Even a halfway decent drone costs a pretty penny these days. Case in point, the standard DJI Phantom 3, a top-quality entry-level drone, costs just a hair under $500.
That’s a lot of money to risk at the hands of a beginner operator. Safely piloting a drone takes experience and know-how. It’s not something you want to jump into right away.
Drone simulators are the solution. These computer programs simulate the flight environment so you can learn how to use the controls and grow comfortable using them before piloting a real drone for the first time.
Why Use a Drone Simulator?
A drone simulator is the number one way to learn how to fly a drone in a risk-free environment. The best programs create a realistic flying experience, allowing you to become comfortable with the controls before piloting a real craft.
Learning to pilot a drone with a simulator lowers risk and increases safety. Make the transition to a real drone and there’s far less chance you’ll crash it. Not only does this protect your financial investment, it also reduces the risk of injuring someone or damaging property.
Using a drone simulator also makes piloting a drone more enjoyable. Greater comfort with the controls translates into less stress. You’ll be able to spend more time enjoying flight and finding the best angles (if using a camera).
Best Drone Simulators
Drone simulators are a dime a dozen. There are so many available that weeding through the pack and selecting the best one is beyond important.
Look for a drone simulator that allows you to use a real remote control. If you’ve already purchased a drone, look for one that’s compatible with its controller. Learning to pilot a drone in real life is much easier if you practiced with the same controls.
Here are three of our favorite drone simulators that let you use your own remote control:
RealFlight has an impressive history of creating quality simulators. They’re best known for their RC helicopter and fixed wing plane simulators. The drone version of their simulator is just as good.
At $150, RealFlight Drone Flight Simulator is a very good value for all the features it provides. The package consists of a desktop simulator plus a controller. Though the hardware controller isn’t the exact one you’ll be using for your drone, it’s very similar to most four channel transmitters on the market.
RealFlight’s drone simulator is also available for mobile devices. It costs an additional $2.99. While it’s nowhere near as realistic as the desktop controller (and not compatible with the hardware controller), it’s still a decent way to get a feel for the controls.
20 different flying locations are available to choose from. These range from empty airspace to environments riddled with obstacles to avoid.
The RealFlight drone simulator also features a handy instant rewind feature. This enables you to help fix mistakes as you refine flying skills and learn to capture the best photos/videos with the controllable camera gimbal.
Learn more about RealFlight Drone Flight Simulator.
Looking for a cheaper alternative? Then the DJI Go App is for you. The free application is available for immediate download from the App Store or Google Play.
Of course, the fact that the DJI Go App is free and available solely on mobile devices means it’s nowhere near as robust as RealFlight. Yet it’s not without its benefits.
The app is specifically designed for DJI models like the DJI Phantom, DJI Inspire, and DJI Osmo series drones. Those that already own one of these models will learn a lot from the DJI Go App.
Perhaps the best aspect of this particular drone simulator is the variety of information it provides during flight. It lists the drone’s height, distance, battery life, GPS signal, map, and more. It’s important to become used to monitoring these things before transitioning to your real drone.
Unfortunately, the DJI Go App isn’t very realistic. Sure, it will help you learn the controls and know what vitals to monitor, but it won’t feel much like piloting a real drone.
Learn more about the DJI Go App.
AeroSim Flight Simulator is one of the most comprehensive flight simulators we’ve come across. Though it’s not restricted just to drones (RC helicopters and airplanes are also included), it’s still a great way to learn to safely pilot one.
What sticks out most about this flight similar is the variety of drone models available to choose from. There are models spanning a wide range of sizes. You’re sure to find one very similar to the drone you’re planning to fly in real life.
The AeroSim Flight Simulator costs just under $100. It’s a desktop program that allows you to practice a variety of flight scenarios and maneuvers.
A negative of this flight simulator is the lack of an included controller. You’ll have to buy a controller separately if you want to use the simulator without piloting it with your computer keyboard. On the other hand, select drone controllers can actually be synced with the simulator.
In short, the AeroSim Flight Simulator is a good choice for the money. It’s not drone specific but still provides a fairly accurate flying environment.
Learn more about the AeroSim Flight Simulator.
We highly recommend a drone flight simulator to beginners. It’s a risk-free way to learn to use a drone before taking the real thing to the skies.
The key to using your drone simulator to practice flying is to play around with it. Get used to flying the simulated drone in all conditions and scenarios.
Most importantly, practice flying the drone away from you, turning it around, and flying it back. It seems simple in theory but this basic movement is difficult to adjust to in practice.
Simply put, using a drone simulator to learn how to fly a drone is a surefire way to protect your expensive investment when you use it for the first time.