Using SITL

This article describes how SITL and MAVProxy can be used to change the environment, simulate failure modes, and configure the vehicle with optional components. It also explains how to connect to different GCSs.


If you’re just getting started with MAVProxy and SITL you may wish to start by reading the Copter SITL/MAVProxy Tutorial (or equivalent tutorials for the other vehicles).


These instructions generally use MAVProxy to describe operations (e.g. setting parameters) because it presents a simple and consistent command-line interface (removing the need to describe a GCS-specific UI layout). Many of these operations can also be performed in Mission Planner (through the Full Parameters List) or any other GCS.

A startup script, ` is provided to automatically build the SITL firmware version for the current code branch, load the simulation models, start the simulator, setup environment and vehicle parameters, and start the MAVProxy GCS. Many script start-up parameters can be specified, type this for a full list: --help

Selecting a vehicle/frame type

The simulation will default to the vehicle type in the directory in which it is started. You can select the vehicle type if starting from the ardupilot directory by starting the simulator calling with the -v parameter. -v ArduPlane --console --map

The frame type can also be changed with the -f parameter. -v ArduPlane -f quadplane --console --map

Frame Types:

A partial listing of frame types is show below. For a current list, just type: --help
Vehicle Frame Type
Plane plane (default if -f is not used)
quadplane firefly plane-dspoilers plane-elevon plane-jet plane-tailsitter plane- vtail quadplane-cl84 quadplane-tilthvec quadplane-tilttri quadplane-tilttrivec quadplane-tri
Copter quad (default if -f is not used)
coaxcopter dodeca-hexa heli heli-compound heli-dual hexa hexa-cwx hexa-dji octa octa-cwx octa-dji octa-quad octaquad-cwx tri cwx singlecopter y6 djix
Rover rover (default if -f is not used)
balancebot rover-skid sailboat sailboat-motor


It is important to select the proper frame type. This not only loads the correct parameter set, but also selects the correct physics model. In real life, for example, you can configure and setup the ArduPlane firmware for any Quadplane, but you cannot do that in SITL without having selected the exact QuadPlane frame type for the simulation to get the correct physics model.

Setting vehicle start location

You can start the simulator with the vehicle at a particular location by calling with the -L parameter and a named location in the ardupilot/Tools/autotest/locations.txt file.

For example, to start Copter in Ballarat (a named location in locations.txt) call:

cd ArduCopter -L Ballarat --console --map


You can add your own locations to the file. The order is Lat,Lng,Alt,Heading where alt is MSL and in meters, and heading is degrees. If the flying location is well-used then consider adding it to the project via a pull request.


You can add your own private locations to a local locations.txt file, in the same format as the main file. On linux the file is located in $HOME/.config/ardupilot/locations.txt - you will need to create this file using your favourite text editor.

Simulating On-Board OSD

When starting SITL, you can have it display a simulation of the integated OSD, if the autopilot includes one. Add the --osd option when starting SITL: -v ArduPlane --console --map --osd


the OSD emulation displays OSD panel items and locations, but it does not allow multiple screens, nor units other than metric

Loading a parameter set

When starting SITL the first time, the device may be configured with “unforgiving” parameters. Typically you will want to replace these with values that simulate more realistic vehicle and environment conditions. Useful parameter sets are provided in the autotest source for Copter, Plane, and Rover.


This only needs to be done once, after loading, the parameters are stored in the simulated EEPROM.

The MAVProxy commands to load the parameters for Copter, Rover and Plane (assuming the present working directory is a vehicle directory like /ardupilot/ArduCopter/) are shown below:

param load ..\Tools\autotest\default_params\copter.parm
param load ..\Tools\autotest\default_params\plane.parm
param load ..\Tools\autotest\default_params\rover.parm

You can re-load the parameters later if you choose, or revert to the default parameters by starting SITL ( with the -w flag.

Parameters can also be saved. For example, to save the parameters into the present working directory you might do:

param save ./myparams.parm

Setting parameters

Many of the following tasks involve setting parameter values over MAVLink, which you do using the param set command as shown:


All available parameters can be listed using param show. The SITL-specific parameters start with SIM_, and can be obtained using:

param show SIM_*


A table of user settable SITL-specific parameters can be found in SITL.cpp When you change a parameter the value remains in the virtual EEPROM after you restart SITL. Remember to change it back if you don’t want it any more (or reload/reset the parameters).

Testing RC failsafe

To test the behaviour of ArduPilot when you lose remote control (RC), set the parameter SIM_RC_FAIL=1, as shown:

param set SIM_RC_FAIL 1

This simulates the complete loss of RC input. If you just want to simulate low throttle (below throttle failsafe level) then you can do that with the RC command:

rc 3 900

Testing GPS failure

To test losing GPS lock, use SIM_GPS_DISABLE:

param set SIM_GPS_DISABLE 1

You can also enable/disable a 2nd GPS using SIM_GPS2_DISABLE.

Testing GPS-for-Yaw

To test GPS-for-Yaw using two simulated UBlox GPSs:

param set EK3_SRC1_YAW 2
param set GPS_AUTO_CONFIG 0
param set GPS_TYPE 17
param set GPS_TYPE2 18
param set GPS_POS1_Y -0.2
param set GPS_POS2_Y 0.2
param set SIM_GPS_POS_Y -0.2
param set SIM_GPS2_POS_Y 0.2
param set SIM_GPS2_DISABLE 0
param set SIM_GPS2_HDG 1

Reboot SITL and the heading should be visible in the GPS2_RAW message’s yaw field:

status GPS2_RAW

To test using a single NMEA GPS:

param set EK3_SRC1_YAW 2
param set GPS_TYPE 5
param set SIM_GPS_TYPE 5
param set SIM_GPS_HDG 1

Reboot SITL and the heading should be visible in the GPS_RAW_INT message’s yaw field:

status GPS_RAW_INT

Testing the effects of vibration

To test the vehicle’s reaction to vibration, use SIM_ACC_RND. The example below adds 3 m/s/s acceleration noise:

param set SIM_ACC_RND 3

Testing the effects of wind

The wind direction, speed and turbulence can be changed to test their effect on flight behaviour. The following settings changes the wind so that it blows towards the South at a speed of 10 m/s.

param set SIM_WIND_DIR 180
param set SIM_WIND_SPD 10

To see other wind parameters do:

param show sim_wind*

Adding a Gimbal

SITL can simulate a virtual gimbal.


Gimbal simulation causes SITL to start sending MOUNT_STATUS messages. These messages contain the orientation according to the last commands sent to the gimbal, not actual measured values. As a result, it is possible that the true gimbal position will not match - i.e. a command might be ignored or the gimbal might be moved manually. Changes are not visible in Mission Planner.

First start the simulator and use the following commands to set up the gimbal mount:

# Specify a servo-based mount:
param set MNT_TYPE 1

# Set RC output 6 as pan servo:
param set RC6_FUNCTION 6

# Set RC output 8 as roll servo:
param set RC7_FUNCTION 8

Then stop and re-launch SITL with the -M flag: -M

Adding a Rangefinder

SITL can simulate an analog rangefinder, which is very useful for developing flight modes that can use a rangefinder. To set it up use the following commands:

param set SIM_SONAR_SCALE 10
param set RNGFND1_TYPE 1
param set RNGFND1_SCALING 10
param set RNGFND1_PIN 0
param set RNGFND1_MAX_CM 5000
param set RNGFND1_MIN_CM 0

# Enable rangefinder for landing (Plane only!)
param set RNGFND_LANDING 1

The above commands will set up an analog rangefinder with a maximum range of 50 meters (the 50m comes from an analog voltage range of 0 to 5V, and a scaling of 10). After making the above changes you need to restart SITL.

Then to test it try this:

module load graph
graph RANGEFINDER.distance

Then try a flight and see if the graph shows you the rangefinder distance.


You can also use the following commands to graph rangefinder information (defined as MAVProxy aliases):

  • grangealt - graph rangefinder distance and relative altitude.
  • grangev - rangefinder voltage
  • grange - graph “rangefinder_roll”

Adding an Optical Flow sensor

A virtual optical flow sensor can be added enabling a RangeFinder (see “Adding a Rangefinder” above) and then setting these parameters:

param set SIM_FLOW_ENABLE 1
param set FLOW_TYPE 10

Then restart SITL. After setting it up try this:

module load graph
graph OPTICAL_FLOW.flow_comp_m_x OPTICAL_FLOW.flow_comp_m_y

Go for a flight and see if you get reasonable data.

Adding an RPM sensor

You can add an RPM sensor like this:

param set RPM_TYPE 1

This allows to display and log your virtual motor’s rotational speed.

Adding Wheel Encoders

You can test two virtual wheel encoders like this:

param set AHRS_EKF_TYPE 3
param set EK2_ENABLE 0
param set EK3_ENABLE 1
param fetch
param set EK3_SRC1_POSXY 0
param set EK3_SRC1_VELXY 7
param set EK3_SRC1_VELZ 0
param set GPS_TYPE 0
param set WENC_TYPE 10
param fetch
param set WENC_POS_Y 0.075
param set WENC2_TYPE 10
param set WENC2_POS_Y -0.075
param set ARMING_CHECK 60918 (to disable GPS checks)

The restart SITL and right mouse button click on the map and select “Set Origin (with height)” and the vehicle should appear on the map. It may also be useful to enter “map set showsimpos 1” to make the vehicle’s actual position visible.

Adding Range Beacons

You can test a virtual range beacons by setting the following parameters

param set AHRS_EKF_TYPE 3
param set EK2_ENABLE 0
param set EK3_ENABLE 1
param fetch
param set EK3_GPS_TYPE 3
param set GPS_TYPE 0
param set BCN_TYPE 10
param fetch
param set BCN_LATITUDE -35.363261
param set BCN_LONGITUDE 149.165230
param set BCN_ALT 584

The restart SITL and the vehicle should appear on the map. After perhaps 30seconds it should shift to its normal starting position.

Testing Precision Landing


These instructions are written assuming ArduCopter

Enable Precision Landing, and set the precision landing backend type to SITL:

param set PLND_ENABLED 1
param fetch
param set PLND_TYPE 4

A rangefinder is currently required for precision landing. Enable a simulated rangefinder:

param set RNGFND1_TYPE 1
param set RNGFND1_MIN_CM 0
param set RNGFND1_MAX_CM 4000
param set RNGFND1_PIN 0
param set RNGFND1_SCALING 12.12

Restart the simulation.

Takeoff and fly a bit, then switch into land:

arm throttle
rc 3 1800
mode land
rc 3 1500

Check the logs for precision landing messages:

ls -lt logs

Choose the youngest, then:

mavlogdump --type PL logs/<youngest>

Testing Vicon (aka Vision Positioning)

Start SITL, wiping parameters:

./Tools/autotest/ -v ArduCopter --gdb --debug -w

Enable EKF3, disable GPS and set Serial5 protocol to mavlink so as to accept vision-position-estimate and vision-speed-estimate messages:

param set AHRS_EKF_TYPE 3
param set EK2_ENABLE 0
param set EK3_ENABLE 1
param fetch
param set EK3_SRC1_POSXY 6
param set EK3_SRC1_POSZ 6
param set EK3_SRC1_VELXY 6
param set EK3_SRC1_VELZ 6
param set EK3_SRC1_YAW 6
param set VISO_TYPE 2
param set SERIAL5_PROTOCOL 2
param set GPS_TYPE 0 (optional)
param set ARMING_CHECK 388598 (optional, to disable GPS checks)
param fetch

Restart the simulation, attaching a simulated Vicon system to uartF (which corresponds to SERIAL5):

../Tools/autotest/ --map --console -A "--uartF=sim:vicon:"

The console should indicate no GPS is present:

GPS: 0 (0)

Vision position estimates should now be being fed into ArduCopter:

STABILIZE> 43371: VICON_POSITION_ESTIMATE {usec : 38380000, x : 0.0, y : 0.0, z : -0.0999755859375, roll : 0.0, pitch : 0.0, yaw : -0.122173137963}

You should also receive a startup message from the EKF:

APM: EKF3 IMU0 is using external nav data
APM: EKF3 IMU0 initial pos NED = 0.0,0.0,-0.1 (m)
APM: EKF3 IMU1 is using external nav data
APM: EKF3 IMU1 initial pos NED = 0.0,0.0,-0.1 (m)

Use MAVProxy’s right-click context menu item to Set Origin (with alt)

Arm in loiter, takeoff and fly somewhere:

arm throttle
rc 3 1800
rc 2 1400

Other SITL vicon settings are hel in SIM_VICON_xx parameters:

param show SIM_VICON*

Accessing log files

SITL supports both blogs and DF logs (same as other types of ArduPilot ports). The DF logs are stored in a “logs” subdirectory in the directory where you start SITL. You can also access the DF logs via MAVLink using a GCS, but directly accessing them in the logs/ directory is usually more convenient.

To keep your blogs organised it is recommended you start SITL using the “–aircraft NAME” option. That will create a subdirectory called NAME which will have flight logs organised by date. Each flight will get its own directory, and will include the parameters for the flight plus any downloaded waypoints and rally points.

Graphing vehicle state

MAVProxy allows you to create graphs of inputs, outputs, internal variables, etc. by loading the graph module. You can then create graphs of vehicle state using the graph command. For example, to graph the RC channel 3 input during the simulation:

graph RC_CHANNELS.channel3_raw

As with most commands, you can type graph and then double tab to see available completions. In the example above the RC_CHANNELS group contains the 16 rc channels, so typing graph RC_CHANNELS, then double tab would show those.

Since these are rather long to type, MAVProxy allows for the creation of shorter aliases. There have been many aliases created in a file present in the ArduPilot source tree in the Tools/vagrant sub-directory called mavinit.scr. If this file is copied and placed in your home directory and renamed to .mavinit.scr, it will be used upon MAVProxy’s initialization. Common ones are: g for graph, grc to graph the RC inputs, gservo8 to graph the first 8 output channels instead of typing long item names eight times, etc. Using this alias initialization file also has the advantage of automatically loading the graph module upon startup, so you will not have to load it.

Using a joystick

It can be useful to use a joystick for input in SITL. The joystick can be a real RC transmitter with a USB dongle for the trainer port, or something like the RealFlight interlink controller or a wide range of other joystick devices.

Before you use the joystick support you may need to remove debug statements from the python-pygame joystick driver on Linux. If you don’t then you may see lots of debug output like this:

SDL_JoystickGetAxis value:-32768:

To remove this debug line run this command:

sudo sed -i 's/SDL_JoystickGetAxis value/\x00DL_JoystickGetAxis value/g' /usr/lib/python2.7/dist-packages/pygame/

note that this needs to be one long command line. Ignore the line wrapping in the wiki. If you have installed the joystick support using the instructions on setting up the ArduPilot code building environment, then this will probably NOT be required.

Then to use the joystick run:

module load joystick

If you want to add support for a new joystick type then you need to add a file for it following these instructions . Note that you can also use this information to customize the operation of your joystick if it already supported. Just modify it file appropriately.

Using real serial devices

Sometimes it is useful to use a real serial device in SITL. This makes it possible to connect SITL to a real GPS for GPS device driver development, or connect it to a real OSD device for testing an OSD.

To use a real serial device you can use a command like this: -A "--uartB=uart:/dev/ttyUSB0" --console --map

what that does it pass the –uartB argument to the ardupilot code, telling it to use /dev/ttyUSB0 instead of the normal internal simulated GPS for the 2nd UART. You can find the SITL serial port mappings here

Any of the 5 UARTs can be configured in this way, using uartA to uartE. The standard serial ports SERIAL1 and SERIAL2 are uartC and uartD respectively.

Typically serial devices can be connected to a computer’s USB port through an FTDI adapter, but note that these generally do not support half-duplex. In order to communicate with devices in this way you should make sure your user has appropriate access on linux-type systems to the dialout group. On WSL it is also usually necessary to setup the port once the device has been connected before trying to interact with it through SITL. For instance for COM22:

stty -F /dev/ttyS22 raw 115200

You can set additional parameters on the uart in the connection string, so for instance to use a device on SERIAL1 at 115k baud only, specify: -v ArduCopter -A "--uartC=uart:/dev/ttyUSB0:115200" --console --map

Similar to this if you were running a vehicle in SITL via Cygwin on Microsoft Windows and you wanted to send the MAVLink output through a connected radio on COM16 to AntennaTracker you can use a command like this - note under Cygwin comm ports are ttyS and they start at 0 so 15 is equivalent to COM16: -A "--uartC=uart:/dev/ttyS15" --console --map

Changing the speed of the simulation

Most of the simulator backends support changing the speed while running. Just set the SIM_SPEEDUP parameter as needed. A value of 1 means normal wall-clock time. A value of 5 means 5x realtime. A value of 0.1 means 1/10th of real time.

Testing Compass Calibration

A quick way to test compass calibration in SITL is with the “calibration” vehicle model. To use this with plane do this: -D -f plane --model calibration --console --map

then do:

servo set 5 1250

This will start the vehicle moving through a “compass dance”. You can start a compass calibration to test changes to the calibrator code. Using this in combination with the SIM_SPEEDUP parameter can be useful.

The calibration vehicle module has a lot of other features too. See for details.

Connecting other/additional ground stations

SITL can connect to multiple ground stations by using MAVProxy to forward UDP packets to the GCSs network address. Alternatively SITL can connect to a GCS over TCP/IP without using MAVProxy.

To start SITL without starting MAVProxy use the --no-mavproxy option. SITL will be listening for a GGS station to connect via UDP port 14550 or TCP port 5760.

SITL with MAVProxy (UDP)

SITL can connect to multiple ground stations by using MAVProxy to forward UDP packets to the GCSs network address (for example, forwarding to another Windows box or Android tablet on your local network). The simulated vehicle can then be controlled and viewed through any attached GCS.

First find the IP address of the machine running the GCS. How you get the address is platform dependent (on Windows you can use the ‘ipconfig’ command to find the computer’s address).

Assuming the IP address of the GCS is, you would add this address/port as a MAVProxy output using:

output add

The GCS would then connect to SITL by listening on that UDP port. The method for connecting will be GCS specific (we show how to connect for Mission Planner below).


If you’re running the GCS on the same machine as SITL then an appropriate output may already exist. Check this by calling output on the MAVProxy command prompt:

GUIDED> output
GUIDED> 2 outputs

In this case we can connect a GCS running on the same machine to UDP port 14550 or 14551. We can choose to connect another GCS to the remaining port, and add more ports if needed.

SITL without MAVProxy (TCP)

It is also possible to interact with SITL over TCP/IP by starting it using vehicle_name.elf (e.g. /ArduCopter/ArduCopter.elf). MAVProxy is not needed when using this method.

Run the file in the Cygwin Terminal, specifying a home position and vehicle model as shown below:

$ ./ArduCopter.elf --home -35,149,584,270 --model quad
Started model quad at -35,149,584,270 at speed 1.0
Starting sketch 'ArduCopter'
Starting SITL input
bind port 5760 for 0
Serial port 0 on TCP port 5760
Waiting for connection ....

The command output shows that you can connect to SITL using TCP/IP at the network address of the machine SITL is running on at port 5760.


ArduCopter.elf has other startup options, which you can use using the -h command line parameter:

./ArduCopter.elf -h

Connecting Mission Planner (UDP)

First set up SITL to output UDP packets to the address/port of the computer running *Mission Planner*.

In Mission Planner listen to the specific UDP port by selecting UDP and then the Connect button. Enter the port to listen on (the default port number of 14550 should be correct if SITL is running on the same computer).


Mission Planner: Connecting to a UDPPort

Connecting to Mission Planner (TCP)

First set up SITL for use with TCP.

In Mission Planner connect to SITL by selecting TCP and then the Connect button. Enter the remote host and remote Port of the machine running SITL. Mission Planner will then connect and can be used just as before.


If SITL is running on the same machine as Mission Planner you can click through the remote host and remote Port prompts as these default to the correct values.


Mission Planner: Connecting toSITL using TCP