In this day and age experimenting or learning to fly a drone can be expensive. A drone pilot requires several hours of flight training in various scenarios and weather conditions. Crashing real drones while training, that cost thousands of dollars, can be a heavy setback.  Additionally, many pilots do not have access to different drone models. Hence, making use of UAS or drone flight simulators is the best option.

UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) simulators are simulation software that enables a drone pilot to fly any kind of drone with realistic functionality without the worry of any physical damage to the drone or the surrounding. Essentially the simulator is a tool that can virtually train you from the basics to any form of application training (power grid inspection, search and rescue, etc.) without needing to even own a drone.

Best UAS simulators on the market

Most UAS simulators work on a desktop (PC or Mac) with a standard drone controller while some industry-grade simulators require a dedicated training station. The ones requiring a training station are generally for larger fixed-wing drones. We have listed the best drone simulators under 2 categories- Simulators for professionals and hobbyists, and FPV Racing simulators.

Simulators for professionals and hobbyists

1. RealFlight 9 Simulator

RealFlight’s latest version, RF9, is the most detail-oriented and powerful RC simulator created by them. The RF9 not only provides simulations for drones but also RC aircraft and helicopters. There are plenty of drone options to select from including quadcopters and hexacopters. The flying environment is extremely customizable and the pilot has the ability to even import a custom drone. The software comes bundled with RealFlight’s Spektrum Interlink DX controller. However, you can also opt for the standalone software.

RF9 UAS simulator
Source: RealFlight

Compatible Devices: Windows

Price: $99.99 for software only | $179.9 for software and controller (Available here)

Features:

  • More than 160 aircraft including airplanes, helicopters, drones, and more
  • Over 40 different flying sites including 3D fields and PhotoFields
  • Compatible with VR headsets
  • Immensely realistic physics
  • Multiplayer modes available
  • Custom site creation using the FlexiField Site Editor
  • Users can import custom aircraft or modify existing ones

Minimum System Requirements:

Operating System: Windows 7
CPU: Intel Pentium 1.0GHz or equivivalent
Memory: 512 MB RAM
Hard Drive: 10 GB available in hard disk
Graphics Hardware: 32 MB Dedicated Video Memory (Shader Model 2.0 or better)

Note: The above-mentioned configuration will run the software but for better 3D graphics and smoother framerate it is advisable to up RF9’s recommended specs mentioned here.

Supported Controllers:

  • InterLink DX
  • Any RealFlight Compatible Controllers (with USB 2.0 port)
  • Third-party Gamepads or Joysticks

2. DJI Drone Simulator

If your goal is to learn to fly a DJI drone, this is the best option. DJI’s drone flight simulator is a professional pilot training software that recreates the natural flying experience through a ‘comprehensive physics engine’. The 3D environment and drone physics are highly realistic. The software provides three categories of training: Skill training, Free flight, and Application training. With weather control and simulated crashes, one can learn to fly a drone in any condition.

DJI Drone flight simulator

Compatible Devices: Windows

Price: undisclosed by DJI (approximately a few hundred USD)

Features:

  • Accurate drone physics and flying experience.
  • Multiple POVs
  • Customizable Environment.
  • Customizable drones (Consumer DJI drones and Industrial DJI drones)
  • For beginners as well as commercial pilots

Minimum System Requirements:

Operating System: Windows 10
CPU: G4560
Memory: 16 GB RAM
Hard Drive: 80 GB available in hard disk
Graphics Hardware: GTX 1050 Ti GPU (4 GB VRAM)

Supported Controllers:

  • Mavic Series
  • Phantom 4 Series
  • Matrice Series
  • Inspire 1 Series
  • Lightbridge 2

DJI offers three different software versions: Free trial, Enterprise training version, and Energy version. The free trial only includes access to consumer drones and free flight mode. For full access to all modes and drones, pilots can opt for either the Enterprise or Energy version. All three versions are available for download and order on this page.

3. Zephyr Drone Simulator

The Zephyr drone simulator is another great simulation software. It has a fully integrated training program within its software that collects flight data and shows your training report at the end of each module. This can particularly be useful for drone training instructors who can analyze their students’ performance through built-in classroom management. The Zephyr drone training software takes into account all of the updated FAA drone regulations and combines it with real-world physics to deliver a robust simulation system. Unlike the DJI variant, the Zephyr supports several other drone models from various companies and is available for both Windows and Mac platforms.

Zephyr UAS simulator
Source: TechRepublic

Compatible Devices: Windows and Mac

Price: $99 for base license | $149.99 for base license and drone controller
Free trial for 30 days is available through registration here.

Features:

  • Flight data analysis
  • Advanced drone physics
  • Classroom management system
  • Multiple drone models
  • Constantly expanding training modules
  • In compliance with FAA drone regulations.

Minimum System Requirements:

Operating System: Windows 7 or higher / Mac OS X 10.8 or higher
CPU: Intel Core i5 @ 3.4 GHz or equivalent
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Hard Drive: 2 GB available in hard disk
Graphics Hardware: Direct X 9.3 or higher compatible graphics card
Internet Connection: DSL or higher

Supported Controllers:

  • Gamepad controllers (XBox/Playstation)
  • Interlink Elite by Futaba
  • Hobby King 6-CH RC Flight Simulator Controller
  • Taranis FrSky X9D Plus

Check out the complete list here.

4. droneSim Pro

The droneSim Pro is the most beginner-friendly option on the list of professional simulators provided here. It provides users with a decent 3D environment, and realistic geological & terrain models. This simulation offers great functionality at a very competitive price. The simulation only provides users with 2 drone models. However, if you want to learn to fly a drone in life-like scenarios, under a budget,  the droneSim Pro is ideal.

droneSim Pro UAS simulator

Compatible Devices: Windows & Mac

Price: $9.99 (available here)

Features:

  • Customizable environment
  • Customizable drones (Phantom 2 and 3, more will be added with the latest update)
  • Accurate drone physics
  • Realistic lighting conditions and training scenarios
  • Two POVs (Drone view and pilot view)
  • VLOS tracker and altitude restrictions

Supported Controllers:

  • XBox Controllers
  • Playstation Controllers
  • Desktop Keyboard (not recommended for flight training)
  • Any standard drone controller (check the complete list for compatibility, here)

FPV Racing simulators

1. Drone Racing League SIM 3

This simulator is designed for FPV drone racing and training. The DRL SIM 3 is one of the most advanced and realistic FPV racing simulators. The SIM 3 has been made with extensive research and flight data from the world’s leading experts. This software offers the most aerodynamically precise drones for pilot training. To create this simulation the DRL created a vast database of test results. Over 5,000 bench tests were conducted, creating over 260,000 drone combinations, and 2,000 power combinations. These bench tests provide real data against thrust, torque, RPM, voltage, current, temperature, bell, etc.

DRL’s simulation made use of the world’s leading motion capture lab to verify its drone positioning to an accuracy of 2 millimeters @ 300hz. This allowed DRL to compare real-life positioning to the precision of the simulation. This simulator is packed with features that are hard to replicate. If your goal is to master the sport of drone racing, this simulator is the ultimate solution.

DRL SIM 3.0 FPV racing siumlator

Compatible Devices: Windows and Mac

Price: $9.99 (available on Steam)

Features:

  • The most realistic FPV drone flight engine
  • Precise aerodynamics and real-world physics
  • Measures unsteady drag
  • 5051 propeller props
  • Moment of inertia calculation based on battery and component
  • Open Environment (customizable) and community sharing
  • Customizable drones
  • Multiplayer mode available
  • Integrated E-sports

Minimum System Requirements:

Operating System: Windows 10×64 | Mac OS Sierra version 10.12 or higher
CPU: Intel Core i5-4460 (2.70 GHz) or better | 3.7GHz or faster for Mac
Memory: 8 GB RAM for Windows | 12 GB RAM for Mac
Hard Drive: 4 GB available space for Windows | 5 GB for Mac
Graphics Hardware: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 650 (2GB) or better | 2x2048MB VRAM for Mac
Internet Connection: Broadband Internet Connection

Supported Controllers:

  • TBS Tango Controller
  • XBox and Playstation Controllers
  • Nintendo Switch Pro
  • Logitech F310
  • FlySky/ Turnigy -i6 AFHDS 6CH
  • FlySky FS-SM600 6CH

Check out the complete list here.

2. Velocidrone

This simulator is created for the purpose of improving lap-times and mastering FPV racing. Users can create custom tracks and practice throughout an unlimited array of tracks with moving obstacles. It provides you with pre-made realistic tracks and the option to share your custom-built tracks with other pilots. Velocidrone also supports online multiplayer of up to 7 players. The only downside to this simulator is its average graphics as the software is more focussed on the performance aspect. With time-based laps, this is a great tool to get better at competitive drone racing.

Velocidrone FPV racing simulator

Compatible Devices: Windows & Mac

Price: $21.38 (available here)

Features:

  • Nemesis Mode
  • Custom tracks
  • Real-life drone models
  • Line of sight flying
  • Customizable environment
  • Fast-paced timed laps
  • Excellent game physics

Minimum System Requirements:

Operating System: Windows 7 (64-bit) | Mac OS X
CPU: Intel Core i3 (1.7 GHz) or equivalent
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Hard Drive: 12 GB available space
Graphics Hardware: Intel HD4000 (DirectX 11, Shader model 5) | Metal and OpenGL for Mac
Internet Connection: Broadband Internet Connection

Supported Controllers:

  • Taranis
  • Spektrum
  • Futaba
  • Turnigy
  • Interlink
  • VControl
  • Gamepads

3. Liftoff

Liftoff is one of the most famous FPV drone racing simulators. The simulator checks all the boxes with great physics, one of the most highly detailed environments, and the ability to construct your own custom drone and tracks. Liftoff has recently added the Physics 4.0+ engine for testing and it’s better than ever before. It has integrated weekly tournaments for its users which keeps the drone training competitive.

Liftoff FPV racing simulator

Compatible Devices: Windows & Mac

Price: $19.99 (available on Steam)

Features:

  • Customized drones and tracks
  • Extremely detailed environment
  • Highly realistic Physics 4.0+ engine
  • Integrated E-sports (weekly tournaments)
  • Easy tutorials and controller set-up

Minimum System Requirements:

Operating System: Windows 7 (64-bit) | Mac OS X 10.9
CPU: Intel Core i5 (2.4 GHz) or better
Memory: 3 GB RAM for Windows | 4 GB RAM for Mac & Linux
Hard Drive: 15 GB available space
Graphics Hardware: GTX 960 or Radeon HD 7750 | 1 GB Video card memory for Mac & Linux
Internet Connection: Broadband Internet Connection

Supported Controllers:

  • Any standard RC drone controller
  • Gamepads

Connecting the controllers to the PC is straightforward. They can be either connected wirelessly or through suitable adapters. Check your product and software guide for further instructions. Industrial and Military-grade simulators will be covered in another guide. We hope you found this guide helpful.