!cxense.paneltitle!

The best flying games ever

Pilot Boeing 747s, fighter jets and Spitfires in the finest flying games around.

From GTA V to Saint's Row 2 and Wii Sports Resort, gamers have displayed some flying stunts that Red Bull Matadors Paul Bonhomme and Steve Jones would be proud of. But now it's time to experience other kinds of flying games - we're talking serious simulators to Top Gun-style arcade combat and World War II war games. These are the best flying games ever.

Microsoft Flight Simulator X (PC: 2006)

A screenshot of Microsoft Flight Simulator X
Microsoft Flight Simulator X© Microsoft

Microsoft Flight Simulator has come a long way since version 1.0 was released way back in 1982. There you could only fly a single plane and there were just four airports featured: Seattle, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. The tenth and most recent instalment is more dauntingly true-to-life than ever, with 18 authentically rendered planes, 28 famous cities reproduced in fine detail and a staggering 24,000 different airports to land at. Free-to-play spin-off Flight crashed and burned somewhat, and so this still represents the best way to get your fix of ultra-realistic air travel.

Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation (Xbox 360: 2007)

A screenshot of Ace Combat 6
Ace Combat 6© Namco Bandai

This arcade sim eschews realism in its controls for a frantic, intense bout of Top Gun-style airborne combat, and is all the better for it. A melodramatic story follows a fictional cold war between two made-up nations, with the narrative switching between a number of characters. But none of that matters when you take to the skies and blast rival fighters out of the air, or evade an incoming missile with a split-second to spare. Best of all is the free flight mode which unlocks once you’ve completed a mission, allowing you to pull off daredevil manoeuvres at your leisure.

IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC, PSP, DS: 2009)

A screenshot of IL-2 Sturmovik Birds of Prey
IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey© 505 Games

This semi-serious WWII flight sim had been rattling along under many radars on PC for eight years before developer Gaijin Entertainment attempted to bring it to a wider audience on console, without compromising what made it a cult favourite on PC. It defaults to a more accessible handling model, but the game’s Simulation mode strips away your assists until simply keeping your plane in the air is a challenge. Whichever option you choose, the game’s generous array of missions take you from the Battle of Britain to a bombing raid on Berlin’s Reichstag and the Battle of Stalingrad.

AfterBurner Climax (Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Android, iOS: 2010, 2013)

A screenshot of AfterBurner Climax
AfterBurner Climax © Sega

Sega’s arcade classic is a blisteringly quick and gobsmackingly beautiful trip through some of the most gorgeous skies in all of gaming. Imagine the Ferrari in OutRun somehow sprouted wings and you’re halfway there; as in that game you’ll get to select your route when you complete a stage, though in some cases you’ll need to complete specific objectives first. Finish it, and dozens of options allow you to adjust the difficulty, giving it incredible replay value. It’s more shooter than flying game, perhaps, but no game better captures the breathless thrill of zooming above the clouds at frightening speeds.

Aces High (2000: PC)

A screenshot of Aces High
Aces High© HiTech Creations

Part flight sim, part MMO, Aces High might be 15 years old this year but it’s still going strong. Developer HiTech Creations has kept the game’s subscribers happy by constantly updating and upgrading the game. Focusing chiefly on WWI and WWII aircraft, Aces High features accurately modelled planes and ground vehicles from six different nations, while its regular special events - from historical battles to air races - attract hundreds of players.

Red Bull Barnstorming saw pilots Paul Bonhomme and Steve Jones fly two Matador display aeroplanes through a barn - watch the footage and read their amazing story.