Unless you’re a veteran gamer or RC airplane pilot, controlling a drone using two joysticks probably doesn’t come naturally. Startup Fluidity is trying to address that issue with a purpose-built joystick for drone pilots. In design, it is fairly similar to high-end joysticks from companies like Thrustmaster that are designed for flight simulation games. In this case, though, Fluidity’s FT Aviator acts as a Bluetooth peripheral to your phone. It works in conjunction with the company’s flight app to allow you to control your drone either from DJI’s remote or the Aviator joystick. The FT Aviator comes with an excellent pedigree, with founder Scott Parazynski a former NASA astronaut.
Setting Up the FT Aviator
The Aviator doesn’t replace your DJI remote. Instead, you need to connect your remote to your drone and your drone to your phone like you normally would. Fluidity does warn that the Aviator doesn’t work with DJI’s Smart Controller. In addition, you use the FT Aviator app to pair your phone with the Aviator joystick. (Don’t try to do it using your phone’s Bluetooth settings; let the app do it.) The Aviator comes with a holder for your phone that you can clip on to either the left or right side, depending on your preference. There is also a lanyard and small strap so that you can hang your DJI remote around your neck.
Once you get the hang of it, the process of setting up the Aviator is pretty simple, but it does mean traveling with and using more pieces of gear. Once you have the Aviator paired with the app, and the remote and phone suitably positioned, you use the app to fly your drone.
The app is a competent simulacrum of DJI’s own app, but in testing, I found a few things that bothered me. Unlike with DJI or Litchi, tapping on the map didn’t make it full screen, so you’re always looking at the first-person view. I also found the flight statistics to be quite small and hard to read. Plus, speed was in feet per second, which I’m not used to translating. I didn’t find a way to change any of this, but certainly, these are relatively small issues that could be sorted out in a software update.
A Look at the FT Aviator
Like dedicated flight simulator joysticks, the Aviator is full of controls, so it takes a little practice to get used to finding them without looking. Fortunately for while you’re learning your way around, they are well labeled. The main flight control is, of course, the stick itself. Forward, back, left, and right move the drone in that direction. Twisting the stick spins the drone.
The only behavior that took a little getting used to is that pulling the trigger sends the drone up, and pushing it back the other way sends it down. There is a rocker to control the camera gimbal, a dial for how responsive you want the drone to be, and buttons for photo and video. There is also a Takeoff button (which requires confirmation in the app), and a Return to Home button. It charges over USB, and as we mentioned has a snap-on (with a lot of force in the one I reviewed) holder for a phone.
Flying With the FT Aviator
Okay, the big question is what is it like to fly using the Aviator? In short, it’s pretty fun. The flight control system on my Mavic Pro drones isn’t fast enough for the real-time feedback needed for racing or crazy maneuvers, but the Aviator definitely still felt much more intuitive than remembering how to translate the motion I wanted into what to do with the two joysticks on the DJI controller. The only downside is it’s pretty tricky to go back and forth between the two solutions. More than once I started to do the wrong thing after I switched controllers between DJI and Aviator.
One helpful feature is the “Tortoise to Hare” dial. You can set the responsiveness of the drone to movements of the joystick from 1 to 5. At one, you’re not quite down at Tripod mode, but you can pretty safely experiment with moving around. Five gives you the full response of the drone in P mode. The Aviator doesn’t work in Sport mode, though, so I don’t think it’s a solution for drone racers.
Price and Availability
You can order an FT Aviator directly from Fluidity for $350, although they are on backorder until sometime in August. The Android version of the app that I tested still has some bugs, although none that crashed it while I was actually flying, so hopefully those will get resolved at about the same time the unit is back in stock. If you’re willing to deal with the cost and complexity of an added piece of hardware in your flying kit, the FT Aviator definitely provides a superior navigation experience compared with the standard DJI remote control.