Flying a plane is the dream. Oftentimes it is an actual dream, where you are flying a jet in a completely new country, thinking how amazing it is that you are in control of this aircraft - then you wake up in your bed.
It’s always a sad moment. But what if you could make this dream come true, just not in a way where you’d have to undergo years of training and qualifications?
VR flight simulators are the next best thing! With realistic controls, airports, weather, and interactions, you can experience what it’s truly like to be in control of a plane.
The VR provides you with a 3D view of the cockpit and its control panel, and everything to do with the plane is in your hands. If this sounds like an experience you want to take on, take a look at our list of the best VR flight simulators!
Just as a side-note - To get the best out of your VR flight experience, you might want to invest in a joystick to make sure the controls work correctly.
OUR TOP PICK
Release: November 2017
The Aerofly FS2 game is an improved version of AeroflyFS, originally released in 2012. The original game was always praised for its realism and variety of its scenes. Now, Aerofly FS2 has one-upped it - and in VR mode it is outstanding.
The VR works with multiple headsets, including the sought-after Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, although it is recommended that you play this game seated when you are in VR mode.
This game gives you the option to fly 22 different aircrafts, all of which have interactive and highly detailed 3D cockpits that truly come to life when you are using the VR.
The view mode options also allow you to experience your flying dreams in whatever perspective you wish, and they all make it feel as if you are in that plane.
If you find that you are struggling with learning the flying controls, Aerofly FS2 has an interactive flight school that helps you to learn the basics. If you are looking for a well-rounded and visually stunning VR experience, check out Aerofly 2 Flight Simulator!
- Allows you to fly 22 aircrafts - If you happen to get tired of flying one particular aircraft, you can easily switch it to another one.
- Works on multiple VR headsets - The VR compatibility means that no matter what headset you own, you should be able to connect it to the simulator.
- Good loading time - The software doesn't take a long time to load which means that you can get started with your simulation as soon as possible!
- Good performance - Most of the users have commented on how smooth the performance is and that there is very little stutter.
- Need at least 35GB of available space - You won’t be able to download the simulator without at least 35GB of space on your console or PC, which is quite a large amount.
- Lack of depth - Some users have said that although the aircrafts’ depths are well-thought-out and the 3D element makes it very realistic, the world itself can seem quite ‘flat’.
Developer: Laminar Research
Release: March 2017
X-Plane 11 is, of course, the 11th version of the X-Plane simulator. Praised for its intuitive user interface in VR mode, it has received massive critical acclaim, with wired.com calling it ‘ridiculously detailed’.
In VR mode, you can access 3D cockpits and 3D sound effects, as well as ‘living’ airports (with people moving around and other planes taking off, etc.) and beautiful scenery from all around the world.
The realistic simulator is keeping it modern with improved effects for lighting, sounds, and explosions, and the VR buttons are sensitive and responsive.
One of the biggest perks with X-Plane 11, however, is that it can be played either seated or standing - something that most of the other simulators are unable to do.
- Can play either seated or standing - Get into your VR pilot mode however you feel comfortable, it’s always nice to have the option of seated or standing!
- Amazing graphics - The game runs smoothly at 1080p with the beautiful surroundings in clear focus.
- Little load time - It doesn’t take long to get your simulation started in VR as it loads very quickly.
- Flight simulation focused - X-Plane 11 is perfect for people who are very invested in flight simulation itself, as opposed to a game where you can fly a plane as a bonus to combat situations.
- Extra fees - You may have to pay extra for plugins, which often come with a monthly fee - especially if you want to get access to certain planes.
- Takes some time to understand it - You may also have to do some research before you start the simulator as some users have said it is a bit confusing initially.
Developer: Frontier Developments
Release: December 2014
If you are looking for an out-of-this-world flight simulator - and yes, we mean that literally - then Elite: Dangerous is the right choice for you.
As opposed to the other VR simulators which are based on earth, this one allows you to explore the Milky Way in different types of spaceships.
This original game gives you an evolving narrative, which allows you to have some progression the more skilled you become.
This means that the simulator will create a different and varied simulation experience depending on how well you do, making it more interesting to play.
- Lots of progression - You will have many chances to achieve different skills, knowledge, etc., and progress far in the game, preventing it from becoming boring.
- Multiplayer option - If you feel that you aren’t having as much fun flying by yourself, you can keep it interesting by interacting with others.
- Set in space - Having a VR experience set in the Milky Way isn’t something you see very often in simulators, and it provides you with a 3D view of something you will have never been able to witness in person.
- Takes time to learn the controls - Some users have said that learning how to fly the spaceships can be fairly time-consuming, which can reduce some of the excitement about using the simulator.
Developer: Asobo Studio
Release: August 2020
Microsoft Flight Simulator is considered to be a classic in the flight simulation industry. This new edition has improved on the original with newer aircrafts (including the VoloCity and the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet), discovery flights (such as Helsinki and Singapore), and 14 new tutorials to help improve your gameplay.
The seated VR simulator is highly interactive and the realistic graphics make the live traffic, real-time weather, and active animals all the more thrilling. This game is so detailed, you’ll even be able to find your street and house in 3D.
What’s more, the VR simulator can now even get a bit terrifying if you are flying in bad weather conditions - your aircraft will start to shake and you’ll have to navigate your way around any danger.
If you are looking for a dedicated VR flight simulator where you fully feel like you are in control of a jet with realistic instrumentation, then download this simulator now!
- Real-time features - This simulator uses the actual weather conditions that different areas are experiencing at that point in time, and the weather appears in great detail instead of jarringly switching between a blue sky and a gray sky. This adds to the realism of the VR simulator, and makes it one of the first simulators to do this!
- Good graphics - The VR cockpit, airports, and landscapes are hyper-realistic, making you feel as though you are actually in control of a plane.
- Interactive and highlighted instrument guidance and checklist - If you struggle with learning all of the accurately-depicted flying controls, you will be able to have some guidance to help you get to grips with it quickly.
- Can get repetitive - Some users have found that because there is no progression or challenges involved in the simulation, that the flying can get quite repetitive. However, this is also a very good thing for those players who are simply looking for a simulator to just fly a plane and nothing else.
- Need 150GB available space - You need to have a lot of space available on your PC/console to be able to download and play this simulator, a lot more than is required for all of the other simulators.
Developer: Gaijin Entertainment
Release: December 2016
Recommended to be played using an Oculus Rift headset, War Thunder is a seated flight simulation game that also doubles as a combat/action experience. It can be played in single-player or multiplayer, and its cross-platform gameplay supports almost all consoles (including Windows PC, PS4, and Xbox One).
You will have a choice of 2000 aircrafts and other vehicles to fly and control, and these models are as historically accurate as you can get - the developer made sure to use surviving sources to establish what the World War II aircrafts would have been like.
War Thunder offers a lot of progression in the game as you can explore 100 maps, as well as partake in campaigns and solo missions. This keeps the flight simulator interesting!
When it is played with an Oculus Rift, you will have a 360 head-tracked immersive experience with the 3D cockpits fully coming to life.
If you have ever wanted to know what combat flying is truly like, check out War Thunder in VR now.
- Options for difficulty in arcade, realistic and simulator modes - You can choose how tough you want your flying and combat levels to be, depending on how new you are to the game and how quickly you progress.
- Versatility - With so many choices of aircraft and other vehicles, including fighter planes and helicopters, you will never get bored with your VR flying experience.
- Compatibility - it can be played on many different PCs and consoles, and it is actively designed to be compatible with the Oculus Rift which means that the interactivity in VR will be seamless.
- Requires a lot of effort to progress - Some users have said that you need to spend a lot of time on the game to make any sort of progression in terms of achievements, particularly beyond the fourth level.
- In-game purchases - Although War Thunder is free, there are quite a few things you may have to spend money on as in-game purchases, particularly if you want to buy certain aircrafts or want to progress in the game faster.
Best VR Flight Simulator Buying Guide
Deciding on the right VR flight simulator can be difficult as there are so many factors to consider, including compatibility with certain VR platforms and realism. Take a look at this handy buyer’s guide to help you decide which simulator is right for you.
Graphics are important for VR content, but it can be quite difficult to find what will work best on your PC/console. If the graphics are ‘too’ good and clear, for example, it can make the simulator laggy because it is struggling to keep up with processing the images.
Some users have found this is the case with the Microsoft Flight Simulator because the VR environment is so detailed - particularly with the terrain level of detail - that it affects the image processing speed.
However, you do still want the graphics to be clear and accurate, otherwise, it will take away from the realism of the simulation.
It’s a difficult line to toe! Check your CPU and consider what graphics card you have/whether you should get one, to run the hyper-realistic flight simulators (if that is the type of simulator you are after).
How close it is to reality
Realism is always important in VR - that is why it is called Virtual Reality. However, some flight simulators do excel much more in how realistic their environment and flying experience is in VR - X-Plane 11 and Microsoft Flight Simulator being two of them.
You do truly feel as though you are in a real cockpit, with the real controls, controlling an actual plane with the living world beneath you.
But this can also impact your enjoyment of the simulator, particularly if your focus is on entertainment more than realism. Other simulators such as War Thunder and Elite: Dangerous create a story and progression within the simulation, trying to give you exciting gameplay.
For this to happen, they often make the controls simpler so that you can get into the action faster. While this does take away from some of the realism of flying, it adds to the entertainment factor.
So, before you buy a flight simulator, have a think about what you would like to have a focus on - entertainment or realism.
This is a smaller thing to consider, but still worthwhile all the same. As we’ve already discussed, the image processing speed and FPS (frame rate) will be impacted in VR depending on how detailed the flight simulation is, affecting the gameplay.
Another thing the detail level will affect is the loading time. Some users have found that they can spend quite a while waiting for their VR simulator to load because their PC/console isn’t used to that level of detail.
If you know that this might be a problem for your console, pick a simulator that takes less processing time and requires less RAM - such as the Aerofly 2 Flight Simulator.
The VR platform is probably the most important thing to consider when looking at VR flight simulators. You will want to find a simulator that is compatible with the headset you already have, whether that is a standalone or tethered set, otherwise you won’t be able to interact with the environment properly.
The easiest brand to pair with any of these flight simulators seems to be Oculus, particularly the Oculus Rift, and most of these simulators will work fine with this. However, if you have a different VR headset, check beforehand which flight sim can run on it!
All of these simulators are going to require a certain amount of storage available on your console/PC to be able to download and play them.
The average amount of storage needed is between 25-35GB, which is still a large amount - however, some of them will need a lot more, especially Microsoft Flight Simulator which requires 150GB!
You will definitely want to consider this when shopping around for a flight simulator because you don’t want to be left unable to play your game after you’ve already bought it.
Frequently Asked Questions
What can you do with a VR simulator?
A VR simulator allows you to encounter different environments, interactions, and experiences without having to physically be in those situations.
For example, with a flight simulator, your VR experience will be sitting in a cockpit in a plane and using the controls to fly a realistic-looking interior of a plane. You can learn what the controls in a plane are and choose what flight journeys you want to take, then fly those journeys.
Where can you buy a VR flight simulator?
There are multiple places you can buy a VR flight simulator, but the most accessible place will most likely be on Steam (an online video game digital distribution service).
Getting a flight simulator from an online service means that you can start playing the game instantly, rather than waiting for a physical copy to arrive in the post.
As well as this, Steam also lets you know which flight simulator games are VR compatible, so you will know before you purchase a simulator whether you’ll be able to connect it to your headset.