Drone Simulator: Best 5 of 2017
A drone flight simulator can be the perfect tool for you to start with before you go ahead and get into the (potentially) expensive hobby of flying drones. It’s important to make sure that you know how to fly your drone (at least conceptually) before heading out to rule the skies. In this article, we’ll talk about 5 of the most popular drone flight simulators that you can get into right now!
Before we start, you should know that there are a few different types of drone simulator models out there. There are dedicated models for PC, Mac, and you’ll even find a few units that are specially designed for your iPad. Therefore, before you buy any one of them, make sure that you are buying the right one and you have any required devices needed to use the flight simulator.
There’s another very important thing to understand before we get into the reviews. A drone flight simulator is not a replacement of true flight skills that can be gained from experience or a drone flight school but its a great place to start. Obviously, it is not possible for everyone to get into a drone flight school especially if you are a hobbyist just starting out.
Drone in general fall into the “easy to learn, difficult to master” category. There’s no replacement for practice when you’re looking to get smooth aerial panning and the confidence to go for those once-on-a-lifetime photo moments.
You’ll need a special controller to connect to your PC, Mac, or Linux machine to run these programs. We recommend the Taranis X9D for serious pilots, although you can get away with the Microsoft Xbox 360 Wired Controller or Wired Controller for PS3 if you’re on a budget. Of course, check the technical specs for each program to determine controller compatibility before buying.
Use these drone flight simulator tools to get comfortable with the idea behind how the quadcopter will move in space, and then get out there and practice! Our hope is that one of these 5 best drone flight simulators will help you avoid crashing and fly with confidence….now let’s get started!
Drone Simulator Comparison Table
|Flight Simulator||Cost ($)||Platforms||Multiplayer||Track Editor||Modify Physics||Ranking (#1 = Best)|
|Drone Racing League||Free||Windows, Mac||Yes||No||No||3|
|FPV FreeRider Recharged||5||Windows, Mac, Linux||No||No||Yes||4|
Table of Contents
DRL Drone Simulator
Popularly known as the DRL Racing Simulator, this is one of the best free FPV drone flight simulators available right now. We’ve tested the simulator ourselves, and found that DRL has made sure that the experience is not only educative but also addictive and super fun. Its accessible for anyone with or without prior experience with drones or flight simulators.
DRL is available for both Windows and Mac while being compatible with different types of USB controllers such as Playstation, Xbox, Skpektrum, JR, etc. You can find the full list of compatible controllers here.
The idea behind the DRL racing simulator is very simple. First, you will have to go ahead and download the simulator on your PC/Mac. After download, you’ll attach your joystick and start playing by the provided in-game tutorials.
DRL made sure that the flying experience is interesting by making sure to include several different activities and flight modes. You can either start learning to race a drone with the race simulator, you can go for a global multiplayer option where you will have a user profile and will be playing against real people from all around the world competing for the top spot on the leaderboard. You also have solo gameplay where you can simply roam around with your drone in different locations.
All in all, DRL is a very solid place to start for FPV drone pilots and although its still in beta, it is good enough for the average user. Of course, it is still 100% free, which is a huge positive for most of us bootstrapping hobbyists. DRL will also organize racing events and meet ups from time to time for their subscribers when you’re ready to step out of the shadows and into the real world.
FPV Freerider Recharged
The next one in our list is FPV Freerider Recharged which is probably the most popular FPV drone simulator right now. FPV FreeRider is quite a new drone flight simulator and we have found the quality of the software to be good value for your money. Unlike the DRL racing simulator, this is not 100% free, although the low cost ($5) is nothing to worry about (especially if you’re already used to spending a lot on drones like us!)
This simulator is available for Windows, Mac and Linux. The graphics quality is pretty average…meaning you won’t be having Grand Theft Auto style cinematic quality moments when playing with FPV Freerider but its only going to get better over time. There are, however, different graphics settings that you can go for depending on your graphics card settings and capability.
One feature we really like is that the sound engineering and audio is pretty decent. This gives you a more realistic vibe of what its like to be flying drones. Obviously, you have to understand that you don’t hear those same sounds when you are flying a real quadcopter because the quad is going to be far from you.
Another interesting fact about FPV Freerider is the variation in level settings. There are five different flight levels that you can choose from. You’ll be able to choose from desert, island, playground, car park and towers environments. The simulator did their best to make the levels look natural which they do to certain extent. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter though as the prime task of a drone flight simulator is to help you learn flying drone. It does that job perfectly.
Let’s talk about the different input options. There are three different things that you can do here. You can either use a USB Controller which can be your PlayStation or Xbox controller or even joystick, you can use your traditional keyboard or you can also use touchscreen. Basically, FPV FreeRider has you covered no matter what your input option of choice may be.
The custom settings will allow you to feel what its like to pilot your quadcopter in different types of simulations. For example, the sloppy mode and the sharp mode or even the tight mode will test your skills for sure. All the camera angles are also available to toggle, which give it a realistic look. Overall, FPV FreeRider is definitely a good drone flight simulator to go for, especially for just $5!
VelociDrone (Version 1.6)
The third one in our drone flight simulator list is VelociDrone. This is a straight FPV racing simulator and the only goal of VelociDrone is to make sure that you become be better drone racing pilot.
When you visit their site, you can immediately see that they are 100% racing focused. The website is fast-paced and the community is geared towards the high-adrenaline side of drone piloting.
We think that the best part about VelociDrone is their realistic graphics. They use real-looking drone models so that you can connect the game to real-life piloting.
Currently, there are 7 different drone options as well as 4 different scenarios & levels. You won’t get bored while flying these FPV drones, there’s a leaderboard that you can try to match or beat for each different level. There is also a feature called Time Attack which will allow you to fight with a ghost version of yourself to beat your own best time.
The best feature according to us is the 7 player multiplayer which will allow you to race with your friends or random players online. This allows you to connect with other FPV pilots while also kicking their butt…pretty great, right?
Though this is not a free simulator, there is a free version which you can download and try before you actually go ahead and buy the paid one (About $25 in USD). The free version will give you a 3-day trial, which is enough to judge the quality of this simulator.
The simulator pretty much supports all types of USB controllers and we hardly have any complaints. The price is a bit higher than the other ones we talked about so far but apart from that, this should be a good buy for most drone enthusiasts.
HotProps is an interesting, free drone flight simulator that has a beta version and is now available for both Windows and Mac users. Hotprops was first announced in the year 2015 and since then, the simulator has gone through a ton of changes and updates. It has since gained a bit of stability, but also very much in development.
Hotprops tries their best to make sure that they emulate the exact physics that of real world. According to them, they always look to emulate details on what is happening in the real world in terms of the flying movements and then simulates the same patterns and parameters in their drone flight simulator. They achieve this via an interesting setting menu on the Hotprops which will allow you to go as close as possible to the real world settings. Obviously, no simulator can be perfect but this is one of the most “realistic” ones we have tried.
Clearly, multiplayer racing is something that we all want in a drone simulator. This multiplayer is decent, and getting practice in the freestyle and racing modes will make you competitive. If you want to fly with your friends then you’ll have to coordinate with them and make sure that you all join the exact same lobby in order to race each other.
Let’s talk a bit about the graphics. The graphics are really quite good in this one and are probably the best that we have reviewed so far. The simulator made sure that even the shadows look natural, which will mean you need improved hardware to run it on your rig. Per their site, you will need a RAM of 2GB at least along with a video Card of 1GB minimum to run this simulator.
The last one in our list of the best drone flight simulator is Liftoff. At $19.99 on Steam, this is a very polished simulator which has very less to complain about. The company who produced this piece is LuGos Studios, in tandem with Fat Shark and ImmersionRC.
The best part about Liftoff is that this is not only designed for FPV pilots but for everyone in the drone community. The ground up design makes things more interesting for pilots, and that’s reflected with their “Very Positive” ratings in Steam. They seem to be releasing updates (like the LiftOff 0.8.4 patch) regularly, which is encouraging in terms of future support for the game.
The graphics are brilliant at the top setting but of course it is up to the specs of your computer that whether you will be able to reach peak performance or not. There are different graphics settings that you can play with so that you don’t have to quit the simulator if you have a weaker PC.
The controlling options are satisfactory for most users. There are settings to make your controller more or less engaging and there is a 3D model of a drone at the settings section to demonstrate how your changes are going to effect flying experience.
The controller options that you have are PlayStation controller, Xbox controller & Taranis Mode 2. The company however gave a hint that they might introduce more controlling options later on. You can find community guides and discussion about controller compatibility here.
There are a lot of fun, engaging modes to play in this one. There are both single and multiplayer options along with race, free flight and a workbench feature. The workbench is more of a garage where you can learn more about quadcopter props and frames, which is great for aspiring pilots.
The tutorials are made with care and you will actually learn how to fly a drone in depth with the help of Liftoff. Even the music is fun and engaging which is often ignored when developing a simulator. At times, something simple like music can make a huge difference and that’s exactly what Liftoff has done.
Also, there is a menu called track builder where you will be able to build your own custom tracks. This is a huge plus for the community and increases the replayability a bunch now that there’s all kinds of user-created content out there.
The Best 5 Drone Simulators of 2017
No matter which drone flight simulator you are going for, make sure that you are keeping the primary task in mind which is learning to fly drones better. Often we see that pilots get too much into the simulator that they forget their primary reason to start playing at the first place. That should not happen with you.
Having said that, try to have fun when you are learning how to fly drones. If the process of learning is not fun enough, you will never be able to get the true value of a simulator. Even if you have friends who are experts at flying drones, challenge them on your simulator and have fun. You will surely have a good time.