It may be tempting to fly your drone far away from you, even exciting at times. The distance (usually horizontal) that your drone can operate away from you is called flight range. This flight range is always included in a drone’s spec sheet as it’s one of the first things drone buyers look into.
Drones can have a flight range from 100 meters all the way to 15 kilometers. It depends on the drone. In general though, “toy drones” usually have short ranges while mid to high-end ones tend to have higher ranges.
That being said, even though the advertised drone range by the manufacturer can be accurate, most times it’s not. Usually it merely gives you an idea which is why it’s imperative to understand what influences a drone’s flight ranges and avoid crashing your drone.
Like I said, the flight range on a drone’s spec sheet rarely reflects reality. Basing your decisions solely on it is a guaranteed way to crash your drone.
What’s the solution then, you ask? Well, fly your drone more and keep the factors that I’m about to tell you in mind because they heavily influence drone range. You should also remember that experience is crucial here, if you fly your drone long enough eventually you’ll get a feel for the distance.
Physical obstacles can affect your drone’s flight range. And no, I’m not talking about the risk of crashing into them, although that’s something to keep in mind.
Physical obstacles can cause interference with your drone's transmission, even something simple as a tree or steel tower can cause interference.
For instance, if you’re flying in a city with cell towers and skyscrapers, you’ll find it hard to maintain a good signal as opposed to flying your drone in the countryside in open space. Being aware of your environment before your flight is crucial.
Seems evident doesn’t it. Weather will probably be the biggest factor that influences how far you can fly your drone away from you. Flying drones in heavy winds and rain will almost certainly guarantee a crash if you fly your drone beyond visual line of sight.
Some flight apps can actually connect to weather data using an API and give you warnings on whether it’s okay to go beyond a certain distance with your drone and at what speed. They may not always be accurate but it’s better to err on the side of caution here.
Notice that I said battery health and not battery life… That’s because it’s easy to make decisions based on the remaining battery percentage that you can see. If it’s low you’ll simply keep your drone flying close by.
But that’s assuming you have a good and healthy battery. Batteries that are worn out tend to give false information. For example, they might show a remaining battery of 90% and then drop to 40% in a few minutes.
Now imagine that happening when your drone is 10 kilometers away from you… See where I’m going with this?
Make sure you have a good battery before attempting long flights with your drone.
The transmission system is a huge factor which is why I’m dedicating a whole section to it. Usually, you’ll find a drone’s transmission system in its spec sheet.
A drone transmission system (DTS) is the system that connects a particular drone to its remote controller or to your smartphone. Transmission systems vary but most newer drones adopt the same or slightly modified versions of the same transmission system.
The more efficient your drone’s transmission system, the more distance you can fly it away from you while keeping a good signal. There are currently 3 popular drone transmission systems:
You’ll find this in low to mid range drones (Like the DJI Spark or DJI Mavic Mini). Drone with standard wifi transmission can typically fly from 100m to 2km (if you’re using the remote controller).
While drones who use what is called an Enhanced Wifi Transmission can typically fly up to 6km away from you.
Wifi transmission uses a dual frequency system to link your drone to your phone or remote controller and allows up to 720p live video transmission. Calling it outdated might be a stretch but we are starting to see wifi transmission in drones less and less these past few years.
The Lightbridge transmission system (and its newer version Lightbridge 2.0) were a short-lived upgrade to the wifi transmission system.
Originally made for high-end drones, it is mostly associated with the DJI Phantom 4 line, but also known as the standard transmission system for the Inspire 2. Typically, drones using this system can fly up to 7km away from the controller.
DJI’s current “golden boy” when it comes to transmission systems. An upgrade to its predecessor Lightbridge and a significant improvement from the traditional Wifi Transmission system.
Drones with OcuSync and OcuSync 2.0 can typically fly up to 13km (more in some cases).
Note that when I’m talking about range, I mean flight range – The actual distance in which it’s possible for you to operate your drone remotely.
I’m not talking about transmission range, which is the maximum range in which the drone can send you live video feed. That’s usually lower than the drone flight range.
I hope you keep the flight range factors that we covered in mind next time you attempt to test the limits of your drone. But accidents happen and you may unwillingly fly your drone over its flight range. What happens to your drone in that case?
Well, you’ll just have to say goodbye to your drone as it’ll be gone for good… Just kidding, in most cases there is nothing to worry about.
You’ll most likely be alerted on your flight app or controller and have the option to bring your drone back to you with a known feature called “return home”.
Sometimes it’ll automatically return home without you needing to press the “Return home” button, other times the drone will stop and hover in place, waiting for you to take action.
The dreaded and worst case scenario here is if your drone keeps flying without stopping. It’s highly unlikely unless you’ve manually disabled all the failsafe settings in your drone.
Yes, you can actually increase your drone’s range past the one if originally had. I’ve actually done an in-depth article on this on Dronesgator.
In general though, what you’ll want to do is to look into your firmware’s settings and make sure there are no limits set up when it comes to your flight range (usually because of laws and drone regulations).
You’ll also want to invest in better antennas and what is called a range extender. The latter being relatively cheap and might help you add some range to your drone’s flight.
I hope the info provided in this article gives you a clear idea on how far a drone can fly away from the pilot or controller. Although I should note that in the U.S. you can’t fly your drone past a point where you can’t see it with your own eyes (visual line of sight).
So keep that in mind. I’ve made an entire article discussing drone laws in the U.S. which you can check here.