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Plane games: the best airplane and flying games on PC

From War Thunder to Arma 3, here are the best games to enjoy the sensation of flight or the thrill of the dogfight

The best plane games is a pretty broad topic so if you’re looking for a list of the best flight games you may struggle to pick any single game out. Flying games encompassing everything from complex flight simulators and meticulously detailed military facsimiles to arcadey jet fighter games and relaxing wingsuit sims.

To help you organise your thoughts and pick out something that suits your tastes, we’ve assembled a shortlist of some of the best plane games on PC, with a representative from all of the different niches. So whether you want to soar gracefully through the air for hours on end, settle down for a cosy evening of piloting a jumbo jet from LA to Las Vegas, or want a grizzly WW2 dogfight, there’s something for everyone.

As with many genres like flying simulators – we’re looking at you submarine games – a lot of the classics can be tricky to get hold of and run on modern PCs, so we’ve tried to keep the majority of our entries modern for ease of access.

Here are the best plane games:

A plane launches a missile in one of the best flight games, War Thunder

War Thunder

War Thunder now boasts tanks and naval battles, but it started out as one of the best free flying games around, and its flight physics, huge range of authentic aircraft, and realistic ballistics modeling are the proof.

In the seven years since War Thunder launched, developer Gaijin has continued to rework, update, and expand its roster of planes so it now includes aircraft from eight different nations and across six classes. You’ll need to use real dogfight tactics and manoeuvres to survive these multiplayer skirmishes, so master your Split S to get the drop on any novices.

Play War Thunder for free

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Microsoft Flight Simulator X

Combat isn’t for everyone, and when it comes to non-combat flight sims there’s arguably no package more complete than Microsoft Flight Simulator X, which has been running for more than a decade. That age means it’s not exactly one of the best looking plane games on this list, but the level of detail and realism is more than enough to sell you on the fantasy.

Microsoft Flight Simulator X lets you pick from a number of roles, aircraft, and offers over 2,400 different airports for you to fly between, so there’s an incredible amount to do before you need to consider FSX addons or mods.

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IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad

If you’re a fan of WW2 games then IL-2 Sturmovik is the touchstone for plane games set in the era. While it plays like a solid flight sim, IL-2 Sturmovik is also refreshingly accessible to beginners and its latest iteration does a tremendous job of drawing you in with its realistic graphics and damage modelling. Small details like water streaming over the canopy when flying through clouds or AI enemy flying towards the sun to make you lose track of them go a long way toward making you feel like you’re really in the cockpit of a WW2 fighter. It also boasts a dedicated multiplayer community of dogfighters, so you won’t struggle to find a match.

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Arma 3

While most combat plane games focus on dogfighting, in Arma 3 you can jump in the cockpit of a jet fighter and help out on the battlefield by strafing heavy tanks and performing airstrikes. The flight physics and depth of mechanics don’t compare to some of the hardcore flying games on this list, but there’s still plenty of scope for mastery.

Related: the best war games on PC

Air-to-air combat is mostly about managing your position and using a variety of missiles to take down targets from high above the battlefield. There is also a significant role for air-to-ground aircraft, with modern tech like laser-guided missiles and anti-armour cannons making good pilots essential on the battlefield. There are even plenty of helicopters should you tire of airplanes.

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Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown

While it certainly looks authentic, the gameplay and story of Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is anything but. The story is baffling unless you’ve stuck with the series since its inception, so it’s handy that Ace Combat 7’s best assets are its slick visuals and breakneck dogfights. Bandai Namco has done everything in its power to make the campaign missions as dramatic and overwrought as possible, leading to canyon dogfights, daring raids under cover of lightning storms, and the odd flyby between collapsing buildings. If you’re looking for some arcadey plane games and are willing to fully submit yourself to some stupidity then you can’t go too far wrong with Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown.

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X-Plane 11

X-Plane 11 is a more modern take on FSX, with much-improved graphics, cockpit models, and a menu system that won’t leave you slamming your head on the desk before your first take-off. In fact, there’s plenty more to enjoy about X-Plane 11 before actually flying – just sitting in the airport and watching the cavalcade of catering trucks, tugs, refueling tanks, and cargo trolleys moving about is endlessly engrossing. But it’s in the air where X-Plane 11 is at its most convincing, especially in light aircraft where you can really feel every bump, quirk of the plane’s flight characteristics.

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Superflight

While there are no planes in Superflight, we’re adding it to the list for one reason: flying around in it feels phenomenal. Superflight is one of the most relaxing games around, which is impressive as it’s all about flying down a deathly hazardous mountain in a wingsuit and racking up as many points as possible on the way by flying close to rock formations and through tight tunnels. Every level is procedurally generated ensuring there’s a constant sense of discovery, and if you find a seed you particularly like you can save it and challenge friends to beat your score.

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Bomber Crew

Bomber Crew puts you in charge of selecting and managing the crew for a WW2 bomber, going out on bombing, raids, and getting back to England with as few casualties as possible. During every mission you’ll need to manage the positions of each crew member, battle with enemy fighter planes, and diligently ensure you’re flying in the right direction and height – too high and your crew will freeze to death, too low and you’ll be shot out the sky. While Bomber Crew looks light and friendly, the smallest mistakes in this strategy plane game will very quickly lead to crew deaths.

Upcoming Flight Games

A sunset across clouds in one of the best flight games, Microsoft Flight Simulator

Microsoft Flight Simulator

37 years after the first game in the series landed (geddit?), Microsoft is preparing to release their next Flight Simulator game in 2020, a sequel to 2006’s Microsoft Flight Simulator X. Unlike previous games, this iteration aims to provide a realistic flight experience spanning the entire airspace of our planet Earth – big talk. Using a combination of Bing satellite data and cloud processing technology from Azure, Microsoft Flight Simulator faithfully reproduces the land and sky, down to the height of trees and the specific weather conditions taking place at each precise moment. This level of detail is only available when you’re connected to the internet, as the servers at Microsoft, not your PC, will do all the heavy lifting – working out how much of the colossal two petabytes of data available you need to stream straight to your cockpit.

With such powerful tools at its disposal, no wonder the game is shaping up to be breathtakingly beautiful, down to the last details; the precise behaviour of individual beads of water streaming across your windscreen, and the interplay of shadows and sunbeams that give clouds a sense of shape and tangibility as you soar or dip through their strata. See for yourself in the Microsoft Flight Simulator trailer.

There you have it. Our list of some of the best plane games and flying games on PC. Hopefully, we’ve helped narrow things down for you a bit so you can install the right flight game for you without encountering any turbulence.

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