It's than ail-too common problem: you want to go flying but you can't because your drone isn't working so you can't get it in the air, or the weather is totally horrible so you don't want to venture outdoors, or you want to take some pictures of zombies in their natural habitat and there isn't an apocalyptic wasteland anywhere in your area.
Until recently the only solution would be to wait, but there's an increasing range of drone simulation software coming through, and with the likes of the RealFlight Drone Flight Simulator you can now just fire up your PC and get some sky time in the comfort of your own home!
Getting set up is very straightforward - just pop in the disc, plug in the USB InterLink Elite controller, install the software and then register the licenses. With the test rig it took us barely five minutes from start to finish as it's only a 2 GB install, but times may change depending on your setup. The system requirements are fairly low, even for optimal use, and it runs on everything back to Windows Vista.
Once you've got the sim fired up and had a flick through the brief menus and intro, you'll find a selection of 20 environments and 14 craft to pick from. Make your choices and you'll quickly be looking at a virtual UAV ready to go in a virtual world.
Then you just need to grab the controller, throttle up and fly around the kilometre wide (and modestly detailed) worlds. You may initially find yourself just exploring the map to see what's around, experimenting with the flight dynamics of the various flyers, or setting yourself mini-challenges and practice runs, just to see what you can do.
As recovery is just a button click away you'll soon be pushing the limits of several thousand pounds worth of virtual kit you might never get to fly in real life, and slamming into walls with nothing more than a quiet "darn it".
Quite how accurate the flight dynamics of the various craft are is difficult to tell without flying them all in comparable environments to those in the simulator, or knowing and understanding all the coding involved in the program.
What can be said, however, is that they certainly fly how you would expect them to fly, and the realism is enough to practice techniques and manoeuvres for when (or if) you do try it with the real thing. To this extent it can be used for basic training or intermediate revision, building confidence and familiarity with ease.
The environments themselves aren't too realistic (especially the Apocalypse and Aircraft Carrier settings) but that isn't a detrimental thing here. They have enough in them to keep you interested in flying around and for you to then practice flying around them.
Extra detail would be nice but isn't essential, as you wouldn't be noticing it all that much and it would inevitably add barriers to entry (such as price and file size). There are interesting things to look at, fly through and around, and if you hit them your craft stops working with bits falling off your bird if you impact with enough force).
Don't expect graphics to rival the latest Call of Duty, but there's enough to keep the environments interesting.
Someone somewhere - possibly Knife Edge Software themselves - may turn the core engine into a videogame extravaganza at some point, but that isn't the goal here. Similarly the user interface is fairly minimalistic, giving over the majority of the screen to what you can see from your immobile rotating stand-point.
You can add in things like Drone Viewpoint (including gimbal and FPV), have a Flight Mode indicator for the craft with variable settings, and add on a heads-up display for extra avionics info. You can also access a range of customisation and setting options, giving you a surprising amount of control over your experience.
You can also access the Challenge Mode screen, where you can test out what you've learned in fun but joyfully unrealistic manners. There are two modes here: "Quadcopter Trials", which involves trying to get through a course of gates and pads, and the "Scavenger Hunt" where you're battling against the clock to take photos of various things around an environment from a FPV perspective.
One of the key benefits of flying in a flight sim is that a crash only costs you a few seconds, not a few hundred dollars!
It's probably not the most practical test of your piloting skills, but we wouldn't be surprised if these become firm favourites at drone-based gatherings. You can also unlock new UAVs, including a Deadcat quad and an eight-rotor Octopus.
Back in the real world, the controller itself is a comfortable piece of kit; solid but not too weighty. Whilst it's not a RC transmitter itself, the set includes leads to enable the connection of the InterLink Elite to any set with a DSC/ trainer jack, so again the potential of the package for beginner training is clear.
So, is it worth getting when you either already have a high-end drone to practice on or could spend similar cash to get a workable low-end flyer? If you aren't in a situation where you can fly every day and you want to either brush up on your skills or just get a bit more droning in, then the answer is quite likely to be "yes".
At this time it's probably the closest and most affordable alternative to actually being in the air, so even though the price tag may stop it being an impulse purchase, if you're serious about flying, then it should certainly be on your wish list of things to get.