C++ Quadcopter flight simulator using Hackflight firmware and UnrealEngine4
Switch branches/tags
Nothing to show
Clone or download



HackflightSim is a simple quadcopter flight simulator using the C++ Hackflight firmware and Unreal Engine 4. It runs on Windows 10.

We began this project using the V-REP platform but switched to UnrealEngine after seeing the kinds of beautiful, real-time simulations that Microsoft was able to get with its AirSim program.

HackflightSim differs from AirSim in a few important ways:

  • HackfightSim uses the same simple flight-control firmware that we fly on our real-world quadcopters.
  • HackflightSim is tiny, using a couple thousand lines of C++ code for the simulator and firmware.
  • HackflightSim focuses exclusively on multirotor firmware, whereas AirSim supports deep learning and different kinds of vehicles.



We are currently developing HackflightSim on an HP Z440 workstation with 32GB RAM and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti, running Windows 10. It may however be possible to develop on a less “loaded” machine – see here for the minimum requirements recommended by Unreal Engine.

You will also need some sort of game controller. Because HackflightSim is meant to simulate flying an actual micro quadcopter, we do not support flying by keyboard. We are currently supporting the following controllers:

  • FrSky Taranis TX9 RC transmitter with mini USB cable
  • Spektrum transmitter with WS1000 wireless simulator dongle
  • PS4 controller
  • XBox 360 controller clone
  • PS3 controller clone
  • Logitech Extreme Pro 3D joystick


You will need Unreal Engine 4 (UE4). We are attempting to use the latest version, which as of the time of this writing is UE4.18.3.

Windows users will need Visual Studio Community (we're using the latest version, 2017). If you don't have UE4 or Visual Studio 2017 installed, these instructions will help get you started. If you've already been using C++ to develop video games with older versions of these tools (Visual Studio 2015, UE 4.16), we recommend sticking with those, as we've found that the differences between Visual Studio 2015 and 2017 can cause problems for UE4 if you're not careful (inability to generate a .sln file from a .uproject file, inability to compile source code, etc.).


You should first clone the HackflightSim repository into your Documents/Unreal Projects folder, creating that folder if it doesn't already exist.

In addition to cloning HackflightSim, you will need the Hackflight repository. Although Hackflight is hardware-independent, it is set up as an Arduino library, to support its primary intended use. So the most sensible way to install it is to clone it into your Documents/Arduino/libraries folder, creating that folder if it doesn't exist.

As with any UE4 C++ project, there are two ways to build and modify the HackflightSim code on Windows:

  1. Double-click on HackflightSim.uproject to launch UnrealEditor; then click the Compile icon at the top. You can then use your favorite code editor (ours is vim) to edit the source code in Source/HackflightSim.
  2. Right-click on HackflightSim.uproject, and select the menu item Generate Visual Studio project files. This should create a file HackflightSim.sln and some new folders. If you don't get the new .sln file, it's probably because UE4 cannot find a C++ compiler for the version of Visual Studio you've installed (see this discussion for tips). Double-clicking on the .sln file should launch Visual Studio. The first time you launch Visual Studio, it can take several minutes to parse up all the C++ source code for the UE4 engine. Once you've got the project built and your controller plugged in, hitting the F5 key should build the project and launch Unreal Editor.

Launch and fly!

Click the play button and you're ready to begin. Throttle up to fly. You can use the spacebar to switch between the ground camera and FPV camera.

Support for OpenCV

To enable projects using machine vision, HackflightSim includes support for the popular OpenCV package. To use OpenCV with HackflightSim, you should do the following:

  1. Un-comment the LoadOpenCV instruction in HackflightSimBuild.cs.

  2. Make sure that the file opencv_world340.dll is in your C:\Windows\System32 folder. If it is not, you can copy it to there from HackflightSim\ThirdParty\OpenCV\Libraries\Win64

  3. To see a demonstration of OpenCV in action, un-comment the #define _OPENCV directive in vision/VisionAlgorithm.h.

Support for Python

HackflightSim also includes support for calling Python code from C++. For an example of how to use HackflightSim with Python, you should do the following:

  1. Un-comment the LoadPython instruction in HackflightSimBuild.cs.

  2. Make sure that the PythonPath variable is set appropriately in HackflightSimBuild.cs.

  3. Make sure that the appropriate Python dll file file (for example, python36.dll) is in your C:\Windows\System32 folder. If it is not, you can copy it to there from the folder you specified in the Pythonpath variable.

  4. Un-comment the #define _PYTHON directive in python\python_class.h.

  5. Install the Nengo neural simulator : pip3 install nengo

  6. In the python folder, do python3 setup.py install to make the Python script nengo_picontrol.py available to HackflightSim.

  7. Run the simulator and watch the vehicle's altitude being controlled by a spiking neural network!