, 1 on throttle) 2x 4-way (1 on stick, 1 on throttle)
Z-axis rotation No

Thrustmaster Warthog

Simply the finest HOTAS setup around

When a controller turns up that makes the Saitek X-55 Rhino look like a budget option, you know you've got something rather special on your hands. Well, in your hands anyway. And that is exactly what Thrustmaster's beautiful HOTAS Warthog has done.

We got all excited when we first pulled the X-55 from its packaging, loving the action of the throttle and the weight of the two controllers. But that was nothing compared to unboxing the Warthog.

It may be some £120 more expensive, but you can feel every extra penny in terms of the materials and build quality alone.

We admit, we have a bit of a crush on this fantastically-priced flightstick/throttle combo, and that's only grown from using it in-game. There's also the fact that anyone who passed by the testing setup felt utterly compelled to lay hands on the throttle and give it a push.

And their reaction? Without exception it's been an almost post-orgasmic sigh.

The action on that throttle is beautiful, and if you don't agree you can tailor it to your liking using the on-the-fly resistance adjustment. There isn't the same adjustment available to the joystick itself though (points to the Saitek X-55 Rhino for providing different resistance via the replaceable springs), but that doesn't really matter because it moves reliably and smoothly in all angles of attack.

There is one thing missing from the Warthog's joystick, and that's the Z-axis rotation.

The X-55 has a twist axis in the joystick that allows you to use it as the yaw/rudder control – with the Warthog you have to assign that elsewhere.

There's a host of different toggle, rotational, hat and three-way switches to make up for that slight shortfall in operation. There's even a little analog joystick on the front of the throttle that makes a good rudder control.

This lack of functionality is all down to the basis for the Warthog's design – namely the titular aircraft upon whose controls this stick has been based. It's incredibly faithful, and hence there is no twist to the stick.

Weight of expectation

The difference in weight between the Thrustmaster Warthog and the X-55 Rhino is incredible. That's all thanks to the sheer amount metal Thrustmaster has used in the construction of both throttle and stick; it might well have you reinforcing your desk, if not the floor it sits on.

It feels mightily robust, and has the build quality to match.

The reason we're likening it to the Saitek X-55 Rhino is simple: that is the best of the rest of the flightstick brigade and is a good way ahead of its competition. But it's definitely playing second fiddle to the Thrustmaster Warthog.

The X-55 Rhino is a close approximation of the Warthog; in fact, it's almost as if their designers were sitting side-by-side at the drawing board.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but the X-55 has clearly been made for those who want a serious flight-controller but can't stretch to the incredibly high price of the Thrustmaster.

If you can afford the HOTAS Warthog, you shouldn't think twice about grabbing it. While the X-55 is a very close second, the Thrustmaster setup is simply the very best flightstick and throttle you can buy for your gaming PC.

Verdict 4.5/5

2. Saitek X-55 Rhino H.O.T.A.S.

Price £170
Manufacturer Saitek
Separate throttle Yes
Programmable buttons 18 (6 on stick, 12 on throttle)
Hat-switches 5x 8-way (3 on stick, 2 on throttle)
Z-axis rotation Yes

Saitek X-55 Rhino

A very close second place for the Saitek setup

This is a serious flight controller and a close second to the Thrustmaster Warthog. Forget sniggering at the H.O.T.A.S. acronym (hands-on throttle and stick), this is a proper bit of kit and no mistake. And it should be because it costs around £170, which is a huge amount of cash to spend on a peripheral – particularly a niche controller.

The X-55 Rhino comes as a pair of separate units for throttle and stick, which means you need a couple of spare USB ports to house them both. But you don't even need to plug it in to get a feel for the quality.

The motion in the throttle alone had all who came in contact with it erupt into spontaneous Alan Partridge 'nice action' impressions. It's not quite as luxurious as the mighty Warthog, but it's not far off.

That action can be tightened up on the fly too, with a twist mechanism to allow you to loosen or tighten its movements as you wish. The stick can be adjusted as well, but it needs a bit more effort as you have to remove the shaft and replace the spring with one of the three others it ships with.

It also comes with a twist-grip to allow for yaw control and more buttons and hat switches than your Cobra Mk III has level 4 hard points.

Are you feeling slightly overwhelmed by all that? Well, the throttle controller is even more festooned.

There are four toggle switches, four up/down flick switches, four rotary switches, three standard buttons and even a wee thumb-activated joystick.

It's obviously been designed to rival the Thrustmaster Warthog and comes in at a lower price point, but the lack of weight and solidity in comparison is notable. The X-55 Rhino joystick is still a serious bit of PC kit and is beautifully made to boot. We likey.

Verdict 4/5

3. CH Products Fighterstick/Pro Throttle

Price £250 (£125 each)
Manufacturer CH Products
Separate throttle Yes
Programmable buttons 6 (3 on stick, 3 on throttle)
Hat switches 6x 4-way (3 on stick, 3 on throttle) 2x 8-way (1 on stick, 1 on throttle)
Z-axis rotation No

CH Products Fighterstick/Pro Throttle

Chunky and expensive, but very old school

Sit back a little and take in the rival HOTAS (hands-on throttle and stick) flight setups on this page. Now, without looking at the prices, which one's the expensive one?

Now check the prices. Yeah, weird, huh? This basic-looking setup from CH Products is designed first and foremost for the hardcore sim crowd – here in the UK it's sold by Excalibur Publishing, yes, of Citybus Simulator Munich fame.

That example's a little unfair though, it also ships the excellent DCS: Black Shark and Rise of Flight. Both are incredibly detailed simulations and these peripherals are designed for such titles and not for aesthetics.

The Fighterstick is probably the best of the two CH Product peripherals, offering more range of movement to the stick than any of the others in the test, and therefore providing the ability to make more fine corrections to movement.

Great for piloting Boeing 747s, maybe not necessary for a Star Citizen Hornet.

The Pro Throttle, though, is a little disappointing.

Functionally it works well, and where some of the buttons on the X-55 got flicked accidentally when throwing its throttle up and down, there's nothing in the way on this setup.

The sadness lies in the linear travel of the throttle itself – the Warthog, X-55 and Black Widow have a curved travel, which gives you an idea where you are in the scale without looking.

As effective as the combination is in use, and as many functional buttons and hat switches as it has, there's no Z-axis and it's almost £100 more than the excellent X-55.

No contest, really.

Verdict 3.5/5

4. Saitek Pacific AV8R

Price £40
Manufacturer Saitek
Separate throttle No
Programmable buttons 8 (4 on stick, 4 on base)
Hat switches 1x 4-way
Z-axis rotation Yes

Saitek Pacific AV8R

An oldy, but still a goodie

Many years ago, Saitek's classic AV8R stick landed on our desks. It is still a great controller today, as well as being a versatile and decently priced option.

It's a pretty straightforward design, with a very plain grip – the only issue with that is there's no palm rest at the base of the shaft to take the strain off your grasp.

The big thing, though, is that the AV8R has got the desirable twist to the stick itself, which allows you to correct your craft's yaw without having to search for the requisite keys.

It seemed like a gimmick when Microsoft introduced it with its original Sidewinder stick, but we miss it when we're using a stick without it. The other must-have is the hat switch – it's perfectly positioned under the thumb making it ideal for all your lateral/vertical thrust fun.

The throttle is mounted to the fore of the base and has enough resistance to make it feel accurate in-game.

One of the most impressive features of this budget stick is the number of configurable buttons. Facing you on the base are four flick-buttons, each offering two functions, and there are three profiles effectively tripling the configurable base buttons

Verdict 4/5

Price £23
Manufacturer Speedlink
Separate throttle Yes
Buttons 8 (4 on stick, 4 on throttle)
Hat switches 1x 4-way (on stick)
Z-axis rotation No

Speedlink Black Widow

A bargain joystick and throttle setup

So for less than a tenner more than Speedlink's own Dark Tornado you can pick up a stick in the shape of the Black Widow.

This has far more functionality and feels like a more effective way to spend your cash. That wasn't our impression when we lifted it from its packaging, we admit. Those fat Minstrels buttons on the chunky base don't exactly squeal 'quality!'

It's certainly no looker.

But in terms of performance – especially for the incredible price – it's a great little stick.

Having that distinct throttle attachment feels a lot more intuitive than the base-mounted approach of the Dark Tornado or AV8R. The actual stick itself is really nicely designed, with a palm rest for the lazy or endurance pilot, a thumb button and hat switch atop the shaft.

My main issue with it is that the primary fire button is thin and doesn't feel that good in a hectic firefight.

The other problem is that there is no twist-grip Z-axis, but this is not a huge issue as the rocker buttons on the front of the throttle piece control the Z-axis.

Verdict 4/5

Price £15
Manufacturer Speedlink
Separate throttle No
Buttons 8
Hat switches No
Z-axis rotation No

Speedlink Dark Tornado

Just a little too budget...

As much as we want to say that a budget flightstick will give you a decent level of gaming immersion, there is a level below which you should not go.

Sadly the Dark Tornado sits below that line.

The stick itself is nicely ergonomic and comfortable in the hand, and the suction cups mean it can remain pretty stationary on your desktop without too much slip in a hectic dogfight.

The Dark Tornado also comes with throttle control in its base and a full eight buttons you can configure to your heart's content.

But it's not quite enough, at least not in our Elite: Dangerous testing suite… oh the trials of having to test flightsticks…

Anyways, while the throttle control is vital, there are two more components that are sorely missing from the Dark Tornado's specs – namely at least one hat switch for lateral and vertical thrust vectors, and Z-axis control.

Without these two additions, a solitary dogfight can last for hours of frustrating pew-pew as you and your prey loop-the-loop through the galaxy.

The Dark Tornado's buttons also feel pretty cheap and flimsy, which means the stick wears that low, low price very much on its sleeve.

Verdict 2.5/5