Drones are becoming part of our everyday life from aerial photography to surveying to even package delivery. Their applications are limited by how much they can carry.
Let’s explore how much weight can a drone carry and what factors influence drone lifting capacity.
Most toy category or low-priced drones with brushed motors can only carry their own body weight. Consumer drones can carry payloads of up to 500 grams. Professional drones can carry up to 10 Kg of payload.
But these are only ballpark figures. Actual payload capacity depends on the drone model. Let’s look at some real drone models and see how much weight they can lift.
We will also look at some factors that might affect drones’ ability to lift additional weights and their application in real life.
How much weight can a drone carry?
Here is a table listing the most popular models and their maximum load-bearing capacity according to their manufacturer or users.
Toy category drones
Toy category drones use brushed motors that are not powerful enough to lift off any additional weight other than their own.
You can only use them to fly in a wind-free environment and for crashing. They can usually carry their own body weight without any additional payloads like a gimble or heavy camera system.
These drones are designed for kids for fun flying and learning to control a drone in the air. Even if they crash and break, the damage won’t be costly.
Mid & high-end drones
Mid to high-end drones have much more powerful brushless motors which are able to lift off additional weights. These drones are also not designed to carry anything other than their own weight and accessories.
That’s the reason the manufacturers don’t specify any payload capacity in the specification sheet.
For example, the DJI consumer drones like Mavic Air or Mini 3 come with a fixed attached camera and you can’t put anything additional on it.
However, people have experimented with these drones to check and see how much they can lift additional to their own weight.
Such experiments are often done by tying a bucket with a thread to the drone body and then putting weights in the bucket. The weights are increased till the drone is unable to keep up.
Here is a video of one such experiment conducted by Russles from 51 Drones. If you watch till the end, it’s quite amazing.
Also, their payload capacity can vary a lot even for the same drone due to external factors such as the flying environment and how aggressively / skillfully you fly.
From different experiments, I could find online, here are tabulated data on how much weight these consumer drones can carry.
|Drone model||Max. Payload|
|Mavic Mini||181 g|
|Mavic Mini 2||283 g|
|Mavic 2 Pro||531 g|
|Mavic Air||331 g|
|DJI Spark||149 g|
Professional photography and cinematography drones can lift off the weight of their own body + gimbal + pro camera (usually 5 to 10lbs).
Usually, these drones can carry all this weight without any problem as they are designed for the payload.
Another category of professional drones is used for agricultural purposes. They are used to spray pesticides and herbicides on fields.
They can lift a weight of 20 – 40lbs thanks to their powerful motors, large battery packs, and heavy-duty propellers.
Since these drones are designed to carry a variety of payloads including 3rd-party payloads, the manufacturers usually mention the max payload capacity in the specifications sheet.
Below are a few professional drones with their maximum take-off weights.
|Professional Drone model||Max. Payload|
|Yuneec H920 Tornado||1.60 Kg|
|Skydio X2||1.45 Kg|
|DJI Matrice 300 RTK||9.0 Kg|
|DJI Agras MG-1||8.8 Kg|
|Freefly Alta 8||18.1 Kg|
|DJI Inspire 2||4.25 Kg|
|DJI S1000||6.8 Kg|
|Intuitive Aerial Aerigon MK II||2.44 Kg|
Find how much weight can a drone lift
For professional drones, the manufacturer usually specifies how much payload they can carry. Most of the time, this is a bit conservative as these numbers can be exceeded to some limits.
Drones with payload capacity in KGs are not uncommon in the professional category. For example, the DJI Inspire series can lift 4+ kg of heavy camera lenses and jigs quite easily. Similarly, agricultural drones can carry spray liquid that is quite heavy.
For consumer drones like the DJI Mavic series, the max payload capacity is not specified as these drones are not designed to carry anything other than the attached camera (or maybe some light accessories like prop guards).
For these consumer drones, you will have to either conduct a payload test yourself or look online and see if someone else has done a test on your specific model.
You might also find payload-carrying jigs designed for certain models. These are from 3rdp-party companies and not from official manufacturers. I like this simple payload mechanism for Mavic Pro
Most manufacturers list “maximum take-off weight” that describes the maximum weight including the drone itself and any attached accessory.
The motors are usually designed to produce thrust that can take off with that much weight (with some safety margins of course)
However, most sub-$100 toy drones can only lift their own weight without any additional weight. They are not even designed to hold any additional payload unless you temper the body to hold a non-standard payload.
Which drone can carry the most weight?
While most consumer and prosumer drones are designed for practical purposes that don’t require much weight lifting, there are some custom-designed drones for specific use cases.
These drones can carry huge payloads with ease. Below are a few notable drones that can carry the most weight.
The Griff 300 (Payload Capacity = 226 kg/500lb)
Griff is a Norway-based company that designs professional drones for various purposes.
In 2016, it released its famous Griff 300 model which has an astounding payload carrying capacity of 500lb or 226kg.
Theoretically, it can lift Mike Tyson and Arnold Schwarzenegger at the same time.
It is mostly used in search and rescue operations. Here is a demo of the drone from the 2017 AUVSI Xponential show in Dallas.
It is designed with 8 propellers mounted on powerful motors that can fly the drone for 45 minutes. It costs around $265,000 per unit.
Ehang Drone (payload = 220gk/485lb)
A china based company Ehang is developing a passenger drone aimed at urban air mobility that can lift 220kg of payload. That’s 485 lbs.
This drone is different than the Griff 300 because this one is a full-fledge air taxi and can carry 1 person from home to work and back on a single charge.
It has a very futuristic cabin design that seats 1 passenger and can be controlled from within the drone. It also has 8-arms with 16 motors installed (2 on each arm).
Currently, the drone is in a testing phase and we might soon see some of them flying around in our cities.
Amazon package delivery drones (payload = 5lb)
Yes, drones can be used for package delivery. For example, Amazon is already testing package delivery via its specially designed Prime Air drones.
Prime air drones can lift up to 5 pounds of packages for delivery. The packages can be delivered in a short time of 30 minutes or less. Isn’t it great?
If you think about it, package delivery via drones makes sense. Companies may save on labor costs and time by having their products delivered by drones.
Humans can work up to 8 hours a day but drones are able to fly 24/7. Drone delivery is especially useful and a fuel saver when you have to deliver a single small package to a remote area.
You don’t have to send a delivery truck all the way just to deliver a $20 phone cover. Drones can do that easily.
Can drones lift a human?
As discussed above, the Ehang drone is designed to carry humans around the city. It has been test ran in Dubai and is very promising.
In the future, we can expect taxi drones to take over the world and give us a crazy and futuristic experience.
They can carry up to 100+ lbs and can fly with people at high altitudes. The only obstacle is how can they navigate crowded places such as cities?
It can be decades before we see taxi drones carrying people around the city.
Factors affecting drone payload capacity
The payload capacity of any drone depends on the purpose of its design. What is the drone designed to do?
Is it just a toy category drone designed for fun flying or is it a full-fledge professional drone meant to carry heavy recording equipment or crop spray tanks? The purpose of the design affects the payload capacity.
Below are a few design considerations that affect how much weight can a drone carry. If you are going to design your own custom drone, knowing these factors will help you greatly.
Motor type and rating
The most important factor is the type and size of the motors used in the drone. Since the motors are responsible for powering the propellers which produce left, their selection hugely influences how much thrust the propellers can generate.
There are two primary types of motors used in drones.
- Brushed motors: They are cheap motors usually found in toy drones and other toys. They run on DC and have low efficiency and power-to-thrust ratio.
- Brushless motors: They are AC motors used in all high-end drones and even in modern electric cars. They have a high power-to-thrust ratio and can produce great thrust.
If your drone has brushless motors, it can produce very high thrusts for its size. These drone motors are highly efficient and can draw large currents from the battery and in return produce high thrust and carry high drone payloads.
Propellers are the moving surface that actually produces the lifting force called thrust. Propellers come in different sizes and with varying pitch angles.
Length and pitch angle are the factors that influence how much thrust the propellers can generate per rotation.
Pitch is the measure of how curved the propeller’s surface is with respect to the horizontal plane. Propellers with high pitch can generate more thrust per rotation (if two same-length props are compared)
But this begs a question – why not increase the pitch angle to get more thrust? Well, it’s a trade-off between two performance parameters.
High pitch props produce more thrust but they also have high drag and hence draw more current from the battery. With high-pitch propellers, you have to use a bigger battery and higher-rated electronic components (including the ESC)
While designing a drone, designers calculate how much thrust is actually needed for the design purpose and then select the length and pitch angle accordingly. They can’t just go wild with the pitch angle.
The pitch angle also has another limit called stall angle. If the pitch angle is kept very high, the propeller will stall at a higher speed. When this happens, the prop surface will no longer form a laminar contact with the airflow and will stop producing lift.
Pitch angle is selected in such a way that the drone props can produce lift till the top speed the motors can reach without stalling.
The battery is the powerhouse of the drone. It’s what stores and supplies energy to the motors to produce lift.
Batteries are made from individual cells connected in series to provide enough current. If you remember from your physics class, Current adds up when connected in series.
So for any drone battery, you will see a number like 2S or 4S which specifies how many cells are added in series to make the battery pack. For example, the DJI Mini 2 battery has a 2S configuration.
A higher S number means the battery can provide more current to the motors and the motors can produce more thrust (given that the motors are compatible).
Another parameter is the type of the battery. In drones, you will either see Lithium -Polymer (LiPo) or Lithium-Ion (Li-ion) batteries. the Li-Po batteries are a bit expensive, lightweight, and can produce a higher discharge current. (Read more about LiPo battery here)
So, depending on what type and kind of battery is used in your drone, you can judge its payload capacity.
ESC or electronic speed controller is an important component in any brushless motor drone that controls how much current is flowing to the motors.
On each arm of the drone, there is a separate ESC circuit that handles that particular motor. These ESCs have a current rating and they cannot provide more current than they are designed for.
A higher rating ESC can provide more current than a low rating one and hence directly affect how much weight the one can lift.
Size of drone
This is a no-brainer. A large size drone with larger motors, bigger battery, and large propellers can lift heavier loads compared to a smaller drone.
The DJI mini 2 is a small drone that weighs less than 250 grams. It can only lift 283 grams of additional payload. In comparison, DJI Mavic Pro which is a much bigger drone can lift up to 531 grams.
Other professional drones like the DJI Inspire 2 can lift more than 4KG of weight due to their sheer size.
Conclusions – Can Drones Carry Things?
Drones can carry a lot of weight, but this is dependent on the type of drone and how it’s used.
Toy drones cannot carry any additional payloads due to their motors being too weak, while professional photography/cinematography can usually lift up to 10lbs with no issue.
Mid-to high-end drones can also only carry an additional 20% – 40% body weight without any problem if they are powerful enough.
However, these weights can vary based upon external factors such as wind or aggressive flying style.
Don’t forget that there are many different types of drones for all sorts of specific tasks. So make sure you’re looking at the right one if you want information about its ability to fly with extra payloads!