Almost every drone controller uses a two-stick setup: one to move the drone along the horizontal plane, the other to move it along its vertical axis. But that's not how you fly an actual aircraft. Fluidity's FT Aviator looks and works like a traditional flight stick, which makes flying a little more natural when piloting your drone. Designed to work with most of DJI's drones, this $349 controller is a smart accessory, if you're willing to put up with one big inconvenience.
The FT Aviator looks much like a controller you'd use for a flight simulator, with a few modifications. The Aviator is meant to be held with both hands, with one hand on the stick, and one underneath the base. It's ambidextrous, so you can use it if you're left- or right-handed.
At the top of the control stick is a panel with two arcs of LEDs; these light up to show you where your drone is relative to your location. It's a very handy feature on days when your drone is obscured by the sun or clouds. You can tilt the control stick forward, back, left and right to change the drone's direction, or twist the stick left or right to change its orientation. Pressing the trigger by the index finger will increase your drone's altitude, while pushing down on a thumb button will bring your drone lower to the ground.
Arrayed at the front of the base of the Aviator are several more buttons to control the drone's camera.
A smartphone cradle attaches to the bottom of the Aviator, so you can view a feed from your drone's camera. The cradle can be angled, moved from one side of the controller to the other, and can be expanded to fit even the widest of smartphones (no tablets at this time, though). Instead of DJI's app, you use Fluidity's app (available for Android and iOS), which for the most part, looks and acts just like DJI's app.
After connecting the FT Aviator to a Mavic Air, I took to the skies with ease. It twasn't long before I could use the Aviator without looking down at the controls, as I zoomed the Mavic around a field, weaving in and out between trees.
It certainly felt more intuitive than a traditional two-stick controller, whose actions I still mix up from time to time. My only quibble is with the thumb and trigger buttons, whose movement wasn't as fluid as I'd like.
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The FT Aviator will work with DJI's Mavic drones, Phantom 3 & 4, Inspire 1 & 2 drones and Matrice drones.
One big catch
Those who think they'll be able to ditch the DJI controller will be sadly disappointed. The one major flaw with the Fluidity FT Aviator is that it must be used in conjunction with DJI's controller; in fact, your smartphone has to be physically connected to DJI's controller. That's because all of the inputs you make with the FT Aviator have to be relayed through the DJI controller to the drone.
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This makes for an awkward setup: a USB cord connects the DJI controller to your smartphone, which is placed in the holder on the side of the FT Aviator. Fluidity even provides a lanyard so you can hang the DJI controller around your neck.
If you don't mind not being able to ditch DJI's controller completely, Fluidity Tech's Aviator control stick is a nice accessory for DJI drone pilots. At the time of this writing, it was on sale for $349, $100 lower than its list price. That's not cheap, but it is half the cost of DJI's own optional Smart Controller, which has a bright 5.5-inch display, but still uses the traditional two-stick format. If you want your drone-flying experience to feel like you're actually piloting a plane, then be sure to check out the FT Aviator.