I'm a professor at Clemson University, so I'm in the business of teaching. That doesn't necessarily mean I was the best student! I'm like many people that learn by doing. Flying a drone is a skill that can be learned but requires practice. There is no substitute for flying an actual drone in real-world conditions, but I'm a big proponent of starting with a simulator first. Here are my top six reasons why you should use a simulator before purchasing your first drone.
1. If you're not crashing, you're not learning
Flying high without any obstructions won't teach you to gauge distances from your position to the drone or through the drone's live feed. You need to fly next to and through obstructions to learn the drone's envelope. The only way to know how close you can get before crashing is to crash…and then repeat.
2. Practice is convenient, so you'll do a lot more of it
Flying is a skill and, like any skill, requires practice. However, practice can be time-consuming. You have to charge your batteries, load your gear, drive to a safe environment, and then break down. You can only fly when the weather is good, and your flight time is limited by how many batteries you have. With a simulator, you can get a quick 15 minutes in before dinner or fly for hours at a time with no prep time. When it's convenient to practice, you'll do a lot more of it.
3. Simulate emergency conditions
A simulator allows you to fly in conditions that you would never fly in with your actual drone. You can train to fly through obstructions without the benefit of GPS lock. How about getting hit with unexpected high winds. Or better yet, learning what wind speed you're comfortable flying. Simulators allow you to change your environment and train in it quantifiably.
4. Measure the performance of your employees
The FAA Part 107 exam does not test flight skills. If you're going to buy a drone for one of your employees to use, you want to have the means to measure their performance. A simulated flight exam with the passing grade benchmarked to other pilots will give you confidence that they know how to safely operate the aircraft.
5. Try before you buy
A good simulator will approximate several commonly available drones. Some of these drones range in cost from less than a thousand to over thirty thousand dollars. Simulating the drone's flight physics will help you make sure you're buying the right drone for your purposes.
6. Gives you confidence
Being confident is essential. As a professor, I've seen many students make bad choices on exams because they were nervous. Flying a drone is no different. Confidence comes from experience. The more you practice, the more confident you'll be, which leads you to want to practice more. It's a self-reinforcing loop.