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Awesome Combat Flight Cockpit for Cheap

J. Kunkel Beidermeyer "Spazmo"
The list author says: "You want the best possible combat flight sim experience, but you're not wiling to spend thousands of dollars, endless hours, or sacrifice your relationship with your loved ones, am I right? Here's what I did - it takes a little elbow grease to pull it together, but not nearly as much as you think. And remember, cheap is a relative term, all told, you're going to spend a couple hundred bucks to get the best sim experience. If you own a computer already you can build a great sim pit for under $200.

I'm assuming you have a mid-range Windows computer running XP - so lets talk about populating your new cockpit (or desk if you didn't build one). Most flight sims don't require much more than a mid-range machine to run. Microsoft Flight Sim X requires a more robust machine, but it's the exception to the rule.

You can use your desktop or you can do what I did: build a PACS (http://rogerdodger.net/diyflightsims/pacs.html) - the plans were about $33, and it took all of one weekend to pull together (and under $200 including the plans). The plans are really complete, with materials lists and step-by-step photos. It was easy. (Hey, check out the homemade flight sim featured at the National Airline History Museum: http://www.rogerdodger.net/ahm/flightsim.html.)

You'll need some controls, which is what this list is about: A HOTAS Joystick (HOTAS means "Hands On Throttle & Stick"), and some rudders. Later, you can sexy up your project with other add ons like a TrackIR head tracker, and other neat gadgets (more on that below).

As for sim titles, I've listed a few below, but there are plenty of others out there. Explore!"
Saitek X52 Flight Control System
Saitek X52 Flight Control System
"This is a solid HOTAS joystick. It's well supported, and usually you can find joystick profiles for most sims (meaning, you don't have to do all the set up yourself). There is a PRO version of this, but I didn't like it as much. And the pro version costs twice as much!"
Logitech Flight System G940 Force Feedback Joystick
Logitech Flight System G940 Force Feedback Joystick
"I have no direct experience with the G940, but despite the high price tag, it does have a lot of things going for it - notably, force feedback - something unique to this product. It comes with rudders."
Thrustmaster MFD Cougar Pack Flight Control Panels
Thrustmaster MFD Cougar Pack Flight Control Panels
"I have waited years for a product like this - these will really sexy up your jet fighter cockpit. Although the screens are just frames for pictures, the buttons on the displays really work and light up. I suspect that if you are the handy sort, you could mount an eight inch monitor behind one for a super realistic display."
CH Products Pro Pedals USB Flight Simulator Pedals ( 300-111 )
CH Products Pro Pedals USB Flight Simulator Pedals ( 300-111 )
"Rudders add a lot to the flight experience. They make flying easier and help get your opponent into your gun sights. I use CH Pro Pedals (USB), and think the world of them, They are sturdy, stable, and are easy to setup. I recommend them."
Saitek Pro Flight Rudder Pedals
Saitek Pro Flight Rudder Pedals
"Another option are Saitek Pro Flight Rudders. While I tend to use Saitek HOTAS sticks, I decided not go with these because I had read many mixed reviews about them. Some people love them, some people hate them."
TrackIr 5 Premium Head Tracking for Gaming
TrackIr 5 Premium Head Tracking for Gaming
"Using a small infrared camera that tracks the motion of your head, you can look around your cockpit without resorting to using keystrokes or a mouse. Essential gear, this really makes the game seem real. A list of compatible games can be found here: http://www.naturalpoint.com/trackir/03-enhanced-games/enhanced-games-all.html There are demo videos on Youtube.com - have a look!"
Logitech Trackman Marble Mouse
Logitech Trackman Marble Mouse
"Why a trackball? Well, you're going to have to navigate the software's menus to get your sim started. If you built a PACS cockpit, the marble mouse is slim enough to fit behind your joystick, making it easy to navigate the menus, and out of the way when you're actually in the air."
Wings Over Europe: Cold War Gone Hot - PC
Wings Over Europe: Cold War Gone Hot - PC
"The Wings Over Series are great for the entry level flight sim enthusiast, although I would recommend going to Thirdwire.com and purchasing their direct downloads: the Wings Over series evolved into the Strike Fighters 2 series."
Wings Over Vietnam
Wings Over Vietnam
"Another "Wings Over" title (an updated version available from Thirdwire as Strike Fighters 2 Vietnam). I play this one a lot. It's worth noting that Thirdwire also produces First Eagles, a fantastic WWI biplane simulator. I recommend that too."
Falcon 4.0: Allied Force - PC
Falcon 4.0: Allied Force - PC
"While the previous sims listed are fun, for super realism, Falcon is the one. Be warned, there is a steep learning curve on this one."
Crimson Skies (Jewel Case) - PC
Crimson Skies (Jewel Case) - PC
"Realistic? Hardly. Compatible with the TrackIR system? No. I'm including this title because it's just plain fun. A cross between aviation and 1940s pulp novels, it's a kick to play it. You'll feel like the Indiana Jones of the Sky. Even non-flight sim folks like this game. And it's cheap too."
Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator: WWII Europe Series - PC
Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator: WWII Europe Series - PC
"Microsoft, while not my absolute favorite company on earth, does produce some really solid flight sims. The combat Flight series is a little dated, but well worth playing. Occasionally you'll see these titles for ridiculously huge prices - don't fall for it - you shouldn't pay more that $10 for these ever."
Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator 2:  Pacific Theater - PC
Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator 2: Pacific Theater - PC
"The rule of ridiculous prices also applies here. (I've seen this title in Target in the bargain software section for $10) This title is not TrackIR compatible."
Combat Flight Simulator 3: Battle For Europe - PC
Combat Flight Simulator 3: Battle For Europe - PC
"This title is TOTALLY TrackIR compatible."
IL-2 Sturmovik: 1946 - PC
IL-2 Sturmovik: 1946 - PC
"Sturmovik covers aircraft from World War II, and includes some models that didn't go into production due to the end of the war. This is a great sim full of vintage planes."
Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004: A Century of Flight - PC
Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004: A Century of Flight - PC
"Not a combat sim, but very realistic. A great many planes to fly, including 9 historic models (like the Wright Flyer and the Spirit of St. Louis). One of the features is "The Learning Center," which acts as a sort of flight school; there are lessons available, and it also acts as a super help system. Which is great. Loads of add-ons available. I recommend Abacus.com"
Microsoft Flight Simulator X: Gold Edition
Microsoft Flight Simulator X: Gold Edition
"This is the latest Microsoft Flight Simulator - it is the leader in realistic flight simulators. However, you'll need a powerful computer to run it - check your specs! If your machine can andle it, this is the best non-combat sim going. Too many good features to list, loads of third party add on content is available."