When it comes to living out impossible fantasies, there are few game genres quite as successful as the flight simulator.
Most of us will never get to fly an aircraft in real life, but thanks to flight simulators, we can get a taste of what it would be like to climb into the cockpit of an aeroplane or a helicopter and soar through the skies.
Whether your personal taste is more realistic or fantastical, there’s bound to be a flight sim out there for you. Here are the top 20 flight simulator games on PC!
1. Microsoft Flight Simulator
It doesn’t get much better than Microsoft Flight Simulator when it comes to great PC flight simulators. The game is named in a pretty definitive way, after all; this is very much “the” flight simulator, and that’s what it feels like when you play it.
Microsoft Flight Simulator boasts incredible verisimilitude, gorgeous graphics, and an incredible level of detail in terms of both the aircraft you can pilot and the landscapes over which you can pilot them.
2. Aerofly FS 4 Flight Simulator
If, for some reason, Microsoft Flight Simulator doesn’t float your boat (or, indeed, your aircraft), then perhaps IPACS’ Aerofly FS 4 will do the trick instead. It promises more than 10,000 real-world flights in a “photorealistic world”.
The game features realistic physics, detailed cockpits, and a time skip feature to allow you to jump between key moments in a flight, so no matter what your personal flight preference might be, Aerofly FS 4 has you covered.
3. Microsoft Flight Simulator X
Prior to the advent of the newest Microsoft Flight Simulator title, Microsoft Flight Simulator X was arguably the cream of the crop, and it remains available on Steam to this day.
If your PC isn’t quite mighty enough to run the newest Flight Simulator, then this might be the perfect game for you; it has less impressive visuals, but it can still provide a serene yet exciting flight sim experience.
4. Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown
Granted, Ace Combat 7 doesn’t quite offer the relaxing, calming experience that typical flight simulators can offer, but if you need a little more excitement with your flight sims, this is the game for you.
It’s got a rich (albeit somewhat melodramatic) narrative, sharp controls, and plenty of missions to take on, as well as “photorealistic” visuals and a host of great DLC to check out.
5. War Thunder
The beauty of War Thunder is that you don’t just have access to airborne vehicles; you can also take part in ground skirmishes if you prefer. Still, it’s fair to say that many players love War Thunder for its excellent air combat.
A range of aircraft are available for you to try out, and you can even upgrade your favourite plane, picking and choosing from different components until you’ve assembled a machine that even the best pilots would be proud to fly.
6. Kerbal Space Program
Hear us out. We know that Kerbal Space Program isn’t a traditional flight simulator; the clue is right there in the name, after all. Still, this is a great game if you’ve ever wanted to tinker with rockets.
You can build a rocket and send Kerbals up to space in it, but beware: assembling the rocket with anything other than perfect precision will cause it to fail in a disastrous (and hilarious) way.
7. X-Plane 11
In 2017, when X-Plane 11 was released, it was touted as “the future of flight simulation” by developer Laminar Research. That claim is harder to prop up now, but this is still a great option for flight sim fans.
The visuals are crisp and sharp, especially by 2017 standards, and you’ll find a range of options to tweak so that you can build the flight experience you want.
8. X-Plane 12
Surprise! There’s another X-Plane game in town, and although it seems to have some issues in terms of graphical compatibility, it’s an excellent flight sim that iterates on its predecessor.
Make sure you’ve got a beefy computer if you want to run this one, though, as an old laptop isn’t going to cut it; you’re going to want a top-of-the-range desktop.
9. Project Wingman
Here’s another one for the Ace Combat fans out there. Project Wingman is a fun combat-oriented flight sim with realistic controls and an intriguing enough narrative to follow.
It’s not going to win any awards for its writing (and, indeed, it didn’t when it was released in 2020), but it’s fun nonetheless, and it even comes with a roguelike mode for added replayability.
If visuals aren’t too much of a concern for you and you don’t mind a small graphical downgrade, then GeoFS is a game you should definitely check out.
This is an especially great option if you’re running less powerful hardware, because GeoFS is a flight simulator that can be played entirely from your web browser.
11. Infinite Flight
Designed for iPad, iPhone, and other mobile devices (including Android!), Infinite Flight is the last word in mobile flight simulators. It really doesn’t get much better than this for on-the-go play.
With various viewing angles available from which to watch the high-quality flight action, Infinite Flight should satisfy the armchair pilot in you, and you can play it in your armchair too!
12. IL-2 Sturmovik
The latest run of IL-2 Sturmovik titles tackle various great World War II theatres of war, including Moscow, Stalingrad, and Normandy.
You’ll find excellent combat flight simulators among these titles, but be aware that they are a little dry, so if you’re after the melodrama that comes with games like Ace Combat, it’s best to search elsewhere.
Virtual reality and flight simulators are absolutely a match made in heaven, and such proves to be the case with the excellent FlyInside.
This is a great flight simulator that really should be experienced in VR; it’s possible to play it outside of a virtual reality environment, but you’re going to get your money’s worth with the goggles on here.
Unlike Microsoft Flight Simulator and many other commercially available flight sims, FlightGear is an open-source project, which means anyone can crack it open and take a look at its code.
Despite being open-source, FlightGear doesn’t skimp on detail; this is a flight sim for the enthusiast rather than the amateur or the novice, so you should probably look elsewhere if you’re completely new to the genre.
15. The Falconeer
Okay, so The Falconeer is a flight sim with a difference, but it should still be experienced by fans of the genre; it’s a fun little game with a solid narrative, even if it doesn’t quite reach the lofty heights of its peers.
You must pilot your warbird around a series of environments, shooting down enemies and learning the history of the world in which you’re flying as you play.
16. Arma 3
In its quest to be one of the most realistic soldier simulators out there, Arma 3 allows you to pilot military aircraft, so we’re counting it as a flight simulator.
It doesn’t have the same level of depth and complexity as many dedicated flight sims do, but considering it packs in a solid ground warfare experience too, we’ll forgive it that little oversight!
17. Star Wars: Squadrons
Who among us can say that they have never fantasised about flying a spacecraft in Star Wars? Many games have allowed you to do so, but none with quite the aplomb of Star Wars: Squadrons.
To put it simply, this is the definitive Star Wars spaceflight experience, and while it might be a little rough in places, there’s no feeling quite like taking part in a massive astral dogfight behind the controls of an X-wing.
18. Take On Helicopters
From the developer of the Arma series comes this helicopter sim, an entry into a genre that we think is criminally underpopulated. This game even takes place in the same universe as Arma!
Campaign aside, there’s plenty to love about Take On Helicopters, including its realistic helicopter physics, range of different vehicles, and real-world terrain simulation.
YSFlight bills itself as “the only free flight simulator where anything is possible”, and it certainly does offer a huge range of freedom in terms of how you approach its gameplay.
This is definitely not quite as sharp-looking a flight sim as others, but it’s completely free, so it feels somewhat churlish to complain when you’re not having to pay a penny for what is still a very high-quality experience.
20. Grand Theft Auto Online
Finally, we’re ending our list with a little bit of fun. Grand Theft Auto Online obviously isn’t aiming for the hardcore simulator crowd, but hey – you can pilot planes in it!
Naturally, most players will tend towards the planes with serious firepower, but if you want, you can grab a plane and simply soar over GTA Online’s world, watching the petty concerns of the people beneath you melt away.