Drones are a rather expensive investment. The last thing you want to do is crash one into a tree simply because you were clumsy with the controls. That makes practicing on a drone flight simulator a great starting point.
A drone flight simulator is a software program that mimics the flying experience of piloting an actual drone. Simply connect it to a compatible device and select the type of drone you want to simulate.
If things do go south, you’ll be able to breathe easy because you only failed a simulation round. One that can be started all over again until you master your craft.
But here’s the thing: there are a multitude of drone simulators currently available on the market. And having to pick just one can get a little overwhelming.
In this post, I’ll help you figure out which drone flight simulator is the perfect choice for you. We’ll be analyzing what exactly five of the best simulators offer and topping it off with a list of pros and cons for each.
There is no doubt that simulators can be a friendly asset for anyone with a drone. However, with so many simulators available on the market, it might be a bit puzzling for you to select one.
DJI Drone Simulator, LiftOff, and Velocidrone are some of the best drone flight simulators for both hobbyists and professionals. They offer a variety of different flying scenarios, drone models, and flight modes to help make the most out of flight simulations.
I’ve done my research to put together a list of drone flight simulators that differ from each other in terms of features, price, and who they’re designed for. All of them, however, are worthy of being in a top five spot.
Let’s get right into it.
This one heavily appeals to professional pilots.
The DJI Flight Simulator is everything you need to excel as a pilot with high standards. It consists of a comprehensive physics engine that feels as real as piloting an actual drone.
You can have access to three different flight modes along with different weather conditions. The fantastic imaging system helps provide multiple POVs from various camera angles.
You’ll also find four training modules: skills training, free flight, entertainment, and application training. Each module comes with various levels and tests, with a gradual increase in difficulty levels at each stage.
Simply put, these features prepare you for jumping over nearly every hurdle that you may come across in a real flight.
For instance, the DJI Flight Simulator has a seven-stage test to help you gain command of your hovering skills when flying amidst strong winds.
Similarly, its free flight module has maps featuring the city, hangar, island, mountain, and forest areas — so that you can practice in different areas before you move onto a real drone.
You can avail a free trial if you have a DJI account. While the free version is amazing, it is quite simply just the tip of the iceberg. It lacks a lot of features and you only have a few drone models to select from.
With the paid version, on the other hand, you can fly around with any virtual DJI drone model. The Enterprise version leaves no stone unturned.
|Comprehensive physics engine||Strictly limited to DJI drones|
|Wide range of training modes||Does not feature FPV training|
|Excellent imaging system|
|Allows the testing of top-level drone models|
Not everyone is on the hunt for a serious flight simulator. For someone who’s looking for a fun experience while also getting to learn how a drone basically flies, Liftoft perfectly fits the bill
This simulator is all about offering a gamified experience, which is great for introducing beginners to the world of drone racing.
With over 16 racecourses, you can have access to versatility in different flying environments. It also supports FPV goggles and radio controllers, making the experience much more worthwhile overall.
One selling point of the LiftOff simulator is that it features a lot of competitive events and leaderboards.
But if tournaments are simply not your cup of tee, you can always do your individual practice in its FreeStyle and Free Flight modes.
Now, here’s something to remember: the simulator doesn’t really compare to the exact experience of flying a drone.
As I mentioned earlier, it's designed for gaming rather than just simulating. But don’t get me wrong, Liftoff is still great for developing your basic FPV skills.
One thing you should know about Liftoff is that you don't have immediate access to all drone parts. You get them only when you complete in-game tasks. Many experienced users don’t like this, but I think it's great for beginners — especially those who are into the dynamic of clearing levels.
|Excellent graphics||Average physics - quad feels floaty|
|Available on Steam and consoles||Not too realistic|
|Perfect for newbies|
If you are passionate about FPV drone racing, the VelociDrone simulator is most likely your safest bet.
However, you must already be familiar with the basics of drone racing.
VelociDrone offers numerous flying options with its high degree of customizability — something it has always been popular for. Its track editing and time attack mode will really help you polish your efficiency to deal with obstacles along the way.
What I really like about VelociDrone is its mapping system. You can choose where to fly from its wide range of 14 maps, ranging from indoor arenas to large open spaces.
From football stadiums and warehouses to abandoned buildings and even a gymnasium — the options here are quite impressive!
That being said, this simulator may not appeal to you if you want a good graphical experience. Remember, VelociDrone doesn’t offer the element of video gaming. While it allows interactive sessions of multi-playing and leaderboard participation, its approach is more towards performance-based learning.
I personally don't see anything wrong with that. After all, the ideal simulator for you may be all about honing your skills. And that's exactly what VelociDrone offers.
|Great physics and customizability||Low level graphics|
|Performance-based learning||Not ideal for beginners|
|Minimum requirement of PC specs||Not available on Steam|
|Compatible with almost any USB controller|
Are you currently taking drone pilot education to become a professional and also looking for a good drone simulator to practice?
If so, let me introduce you to the Zephyr Drone Simulator.
What makes the simulator so much more different than its counterparts is that it’s an educational training program. To help cater to its target audience, it comes with tons of built-in classroom management tools.
Allow me to explain what I’m talking about in a bit more detail.
Basically, this simulation software was created keeping in mind the aspect of training pilots. It even features an online classroom where educators can keep track of your performance over time.
For instance, they can check how often you’ve crashed your drone and what your weak areas are. This way, you can learn, get evaluated, and improve all at the same time.
Another great thing about it is its FAA rule compliance. That’s surely going to be a plus for you if you are living in the US.
Besides all of that, it has accurate physics, high customizability, and you can pilot your drone in both FPV and VLOS flight modes.
As you may have figured out by now, choosing Zephyr may be an overkill if you are someone who just wants a fun introduction to virtual drone piloting.
|Educational training software||Not suitable for FPV racers|
|FAA rule compliant|
Until now, I have talked about simulators that require at least a basic computer to operate. But what if we want a simulating app instead, that’s simply compatible with our smartphones, be it Android or IOS?
This is where Quadcopter FX Simulator comes in.
The simulator offers the best it can, considering its system requirements. It simulates a multirotor, remote-controlled drone consisting of various features.
These include heads up location (HUD), return to position (RPL), altitude hold switch, home lock, course lock, dynamic wind, various camera modes and so much more.
In fact, in its recent update, the developers have also announced an FPV mode with the added support to Google Cardboard VR. Indeed a happy news for all FPV racers!
However, it is important to understand that despite its strong approach to adding realistic flight value, Quadcopter FX Simulator is a mobile app after all.
Even though the simulation of the real-life experience isn’t as mind-blowing as the other mentions on the list, it still provides a plunge into the world of drone simulation.
|Doesn’t require any fancy hardware||Basic in terms of actual simulation|
|Good for beginners|
Let's now talk about what else you will need for drone flight simulations, of course, other than the simulator itself.
As a general rule, you essentially need to have decent hardware and a controller for drone flight simulators to function. These are as important as the drone simulator itself for basic piloting operations. Additionally, you can also invest in FPV goggles for an even more enhanced experience.
FPV goggles are not at all a necessity. If by any chance you have them lying around, you can try them. If not, I wouldn’t recommend investing in them.
I’ve already alluded to the essentials throughout this post, but here’s a complete explanation.
Generally, simulators work just fine, even with the basic specs of your device. However, if you want a smooth flying experience with no bugs at all, powerful hardware will certainly help in this regard.
In some (rare) cases, you will notice glitches and overall poor performance of the simulation software on your device. This is most likely because your device is way too outdated to even cater to the basic requirements of the program. In other words, it's time to get a hardware upgrade.
Let me put it straight: the better the hardware, the smoother the drone simulation. Viewed in this way, it is always a good idea to have an up-to-date CPU and GPU at all times.
If you ask me, I would not recommend you to use a keyboard for piloting a drone virtually. The main idea of these simulators is to familiarize yourself with the experience of flying an actual drone. Simply using a keyboard is nowhere close to that.
Instead, opting for controllers is a much better alternative.
Each software has different controller compatibilities. Most drone flight simulators are compatible with the actual controller of the drone, given that the simulator supports that particular model. Others can support simple gaming controllers as well, such as those of PC and Xbox.
All you need to do is figure out the kind of controller your drone flight simulator is compatible with. Once connected, you will be good to go!
By now, you must have an idea of the costs of drone simulators. Here’s an overall view on the question of cost..
The cost of a drone flight simulator highly varies, depending upon the purpose of the software. Recreational hobbyists can find their ideal simulator at prices ranging as low as $5 to $25. Conversely, for a professional expert, the most expensive simulator (DJI Flight Simulator) costs around $1350.
Remember to ask yourself why you need a drone simulator. Also take your experience into account — whether you are simply a beginner, an intermediate-level hobbyist, or a commercial drone pilot.
Once those things are determined, you will find it much easier to set up a budget for this investment.
Using controllers with flight simulators gives you a better sense of the realistic piloting experience. The same can be said about DJI Flight Simulator.
DJI Flight Simulator needs a controller to function. These include controllers from the following DJI drone models: Phantom 4, Phantom 4 Advanced, Phantom 4 Pro, Phantom 4 Pro V2.0, Lightbridge 2, Matrice 600 Pro, and Mavic Air.
Although not officially supported, you can also use Xbox controllers with DJI Flight Simulator.
While all drone flight simulators focus on providing a realistic experience, there are a few that quite literally blow our minds away with their pragmatic features.
DJI Flight Simulator is certainly the most realistic drone flight simulator on the market right now. Its comprehensive physics and degree of customization compare with none other, which provide a real-life experience at its best. VelociDrone and Zephyr follow closely behind in this regard.
To wrap it up, investing in a flight simulator is worth it in every way. Whatever software appeals to you the most, I can confidently say that it will help you polish your skills to a great extent.
And, at the same time, using it will most likely save your (realy) drone from that clumsy crash — thanks to your now fine control during the flight.