In this article we will talk about some of the best flight simulators for practising flying an FPV quadcopter. Computer flight simulators have been around for decades, but recently we’ve begun to see more and more sims designed specifically for drone racing and FPV freestyle, some of which are even free!
FPV simulators allow you to practice flying on a computer 24/7 regardless of the weather, and without damaging your quadcopter. Whether you are still learning how not to crash, or getting the hang of a challenging acrobatic trick, simulators are perfect for beginners and advanced pilots alike.
Featured image is from “Unreal FPV” simulator.
Before Looking for Best Drone Flight Simulator…
But before searching for your ideal drone flight simulator, you need to make sure you have a radio transmitter (TX) that is compatible with the simulation software. Alternatively you might be able to use other means of control, such as a gaming console, or even just a keyboard! I strongly recommend using a proper radio controller however, that’s the best way to build up muscle memory, and get the most benefit from the training.
Connect your TX to Computer
Picking a transmitter that has a USB port for computer connection is a huge advantage with FPV sim’s. For example both the Frsky Taranis X9D and QX7 are “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 USB simulator adapter which connects to the trainer port. Do the research for the particular transmitter you have, google is your friend :)
There is also a “universal” solution using this “radio receiver to USB” adapter. It receives the RX output on a USB device which connects to your computer, there is no direct connection between the TX and computer. This works on all TX that has a pairing receiver with PWM outputs.
Popular FPV Simulators for Racing
There are more and more FPV Drone simulators emerging in the market. I’m listing the most popular FPV Racing Sim’s here, which are designed specifically for FPV 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|
|Hot Props||Free||Yes||Yes||No||Windows, Mac||Website|
|VelociDrone||$25||Yes||Yes||Yes||Windows, Mac, Linux||Website|
|DRL Racing Simulator||Free||No||Yes||No||Windows, Mac||Download|
Read on to learn more about these FPV sims.
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 with Freerider, which isn’t a massive problem, but it’s noticeable for me.
This sim is okay for complete beginners to get into FPV flying, but you will quickly outgrow it with all the limitations.
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
Great configurator and part system, but it feels “floaty” and needs a very good computer to run it well.
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 a real quad.
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, and 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 more “floaty” than the real quad I fly.
Unfortunately you cannot change any of the physics in the game, and Liftoff 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, 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”.
Update (Oct 2017) – Liftoff has recently introduced ‘Freestyle Mode’ which 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 is connected to my computer as an external monitor.
Great FPV sim, with one of the most realistic physics.
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 truly 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 computer requirements are more forgiving than Liftoff, the menus and tracks all load relatively quickly and it has a great track editor too. In multiplayer you can jump between races and freestyle, have voice chats and changes courses, all in the same session.
DRL Racing Simulator
A fun computer game for FPV pilots, but not real enough to be a simulator.
is free and it allows multiplayer, but it’s more of a game than an actual simulator. The physics is probably one of the worst of the sim’s we have tested, it feels like the drag is set much too high and the quads are very 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.
DRL Racing simulator is not ideal for practicing tricks and honing your FPV skills, but I did have good fun playing it and you should definitely give it a try since it’s free :)
Look here I was having fun diving buildings, and trying one of the race tracks…
Update (Nov 2017) – DRL simulator is no longer free. It’s now available on Steam and costs $15. Therefore we can no longer recommend it as there are other better sims out there that costs about the same.
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.
The graphics is not the best, I easily lose in orientation after a roll, because the landscapes is over simplified and lacking reference points.
This software is built specifically with multicopters in mind, but I find it lacking basic functionality, such as PID tuning.
It offers self-level mode and acro mode, however the only available quadcopter model, in the free version is a Phantom, which is not really geared towards acro mode. You can practice FPV with it, even though it’s not that realistic.
The Phantom in the free demo of Heli-X feels powerless, like I was powerless to stop myself from turning this sim off!
The graphics looks quite good in this sim, however like most other sim’s, you can’t use full resolution on your TX as it only takes 0 to 127 as range (where the Taranis uses -127 to 127).
- Big variety of models
- Allows FPV
- Ability to create FPV tracks and scenes based on satellite images and geo-referenced by two sets of coordinates. Also the ability to load terrain elevation data from a .hgt file
- Training mode for beginners with progress tracking and helpful exercises
- OSD plugins for FPV mode with the ability to load external OSD plugins and to change settings like a real OSD system
- Amazing control over model settings and physics that enable you to get a very close simulation of the characteristics of your real model, even flight times are calculated from weight and battery capacity
- Large variety of flight modes available including ALT (altitude) hold, heading hold, course lock, auto stable and more.
- Control over wind settings.
- Realistic Physics
- Built-in scenes get really boring after a while
- Price is really expensive (about 90$)
- Rare updates and slow development, for such an expensive product
- Lacks the ability to create detailed scenarios with trees and other obstacles (again- for that price seems reasonable to have that feature).
To sum up:
It’s a serious simulator with nice graphics and wide variety of features to play with, but it does feel like it’s more for basic flying and aerial photography training. For those who want an all out racing sim, AeroSimRC might not be the best choice.
Finally… Build/Buy a Tiny Whoop to learn FPV on :D
Simulators are 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 – edited