In this article we will compare the best quadcopter simulators for FPV. Drone simulators have been around for decades, but only recently we’ve begun to see more options designed specifically for drone racing and FPV freestyle, some of which are even free!
Drone simulators allow you to practice FPV flying on a computer 24/7 regardless of the weather without damaging your quadcopter. Whether you are still learning how not to crash, or getting the hang of a challenging acrobatic trick, simulators are highly helpful for beginners and advanced pilots alike.
if you are new, here is an article to show you some insight of racing drones and how to get started.
Featured image is from “Unreal FPV” simulator.
Before Looking into Drone Simulators…
You need a controller for the simulators.
Although you can simply use a gaming console or keyboard for a flight simulator, I strongly recommend using a proper radio transmitter which you will be using to control a drone as well. That’s the best way to build up muscle memory, and get the most benefit from training.
Some radio radio transmitters (TX) work with simulation software out of the box, while others might requires additional adapter or hardware.
Here are a list of popular radio transmitter (TX) for racing drones, which are also compatible with all the drone simulators we mentioned in this article.
|Radio Transmitter||Cable/Adapter for Simulator|
|Taranis Q X7
Taranis X9D Plus
|Turnigy Evolution||USB Cable|
Picking a transmitter that has a USB port for computer connection is much more convenient for FPV sim’s.
I recommend the Frsky Taranis X9D and QX7 not only for being the most popular TX models for mini quad flying, but they are also “plug and play” solutions for many computer platforms. When connecting with a USB cable, it simply shows as a game Joystick in Device Manager.
Some TX such as the the Flysky i6 and Turnigy 9X don’t have a USB port and might require a trainer port to USB adapter to work with simulators.
The good news is, thanks to Betaflight, you can now connect any TX to simulator using a flight controller and radio receiver.
Does Quadcopter Simulator Physics Matter?
Yes, and no.
The physics of a drone simulator is highly a personal opinion. Simulators are getting better and better in terms of how close it is to real life, but it will never feel the same.
The point of a simulator is to help one build muscle memory and learn how to fly. Just pick a simulator that feel real enough for you with graphics that you like and runs smoothly on your computer. Spend your time on actually practicing and not on worrying about the physics. :)
Popular FPV Simulators for Racing
These listed flight simulators are the most popular ones, and they are designed specifically for Drone Racing and Acro Freestyle flying.
|Price||Changeable Physics||Multi-player||Track Editor||Platform||Link|
|FPV FreeRider||$5||Yes||No||No||Windows, Mac, Linux||Purchase|
|Liftoff||$20||No||Yes||Yes||Windows, Mac, Linux||Purchase|
|VelociDrone||$25||Yes||Yes||Yes||Windows, Mac, Linux||Website|
|DRL Racing Simulator||$20||No||Yes||No||Windows, Mac, Linux||Download|
|AccuRC 2||n/a||/||/||/||Windows, Mac, Linux||Group|
tltr: Only these Sims!
I’ve tried most of the sims on the market and my personal favourites are Velocidrone, Liftoff and DRL.
For features, content and graphics, Liftoff is the way to go. The main downside is that it requires a decent gaming computer to run. Otherwise your quad would feel sluggish and floaty in the sim.
If you have an older PC or laptop, Velocidrone might be a better option. You can practice all the same, and the game just runs a bit smoother on slower machines at the cost of lower quality graphics.
I find LIftoff and Velocidrone to have the best physics that feels the closest to how a real quad flies. But of course that’s very much subjective and depends largely on your computer’s performance.
DRL has the best graphics and maps IMO, it’s a lot of fun to play and I really enjoy the ghost lap racing feature. The physics isn’t terrible but overall it feels a bit more like a game than a simulator.
In the rest of the article I will dive into each FPV simulator in more detail about features, pros and cons.
Cheap and basic Sim, okay for beginners, but outdated.
This is probably one of the earliest FPV simulators specifically designed for multicopter racing.
It’s a cheap simulator and it allows free trial. You are able to change some basic physics in the game, such as gravity, drag, quadcopter power etc. You can also change camera tilt angle, and FOV (field of view). In the free version you can’t change any settings, and are limited to only one map.
FPV Freerider used to be one of my favorite quadcopter simulators, the physics is acceptably realistic. However, the rate system has always seem a bit too slow for my taste. It doesn’t have “super rate” which makes the quad feel like it spins too slow for flying acro. Also the lack of support for multiplayer lets a lot of people down.
Furthermore I always feel like there is more delay to the stick inputs. It isn’t a massive problem, but it’s noticeable for me.
This sim is okay for complete beginners to get into FPV flying, but with all the limitations you will quickly outgrow it.
Update (16/Apr/2016): FPV FreeRider released a new version called “Recharged”. Check out the discussion thread: http://intofpv.com/t-fpv-freerider-recharged-new-version
A more polished product with the most frequent update and most content, but takes a decent gaming PC to run
Liftoff is designed specifically for mini quad FPV, and is backed by ImmersionRC. Liftoff is the first to implement a “parts system” that allows you to change components and settings just like in real life.
They have created rate/expo algorithms which make the sim behave very much like a real quad. Liftoff also implemented a PID system similar to that found in Betaflight. Theoretically that’s a great idea but it doesn’t work as well as we had hoped. Changing PID values in Liftoff can produce some unexpected results and I usually just use the defaults.
The physics has improved significantly over the years. The developers claim to have spent over $200,000 on developing the code with input from “top pilots”, “flight engineers” and “aerodynamic specialists”. Despite of this, the behaviour still feels slightly more “floaty” than the real quad I fly.
Unfortunately you cannot change any of the physics in Liftoff . And the game doesn’t detect crashes very well, which means you have to take your goggles off and lean over to the keyboard to reset the game manually. It’s a minor point but an irritation all the same.
Liftoff is also the most graphically intensive sim in the list. Many people complain about the performance being “choppy” and “slow”.
Lastly I found Liftoff to have the most frequent updates of the sims I have tested. I recently had to wait 10 mins for an update to download and install. It’s frustrating when I just wanted practice for 20 mins during my lunch break. It’s good to see development is continuing but it would be nice if they could go with fewer “big updates” rather than frequent “small updates”.
Liftoff has recently simplified the process of binding your transmiter, and introduced ‘Freestyle Mode’ which rates your moves and tricks as you was in a competition. That really shows some real consideration for those who just love the aerial ballet.
Here is a video I captured using the DVR in my FPV Goggles which I used as an external monitor with my computer via HDMI cable.
Great physics, probably one of the most realistic sims. Graphics doesn’t look the prettiest but at least it runs okay on slower PC’s
VelociDrone offers pilots many well known, real-life drone models to choose from. You are able to adjust the physics of the game, such as gravity, drag, quadcopter power etc.
I have to say this sim feels very realistic to me. It’s probably one of the best on this list for highly mimicking the feel of a real life racing quad.
Apparently the software uses Betaflight firmware codes, and just like Betaflight you can make adjustments to your PIDs and rates. The camera FOV and angle can be set to your preference, and that it uses your TX’s full range of motion without having to use offsets speaks volumes in my opinion.
The graphics is not as good as Liftoff, but the benefit is the more forgiving computer requirements, the menus and tracks all load relatively more quickly. There is a great track editor, and multiplayer mode where you can jump between races and freestyle, have voice chats and changes courses, all in the same session.
The Drone Racing League Simulator
A fun computer game for FPV pilots, but not real enough to be a simulator.
The Drone Racing League simulator used to be free, but it’s now available on Steam and costs $20. The new Steam version is definitely better than the old free one.
The physics isn’t the best, but it has improved a lot from the old version and it at least doesn’t feel “weird”.
They have improved the modeling of cornering, but the quads still feel under-powered. It feels like flying a really heavy quadcopter powered by tiny motors. (Edit: apparently DRL did base their simulator model on the real quads used in the DRL events, which weigh 1Kg+ each)
Anyway, the maps and scenery are extraordinary, you get tall buildings, abandoned factories and a shipyard, all in a single map! Another great feature which I think should be included in other sims is that DRL allows you to reset the race or the quad’s position using switches on your TX.
I really like the new system where you can race with the ghosts of pilots similar to your ranking. This system can motivate you to play, improve and move up your racking too.
Look here I was having fun diving buildings, and trying one of the race tracks…
Expensive – from someone who hasn’t tried it.
Previously known as FPV Event, Rotor Rush is another well known FPV simulator. I’ve heard it’s a great sim, and it has some real life tracks from past racing events. It was originally retailing for £40, later on they changed the pricing structure to a £4 monthly subscription model which makes it even more expensive overall. I haven’t tried it for this reason.
Unfortunately, support and development of Hot Props FPV Simulator have been discontinued, therefore we have removed it form our list. It’s very sad as it is one of the very few free sims that are left.
One has to recognize the purpose of FPV simulator is to build up muscle memory of controlling a quad with transmitter sticks, and learning new tricks :) Simulators are always getting better all the time, but flying virtually will never beat the real thing.
Getting out there and flying is the best way to learn, meet people and have the best fun! Another cheap way to get into the air and learn FPV is by building a Tiny Whoop :)
- March 2015 – Article created
- Feb 2017 – Updated, added Velocity Drone and FPV Event
- June 2017 – Updated and edited FPV Event name/price change
- Oct 2017 – Updated reviews
- Jun 2018 – Tried all sims again and updated reviews; Removed sims that are no longer relevant