Best Combat Flight Simulators for Your Personal Computer
What is a flight simulator or "flight sim"? While it's a video game, it is also so much more. A flight simulator resembles the cockpit of an aircraft and shows computer-generated images of what would be a pilot's view.
With so many flight sim options these days, it can be hard to decide what flight simulator, combat sim, or flying games to buy. You certainly can't always rely on advertisements. You can, however, rely on my opinion. I have nothing to gain by reviewing and recommending what I consider to be the best value flight simulators available for a PC (personal computer). Here I go over:
- Strike Fighters 2
- IL-2 Sturmovik
- Flaming Cliffs 2
- Flaming Cliffs 3
- DCS Black Shark
- DCS Black Shark 2
- DCS A-10C Warthog
- DCS World 2.0
- Rise of Flight
- IL-2 Cliffs of Dover
- Wings of Prey
- Falcon BMS
. . . And some expansion packs.
Strike Fighters 2
Strike Fighters 2 (SF2) and its expansions cover a vast period of time and give access to the best planes on both sides of some major conflicts in recent history.
Who Programs and Designs Strike Fighters 2
This small team (Thirdwire) actually deserves more publicity, so please check them out. They are supported by a wonderful community of "modders" that create everything from scenery, planes, and entire campaigns.
Can We Expect Future Updates of Strike Fighters 2
Strike Fighters is no longer being updated, and if you have Windows 10 you are out of luck as it is not compatible.
Expansions for Strike Fighters 2
SF2 Expansion Pack 1
- Mission Editor
- 1956 Campaign set in Cold War Europe
- All 3 original campaigns updated with new aircraft
- Lightning F.1/2/3/6
- Hunter F.1/2/4/5
- F-100A/C Super Sabre
- Yak-23 (AI only)
- Canberra B.2/6 (AI only)
If you have Strike Fighters 2 merged:
- Lightning F.53 (player flyable)
- Canberra Mk.20 (AI only)
If you have Strike Fighters 2 Expansion Pack 1 merged:
- MiG-15 (AI only)
- Additional skins for C-47 and Spitfires
- Meteor F.8 and Mystere IV units in 1956 Campaign
Also, stop the press! Because TK and the team at Third Wire have just released the awaited F-14 based Strike Fighters 2 North Atlantic Combat Flight Simulator. I have not had time to buy or play this one yet, but judging from the feedback in the official forums, it's going to be pretty popular.
Player Flyable Aircraft in Expansion Packs
SF2 North Atlantic
- F-14A Tomcat
- A-7E Corsair II
- F-100D Super Sabre
- A-4B/C/E/F Skyhawk
- F-4B/C/D/E/J Phantom II
- F-100D Super Sabre
- F-105D Thunderchief
- F-4B/C/D/E/J Phantom II
- F-8C/D/E/H/J Crusader
- A-4C/E/F Skyhawk
- A-7A/B/C/D/E Corsair II
- A-7D Corsair II
- A-10A Thunderbolt II
- F-100D Super Sabre
- F-105D Thunderchief
- F-4C/D/E/F/M Phantom II
- F-15A Eagle
- Harrier GR.1/3
- Hunter F.6/FGA.9
- A-4E/F/H Ahit
- F-4E Kurnass
- F-15A Baz
- F-16A Netz
- Kfir C1/C2
- Mirage IIICJ Shahak
SF2 Expansion Pack 1
- Mystère IVA
- Meteor F.8
- P-51D Mustang
This one is huge! With IL-2 Sturmovik, we'll go back a few years into World War II and some planes that never left the prototype stage. The game is almost entirely propellor-driven planes, with a few early jet and rocket examples. Its sequels—Forgotten Battles Ace Expansion Pack, Pacific Fighters, and 1946—all contain 347 aircraft, with over 250 of them flyable ones.
Why I Love IL-2 Sturmovik
The best thing about this sim is that even though it's an oldie, the community has kept it alive through mods and new campaigns. The number of planes keeps increasing with new maps all the time.
Some of the biggest mods are truly works of art. It would be a crime not to look at Ultrapack, Dark Blue World, and HSFX. These not only add new planes, campaigns, and maps, but they can also dramatically improve the slightly aging graphics—beyond all imagination!
You can mod in a smaller way by visiting "Mission4today" and registering. There, you'll find patches, many user-generated missions, and even full story scripted campaigns.
Where Can You Buy IL-2 Sturmovik?
Where can you get it? While it may sound like it's going to cost a fortune, you can purchase it from STEAM for under 10 euros! Or, if you need the security of a physical disk rather than a digital download, try Amazon.
This truly is one of the greatest flight simulators you can buy for your money.
IL-2 Sturmovik: Great Battles Add-Ons
More and more add ons are being created and integrated with this amazing combat flight sim including Battle of Bodenplatte, Kuban, Flying Circus for you WWI lovers and the Battle of Britain soon to come. They have even created a tank warfare DLC. There is something for everyone!
More recently, the creators of WWI simulator Rise of Flight released IL-2 Battle of Stalingrad, closely followed by the Battle of Moscow. Cheap they are not, but the value represented is amazing!
Graphically, this is s stunning title. What I love about IL-2 Sturmovik: Great Battles is that it caters to newer players as much as the hardcore simmer crowd. There is a robust and lively multiplayer element as well.
Planes Available in IL-2 Sturmovik
As you might expect from the titles, there are predominantly German and Russian planes offered. Air to ground and air to air are both represented and a full mission editor is included in the deal.
The campaigns are simply brilliant in my opinion. There are so many small details that show a real love of the genre and the history of these battles. Truly a next-generation combat flight simulation, you owe it to yourself to jump headfirst into this great sim.
Below are some brand new, up-to-date, modern sims!
Lock On Flaming Cliffs 2, DCS Black Shark, DCS Black Shark 2, and DCS A-10C Warthog
DCS and Eagle Dynamics are the new ones to watch out for in the world of combat flight simulators.
DCS and Eagle Dynamics
These are somewhat more "hardcore" sims — as in they are going to take a lot of time to master. However, they both have an easier arcade mode to get you going. Also, graphically, they are absolutely astonishing! Both are so much more worth your money than certain other sims.
Over the past couple of years, we have also tried DCS Black Shark, DCS Black Shark 2, and Lock-on Flaming Cliffs 2.
DCS Black Shark and DCS Black Shark 2
Black Shark covers helicopter warfare from the Russian perspective and lets you fly the Kamov KA-50 attack helicopter. It's rough, tough, low, and slow, but this thing handles like no other! Black Shark 2 is also now available, improving on the original in every way.
Flaming Cliffs 2
Flaming Cliffs 2 gives you access to the A-10 Warthog (one of my favorites), the F-15 Eagle, Su-27, Su-33, Su-25, Su-25T, MiG-29 and MiG-29S. A10-C is the third sim available right now—it is an extremely accurate simulation of the latest generation A-10.
Flaming Cliffs 3
Flaming Cliffs 3 is Flaming Cliffs 2 improved in every way possible. However, this also comes at a premium cost to those who have tried every version.
Flaming Cliffs 3 is now no longer a stand-alone simulator. Rather, it has been fully integrated into the DCS world. It's a full combat simulation that allows control of land and air assets, and is also in a multi-player facet! Is it worth the expense? I think so.
DCS World 2.0
DCS World is the latest update to the DCS series and there is a lot to cover! Think of it as a DCS hub of sorts, where all the DCS modules integrate. Also available is the Nevada test range, adding hundreds more square miles to the game.
Add to this additional mission and campaign modules and you really do have a lifetime of flying to absorb yourself in.
How Much Does DCS World Cost?
The DCS World 1.5 edition is free and includes the Su-25T and TF-51D aircraft and a huge swathe of Georgia to fly around and blow stuff up in. That said, this is really quite hardcore, especially the additional modules.
At around $50, the modules are not cheap. Perhaps best to pick one or two and really learn to fly the plane and understand the systems.
What Aircraft Eras Can You Fly?
There are different generations of warplane and helicopter here, representing the 1940's right up until modern-day aircraft.
Rise of Flight
Rise of Flight is all about old school WWI bi- and tri-planes and also contains amazing damage models and graphics. There's also a feeling of really flying that many other sims are lacking.
Best Things About Rise of Flight
Best of all, there is a "free to play" model in place now, so you can try it before you buy it. They have recently added a career mode, field mods (think new sights, and so forth), and you can buy and add on as many or extra planes as you wish, or none at all.
What You Need to Know About Rise of Flight
You do need to invest some serious time to get the most out of this sim, and, of course, a fairly powerful PC. I would also recommend a decent joystick with a throttle. I personally use a Saitek X52, which is available from Amazon.
The multiplayer version is vibrant but somewhat hardcore. A lot of practice is needed before venturing into the online battlefields.
IL-2 Cliffs of Dover
IL-2 Cliffs of Dover, or CLOD for short from here on in. Where to start with CLOD? Well, it's a Battle of Britain era sim, raging across the southeast part of Britain—across the channel and into Northern France. You get to fly from both sides of this epic battle.
Controversy Around CLOD
This is was a controversial title at launch. The game was released in a completely unfinished state and few if any PCs were strong enough at the time to get more than 10 frames per second, rendering the game unplayable to most folk. However, with much thanks and gratitude to the community this game has gotten a whole new lease of life. A recent patch made CLOD Windows 10 compatible and the guys over at ATAG (the air tactical assault group) have released no less than four community patches that completely and utterly re-invigorated the game and made it a firm favorite of mine.
How Much Does CLOD Cost?
It's cheap enough, available on Steam. With the free community patches and even re-written campaigns, this combat simulator finally deserves a place in every armchair pilots library!
Wings of Prey
Wings of Prey is a flight simulator set in various theaters in World War II. This is the PC version of IL-2 Sturmovik "Birds of Prey."
Planes You Can Fly in Wings of Prey
In terms of the plans you can fly, there are the usual suspects, and some slightly more unusual ones as well. The campaign takes you from the White Cliffs of Dover to the Mediterranean, into Russia, and then through the invasion of Germany. This means that you get the pick of the best planes the Allies had throughout the war.
Best Parts of Wings of Prey
It has an "Arcade" mode, which gives you unlimited ammo, which makes it easier to shoot stuff. It also doesn't punish you with blackouts or redouts. There are a couple of other settings, so you can tinker with it and get the set up just right for your experience.
You also get a number of planes to crash and burn with and get shot down in. So, it's not a case of "Oh, bugger. I got shot down 25 minutes into a mission and now I have to start again." Unless of course, you want it to be, in which case, go for the simulator setting!
Wow! Talk about value for money. Falcon BMS is a free add on to the existing Falcon 4 combat flight simulator. Graphically, this one is amazing, it has a great illusion of speed, and is it chock full of complicated flight systems to learn!
Remember, the people making free add-ons are the heroes of the community, doing so much and asking nothing in return!
The only thing to bear in mind is you will need the original Falcon 4 to play.
Thanks for reading! There is a lot of (hopefully) useful information here, and I try my best to keep it regularly updated.
Please remember to support the people who make the magic. Flight simulators are not as popular as they used to be. I accept that. However, if those of us who like to fly support the right people, then flight simulator production can continue.
What I have done in this article is to give my opinion on who to support, who not to support, and why they do or don't deserve it.
Please make sure your money goes to the people intent on keeping our hobby alive. Regardless, I hope you enjoyed my opinion on the best combat flight simulators!