As we approach winter and the holiday season, many of you may be looking for more ways to fly or how to share fpv with someone special. Or perhaps, you’re just a gamer who has taken an interest in drone flight but hasn’t decided to shoulder the commitment and risks associated with flying in real life.
This article was submitted through the GetFPV Community Program by Josh “Civie” Brown.
Disclaimer: This article was written solely by a member of the FPV Community. Views and advice in this article are that of the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinion or views of GetFPV.
Simulators are a great way to experience some flying and learn some skills without the stress and risks associated with true flight. A digital environment, not limited by regulatory or weather conditions, is a great place to fly at any time. Drone racing simulators are available in many flavors and have even been published for console gamers. I will be going over the four simulators I’ve spent the most time in: The Drone Racing League [DRL], Drone Champions League [DCL], Liftoff, FlowState. Towards the end, I will also cover some honorable mentions that I’ve not yet fully explored.
Today pilots have the option to either fly digital or analog video systems. All of the simulators included in this roundup have a variety of display options that are particular to each game but, also can emulate many of the interfaces you will encounter in true flight. To keep things consistent between each simulator, I’m going to do my best to keep the same camera angle, FOV, and Focal Distance. If you want to read more about what attributes you might need to consider while purchasing an FPV Simulator, check out OSprey’s Article. He covers many of the critical elements of emulated FPV flight.
DRL (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows, Macintosh)
Beginning with The Drone Racing League Simulator, one of the cheapest of the simulators on this list, it is the one I have found to be the most satisfying. I started with this one. I tried some of the training exercises, advanced enough to be confident to load up a freestyle session, and keep crashing until I wasn’t. For Me – an experienced gamer but novice pilot, the ability to confidently chase a new skill without the burden of breaking things is a relief. DRL is fairly intuitive to navigate, offers 32 frames [ 3”- 7”], 31 MultiGP Tracks, 7 Original Levels, Community Created maps, online leaderboards, transmitter support, a Multiplayer lobbying system, and 60 instructional exercises. There are not as many options as some of the others, but it is very well-rounded. DRL is the only simulator in this review that allows pilots on different platforms to lobby in the same environment, as confirmed by reps from DRL. Which for many, it will be a crucial deciding factor in your choice of a simulator. It should be noted that while DRL offers a substantial environment for emulating acro flight and has an orbit cam for practicing Line of Sight Flight, it doesn’t include some of the level flight control schemes found in true flight controllers.
Quad customization Options in DRL
3in – 3 frames, 2 motors, 5props
4in – 2 frames, 7 motors, 10 props
5in – 21 frames, 15 motors, 34 props
6in – 4 frames, 15 motors, 37 props
7in – 2 frames 15 motors, 40 props
DCL (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows)
Drone Champions League is one of the available Cross-Platform simulator options available to console and PC gamers. DCL is very race-flow-oriented, with many ease of accessibility features. Offering a competitive time-attack and race-oriented environment, with constantly updating pilot data. Each race generally leaves me wanting more, to chase a cleaner line, and shave more tenths off my time. A mixture of fictional and real environments, 3 classes of frame [DCLRace, Heavy, Light|, lots of personalization options. Drone Champions League might be the most game-like of the group, but because of its greater accessibility: keyboard, controller, transmitter, and arcade mode, it’s positioned in a place to capture gamers looking to make the leap into flying FPV, but who don’t want to purchase a transmitter and a PC capable of running some of the more hardware intense simulators.
Quad customization Options in DCL
Only 3 classes of quad frame, but lots of skins for those frames. No quadcopter customization other than appearance.
Liftoff (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows, Linux, Macintosh)
Next up on the list is Liftoff, one of the most complete simulators available with more available frames than DRL. It has a larger community than many of the other available simulators, recently added cross-platform availability, has in my opinion the most realism, with the option for more.
I say this because the first time I loaded up Liftoff, I flew a little too close to a barn and obliterated a prop. The other simulators on this list do not account for prop damage. There is an available no-damage mode, but flying without that crutch forced me to work on static object and spatial awareness while flying. So while this is the “most realistic” of all the simulators by most accounts, it is significantly more intimidating than all of the other simulators on this list. Liftoff has its merits, and one of the most notable features is the ability to switch control schemes on-the-fly. Changing between acro, level, 3d, and Horizon modes on-the-fly, is only a couple of button presses away. Its moderate price point, availability, and emulation of multiple modes of flight, make this a wonderfully complete example of the variety of FPV flying experiences. With regular and considerable updates based on community interaction and suggestions, LiftOff aims to position itself to capture most of the gaming market. I feel they want to make something incredibly real, while also making it a fun and exciting experience for gamers who want to explore FPV, but also not shoo away seasoned pilots who want serious realism. With additional content coming from Liftoff, including the Night Fever DLC and the upcoming Liftoff Micro Drones – this is one of my favorites to load up when I want the realism of ripping packs with a 5-inch quad.
Quad customization Options in Liftoff
28 frames, 40 motors, 35 Props, 8 Run Cameras
FlowState – PC
Rounding out the list is Flowstate, the only free option on this list and also the only offering that is PC only. Tailored more towards MultiGP racing, this is the least feature-packed of all the options presented. With that being said, what Flowstate does get right, it gets right very well. Meaning, there are an attentive set of developers listening to and making adjustments based on community input and feedback. Therefore, I’m excited to see how it progresses and evolves. The core ideas behind this simulator are its designs to be useful as an accurate practice tool that mimics real-world analog flight conditions. It runs incredibly well even on modest hardware, including access to all the variables needed to properly emulate FPV flight, and best of all it’s free. That being said, I think FlowState’s appeal is to already seasoned pilots, who would like to fly MultiGP anywhere on any kind of hardware. Until FlowState gets audio, it’s still not quite immersive enough for my everyday use, unlike the other simulators on this list. Additional information on flow state can be found in Lawrence’s Article.
Quad customization Options in Flowstate
Has some quadcopter adjustability, however really only emulates 3 inch quad frames.
While these may be just a few of the many options available, it isn’t an exhaustive list of every single feature and quirk of each of these simulators. I’ve found that a simulator has been a great stepping stone into the world of FPV flight, and when properly calibrated – an excellent practice tool. With all of these simulators growing in popularity with the desire for unregulated airspace, the main thing I’d hope you would take away from this: a simulator is an amazing tool when you have tailored it to suit the kind of flight you would like to pursue.
Unlike real life, in a simulator environment; setup only happens once and there is no constant tinkering to ensure proper flight. I find that very helpful in using a simulator every day helps create those links in your brain that will help you excel in the pursuit of skilled and competent flight when you do take to the sky. In the ever-evolving world, having a tool at your disposal that gives you the ability to jump right in and fly means, you can start developing that healthy fly everyday habit.
Some of you may be more concerned with the simulators that I haven’t put in this roundup: Velocidrone (and its many DLC packages), Liftoff Micro Drones, FPV Air 2, and DJI’s simulator. To be as well rounded as possible I have included some of the other options you might consider.
Velocidrone has so much ground in the FPV simulator community, and I’ve heard nothing but good things about it. With the other articles available on it, I didn’t feel it was necessary to add it to this roundup, even though it’s the most professional FPV racer’s preference of simulator tool. Its substantial track library and the existence of the Velocidrone Racing league with its 49 or so available tracks, is an incredible tool for those who are looking for the true MultiGP FPV Racer experience. GetFPV wrote a very thorough article in November, it’s available here.
Micro Drones is something that Liftoff is currently developing to solve the gap that currently exists in the environments provided so far. The micro drones variant of Liftoff aims to address the fact that Liftoff currently doesn’t do a great job of emulating the tiniest of the brushed and brushless quads available. As this game is currently in active development, and there isn’t much information on it yet, the word is still out. All I can do is look forward to it being published. Liftoff’s page for Liftoff Micro Drones is available at https://www.liftoff-game.com/our-products/liftoff-micro-drones.
This one has a substantial and thorough article already available. GetFPV’s article goes into great detail on this $5 simulator; if this is the kind of budget you have for a simulator after buying parts, check out the article GetFPV published about it here.
DJI’s Flight simulator
This is a great tool for pilots of Mavic’s and other commercial drone offerings from DJI. If you’re just a casual pilot with an interest in flying these drones, there is no better offering for simulating the equipment you use. If you are just wanting to practice piloting these drones, this is probably the simulator for you. It’s free for personal use and also comes in two additional tiers, enterprise, and energy, which both are tailored for commercial applications. If you’re interested in checking it out, it can be found at https://www.dji.com/simulator.
I aimed to equip you with the knowledge to comfortably make a decision about what kind of simulator is right for you and help you convince your friends to join you! Hopefully, this helped you gain a better understanding of what is right for you. Always have fun and keep flying every day. #InFlightWeTrust
Josh “Civie” Brown’s parents both worked for local newspapers before transitioning into their permanent careers, so writing has been a part of his life for a long time. His grandfather is a former Helicopter pilot, instructor, and worked for Sikorsky and Boeing. You might say his leap into quadcopters was a long time coming. He’s a current Simulator Pilot with substantial experience for someone who has only flown micro and mini quads. A lifelong gamer, tinkerer, photographer, and all-around mad scientist. Follow Joshua on Instagram or on YouTube.