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Product Reviews

RealFlight Drone Flight Simulator

Perfect intro to flying or tool to fine tune your skills

April 11, 2016

Highlights

  • 14 different drones to choose from
  • Lots of skill-building sessions
  • Nice graphics
  • Controller feels like the real deal
RealFlight carved out a comfortable space in the top tier of flight simulators, and it should come as no surprise that it now has an edition dedicated exclusively to multirotor copters.

RealFight Drone comes with an InterLink Elite controller made by Futaba. It has the heft and feel of a hobby-grade transmitter, with switches for various flight modes, gimbal control, and, for some models, motor reversing. In the current version, the switches aren't drone specific, but marked for use with traditional R/C aircraft featured in RealFlight's other simulator programs. Take a little time to get used to which switch controls what for a particular unmanned aerial vehicle and you'll be good to go.
Before flying

Of course, you'll have to load Drone onto your PC. Not a problem at all — plug in the controller to a USB port, pop in the DVD, and click "next." You will have to enter two verification numbers (one is inside the disc case, and the other is on the back of the controller) to run the software.

By moving the mouse to the screen's left, you'll find a menu with options for aircraft, location, toggles, controls, view, graphic settings, and a heads-up display. You can find all of these selections plus more in the buttons at the top of the screen, too.
Bill Zuback
Into the blue

Getting into the virtual blue is easy: just click "fly"on the initial menu and you show up at the field, drone waiting to go. To tell the truth, I don't remember which drone showed up for my first flight, because I was off scrolling through the choices right away. There are 14 aircraft available in Drone, ranging from the Heli-Max Voltage and Hubsan X4 Pro to generic hexacopters and octocopters that could be from just about any manufacturer.

I picked a Hexacopter 780 and got right into the air. Of course, it's a blast seeing how well the controls work and what happens when you crash. The simulated world is just as tough on drones as the physical world. I left pieces of copters scattered across many locations, crashed into the wall of soccer stadium, and even got hung up on stairs in a dilapidated hangar.

Once I worked the silliness out of my system, I noted that the simulator doesn't provide you with a way to see both FPV and fixed point, as if you were flying with a monitor and line-of-sight. You can fly from a location on the ground, from behind the drone, off its front end, or from the gimbal — which is what gives you the FPV perspective.

Handling was realistic for various models, and the simulator does a good job of showing how squirrelly some copters are compared to others. It also demonstrates how quickly a drone dots out, and you don't know if you're flying toward or away from your location. A quick toggle to FPV helps.

The heads-up display is a nice touch, although I think just adding the altimeter, speed, bearing, and battery life to the main display without pitch and yaw would have been plenty.

Tim Kidwell
Photos and videos

The description said I would be able to take photos, so I started hunting for targets. There is a “training” series in which you fly your drone toward predetermined subjects bounded by a red box. When the box turns green, the drone automatically takes a photo. There’s another training program that is essentially a series of more difficult obstacle courses. You have a limited amount of time to either make it through the course or take a number of pictures. If you don't, you have to start over.

You also have the opportunity to take a non-automatic photo of what you’re looking at, which requires you to take a screenshot by pressing the “tab” button on the computer keyboard.

The photo/video simulation disappointed me. Part of the full experience of flying drones is to shoot masterful video and photos — framing the shots at the very least — and getting comfortable with seeing the UAS in the air as well as through a monitor. While you can tilt the angle of the camera with a dial, the functionality is minimal.
System Specs

RealFlight Drone Flight Simulator

  • Available: Tower Hobbies
  • Processor requirement: Intel Pentium 1GHz or better
  • RAM: 512MB minimum
  • Hard drive space: 3GB
  • Price: $119.97
Final thoughts

RealFlight Drone can be a useful practice tool, especially if you live somewhere temps get below 20 degrees in the winter. You can adjust the weather and light conditions, change locations to meet your needs (or whims), and even fine tune your flying by heading through obstacle courses. If you're looking to buy a drone, it's an affordable introduction to flying or supplement your time in the field.

Note: A version of this review appears in the Drone360 March/April 2016 issue.
Featured image: Tim Kidwell