DJI’s Virtual Flight app lets you practice flying in a VR drone simulator without risking damage to your expensive drone.
DJI is the world’s most popular drone manufacturer, and every model includes a camera, so you can enjoy a drone’s eye view of your surroundings. Drones are incredibly fun but have practical uses like search and rescue, assessing equipment status, and monitoring forest growth and condition.
One of the most significant barriers to flying a drone is the fear of crashing into something, which is likely to damage the drone and possibly other objects. That’s particularly true of DJI’s high-speed, first-person-view (FPV) drones that can reach 87mph (ca. 140 km/h) speeds in just a few seconds.
DJI’s Virtual Flight is a way to practice safely at home or the office before taking off with your real drone. It connects to your drone’s controller and headset to simulate accurate drone flight characteristics. While it isn’t technically VR, the feeling is quite similar.
Flying in VR
The DJI FPV and Avata drones come with head-mounted displays (HMDs). Unlike most VR headsets, these drone HMDs use an external battery pack like Apple’s Vision Pro, but are lightweight enough to wear for hours. The Avata makes flight even more immersive with a handle-shaped Motion Controller that tilts and turns the drone to match the controller’s movement.
While DJI drones are relatively easy to use, flying with confidence requires practice. If you want to fly fast and navigate tight spaces with precision, it takes several hours on the simulator or a large budget for replacement parts. Learning through trial and error while flying a quadcopter drone can become expensive if you aren’t careful.
DJI’s Virtual Flight app creates digital twins of DJI drones with great precision, so every hour spent in the simulator will make you a better pilot who’s prepared for quick adjustments.
Free flight lets you explore at your leisure, while Time trials are a great way to learn to fly faster. I’ve owned drones for a couple of years, but only started using the Virtual Flight app recently. Beyond practice, it’s a great to satisfy a desire to fly on windy or rainy days when it isn’t safe to take the drone outside and evenings when it’s too dark to see through the drone’s camera.
The best device for Virtual Flight
DJI’s Virtual Flight simulator app works with Windows PCs, Android phones and tablets, iPhones, and iPads. While you can use your computer or phone screen with a DJI controller, wearing the HMD completes the FPV experience.
I was surprised to learn that my Android phone is the best device to practice virtual flying of a DJI FPV or Avata drone. I connect a USB-C cable between the headset and my phone, start the DJI Virtual Flight app, and select a location to practice flying.
A Windows PC with a discrete graphics card can deliver higher frame rates, but the HMD currently only works with a phone or tablet.
My iPhone 13 Pro Max should outperform my Pixel 6a, which costs half as much. For some reason, the Virtual Flight app renders highly pixelated images in the Goggles.
I suspected the iPhone’s Lightning cable could cause the problem, since it has about 1% of the bandwidth of USB-C. However, I tried on an iPad Pro with a USB-C port and experienced the same issue.
Everything looks great on the iPhone and iPad screen. You can record the screen in high quality, but the graphics look bad in the HMD. A thread in DJI’s community forums revealed this is a recent issue with the iOS app, and DJI is aware of the problem.
Until DJI fixes this bug, it’s best to practice flying DJI’s FPV and Avata drones on an Android device that can display high-quality graphics in the headset.
Even if you have to use a PC monitor instead of the HMD, a little practice in DJI’s Virtual Flight app might prevent an expensive crash or lost drone.
Alternatives to DJI Virtual Flight
If you don’t own a DJI drone but want to experience flying, DJI includes a rudimentary drone simulator of the Mini 4 Pro in its DJI Store app. It isn’t a racing drone, but the controls are similar to DJI’s FPV.
If you just want to fly in VR and don’t really care about drones, Microsoft Flight Simulator is less demanding on your PC thanks to recent Nvidia technology.
Meta Quest 3 owners might want to check out Warplanes, a WW1 and WW2 action game. Sony’s Playstation VR 2 will be getting another WW2 virtual dogfighting game called Aces of Thunder.
If you prefer a more peaceful flight game, Ultrawings 2 made our 2022 list of the best VR games. It’s available now on Steam and in the Meta store for the Quest 2, 3, and Pro and Ultrawings 2 has been announced for the PSVR 2.
The HMD that comes with the DJI Avata includes a diopter adjustment. For VR headsets, you might want to get prescription lens inserts to have the best clarity for the small details that are important for flying.
Buy Quest 3, Accessories & Prescription Lenses
VR Optician Prescription Lenses
With prescription lens inserts, you can comfortably use your VR headset without glasses. Use the following link to get a 5% discount.
Buy Playstation VR 2, PS5 & Prescription Lenses
Playstation VR 2
PSVR 2 Accessories
Buy Quest 2, Quest Pro & Prescription Lenses