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.
There are two ways of connecting your TX to a computer:
- Someradio transmitters (TX) work with simulation software out of the box, while others might require additional adapter
- Connecting any TX to simulator using a flight controller and radio receiver
Here is a list of popular radio transmitters (TX) for racing drones, some of them are compatible with all the drone simulators directly, while others might require an adapter.
|Radio Transmitter||Adapter for Simulator?|
|Taranis Q X7
Taranis X9D Plus
|Turnigy Evolution||Not Required|
Picking a transmitter that has a USB port for computer connection is much more convenient for FPV sim’s. Right now, I think the Frsky QX7, X9D and Flysky Nirvana are all very good radios for mini quad flying. 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.
Cheaper 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.
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 experience, but it will never feel the same.
The point of a simulator is to help the pilots learn how to fly and build muscle memory of certain moves. 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 rather than 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 Air 2||$5||Yes||Yes||No||Windows||Available on Steam|
|FPV FreeRider||$5||Yes||No||No||Windows, Mac, Linux||Purchase|
|Liftoff||$20||No||Yes||Yes||Windows, Mac, Linux||Available on Steam|
|VelociDrone||$25||Yes||Yes||Yes||Windows, Mac, Linux||Website|
|DRL Racing||$20||No||Yes||No||Windows, Mac, Linux||Available on Steam|
|AccuRC 2||n/a||/||/||/||Windows, Mac, Linux||Available on Steam|
tltr: Pick One of These Sims!
I’ve tried most of the sims on the market and my personal favourites are Velocidrone, Liftoff and DRL.
For features and content, 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 the better option. You can practice all the same, and the game runs a bit smoother on slower machines at the cost of lower quality graphics. But it’s not on Steam, so updating takes a bit more effort.
I find LIftoff and Velocidrone to have the best physics that feel the closest to how a real quad flies. But of course that’s very much subjective and depends largely on your computer’s performance too.
DRL on the other hand excels at graphics and maps in my opinion. The sim is so much fun to play and I really enjoy the ghost lap racing feature too. The physics isn’t terrible but it overall feels a bit more like a game than a simulator to me.
If you are on a budget, you should also consider FPV Air 2. Despite being a relatively new sim and it has a lot to catch up with in all aspects, it’s only $5 and it’s been well received by the community.
In the rest of the article I will dive into each FPV simulator in more detail about features, pro’s and con’s.
FPV Air 2 Simulator
FPV Air 2 is the latest simulator on the list. It packs most of the features you want in an FPV sim including customizable physics, Betaflight-like GUI and multiplayer mode. It’s not as polished as other better established simulators, and it lacks track selection, but it’s one of the cheaper on the list at only $5.
It runs pretty smooth on a slow PC, but at the same time the graphics aren’t the prettiest. The trees look like wall paper and there is a lot of motion blur. But that’s not what we are here for, to look at the trees :) The affordability and flexibility make up for it. And I can’t wait to see what the developer has to bring to the sim in the future since it’s only at its early stage of development.
It’s available on Steam so updating is very convenient.
Here is the review from Kaity, a member of IntoFPV.com:
I purchased FPV Air 2 to replace my aged copy of FreeRider Revamped and was truly surprised at how close it comes to the way my flying feels! The physics feel accurate, the ability to tune PID and rates is awesome and the ease of calibrating my QX7 really make me happy.
I plugged in my Taranis, selected Taranis from the CONTROL menu and then clicked calibrate. Moved the sticks around and that was all that was needed. The flight area are tracks more inclined to racing style than freestyle, but if you ignore the track there is a lot of practice to be had proximity flying the obstacles.
I have this sim tuned to pretty close to the way my 3″ Japalura flies and when I step outside to rip through a real life pack, it is close enough that it feels easy to switch between them. It is a lot easier on the equipment to figure out a maneuver in the sim and crash electrons instead of carbon fiber.
Cheap and basic Sim, okay for beginners, but kind of 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 frequent update and rich content, but takes a decent gaming PC to run
Liftoff is designed specifically for mini quad FPV, and nothing comes close in terms of selection of hundreds of models and thousands of tracks. Liftoff is the first to implement a “parts system” that allows you to change components and settings just like in real life. Although there is still a long way to go to simulate the effects of different drone parts.
You can adjust rates and PID similar to that what you would do with Betaflight in real life. The physics has improved significantly over the years. The developers claim to have invested a great amount of money on developing the code with input from “top pilots”, “flight engineers” and “aerodynamic specialists”.
Liftoff is also the most graphically intensive simulator in the list and takes a decent spec gaming PC to run smoothly. Many people with slow computers complain about the performance being “floaty” and “choppy”.
Unfortunately you cannot change any of the physics in Liftoff . And the game doesn’t detect crashes very well, which means you sometimes 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 has more recently simplified the process of binding your transmitter, 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 runs better 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 DRL (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 significantly from the previous version. ONe of the main improvements is 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…
Too Expensive for an FPV simulator.
Previously known as FPV Event, Rotor Rush is another well known FPV simulator. I have heard good things about it, and it has some real life tracks from past racing events. It was originally retailing for £40, later on they changed the pricing model to a £4 monthly subscription 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
- Set 2018 – Added new sim – FPV Air 2