At some point when we were kids, every one of us wanted to be a pilot. It’s debatable how these ambitions panned out in our adulthood. Some work in their dream profession, flying across the skies in airliners or serving their country as combat pilots. Others still mourn wasted opportunities while serving cheeseburger with fries at a fast-food restaurant. For the latter, we have a perfect solution to feel at least a bit like the person you always wanted to be – flight simulation video games.

The Best and Most Realistic Airplane Games

Jump into the cockpit of gigantic passenger planes or small and agile fighter jets in some of the best airplane games available on the market.

X-Plane 11

Developer/Publisher: Laminar Research
Release year: 1995, 2019 (latest version)
Genre: flight simulator

X-Plane 11 gives the player all the tools to create the flight simulator experience tailored to their needs.X-Plane 11 developers did a lot to make sure their product stood out on the market. The title is much less a game than a flight simulation toolkit, in which the player can construct their own aircraft and fly them across the sky.

The player’s initiative in creating a personal experience is heavily emphasized with a variety of tools offered to them within the game. These include aircraft design software, plugin interface, and more. The player can feel like an aircraft designer, constructor, and pilot at the same time. The flight model of X-Plane 11 deserves a special mention. Unlike other flight simulators, which determine the performance of the aircraft based on external data, this one uses the blade element theory to determine the capabilities of a player-designed plane based on its construction parts.

X-P11 has become a popular tool for designing aircraft and is used not only by the players wanting the most genuine experience but also by companies designing the aircraft, such as CarterCopter and Wingco. The simulator was met with positive reception and was highly recommended for the flight enthusiasts looking for the most life-like experience.

Key features
  • Build and pilot your own aircraft
  • Explore the possibilities of the expansion modules
  • Blade element theory puts a unique spin on the simulator’s flight model

Bomber Crew

Developer/Publisher: Runner Duck/Curve Digital
Release year: 2017
Genre: strategy

Bomber Crew throws the player into the hectic life of the crewmembers of a bomber airplane, which demands discipline and preparation to fight against the enemy. Bomber Crew could be compared to the management games available on Android and iOS devices, like Fallout: Shelter, in the sense of the saying “it takes a village to raise a baby”.

In BC the player controls the titular crew across various missions set during World War II. The player’s crew is made of members of various specialties: pilots, gunners, mechanics, etc. Selecting the best-qualified people for each position will be crucial to the success of the mission. The last thing the player needs is to fail after a successful raid because the inexperienced pilot couldn’t land the plane. After successful missions, the player’s crew can be upgraded and gain new skills.

It’s essential to keep the crew in top shape because managing the aircraft under enemy fire becomes harder with each mission. Not to mention, losing one crew member mid-battle means their position is left unattended, as the game features a permadeath system. In such situations, the player will have to make crucial decisions as to who should switch out the fallen crewmate, and that choice might decide on the success of the mission. Bomber Crew received positive reviews from the critics, who noted the strategic and management aspects of the game as it highest points.

Key features
  • Control the crew of a bomber plane throughout a series of WWII missions
  • Choose the best people for the job of gunners, engineers, pilots, etc.
  • Upgrade your crew’s skills to face greater challenges as the game progresses

IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover

Developer/Publisher: 1C: Maddox Games
Release year: 2011
Genre: combat flight simulator

A descendant of a legendary IL-2 series, Cliffs of Dover delivers excellent combat flight simulator gameplay that will satisfy veterans and not deter newcomers to the series. Cliffs of Dover is an expansion to a classic combat flight simulator IL-2: Sturmovik. In the game, the player sits behind the steers of various aircraft, including the titular IL-2 and Ju-87, the legendary “Stuka”.

Cliffs of Dover features a variety of modes the player can play. The single-player Career mode takes place during the eastern front campaign. The player can choose the type of aircraft they want to fly – fighter, attacker o bomber – and lead their character through the ranks by winning battles. Quick Mission mode allows the player to create custom combat scenarios. BoS also features a multiplayer mode, in which the player can cooperate or compete in various matches.

Like many other flight simulator titles, Cliffs of Dover features realistic flight mechanics. Each type of aircraft has been faithfully recreated down to the control mechanics, allowing the player to feel like a real World War II pilot. The weather conditions during the battle also play a significant part in the success of the mission – decreased visibility and strong winds can easily hinder even the best-planned attacks. IL-2: Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover was met with solid critical reception.

Key features
  • Take part in the greatest aerial battles on the Eastern Front of World War II
  • Fly different types of aircraft, from small and agile fighters, to slow but well-armed attackers and bombers
  • Engage other players in online combat through multiplayer mode

Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X.

Developer/Publisher: Ubisoft Kiev, Ubisoft
Release year: 2009
Genre: arcade combat flight

H.A.W.X. takes the player into the 21st-century aerial combat with a variety of available machines and fast-paced arcade gameplay. H.A.W.X. is a combat flight arcade game, developed by Ubisoft’s Kiev branch. The game shares the world with another title based on Tom Clancy’s books, Ghost Recon – Advanced Warfighter. In H.A.W.X. the player controls one of over fifty aircraft, engaging enemies in single and multiplayer missions.

The machines the player will get to fly are F-14, 16, and 22 Raptors, MiG-21 and 33, Su-25 and 27, and more. The single-player campaign is set in the near-future, when private military companies gained sizeable power over global warfare. Artemis, one of the PMCs decides to take the war into the global stage and attacks the United States of America. The player controls former USAF major David Crenshaw, who joins Artemis after his squadron is disbanded.

The multiplayer of Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. is divided into a cooperative mode, in which the players can carry out campaign missions together and deathmatch. In deathmatch, the choice of aircraft is limited, and the players need to level up in rank to unlock better machines. Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. received positive reviews, praising thrilling action and the maps of the game.

Key features
  • Experience the fast paced action of modern aerial combat
  • Fly in the best fighter aircraft in the world
  • Face other players in ranked multiplayer mode

Microsoft Flight Simulator X

Developer/Publisher: Dovetail Games
Release year: 2006
Genre: flight simulator

With it’s attention to detail, a decent roster of available aircraft and vast game world, Microsoft Flight Simulator X continues the traditions of one of the best flight simulator game series available on the market. Microsoft Flight Simulator is probably one of the most popular game series in the genre. The first installment was released in 1982, making the series older even than Windows itself. The series has been continued ever since then, and MFS X is the most recent released installment.

Microsoft Flight Simulator X

In MFS X can test their skills as a pilot of 18 different aircraft, from small one-engine planes to large airliners. Each plane type has unique controls – smaller aircraft have a more limited control scheme. At the same time, the airliners are full of various switches and interactive dashboard elements that the player will need to mind throughout long flights.

The tenth installment of the series adds a variety of new gameplay features, including Missions mode, which adds goals for the player to accomplish throughout the game. Clearing those goals rewards the player with various easter eggs and hidden prizes. Another new mechanic allows the player to become an Air Traffic Controller, adding a new layer of interactivity on the airport level. Microsoft Flight Simulator X received positive reviews from the critics, who noted the game’s improvements in graphics, realistic flight controls and the new missions mode.

Key features
  • The tenth installment of a classic flight simulation game
  • Fly 18 models of aircraft, visiting 28 cities across the world
  • Explore new possibilities with Missions and Air Traffic Control mode

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown

Developer/Publisher: Bandai Namco Studios, Bandai Namco Entertainment
Release year: 2019
Genre: combat flight simulator

The seventh installment of the classic series of combat flight simulators, Skies Unknown lives up to its predecessors legacy. Similarly to Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X., Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown focuses on fast-paced action rather than realistic flight simulation. The game’s story focuses on interfactional conflict in the fictional world of Strangeal. The player controls “Trigger”, a silent fighter pilot flying for one of the factions.

Throughout the game, the player will participate in a variety of missions focused on eliminating the enemy aerial or ground forces, using a variety of available aircraft. The planes at the player’s disposal are equipped with conventional air-to-ground and air-to-air missiles, as well as a special weapon, boosting the aircraft’s performance against aerial and ground units. Clearing the missions rewards the player with in-game currency. With it, the player can buy new aircraft and upgrade their statistics. Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown received positive critical reception, and was nominated to various industry awards, winning two for sound mixing.

Key features
  • A continuation of popular arcade combat flight series
  • Take flight in 28 models of aircraft
  • Earn in-game currency and spend it on upgrading your machine

DCS: A-10C Warthog

Developer/Publisher: Eagle Dynamics, The Fighting Collection
Release year: 2010
Genre: combat flight simulator

Digital Combat Simulator introduces another machine to the roster, in what is believed to be one of the best expansions for the title. DCS: A-10C Warthog is a combat flight simulation game that emphasizes realism above all else. Unlike many other titles from this genre, that tend to be lenient to the player’s mistakes, DCS is unyielding in punishing even the smallest error.

The player will have to pay close attention to all the sensors and monitors in the cockpit to manage the planes avionics, weapon systems, and more. For those who aren’t well versed in flight simulation games, Warthog offers an amateur-friendly “Game mode”. The game takes the player into the ever hot region of the Caucasus and the Black Sea, where they will have to fight against various aerial and ground dangers. Luckily, A-10C is equipped with weaponry able to take down an entire base, such as turrets, air-air and air-land missiles, bombs, etc.

During missions, the player will be able to command other units – aerial, ground, and naval – in realistic joint force operations. The game offers a multiplayer mode, in which the players can take on each other in aerial dogfights or cooperate to take down the enemy units. A-10C: Warthog was one of the best-reviewed expansions for Digital Combat Simulator, receiving praise for the highest level realism and challenging gameplay.

Key features
  • A highly realistic combat flight simulator
  • Fly the plane and command support units in a variety of mission scenarios
  • Team up with other players or take the dogfight to them in the multiplayer mode

Falcon 4.0

Developer/Publisher: MicroProse Alameda, Hasbro Interactive
Release year: 1998
Genre: combat flight simulator

Take the controls of one of the most popular combat aircraft in history, the F-16, in this classic title from Hasbro Interactive. Falcon 4.0 is one of these games that managed to thrive not only because it’s an excellent game, with realistic mechanics, and various gameplay modes, but also thanks to the player support. Due to the source code leak in 2000, the players were able to tinker with the game, adding new features and polishing it. Over 20 years after its release, Falcon 4.0 is still supported by a dedicated group of fans.

The gameplay mechanics of Falcon 4.0 emphasize realism. The player begins the game by playing through 30 training missions, that familiarize them with the mechanics of flying a combat aircraft, from avionics to weapons systems, and protocols of United States Air Force. The game features a system of rewards: after a successful mission, the player can be promoted to a higher rank. Conversely, poor performance or failed mission might lead to demotion or even court martialing.

After wrapping up the training, they can play the campaign mode, Tactical Engagement single mission mode and Instant Action mode, which throws the player against waves of enemy aircraft. The campaign mode of Falcon 4.0 is an interesting one. The player can participate both in linear campaign missions as well as dynamic ones that change with the player’s actions during combat. The plot of the game is set in the 1990s, and prominently features the conflict between North and South Korea. At the time of release Falcon 4.0 was met with overwhelmingly positive reception, and won several awards, including Macworld’s Bet Flight Simulation of 1999.

Key features
  • Fly the legendary F-16 Fighting Falcon
  • Take on the enemy forces in a variety of game modes
  • Emphasized realism makes you feel like a true USAF combat pilot

Dystoria

Developer/Publisher: Tr-Coastal Games, Hound Picked Games
Release year: 2017
Genre: arcade shooter

Dystoria blends the 80s retro aesthetic with an intriguing six-axis gameplay mechanics, making for a unique offer for the fans of unorthodox indie titles. The plot of the game is similar to that in the Last Starfighter – a classic 80s sci-fi movie. The player is chosen for their astonishing skills with the joystick to defend the planet from alien invaders.

Taking control of their spacecraft, the player will have to face the aliens on the grid-like battlefield, where danger can come from any direction. The gameplay of Dystoria focuses on traversing the game’s levels using one of several available aircraft and defeating enemies along the way. Finding the way out of synth-wave inspired mazes won’t be easy. The player will have to find the way around the level, changing the surfaces as they go to avoid obstacles. The six-axis movement is the main feature of Dystoria – the player can move along the paths vertically, horizontally, and even sideways!

Dystoria features a system of upgrades. While fighting the alien spacecraft, the player collects various ship parts and colorful orbs. Both can be used to improve the ship to better serve in the fight against the aliens. Dystoria received solid reviews from the critics. Praise was directed mostly at the aesthetic of the title as well as the challenging navigational puzzles.

Key features
  • Fight against alien invaders in synthwave-inspired locations
  • Navigate through puzzle-like levels, traversing along six-axis grid and fighting enemy spacecraft
  • Collect orbs and parts dropped by the enemy to upgrade your ship

War Thunder

Developer/Publisher: Gaijin Entertainment
Release year: 2013
Genre: vehicular combat action game

While not solely dedicated to aircraft, War Thunder offers enough aerial combat to satisfy the enthusiasts, with vehicular ground battles serving as a neat addition. War Thunder, developed by Gaijin Entertainment, is a game that fans of titles like World of Tanks and World of Warplanes will immensely enjoy. The game features a variety of vehicles, including planes, but not only, that the players can use in different gameplay modes.

The aircraft available in War Thunder are divided into five categories: fighters, twin-engine fighters, attackers, bombers, jet aircraft, and helicopters. Each group plays differently, so the player has to choose whether they prefer up close and personal fighter dogfights or slow but devastating bomber raids.

War Thunder includes an arcade and realistic battle modes, where the players face off in the sky or on the ground. In PvE Assault mode, the player has to defend their base from waves of enemy units. World War Mode allows the player to participate in battles based on actual WWII events. War Thunder was met with positive critical reception. Reviewers praised the plenty of airplane models the player could use in combat as well as a variety of gameplay modes.

Key features
  • A World War II MMO vehicular combat game
  • Great number of available models of vehicles, including planes
  • Diverse gameplay modes with different emphasis on realism

Our list doesn’t cover all games in the flight simulation genre – there’s just too many of them! We hope that in these few we’ve presented, you’ll find something for yourself, whether you like fast-paced arcade action or detailed, realism-focused simulation. Who knows, maybe playing one of the games from our list will reignite your childhood ambitions. Remember, it’s never too late to get the pilot license and fulfill your dreams of flying.