Simulators are an awesome way to practice your FPV drone skills before putting your $300 quad in the air.
They’re also a great way to practice new tricks or to just keep training your fingers and building your muscle memory when you don’t have the chance to go out and fly.
In this post, we’re going to look at the 3 best drone simulators.
There are a LOT of drone simulators out there now, but in my mind, 3 particularly stand out – I’ve tried 5, and out of those 5, I only use two now. I wish I could do a screencast of my own videos using the sim, but my computer freezes up if I try to screencast and play simultaneously.
At the end of the post, I’ll also talk about the other two simulators and what I didn’t like about them.
A note on simulator physics
As good as simulators get, many people complain that the quad feels too “floaty” in the simulator – it does not behave the same way in real life.
I’m going to agree with them to a certain extent – the quad does tend to feel floaty in most simulators, but the muscle memory you build from coordinating turns and practicing throttle control to an extent is invaluable.
Even if you’re not getting a “true to life” FPV experience, a simulator really is the next best thing and a bit of wonky physics should not dissuade anyone from using a sim.
With that out of the way, let’s dive in(pun intended!)
1) FPV Freerider
This is the first simulator I used, and it’s probably the best way to just get a feel for how it is like to fly a drone in FPV.
I flew a few hours on this before taking my quad out for the first time and it made a huge difference!
Many people struggle with orienting themselves and just the out of body feeling you get when you fly FPV.
With FPV free rider, I was able to get a lot of that out of the way before I even went to the field!
It’s $5 – there’s a free demo version, too, which is limited to one track.
It’s well worth shelling out the $5.
The only qualms I have about FPV Freerider is that it is very limited in terms of flight characteristics. There is not much scope to adjust the rates of your quad – so getting it to respond like your real quad will be a little tough.
That’s why I recommend it only for beginners. You’ll quickly outgrow FPV Freerider, but it’s like a kid’s bike with training wheels – you’re going to need it in the beginning!
FPV Freerider works on both Mac and Windows, which is a huge plus, and it is compatible with most transmitters, too.
I used to use it with an old Turnigy 9X with a USB dongle, and I also used it with a Taranis X9D. There is no reason it should not work with a Turnigy Evolution or Taranis Q X7 either.
There are 6 different sceneries you can fly in: A desert scene, an island scene, a meadow, a car park, a playground, and a field.
You can fly LOS and FPV, and both acro mode and angle mode are supported, which is nice.
2) Liftoff Drone Simulator
Developed by ImmersionRC, the same folks who make the awesome video transmitters and drones(Vortex), Liftoff is an excellent simulator that’s available for purchase through the Steam store.
I started using Liftoff shortly after outgrowing FPV Freerider, and I got it for a beta tester/pre-release price back in the day.
What I really like about Liftoff is that it is far more customizable. Most importantly, the rates can be configured in an interface similar to the one we are used to in Betaflight, so you can try to get the sticks to feel as much like your real quad as possible.
You can also customize your drone to a great extent(change motors/props/battery) – which is a nice touch, but I am not completely sure how much of an effect it would really have on your simulated flight.
Liftoff has a bunch of great sceneries with a few built in tracks, plus a whole host of community tracks which you can download for free from the Steam Store.
The giant community involved in Liftoff is definitely a HUGE plus point as there are so many hard working people trying to make this game better and better to whatever extent they can.
You can practice races in Liftoff, as well as play multiplayer online against your friends or even complete strangers.
The only thing I don’t like about Liftoff is that it seems a little too floaty! The quad does not normally fly like this in real life – so even though the developers are working hard to make it behave like a real quad, there will always be some hiccups.
However, just the fact that there is such a huge community involved in Liftoff is the biggest plus point there is for this game.
The better your computer the better Liftoff will run, but you can dial down the settings and make it run on a slower computer, too.
The last simulator on my list is my current favorite, Velocidrone. I feel Velocidrone combines the best of FPV Freerider and Liftoff and gives a solid sim with all the features you could want: choosing a variety of quads to fly, good, explorable maps, the ability to make your own tracks, Betaflight rates, and decent physics.
It’s a little costly, at 15 British Pounds, but I feel it’s well worth the money.
Velocidrone, like the others is plug and play, which means your Taranis or Turnigy Evolution will be supported right out of the box – just plug it in, configure it, and you’re good to go.
The maps in Velocidrone are also really neat – they’re the kinds of places most of us would love to fly but don’t have access to!
There’s a warehouse, a subway station, an open field, an abandoned factory, a port, and a football stadium.
There’s also some decent pre-loaded tracks and you can share tracks you make with your friends too.
Like Liftoff, there is a good multiplayer mode in which you can race against your friends online. You can also check your race times against others on the online leaderboard.
Velocidrone is a little taxing on your graphics card, so it may not run too well on slower computers. I was not able to run it well on a Macbook Air, but it works fine on a Macbook Pro.
Two more sims:
HotProps is a simulator that made waves when it came out, but it seems to be stuck in perpetual beta phase and I am not sure if the developers are continuing to work on it.
HotProps was nice, except I just could not get the on screen quad to respond to my stick inputs the way I would have liked. It’s far easier to do in Liftoff or Velocidrone.
That and the fact that it hasn’t been updated for a while is a put-off for me!
5) Rotor Rush
Rotor Rush is quite a robust simulator with a huge online community – they even organize E-sports events – but my main qualm with Rotor Rush was that the user interface is really, really old-fashioned(think MS-DOS – everything works with your keyboard) and it was very hard to configure the simulator to make the quad feel natural.
Plus, it’s rather expensive at 4 pounds per month – not even a one time purchase!
Drone simulator apps
I believe there are a few apps out there(such as RealFlight) that let you fly drones, but in all honesty, an app won’t be very useful unless you can find a way to connect your transmitter to your phone.
If you’re just going to use the app and on-screen controls, you’ll just be playing a game and passing some time rather than getting any meaningful practice.