8 Best Drone Flight Simulators of 2019
Flying drones is exceptionally fun, which is the primary reason for why it’s attracting a lot of beginners. However, drones are also expensive, which would make it really painful if you end up crashing it on your first flight. Luckily for beginner drone pilots, it’s now possible to practice drone flight in a 100% risk-free environment.
Drone flight simulators have started to become a thing, which is hardly surprising considering how popular drones are nowadays. In this article, we list down the best drone flight simulators that we highly recommend. Most of these are either free or very cheap, so there’s no reason for you not to try them out.
The official drone flight simulator of the Drone Racing League (DRL) is one of the best free drone simulators you can get today. Even if you haven’t gotten around to buying a drone yet (meaning you don’t have a drone controller), you can connect any gaming controller to your computer to use the DRL simulator.
The best thing about this simulator being an official release of the DRL is that it features courses modeled after actual courses uses in DRL competitions. You can even join on a virtual competition, as the best times posted for each individual course is available for all pilots to see. Think of it as a worldwide ranking between users of the DRL drone flight simulator.
Aside from an array of well-designed and visually appealing courses, the DRL simulator allows you to customize the drone you are flying. This is a great way to try out how it feels to fly drones with different sets of motors and propellers. You will crash early and often, but don’t worry, as you’ll reset back in position with just a single button.
That being said, the DRL drone simulator is still a one-trick pony that allows you to race at high speeds through complicated courses but does not provide a practice ground for any other drone-based applications. If taking it slow is more your flavor, then you’ll have to look elsewhere.
droneSimPro is a relatively new software that is designed as a training simulator for various commercial drone applications. It only uses a single drone model: the Phantom 2 Vision +. However, what the droneSimPro lacks in drone types, it makes up for in the variety of training scenarios.
You can start off by practicing your basic flight skills in an open field, before moving on to an obstacle course to develop responsiveness and finesse. As a culmination, you will be using the virtual drone to respond to a house fire which requires quick and accurate drone maneuvers. All these scenarios can be done in either the drone view or a first-person view.
Flying in the droneSimPro environment is simply a joy with the detailed geological features and terrain and the realistic lighting effects. The team behind droneSimPro have even gone the extra mile to provide an HUD that simulates real-time telemetric data. This flight simulator is compatible with most USB game controllers, such as those for the Xbox and the PlayStation.
Another great thing about the droneSimPro is its price tag – at only $29.99, it’s practically a steal. If you’re not convinced yet, then you can even download a free demo from their website.
If we had to decide which of the entries on this list was the best-polished, then the RealFlight drone simulator will definitely be a strong contender. The simulator caters to all types of RC pilots – whether you use a fixed-wing craft, a helicopter, or a quadcopter, chances are that the RealFlight has something for you. In fact, the team behind RealFlight boasts of the ability to fly 150 different vehicles. Simply put, no other drone simulator offers this much versatility.
The RealFlight simulator offers up to 40 different flight scenarios, consisting of indoor flight, obstacle courses, and various outside weather conditions. Combined with the number of RC vehicles you can fly, this simulator offers infinite slight simulation possibilities.
Not content with what has already been developed, the RealFlight simulator continues to receive updates in the form of new aircraft models and flight scenarios. There’s even an online feature that allows you to compete with other pilots in traversing obstacle courses.
RealFlight offers extensive customization options. Aside from allowing you to make adjustments on your drone’s hardware setup, you can also influence the environment by adding or removing obstacles, setting wind speed and direction, or adding the effect of thermals.
One of the more unique features of RealFlight is its compatibility with popular VR headsets HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. This means that you can even simulate the sensation of flying with FPV goggles, all in the safety of your computer chair.
Naturally, all these premium features come at a price. Right now, the RealFlight software costs just a little less than $200, which is enough to make it one of the more expensive entries in this list. However, the quality of RealFlight is unquestionable. Even when you fork over the cash, we can’t imagine that you will end up regretting it.
The Velocidrone simulator, as its name implies, is another drone racing simulator with an emphasis on velocity. The software is compatible with most game controllers and remote transmitters, which is great thing since you’ll need the analog sticks to really do well in this simulator.
The Velocidrone allows the use of any of a large library of racing drones, each one of which is modeled after a real-life drone. Although the simulator comes pre-loaded with a lot of wild and different racing tracks, the Velocidrone also allows you to make your own using their custom editor. In terms of creativity in developing tracks, Velocidrone is hard to beat with its football stadiums, abandoned buildings, and deserted gymnasiums.
As with other drone racing simulators, Velocidrone has a thriving community of drone pilots who like to compete with each other. Each scenario can accommodate up to seven drone pilots, which makes drone racing seven times more fun.
Surprisingly for a drone simulator of Velocidrone’s quality, it costs less than $20. This is a really good deal, but keep in mind that it was designed for drone racers. If you fly your drone for any other industry, then Velocidrone might not be helpful for you.
If you want a drone simulator that you can play on just your mobile phone, then the Hotprops simulator is definitely at the top of the list. Being limited on a mobile platform, Hotprops offers a much simple drone simulator experience compared to the other entries in the list. However, its accessibility and that fact that it’s free to download has made it one of the more popular options for prospective drone pilots.
Flying your drone in Hotprops can be done via touch-screen controls, but if you need something more tactile, then you always have the option of tethering a remote transmitter or a game controller. You can even adjust the controller sensitivity, maximum pitch, and maximum roll using a bunch of easy-to-use sliders.
Being a mobile app, the biggest benefit to using Hotprops is in how frequently it gets updated. The developers behind Hotprop are constantly adding new features and adjusting existing ones based on user feedback. Unfortunately, this also means that the app has to go through a lot of loading screens every time it boots up.
The app is currently free to download with the option to buy in-app items. The free version is excellent, and we highly recommend that you give it a try.
The alpha version of the Real Drone Simulator was released way back in 2017 and is due to receive an update in the next few weeks. Even in the alpha version, the developers have made Real Drone Simulator an exceptionally well-performing simulator with beautiful environments. It’s an overall satisfying experience, which makes us quite excited about what the update has in store.
Real Drone Simulator offers the chance to fly virtual versions of real licensed drones using their realistic physics engine. The software is compatible with either Windows, MacOS, or Linux and can be controlled using a gamepad, a drone controller, or just your keyboard and mouse.
Aside from being able to fly around courses that have been designed by the developers, Real Drone Simulator also offers the option to fly in the ‘real world’ using virtual environments pulled from Google Earth. You can adjust the difficulty level of your flight missions, which will affect how the wind changes, the wind speed, and the size of the area you can fly around.
The developers behind Real Drone Simulator have expressed an interest in creating flight missions based on drone racing, aerial photography, and aerial filming. Perhaps these features will already be included in the upcoming update – we’ll be keeping you posted.
The Heli-X simulator is designed more as an educational tool than as a game, but it doesn’t mean that you won’t get a lot of fun out of it. With more than a hundred different vehicle types – ranging from RC helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft, and multirotor drones – Heli-X offers a wealth of flight experiences in their well-designed training courses.
In their goal to help UAV pilots develop more advanced flight skills, the developers of the Heli-X have created several training modules for both basic and advanced flight. Simple tasks such as hovering and making your way through obstacles make way for more complex exercises such as collecting cargo or conducting rescue operations. All these flight capabilities make judicious use of an excellent real-time physics engine that is based on modern mathematical methods.
Heli-X also has multiplayer capabilities that allow you to fly with other pilots in any of their simulated environments. You can even run your own game server and invite users to come onboard. However, Heli-X is not some MMORPG where you can expect multiple users to be online at any given time. If you just randomly come online, then chances are you’ll be flying solo a lot.
The base version of the game is free to download, although you’ll be restricted to just a handful of UAV models. If you end up having fun, then you have the option of upgrading to the complete version for just a little over $50.
The humble FPV Freerider mobile app gives you just enough of a taste of drone flight for you to know if it’s for you. This app features no drone options and no training modules – it’s simply you, flying a drone through a bunch of tracks and sceneries. The controls are quite responsive even if you’re only using the touchscreen version. The FPV Freerider app is still best used with a compatible USB controller with a USB OTG adapter.
The app does offer a few customization options to tailor-fit the flight experience to your style. You can change between FPV or line-of-sight flying at any point. You can also adjust controller gain, camera angles, and other environmental factors. If your device can’t keep up with the graphics processing requirements of the app, you can also set a lower resolution setting to favor performance.
One advantage of using a mobile app for drone flight simulation is that it can be easily used with cheap 3D goggles to simulate flight using FPV goggles. The FPV Freerider is compatible with Google Cardboard although we imagine that any 3D goggles that can fit your phone will do.
FPV Freerider offers a demo version so you can check if your controller is compatible with the app. For all the features, you will have to purchase the full version. The good news is that the app costs less than $5. It’s a small price to pay to help you avoid crashes when you do eventually buy your first drone.
If you’re still on the fence on whether or not you want to buy a drone, then trying out a good drone simulator is something we recommend that you try. Even if you are already set on buying one, then testing your flight skills out on a drone simulator is still a good idea. It might be what makes the difference between you pulling off your first drone flight without incident or crashing your drone within the first few minutes.
The great thing about these drone flight simulators is that most of them are very cheap, with some even available for free. Of course, advanced features come at a price. Why don’t you try a free version for now just to check if you can have fun with it? There is literally nothing to lose.