Practice, practice and practice! That’s the mantra for the FPV drone aficionados no matter how experienced you are. It cannot be emphasized more that there exists a positive correlation between the effort you exert to hone your skills and the inherent dexterity that you possess irrespective of the amount of experience you have. Drone simulators can certainly be beneficial in assisting you to expedite your progress a tad, get more acquainted with how it feels to be an FPV ace pilot and try out different aerial stunts.
The issue that crops up before most of the pilots is that they are not able to dedicate enough time to FPV drone flying either due to their busy work schedules or due to intermittent family engagements, varying weather conditions, location issues or dearth of drones and batteries to mess around with.
To be honest, a conventional quadcopter flight does not go beyond the three minute mark. If you play on a simulator, on the other hand, that is equivalent to discharging around 30 LiPos which is about two of my weekly flying sessions for me in a single hour.
Even if you are of the opinion that an hour of practice in the simulator is equivalent to only half of the time one spends in real life while flying a drone, then an additional hour of drone flying in the simulator could certainly make the difference and add plenty of stars to your flying skills. That is exactly the reason I recommend every drone pilot to spend as much time on the simulator as possible.
Here are some of the amazing drone maneuvers that I pulled off after spending almost an hour on the drone simulator for a year.
Things required for a drone simulator
In order to play a drone simulator you will be needing a personal computer (Windows or MacOS or android powered), a controller (either a real transmitter or a gaming controller), an interface between your computer and the device and the simulator itself.
Let’s get into their detail one by one!
There are a number of drone simulators designed specifically for Windows or MacOS operating systems. However, there are a few of them that are compatible with android powered devices. Utilizing low graphics settings, there are certain simulators that may even run on basic devices with dedicated graphics cards and even some modern ones with integrated systems.
Some simulators even enable the purchaser to get a test run before buying them in a bid to help them figure out if they are appropriate. However, most of the simulators enlist minimum specifications that are to be noted down.
A machine with lower specifications would result in the simulator running with a lower frame rate which is likely to make flying exasperating and complicated. There is no simulator that typically employs splendid graphics but for the best user experience it is advisable that you opt for a computer loaded with a Nvidia GTX1050 or even better.
If you are looking for something even more magnificent, you may as well go for the Nvidia GTX 1070 along with a 144Hz display.
The drone simulators come with varying graphic requirements so you should be able to determine which one suits you the most. Some simulators such as the FPV Freerider and HotProps are even available on the Google Play Store for Android powered machines.
Personally, I use a 2016 Macbook Air for my simulators as it runs the best simulators on the lowest settings. Having said that, I would recommend an even better machine to ensure that you get the best user experience that is on offer.
A real transmitter is arguably the best controller for any drone simulator. You may as well resort to a standard game controller. However, the accuracy it provides is always going to questionable and you will find it a lot harder to toy around with the drone in the simulator.
Another thing to note here is that generic gaming controllers come with centering sticks. However, for drone flights we would prefer no spring on the throttle. It would be akin to driving a car with the throttle sprung in the middle!
The real issue at hand is that most of the rookies do not have transmitter in the beginning but they own a computer and want to try their mettle out. I would suggest you to order a transmitter and use a gaming controller till the time your order arrives. Keep in mind that controlling the drone with a generic gaming controller would be quite complicated.
Here is a detailed guide on drone controllers/transmitters.
Now, once you get hold of the transmitter, the actual problem that arises is how to make it work with your hardware. When it comes to Android, a USB O2G adaptor is one way I can think of to make it happen.
Best FPV Drone Simulators
Now, let’s jump to the simulators out there. I’ll endeavor to share with you as many simulators as possible but you must keep in mind that these are going to be solely my own views and I do not have all the time in the world to try them out one by one.
This implies that a lot of the stuff that I’ll be sharing would be based on the word of mouth or hearsay and since most of the drone simulators release regular updates so it would be pretty much impossible for me to stay updated with the latest mechanics and features. I would highly recommend you to scour the internet for yourself if you are interested in a certain simulator and if possible you may download a trial version.
1 – Velocidrone
I have spent about 427 hours on this simulator myself. So, instead of going around and around in circles, I would get straight to the point. I have been engaged with this simulator for no less than two years and I am quite confident in saying that this simulator is the best one that I have come across.
Am I being persuasive enough?
Amongst the drone racers, it is a widely used practice tool for the 2018 Multi GP champion Evan Turner and the incredibly swift MinChan Kim (you can watch their plenty of performances on the internet).
As a matter of fact, if you play this simulator online, then you would definitely come across a number of ace racers from around the world linked to the Multi GP or DCL leagues. Velocidrone is also the go-to tool for practicing of the freestyle king Mr. Steele. He is renowned for desiring a consistent flight experience. The point I am trying to make here is that Velocidrone is being used as a simulator of choice by some of the best drone pilots out there.
The mechanics in Velocidrone are the most lifelike that I have ever come across in a simulator. They are insanely realistic and can be tailored according to one’s preferences. Ashley Davis, a famous creator, regularly shares flight comparisons between real life track and a simulated version to test and portray the similarities between the two.
The mechanics is probably predicated around a racing quadcopter so you may as well add some weight if you are using the simulator for freestyle purposes only. When it comes to setting your rates, the simulator incorporates a simulator version of Betaflight thereby enabling you to get the similar flight experience regarding stick feel as you would in real life.
The graphics are pretty decent but not something that could be classified as exquisite. While this is appropriate for a low quality rig, there are those who’s thirst won’t be quenched by these graphics. The “True Lens” feature endeavors to give the same feel and experience of the distortion of an FPV camera lens which tends to enhance the overall quality of the simulator and makes it feel more organic.
The online experience is what really keeps me driving and getting lured back again and again to Velocidrone. It is seamless and a whole lot fun. The races take place at an impressive pace and are quite competitive to be honest. When you opt for a single class, a ranking system serves as a great motivator.
VRL is an online tournament wherein teams vie for the top spot against each other and compete to set new records on a new race course each week. This is a hair-raising and mind blowing experience if you can get yourself to qualify for it.
One of the drawbacks, if you call it, of the online experience is the mind-numbing level of dexterity of pilots who are addicted to this simulator. The people you would typically come across are the top ranked 50 pilots and their touch is simply awesome. You may have to get used to being the last ranker for quite some until you brush up your flying skills.
The maps available on the simulator are vacant in general and most of the features on the map are provided through movable track characteristics. As far as the race courses are concerned, there are some fantastic tracks out there. However, I would certainly prefer to come across some more courses dedicated especially to freestyle flying. The track titled as “Coastal” is a harbor-cum-construction site which is kind of an exception and is proliferated with cranes to toy with but this may get a tad monotonous after some time.
As far as I am concerned, it is the little things that set this simulator apart from the rest of the pack and so much easier and fun to play. It may not be the perfect one but in contrast to it certainly beats its opponents such as LiftOff or DRL in a lot of areas. These may not be the top-of-the-line features but believe me they go a long way in ensuring that the players end up enjoying a lot.
- Resets: One would want to reset as quickly as possible in case of a crash and when it comes to Velocidrone the reset takes place instantaneously (you may as well configure it to a switch on your transmitter). Other simulators go through a certain amount of delay or even worse than that if you have opted for a timed flight on DRL.
- Uninterrupted play: Once you start flying on a map there is no need to come back to the menu to modify the course or quadcopter settings. This can be accomplished comfortably from the side menu.
- Uninterrupted online play: The same feature holds true for online play as well. The map is your lobby and races can be commenced or suspended as and when required. Liftoff comes with a separate lobby and you are forced to return to the main menu after each race. Moreover, the race ends the moment you crash in Liftoff as there are no resets in it. Same is the case with DRL as when you crash in the middle of a timed flight, you are kicked back to the main menu.
There are several other minor attributes that beautify this simulator further but I guess you would have gotten a hang of what I am trying to impress upon here. A transition from Velocidrone to other simulators can turn out to be quite exasperating.
- Amazing mechanics
- Incredible online play
- Official courses are updated regularly
- Awesome flight experience
- Improvement in maps is required
- Sluggish at the beginning
- Unavailability of create a quad mode
Price: £15.99 – velocidrone.com
2 – Liftoff
Time tested: 100 hours
This was the second simulator that I ever barged into after the FPV Freerider and I spend around 100 hours trying my skills on it. I actually honed my freestyle flight skills on this simulator and was able to improve my Matty flips before trying them out in real situations.
The mechanics involved in the simulator are quite nice. Velocidrone is slightly better in this department but the developers of Liftoff have done a good enough job and any time spent on this application would go a long way in ensuring that you are able to hone your flying skills.
If you own a high powered computer, then Liftoff comes across as one equipped with brilliant graphics. Hence, if you are looking for a simulator with impressive visuals and real life surroundings, then Liftoff is the way to go. The natural forest maps stood out for me as they had realistic trees and offered tons of light bloom and motion blur.
The simulator has some pretty amazing maps. Hanover is a massive freestyle setting that is predicated on a realistic convention center. The simulator comes with numerous other scenarios which are pretty decent.
There is a lot of kerfuffle around flying in the Joshua Bardwell’s backyard but to be honest I found it quite monotonous and could not find anything new in it. Having said that, it may be able to catch your eye.
The maps are quite good but the track editor feature has its own restrictions and all the decent maps that are used by online racers have been built upon the drawing board map. This is an entirely blue environment that is not at all impressive.
The online play is the area where the simulator lost all its attraction as far as I was concerned. It all got too boring for me and I had to look out for some other compatible alternative. Racing itself is quite a nice experience but the games quad editor means that everyone has to employ 6s high kv quadcopters that are not at all natural and convert the entire experience into a bit of a video game rather than rendering it realistic.
In addition, you would be forced to go to the main menu after each race is over and then wait there until the start of the new race which comes across as a pretty frustrating experience to be blunt about it. Perhaps I have been spoiled by Velocidrone seamless online play but I would advise you to go for an online freestyle flight session with your friends instead of actually trying to race online.
The simulator comes with a Build Your Own Quadcopter feature which is quite entertaining and the option to integrate realistic components keeps you glued to Liftoff. However, I felt that this was the only place in the simulator where you had the option to alter your camera angle. Having said that, one can modify their betaflight configurations in the simulator similar to Velocidrone which is a splendid feature.
Liftoff is the only simulator I have come across that is compatible with 3D mode which is a joyful experience.
- Incredible mechanics
- Superb visuals
- Tailor you quadcopter to your requirement
- Hannover maps are splendid
- Joshua Bardwell’s backyard area is fun to fly in
- Online menus and race routines need improvements and latency is required to be done away with or reduced at least
- Online play is similar to playing a video game with the leading players resorting to unrealistic machines to come on top
- Not easy to find race courses that suit you
Price: £14.99 on Steam – liftoff-game.com
3 – DRL
Time tested: 2 hours
The DRL simulator is a pretty old one and is renowned for its exquisite online play that offers the users the opportunity to be drafted into an actual contract to fly on the show. This is astounding and an absolute driver to use this simulator. However, this simulator does have its shortcomings as discussed earlier especially in regards to the mechanics involved.
The drones employed in DRL are tailored in accordance with the platform’s requirements itself with an aim to remain easily visible and escort additional camera paraphernalia for the show. The crux of the matter is that this stuff typically weighs around 1 Kg which is almost twice the weight of a conventional racing quadcopter and the simulator’s mechanics mimic this payload.
After making my way to the top ten on few of the Velocidrone courses, I presumed that it was the right moment to try my luck out with DRL. After a couple of hours of endeavoring to getting used to the payloads’ weight and comparatively reduced power to what I had so feverishly enjoyed while playing on Velocidrone, I kind of lost it out and decided eventually to let go of the simulator.
Nevertheless, an update to DRL has recently been released which furnishes players the opportunity to go for traditional quadcopters and even tweak them in accordance with one’s preferences. I haven’t yet had a go at the latest DRL 3.0 update but I believe that the claimed list of features certainly have a lot to offer in contrast to the previous version.
DRL boasts magnificent visuals which can probably be ranked second to those of Liftoff. Generally speaking, the simulator furnishes seamless menus along with online play portraying competitors and leaderboards. DRL promises to be a stunning simulator through and through and must be appreciated for the quality of its visuals and slickness of its menus.
The maps in this simulator are prolific to say the least. The players are able to enjoy a realistic experience of surroundings and race courses while having the chance to come across several real life elements. The “Gates of Hell” map is a pretty good example of this which begins with a shipyard adorned with cranes and yachts and leads the pilots to a bridge, a city and plenty more. This gives you the feel of real life visuals which is quite exciting.
It goes without saying that the actual takeaway from this simulator is the opportunity the players get by being drafted in for the real DRL stint. This probably underwhelms the decent multiplayer online mode that one gets to enjoy in DRL coupled with customized courses. A rather frustrating feature of the simulator is that in the event of a crash, your quadcopter gets decimated into tiny little pieces even if the collision were slenderest of ones. It is excruciatingly sluggish, repetitive and exasperating to reset!
Price: £15.49 on Steam – thedroneracingleague.com/drl-sim-3
4 – HotProps
HotProps was not initially developed as a free simulator, however, it gained massive popularity thanks to the pilot Mattystuntz who employed it as a tool to build his capacity in order to meticulously carry out his mind-numbing aerial stunts. Despite not being right up there with the high end simulators and a good option for those who don’t want to put excessive burden on their pockets, it seems a great choice if you want something that would be compatible with Android OS.
The visuals are quite basic to be honest and there are no distinguishing effects. This simulator is essentially fundamental one which helps you learn and sharpen your flying skills rather than being pretty.
One of the exciting features of the simulator is the Mattystuntz Freestyle World. The map is built around fictional Matty elements such as buildings and roads and offers an exciting proposition. It is quite huge and is way ahead of the rest of the maps available on the simulator.
I had a go at this one about a couple of years back at a friend’s place and found it okayish in regards to freestyle stuff! I would be rather surprised if you end up finding a lobby with this one so actually this one is a single player game.
Price: Free – HotProps
5 – FPV Freerider / FPV Freerider Recharged
Time tested: 10 hours
This was the first simulator that I had the experience of playing. I had a go at it with an Xbox controller and tested it for around 10 hours on the demo map while I awaited the arrival of my transmitter. Joshua Bardwell has produced some scintillating tutorials for novices learning to fly a drone for the first time which proved to be instrumental in assisting me learn flying.
FPV Freerider Recharged is an enhanced variant of the FPV Freerider which is provides expansive and more in-depth environments and is slightly expensive. If you are planning to purchase the simulator, then I would advise you to opt for the Recharged version as the maps are relatively more intriguing which enhances the fun associated with the game besides increasing the amount of time you remain glued to the simulator.
The simulator is quite basic with honest mechanics but nothing outstanding. As far as I can think of, there is not much in it for racing fans but there is plenty of exciting stuff for freestyle enthusiasts. In general, the resource requirement for this simulator is on the lower end of the scale in contrast to Liftoff or Velocidrone.
Similar to HotProps, FPV Freerider is not the cutest ones out there but it is not at all bad by any stretch of imagination. There is nothing to complain about for a functional trainer and it could be a decent option for pilots with slightly lower end devices.
The maps in the standard version are quite basic while those with the Recharged version are more interesting. The maps in the Recharged version offer 3D sceneries and elements but the offering is limited in comparison with other simulators available on the market.
- Mechanics are okayish
- Reasonably priced
- Joshua Bardwell’s tutorials can be exceptionally handy
- Compatible with Android
- No option to enter rates directly
- No online playing option
Price: Standard version: £4.99 – fpv-freerider.itch.io/fpv-freerider
Recharged version: £9.99 – fpv-freerider.itch.io/fpv-freerider-recharged
You can check out the trial versions for both the variants!
6 – FPV Air 2
Not tested as yet!
FPV Air 2 is a new affordable simulator that costs around $5 and boasts decent mechanics with Betaflight configurations and an exciting online playing mode. This one is certainly one of the better reasonably priced simulators out there and the augmented maps can be purchased online. I think that this one seems to be a great proposition for race practice but may be found wanting when it comes to freestyle stuff.
Price: £3.99 on Steam – store.steampowered.com
7 – DCL the Game
Not tested as yet! Not compatible with MacOS!
DCL the Game is a recently introduced simulator which has been produced by the well-known Drone Champions League. The simulator is quite new and comes with a trial version compatible with only the Windows platform. However, by the looks of things, it seems to be a pretty decent option to have up one’s sleeves.
The visuals are formidable and they also present the players with an opportunity to qualify for the real racing league and eventually get drafted for the actual DCL team.
The trial despite being free does not tell us anything about the final price of the product. The website promises to offer 30 courses in the final game which is quite amazing but my main issue with the simulator is that of the customized drones as was the case with DRL.
Similar to DRL, DCL also utilizes customized and bulkier quadcopters which do not fly in the same manner as the 5” ones. I have held one and it was way too heavy and as is rightly attributed by many of the drone pilots out there, they absolutely suck! I remain optimistic that DCL the Game would certainly allow its players to use lighter drones in the days to come.
- Decent mechanics
- Splendid visuals
- Realistic courses
- Opportunity to be drafted into real life DCL team
- Competition against fellow racers
- Only trial version released
- Trial version is compatible with Windows only
- DCL quadcopters have different physics in contrast to the real life ones
Price: TBC – online pre-release version available at the time of writing game.dcl.aero
8 – Rotor Rush
Not tested as yet!
I almost missed this one but when I found out that they had sponsored Weston Park last year, I decided to include it in our list. Rotor Rush is a high quality simulator that costs around £4 monthly or just about £40 per annum and is claimed to offer decent flying experience.
This simulator does have a trial version available and I would advise you to give it a go and then purchase the simulator. As far as I am concerned, I do not see myself spending so much money on purchasing this game with so many better options available out there.
If you are on the lookout for the best, then this may be for you! They also offer a TinyWhoop quadcopter and a map designed specifically for its flight which is a pretty cool feature.
- Boasts real courses from real racing events
- Magnificent mechanics
- Race oriented
- Features Tiny Whoop quadcopter
- Requires subscription
Price: Free trial – rotorrush.com
9 – GTA V
Not tested yet!
This is certainly one of the best options out there for people with high end computing machines. Someone has developed a mod for GTA V that lets you fly a quadcopter. This enables you to explore from the entire GTA V universe and hence the stunning visuals of the famous game make it one of the most sought after simulators. The mechanics are decent but if you own GTA then you must give it a go!
The Wrap Up
So far, we should be able to agree that simulators prove to be instrumental in enhancing one’s flying skills and hence it would be advisable to spend money on this option than any other drone parts.
A number of people out there prefer to pay for something tangible instead of a software. Having said that, people are still on the lookout for affordable options so there are other options out there as well.
If you are simply looking to try out new stuff or do not want to spend a lot of money, then it would be prudent to go for HotProps or other trial versions. They can certainly be beneficial but there are other affordable options available as well.
Those yearning for a cheaper simulator should go for FPV Air 2. From the reviews that we have gotten from different players, it seems a decent alternative for its price. Simulators such as the Freerider used to be the way to go in their price range but they have become a tad outdated.
If you are looking for a simulator earnestly, then you should opt out of the big three: Velocidrone, Liftoff or DRL. While costing less than £20, these are reasonably priced and still promise to offer a lot.
If you are interested in racing primarily, then Velocidrone is the best choice in terms of performance, experience and price. You can also try out the RotorRush demo version and see for yourself if you really need to spend extra money on the high end simulator. Here is a video wherein Mr. Steele has some pieces of advice for you regarding simulators.
If you are interested in freestyle flying, then all the aforecited three options would be handy with Liftoff being the better option for those with high end machines and DRL coming across as a nice option for fans of the series. There is nothing that could go wrong with these options so choose the one which suits you the most.
Generally speaking, the more amount of time you spend playing these simulators, the better you would become in flying. They may offer slightly different paths but all lead to the same destination. I would suggest you to go for the one that appears as the most fun to you as it would motivate you stay glued for longer periods of time.
Just for the sake of reference, here is the amount of time that I have spent while playing FPV drone simulators over the course of three years. The hours demonstrate my inclinations and what I wanted to play. What is most intriguing is that IRL denotes my flying in real life. My experience predominantly relates to simulators and has played a vital role in honing my flying skills.
Here is a cool video that I hope would spur you to spending more time playing a simulator. It was created by a pilot called Robogenesis and despite being a year old, still seems to me the very best when it comes to freestyle flying. Interestingly, the same lad won the DRL simulator tryouts that year! Go, get going!