My son wants to become a pilot so we started him off with the FlightGear Simulator and a joystick with lots of buttons so he can get his feet wet.

Is there a standard layout for buttons on a joystick that would more-or-less match what you would find on commercial side-stick aircraft? If there is then I would like to configure them so it meets what he might find in the real world.

Here is what we have setup:

  • normal pitch/yaw/roll for push/tilt/twist
  • hat button for elevator/aileron trim
  • lever for throttle

But what about the many other buttons, how would they (approximately) map to a commercial aircraft stick?

joystick hat buttons joystick throttle buttons

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    $\begingroup$ Commercial aircraft side sticks usually don't have that many buttons. Usually a PTT, AP Disconnect and maybe a priority button. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Oct 28, 2021 at 23:34
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    $\begingroup$ Thrustmaster sell an Airbus "inspired" joystick which is pretty much as close as you'll get to a replica for home simulations. $\endgroup$
    – Ben
    Oct 29, 2021 at 2:39
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    $\begingroup$ That’s probably the least of your concerns. A pilot can adapt to a new button placement in a few minutes. $\endgroup$
    – Jim
    Oct 29, 2021 at 3:00
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    $\begingroup$ I think many of the desktop flight sim joysticks are inspired by military jet HOTAS (hands on throttle and stick) controls, which have far more buttons on the stick compared to commercial aircraft. $\endgroup$
    – Bianfable
    Oct 29, 2021 at 8:27
  • $\begingroup$ There are quite a number of questions here about using a home flight sim as training for flying a real aircraft, including the benefits and hazards. I don't know how old your son is, but you may want to investigate these other questions before trying to build him a "real" home-based flight sim. $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Oct 29, 2021 at 18:10

3 Answers 3


As mentioned, real life side sticks are very simplistic compared to gaming devices. There is basically an autopilot disconnect push button and radio tangent (aka push-to-talk) switch. On aircraft that require manual trimming there is also the elevator trim switch.

But there is also another aspect in cockpit design that can be adapted to gaming. Critical flight controls are positioned in a way that they can be easily reached quickly and reliably. Also one thing that is crucial in real life that is hard to simulate is maintaining good outside monitoring.

Assuming your son is right-handed, I would put the view controls to the hat switch to enable quick look-around and elevator trim to the left side top buttons. On the right side top buttons I would recommend flaps up and down. Those controls are crucial for maintaining safe flight path during takeoff and landing. The trigger I would use as a wheel brakes, again to keep hands on controls during the landing run. Alternatively trigger can be used as push-to-talk switch like in real life Airbuses if your son wants to fly online. On the base you can add other frequently used controls like landing gear etc.

As Jim mentioned in the comments, trying to simulate realistic cockpit environment in home is the least of issues. Of course, there are lots of additional hardware you can buy if your son really gets into simulator flying. You can also sacrifice your garage to build full size replica of a real airliner cockpit as some people have done. That should be a fun father-son weekend activity :)

There was a significant transition in flight training a decade ago when suddenly model aircraft hobbyists were replaced by simulator flyers as rookie flight students. That raised a set of whole new issues as people had learned a lot of "bad habits" that had to be unlearned. Biggest of them were mismanagement of their focus (like reading a map in traffic circuit), not maintaining a good lookout while flying (ie. constantly flying head down scanning the panel) and not trimming the aircraft. Then again some avid online flyers are already very fluent with their radio communications. The simulators are realistic enough to simulate real life flying in bad or good. Also in theorical training there is sometimes lots of resistance to re-learn things as self-educated sim flyers have gained their knowledge without reference to the real world. Some of their information is irrelevant, misplaced and often misunderstood.

All that being said, simulator flying is a great hobby and awesome entry to the aviation community. As a professional pilot, ex-simmer and father myself, I think it is great that you are involved and encourage your son to keep that spark of dream alive. Your son should participate in the online community and fly online with other simmers. That way he can ask questions and keep learning about his new interest.


It really doesn't matter.

It doesn't matter as there is no such thing as "standard buttons" on a side stick or control column. Take for example the A320 that has a priority take over button which sounds kind of useless to your scenario. Another example is the control column of 737(-800) that has 2 switches used for electrical trim. Such a switch doesn't exist in an A320 as the computers trim an Airbus A320. Finally, the most "standard" button (and perhaps the only one) on a control column is the communications button. But if one flies alone (ie not on a network with other players) to practice let's say a traffic pattern, that button is also useless -there is no one to transmit to.

Last but not least, the very important thing that other answers are missing to mention is that the rudder control is separately on pedals and not on a the "twist" control of a joystick1. That by itself can lead to some frustration when trying to line up the aircraft. Related anecdotal story: this week I was at Madrid World ATM Congress. There I had the chance to try an LPV approach driving an A320 on X-Plane2 (11 I think) with a VR headset with the exact same joystick that you have at the picture. At some point I looked momentarily down and I realized that I was inadvertently fiddling with the rudder (the pedals were moving a lot) more than I wanted to fiddle with -which was none at all. Apparently I was using the twist as I was trying to roll. Moral of the story is that there is more than meets the eye on a joystick than "getting the button setup right".

In my opinion3, a child aspiring to become a pilot needs to learn at least the notion of good airmanship. According to Skybrary,

Airmanship is the consistent use of good judgment and well-developed skills to accomplish flight objectives. This consistency is founded on a cornerstone of uncompromising flight discipline and is developed through systematic skill acquisition and proficiency. A high state of situational awareness completes the airmanship picture and is obtained through knowledge of one’s self, aircraft, environment, team and risk."

Confidence (not arrogance), situation awareness, orientation skills, stress management and sure why not some training on the simulator will help better. And the joystick comes last. Like any other hardware on a Personal Computer, one can set it up as it's more convenient to the individual.

A huge caveat on this last sentence though: no matter what, please don't inverse some fundamental actions as this might impose bad habits. To pull the nose up, joystick moves towards us, to dive it's away from us -obviously. Flight Gear must have it like that by default, but if that's not the case for any reason, change it promptly. I am mentioning this as I remember a user writing in a comment here in AVSE that some games lately have reversed the up and down keys. I can't find the comment unfortunately.

1 By all means I am not trying to convince you to buy yet another piece of hardware. Building a home cockpit can become a dangerous rabbit hole.
2 I am not affiliated by any means with X-Plane.
3 I'm neither a father nor a pilot so my opinion might not really matter.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for separate pedals. Flying a helicopter with the joystick 3rd axis is quickly boring, as well as flying with "autocoordinated turns" for GA aircraft. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Oct 30, 2021 at 18:48

Aircraft rarely have more than two or three buttons on their yokes. Joysticks like the one pictured are intended more for fighter-type games, where you have to quickly fire the gun, select missiles, designate a target, etc., all while maneuvering the plane. Civilian aviation just isn't that fast-paced, so there isn't any point to covering the yoke in buttons.

There's no standard for buttons on the yoke, even for the few buttons there are. Not to mention that the yoke can be customized by the plane's owner, so if I really wanted, say, a transponder on/off switch on my plane's yoke, I could have one.*

But to actually answer the question, by far the most common control on a yoke is the push-to-talk button, which is almost always operated by the index finger. Note that this is not the same as the trigger; the PTT is usually up higher on the yoke than the place where the finger normally rests, to prevent accidental activation. But most computer joysticks don't have a button in that position at all, so the trigger will be the closest alternative.

For planes with an autopilot (which is essentially all commercial planes), there will often be an autopilot disconnect button on the yoke. Similarly, there may be an autothrottle disconnect button on the throttle. Though this is rarer, I've seen turbine-powered planes with the starter and/or fuel disconnect on the yoke. But those can be located in different places even within different planes of the same model, so if you're going to assign those functions at all, just pick a button.

*I realized just before posting this that a non-aviator might not understand how ridiculous this is, so let me clarify that this is the most ridiculous example of a control to have on a yoke I could think of. Just about the only reason you'd need to turn off your transponder in normal conditions is if you're flying in formation and aren't the lead plane.


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