Drone Headless Mode - what it is and how does it work

(Ultimate 2021 Guide)

drone-headless-mode

Recent advancements with drone technology have paved way for various flight modes that assist the operator in flying the drone safely. One of these is the headless mode. But how exactly does it work and what does it really mean? 

Is it flying the drone with its head first? Does headless mean, "without head?" 

These are just some of the assumptions you could make about it, whether you're a newbie or already an expert who just didn't bother to truly know it. 

If you're interested in finding out more about drone terminology, check out my ultimate drone terms glossary here.

If you're just as confused as anyone, then worry no more. The answers are all here!

Table of Contents

Introduction to Headless Mode

drones-ranked-by-specs.png

Here I'll discuss what functions and purpose does this mode serve. 

When is the best time to use it? Is it beginner-friendly? 

If you have the same questions, you'll find all the answers here! 

 

drone headless mode orientation
Photo from: Dronesfy

Why use the headless mode?

If you have driven a car or any mechanical device that moves with the use of motors, you'd understand that it's important to always know where it is heading and what orientation it is taking. This allows you to be mindful of your direction and the geographical references around you, making it easier for navigation. 

However, that's not always the case for drones. Since all four sides of quadcopters are often symmetric and identical-looking, it's difficult to know which side it is facing to. 

To address that issue, manufacturers have installed LED lights on the front side of the drone. But even with this countermeasure, drone operators can't always rely on this especially when flying long-range because a human's eyesight could only see at a certain distance. And oftentimes, this is what causes majority of crashes. 

What is its function?

headless mode of drone

This system allows you to easily control the drone's orientation with a transmitter and not its in-space orientation. This means, no matter what direction the drone is facing at, it will always head to the route depending on the operator's point-of-view. So if you press left or right, it follow those commands based on your orientation.

But just a reminder. Do not confuse it with the normal mode when the drone is facing you because it's completely different. If you press left, then it will definitely go to your right, and vice-versa. 

How to activate it?

Bear in mind that the term 'headless mode' is not a universal one across all drone models. Some use a different terminology, such as 'Home Lock' for DJI and 'Safe Mode' for Yuneec. Nevertheless, they all serve the same purpose. 

  1. Most of the time, especially with cheaper models, the buttons on the controller are not labelled. This is why you always have to check the manual to know where the headless mode activator is located.
  2. Next, how do you know if it's activated or not? You just have to operate it normally and test the controller. If you moved the joystick to the right and the drone moves towards that direction, then it means the mode is already working. If it went to the opposite direction, then it's not yet activated. 

Pros vs. Cons

fixed wing drones

Like any feature, this mode also has its benefits and detriments. Do the positive factors outweigh the negative aspect for you to consider using this? Or are you better off with the normal mode? 

Just a heads up: This section does not intend to polarize the believers of headless mode to those who are non-believers. This feature is not always black and white. As mentioned earlier, different models have their own versions of the mode. The following is based only on a general perspective. 

ADVANTAGES

  1.  Beginner-friendly
    • Eliminates confusion in orientation navigation. 
  2.  Fewer crashes
    • Since operators would have an easier learning curve, there would be fewer chances of getting into accidents.  
  3.  Intuitive Control
    •  This scheme allows beginners to focus more on the drone's orientation without having to think about where the drone's head is facing. 
  4.  Applicable for long-range drones
    •  Even if you lose the visual line of sight of the drone, you can still control it according to the orientation you're in 

DISADVANTAGES

  1.  Incompatible with FPV mode 
    •  Unfortunately, you can't use headless mode simultaneously with FPV because viewing the FPV video on your controller or phone means you are also viewing the footage from the front of the drone. Drones could only do one thing at a time. 
  2. Sensitive to electromagnetic interference
    •  The magnetometer, or the tiny sensor found inside drones that enables direction navigation, is highly sensitive to areas with electromagnetic fields, thereby affecting its performance. Avoid flying near power lines, metallic towers, and pylons. 

Best Drones with Headless Mode

cheap drones saving money

Here comes the time when you have to pick which drone model best suits you. 

Whether you're a beginner, hobbyist or a professional drone flyer, there are plenty of drone models to choose from that has this mode. 

Check them out here!

For Beginners

Altair AA108

altair aa108 headless

Purposely designed to be a kids drone, this one takes the helm for beginner-friendly models because it provides newbies all the important features they could start practicing with: wide range, 10-minute flight time, stability, 3 speed modes, and LiPo-powered batteries. The flight time and camera specs of 720p @ 30fps may not be the at par with professional models, but hey, this is a kids drone and it's the best one out there with a safe and stable headless mode.

Snaptain S5C

snaptain-s5c-drone-review.jpg

This $80 drone is one of the cheapest models ever and comes with VR headset compatibility, voice control, and extra battery. 

For Enthusiasts/Hobbyists

Hubsan Zino

hubsan-zino-black.jpg

This $300 quadcopter could be one of the best budget drones within its price range. Its 4K sensor and 3-axis gimbals could produce clear footage worthy of commercial usage. The 22-min flight time, 1km operating range, GPS, and return-to-home features could all send your drone to further heights. 

Ruko F11

sjrc f11 drone review

One aspect it's better than Hubsan is it longer flight time of 25min. Although cheaper by a $100, it doesn't fail to deliver: got that crisp 4k UHD sensor, GPS-enabled system, and 500m operating range. Only issue with this is its shakiness. But overall, it's a decent alternative.

MJX Bugs 5w

mjx bugs 5w drone review

 For the price of $200, this bad boy boasts of 4k camera with 1080p, motorized gimbals, and brushless motors to help you achieve that stable footage. However, just don't expect an impressive output from its wide-angle lens, they're not really that high-end. But with various flight modes like follow mereturn-to-home, and point-of-interest, this drone would go places. 

For Professionals

Autel Evo

autel evo 2 drone

To me, this is one of the best, cheaper alternatives to frontrunner model DJI Mavic 2 Pro. How do we even begin? GPS and GLONASS-enabled location system,  7km operational range, 30min flight time, obstacle avoidance sensors, 3-axis gimbals, and 4K camera...all these prove this drone is a strong contender. 

Parrot Anafi

parrot anafi drone review 2

 As one of the few drones that can rotate vertically, this sets a really high bar for its contemporary models. And it's not just typical rotation, it can shoot footage straight up and down without losing momentum, making it one of the best companions for cinematography gigs.  

DJI Mini 2

mavic mini drone photo

Last, but certainly not the least, this model does not even require an FAA registration. It's so portable, you could fit it anywhere. It may be small, but terrible. Just talk about its GPS system, return-to-home mode, obstacle avoidance, and 31min flight time. 

Common Concerns Related to Headless Mode

cheap drones saving money

Whether you're new to drone flying or is already an expert, at one point, the headless mode would come off as one of your go-to options to learn the craft of operating it.  

If you're still undecided whether or not to consider buying a drone with this option or still thinking if it would serve its purpose...you have all the answers here. 

Is headless mode beginner-friendly?

As mentioned above, the having the headless mode option for a quadcopter definitely makes it easier to operate for beginners. If this makes the work easier for drone operators, then it is almost similar to the Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS) a safety feature designed for drivers that automatically prevents wheels from locking and improve steering control. 

headless mode drone

If you are a type of learner who wants to take things slowly, headless mode is a good training ground. Plus, avoiding accidents also means more money saved from unnecessary fees on repair caused by accidents. 

However, I do advise you to refrain from being dependent on this technology. At one point I'm sure you'll get the hang of it and by the time it comes, you should have the initiative to discipline yourself and start turning it off. 

Now you might ask: with all the convenience, why? Simply put, complacency wouldn't let you grow. And it's the same thing for drones. If you continue using it for longer, there would be no avenue for you to actually learn how to fly drone in the conventional way, which is to rely on your own sense of direction/orientation and eventually get used to using FPV. 

Is it reliable?

Like any other feature, nothing is truly perfect, and that also goes for even the most pricey and fancy models. 

One of the striking disadvantages of this flight mode is its sensitivity to electromagnetic interference (EMI). Even the most geographically aware drone operator would inevitably find it difficult to navigate especially if these electromagnetic zones interfere with the signal. But as long as you avoid these places, you'll be just fine. All other aspects like range, motors, power, and battery remain just as fine. 

So in general, it is relatively reliable

Can you use it while flying FPV?

No. As previously stated, you only have to choose between either one of the two as you cannot simultaneously use it. 

Personally, I'd recommend for beginners to use headless mode but once you get all familiar with flying drones, it's time for you to drop it and learn drone-flying through the lens of an FPV. Let's face it, it's not every time that we get to be spoon-fed. There would be times that we'd find ourselves in unexpected situations, like being lost in a forest or experiencing weather disturbances. 

By the time your headless mode option does not function, at least you know you've been trained well enough to still fly a drone on your own. It may take time to get accustomed to the geographical orientations and directions, but I promise you, it's worth it. 

So the lesson here is, learn it but don't depend your whole capacity in drone operating on headless mode. 

 

Is it considered cheating?

Technically, yes

But hey, it's not a crime. And it's not as if being cautious and mindful of everyone's safety is already a disadvantage now. If professional operators were to judge you based on your competence in flying, using the headless mode option wouldn't book you a seat in the experts-only lounge. But on a brighter side, it isn't the only automated technology today. We now have self-driving cars and even talking speakers. 

A better way of thinking you could adopt is: If I am cheated my way through learning drone-flying, am I gonna stay in this level? Ideal answer would be: "No, because soon enough I'd teach myself to operate drones even without depending on the headless mode." 

And that to me, is the most savage way of proving you're really a competent drone operator. 

 

Frequently Asked Questions

faq what should you look for in a drone

Here are some of the usual concerns of netizens about the headless mode. 

Get all your answers here! 

What does headless mode mean?

Headless mode allows you to easily control the drone's orientation with a transmitter and not its in-space orientation.

This means, no matter what direction the drone is facing, it will always head to the route depending on the operator's point-of-view. So if you press left or right, it follows those commands based on your orientation.

Do DJI drones have headless mode?

Yes, one model has it, the DJI Mavic Mini. Other models don't exactly have the same terminology as "headless mode" but they do serve the same purpose and is called 'Home Lock' mode. 

Does DJI Spark have headless mode?

No. 

Since it has camera gimbals built on its front side, it will interfere with the headless mode. 

Does Tello drone have headless mode?

No. However, you could download third-party Tello apps that also offers headless navigation. 

Paul Posea
Paul Posea

Hi, I'm a long-time drone reviewer and I hope my articles and comparisons on this site as well as Dronesgator's youtube channel are of as much help as possible.

Get my Free "Before flight" drone checklist

reviews
ONLINE FAA PART 107
Test Prep Course

Get $50 OFF Bellow

part-107-course-benefits