RealFlight, where there is a reset button!
This article was originally published in The Drone Mag’s April/May 2016 issue.
by Mark Ronge
Photos Edwin Rodriguez
MANUFACTURER: Great Planes
DISTRIBUTOR: Hobbico, Inc.
TYPE: Drone flight simulator
FOR: Any prospective or current pilots
PRICE: $129.99 (all-inclusive combo with Elite InterLink Controller by Futaba)
NEEDED TO COMPLETE: Windows PC (check the system requirements listed on Great Planes’ website or on the side of the box)
• Excellent physics modeled, not just for the drones, but realistic wind and sun glare prepare you for tough conditions in real life.
• Practice crazy 3D maneuvers without the risk of crashing your real life model.
• Fun challenge and photography missions keep the experience exciting, complete with addictive high score counters
• The Futaba Elite InterLink transmitter is just like a real 8-channel transmitter that one may buy for their drones, allowing for the user to seamlessly translate their new skills to their own models.
• Different display modes allow practice on everything from FPV racing to high altitude photography.
• Excellent physics modeling allows for drones to fly like their real life counterparts, including 3D models
• Challenge modes to hone piloting and aerial photography skills
• Simulator models realistic conditions, such as wind and sun glare
• Generous system requirements allow most PC’s to run the software smoothly
• An excellent tool for improving FPV skills with fun obstacle courses
• No need to worry about crashing your expensive drones, just click the reset button!
• Would like to see a couple of tutorial missions for brand new pilots
Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, or Windows 10 (Local administrator access required) Intel Pentium 1.0GHz or equivalent
512 MB RAM
10 GB Hard drive space
3D Accelerated Video with:
32 MB Dedicated Video Memory
Full Windows DirectX 9 compliant (Shader Model 2.0 or better)
Optimal System: For best graphical performance Dual Core 2.4GHz CPU
2 GB RAM
3D Accelerated Video with: 512 MB dedicated video memory Pixel Shader 3.0 support
Broadband Internet connection Computer microphone for voice chat
Interlink Elite Controller:
Compatible FM or FM selectable transmitter if using the Interface mode
There’s no denying that drones are booming in popularity both with experienced radio control hobbyists and new pilots as well. I myself learned how to fly airplanes and helicopters mostly on a computer simulator which easily has saved me thousands of dollars in repair bills, up until today when I am trying new, advanced techniques. It makes sense that one of the most popular flight simulators around, RealFlight, has developed an all-inclusive drone simulator to aid pilots in improving their technique or learning from scratch. Plenty of models are included in RealFlight Drone, everything from aerial photography platforms to high end 3D aerobatics are just some of the examples. Challenge modes and photography missions help work on fine drone control and easily translates to the real thing. In a newer market RealFlight Drone offers the best package on the market for Drone pilots at a very attractive price lower than other simulators. This is especially true because the Futaba Interlink controller is included which is just like a fully functional Futaba transmitter. RealFlight Drone aims to target any drone fan out there (or anyone thinking about piloting one in the future), and is easily one of the most cost effective purchases in the hobby today.
Right off the bat I was impressed to see that for a lower price than other simulators on the market, Great Planes still includes the excellent Futaba Interlink Elite control in their package. This controller feels nearly identical to a Futaba 6-8 channel transmitter that you would buy today. The Interlink controller offers eight channels of control which helps to switch between a drone’s various modes, change dual rates, or for controlling the drone’s camera gimbal (if equipped). By practicing with essentially a fully featured transmitter, beginners will not be shocked when making the jump to the real thing, and more experienced pilots will feel at home right away.
If you do wish to use your own transmitter, many can be plugged into the Interlink and used, however I appreciate the fact that the Interlink
controller does not require any batteries and is always ready to go. All of the controls feel great, just like any expensive transmitter should, and when I am using the simulator I easily forget that I am not using my own transmitter. And it goes without saying the Interlink includes the all important reset button!
Model variety is not an issue with RealFlight Drones. There are a total of 14 models included (a couple are the same with different setups), but most of them tend to pilot in drastically different manners. By reading the descriptions provided in the simulator a beginner might be drawn to start with something like the Hexacopter 780 which is an ultra stable photography platform. There even is a GPS equipped model which is useful practice before heading to the field with your own. There are plenty of mid-level drones which have more speed an maneuverability which I found perfect for practicing FPV (First Person View) flight on the included obstacle courses. Even expert pilots will find models to suit their needs such as the 3D capable Heli-Max Voltage 500 which flies just like the real thing. I can’t lie and say that I am the best 3D drone pilot, but I already feel like I learned a few things by flying without stress of crashing my expensive rig. One thing to note is the detail in each model. As you can see in the screen shots, each drone looks just like the real thing.
Now flying drones is fun and all, but without proper backdrops and sceneries what would we practice our aerial photography and FPV flying on? RealFlight Drone simulator has plenty of unique airports, from exotic travel locations to aircrew carriers and junkyards. I had a blast flying around each location and exploring what each has to offer from unique perspectives that only radio control drones can offer. On high graphics settings the landscapes look stunning with areas inspired by European and Asian culture. Taking screenshots of each location for this review was quite fun and I often lost track of the time just flying around in FPV mode. Some of the airports are in a night setting and certain drones are equipped with LED’s so you can tell where the model is going. Aside from realistic areas, there are fun obstacle courses and race areas to continue to work on FPV. Now that FPV is growing this is a fantastic (and cheap) way to practice cutting down those times.
It should be noted that even with the attention to detail that RealFlight has included in the Drone Simulator, I found the system requirements very generous so that most people should be able to run the program on any desktop PC at least four or five years old or so. There are basic performance settings to tweak the graphics, or if the user is a computer junky there are tons of advanced settings to squeeze every last bit of performance out of the application. I was even able to achieve a smooth 60 frames per second on select airfields on medium settings with a three-year old laptop (with a mobile dedicated graphics card), which I was thrilled about (no more boring business trips!)
One section of the simulator I really enjoyed was the challenges and scavenger hunt modes. The included challenges consist of various obstacles (such as gates and pylons) the user must navigate, usually ending with a spot landing. There are 10 of these challenges, and while I was able to complete them fairly quickly, attempting to do so with a good score was another story. You need to be super efficient with the transmitter in order to achieve a perfect score and perform each action with accuracy. One other mode that you can receive a score on is the scavenger hunt feature. This consists of 10 missions in which you must photograph specific objects. This involves holding the drone steady and framing each shot perfectly. What I really liked about this mode is that some of the missions are what commercial photography equipment can be used for, such as salvage operations or even rescue missions. While not for everyone, these features scratch that video game itch which for me becomes addicting as I to try and beat my last score. After a couple of missions the “ghost” feature is unlocked which shows a transparent image of your fastest run so it becomes apparent where time can be saved. If anything these features are a fun way to relax after intense practice sections! My only complaint would be that there are no basic flying tutorials for brand new pilots, but due to the stable nature of multi-rotor flight it shouldn’t take a new user much to figure out the basics.
THE LAST WORD
As more and more people get interested in drones, RealFlight Drone could not have been released at a better time. It’s not just for beginners either, there are plenty of challenges and models to fly for experts. Heck, I could use some practice on my 3D flying skills and there is no way I would experiment on my own radio control models like I can in the simulator. As someone that has been flying for quite some time, RealFlight has inspired me to up my aerial photography game or tinker with night flying when I saw how cool it looked in the simulator. I would recommend this so ware to anyone who is remotely interested in radio control drones as this package comes with a high quality transmitter almost identical to a standard setup for radio control flight. Don’t let the price tag scare you, this is actually quite affordable for a full-fledged simulator with a high-quality transmitter interface. If this so ware just saves you from crashing one moderately priced drone in real life, RealFlight Drone has more than paid for itself.