This genre of games is pretty much dead now. Too bad. After you are done with Call of Duty 4, it is nice to just fly a plane. In the old days, Falcon was something i could play for hours. Now you can't even really find a review of a PC joystick anymore. "Consumersearch.com":http://www.consumersearch.com/www/computers/game-controllers/ has one dates from 2006 if you can believe that. Way back then I got a Thrustmaster Top Gun Fox 2 Shock Joystick (what a name!) and it still works. Purchase patterns on "pricegrabber":http://computers.pricegrabber.com/joysticks-gamepads/p/52/st=category/ show that the most popular are the Saitek X52, the CH Product Fighterstick, Saitek Cyborg EVO Force and the ThrustMaster T.Flight Stick X Joystick (only $37!).
In summary I'd say get the T.Flight if you are a basic user, the CH Products CombatStick if you are intermediate. See more notes below...
Net, net, the only vendors that are left are speciality ones like CH Products, Saitek and ThrustMaster. Here is what they have in the midrange of $50-100. So not junk, but not more than a computer:
"ThrustMaster T.Flight Stick X":http://gear.ign.com/articles/843/843580p1.html is the only relatively new product. Nice thing is it works on Mac, PC or PS3. It is like the Top Gun 2 that I had previously. I've actually also had an older Thrustmaster as well that I don't use anymore because it needed the old game interface.
Saitek X52 for $100. "Justenun.com":http://www.justechn.com/reviews/articles/2006/09/10/saitek_x52.php says it is huge with lots of switches and a separate throttle. "Pricegrabber":http://computers.pricegrabber.com/joysticks-gamepads/m/6335703/search=saitek/st=sort/sort_type=bottomline has it for $100.
Saitek "Cyborg evo Force Feedback":http://www.justechn.com/reviews/articles/2005/01/04/saitek_cyborg.php which is an old product with a 2005 review. It is force feedback which is nice. "Pricegrabber":http://computers.pricegrabber.com/joysticks-gamepads/m/8428461/search=saitek/st=sort/sort_type=bottomline has it for $70. "3dxtreme.org":http://www.3dxtreme.org/index.php?id=saitekcyborg1 has a review of it as well. The main issue is that since it is force feedback, you need to connect it to a wall wart and plug it in. OTOH, "Thetechlounge.com":http://www.thetechlounge.com/article/266-3/Logitech+Force+3D+Pro+Joystick/ mentions that Forcefeedback works very well on Combat Flight Simulator 3.
"CH Product Fighterstick":http://www.chproducts.com/retail/j_fighter_usb_reviews.html is a top end product. These things are speciality with a good reputation. "Pricegrabber":http://computers.pricegrabber.com/joysticks-gamepads/m/513209/search=ch%20products/st=sort/sort_type=bottomline has it for $104.
The essentially identical "CH Products CombatStick 568":http://computers.pricegrabber.com/joysticks-gamepads/m/513210/search=ch%20products/st=sort/sort_type=bottomline is $86, so a little cheaper. The "CombatStick 568":http://www.simhq.com/_technology2/technology_014c.html is supposed to look something like a F-16 stick (whiel the Thurstmaster Cougar is an exact match). Also, CH Products is one of the few companies to support the Mac, so good to know.
As an aside if you've time for it "Simhq.com":http://www.simhq.com/_technology2/technology_014a.html still has folks who play those games.