How far can a drone fly?

The range of any drone is one of its most significant features. After all, what fun is to fly a drone that can go only a few meters away from the remote controller? Today, we will be answering one of the most famous questions about drones i-e how far can a drone fly from the remote controller?

  • A toy drone that works over a local wifi signal can fly up to 100 meters.
  • Mid range commercial drones can fly up to 2km (1.2 miles)
  • Newer high end drones like DJI Mavic 2 can fly as far as 8 km (5 miles)

In most countries, the range of drones is limited by the law and not by technology. But if you are in an unregulated area or have permission to fly beyond visual range, a long-range drone can come in handy. Let’s discuss the factors affecting the drone range, why it is important and how can we maximize our range.

So, how far can a drone fly?

Depending upon your application and budget, you will find a variety of drones in the market. From the cheapest long-range drones that go only a few hundred meters to 20 km range drones and even 100 km range drones (mostly used by militaries), we are more interested in the commercially available consumer drones.

Here are a tabulated data for a few popular models to give you a better overview of what drone ranges are available in the commercial market.

Drone ModelRange (km)Flight time (min)Price
3DR Solo1.5 km25 minCheck on Amazon
Altair Aerial Outlaw SE0.6 km20 minCheck on Amazon
DJI Inspire 1 Pro2 km22 minCheck on Amazon
DJI Inspire 27 km27 minCheck on Amazon
DJI Matrice 1005 km40 minCheck on Amazon
DJI Matrice 6005 km36 minCheck on Amazon
DJI Mavic 2 Zoom8 km31 minCheck on Amazon
DJI Mavic Mini5 km30 minCheck on Amazon
DJI Mavic Pro7 km27 minCheck on Amazon
DJI Phantom 4 Pro7 km30 minCheck on Amazon
Xiro Xplorer V1 km25 minCheck on Amazon
Yuneec Q500+0.6 km25 minCheck on Amazon
Yuneec Typhoon H1.6 km24 minCheck on Amazon
Popular drone models and their flight ranges

Why drone range matter?

Having a long-range drone is simply more fun. right? But there is more to that. With a better drone, you can have

  1. Access to far reach areas
  2. Longer flight time
  3. Better photography

Sometimes, you want to film an area far away, but you cannot access it on foot. Either it’s too long of a hike or it’s too steep or otherwise dangerous. In such a scenario, your long-range drone is your eyes in the air. It can take off from your last accessible point and film the entire area without losing signal or running out of battery juice.

A long-range drone will have a battery capacity for a longer flight. That means you will have more flight minutes at your disposal and enjoy more time in the air without the need to land and install a fresh battery.

How Far Can A Drone Travel

Another advantage of having a long-range drone is that it can go much higher in the sky to have a better look at the area. This is especially useful if you are surrounded by high peak mountains. But do remember the maximum altitude for drones allowed by the FAA.

Applications of long-range drones

Drones with a long-range that can fly 3-4 miles between the controller and operator are very useful in many industries. Commercial demand for drones capable of flying farther than the pilot can see can lead to licensed drone pilots applying for a waiver from FAA to fly BVLOS (beyond the visual line of sight).

Mapping

Similar to mapping, drones must cover large areas. They can only do this when they are able to travel beyond what the operator can see. Drones with long-range can capture large areas of data to make detailed and even 3D maps.

Safety & Security

A drone capable of covering the entire perimeter of large construction sites, prisons, or commercial warehouses is required. Public safety agencies that track suspects or perform search and rescue missions require a drone capable of flying far beyond their starting point.

Agriculture

A drone that can fly the entire field from the controller to farmers who are scouting fields is essential. It is easy to set up pre-planned flight paths so that the drone can cover all of the space, without the operator having to be present. The drone can also cover the entire field with its long battery life. It will return to the start point after the course is complete.

The Recreational Benefits of a Long Range Drone

Even if you don’t plan to map miles of territory using a drone, a drone with greater range capabilities is beneficial for professionals. A drone with a stronger signal transmission will likely be able to maintain a stronger signal at closer ranges. The stronger signal and stronger transmission can compensate for any other factors that could interfere with the controller connection or video transfer signal. While you may not use a drone to fly long distances as a hobbyist, this could help with video stutter and latency problems in close range.

Shipping Packages

Drones must be able to travel several miles in order to make drone delivery feasible. It doesn’t matter if it is being delivered from a warehouse or a truck. The drone must be able to move a few miles to reach the destination. The drone can be flown automatically, so no operator is required to watch it.

Factors affecting drone range

Now we know that you would rather have a long-range drone than a short-range one. But every good thing comes with a price and in this case, the price is literally in $$.

Let’s look at the factors that affect how far can a drone fly from the controller.

Weight & Size

If everything is the same, a drone with low weight will always fly farther than a drone with a heavier weight to lift. It’s simple physics. More weight means the propellers have to work more to produce thrust to lift the weight and carry it to a distance. So if you want to increase the flight range of your drone, consider losing some non-essential weight like prop guards, for instance, or attach a lighter camera module. Of course, each of these comes with a compromise, but that’s true for everything in life. right?

Similarly, the size of the drone also affects the range. First, large size drones also weigh higher, which reduces the flight time hence the range. Secondly, a drone with a larger face front will be more resistant to incoming wind. The propellers will have to work extra to overcome the air resistance resulting from the large frontal area compared to a smaller drone.

Battery: Capacity & Type

This one is obvious. If you want a longer range, you will have to install a bigger battery. But there is a catch.

With a larger battery, you are also increasing the overall weight of the drone thus compromising its range. The ideal capacity vs weight ratio is a sweet spot that you will have to find.

The type of battery is of more importance here. There is a metric called “energy density” that describes how much energy a battery can store per unit of its weight. The higher the gravimetric energy density of a battery, the more charge it can store per unit weight. It is measured in Wh/Kg

The most common battery type used in modern drones is Lithium Polymer which has an energy density of 100 – 130 Wh/Kg. Compared to this, NiCad has a density of 45 – 80Wh/Kg and NiMH has a density of 60 – 120 Wh/Kg [source: battery university]

So, if you want to increase the range of your drone without increasing the weight, your battery has to have a higher gravimetric energy density. Each battery manufacturer specifies this value in its specification sheet that you can get easily.

Communication System

This one is important. No matter how big of a battery you got, if your communication system can work only in close range, you have a problem. Most drones are controlled through a dedicated remote control or a smartphone App.

In both cases, the drone has to have a two-way uplink to not only stream those breathtaking aerial videos but to take flight commands from the pilot and transmit various real-time information about the flight called telemetry (height, speed, battery charge, etc.).

Most consumer and prosumer drones either use standard wi-fi signals to communicate with ground control (GCS) or use specialty radio uplink to communicate.

How far can a drone fly?

Wi-Fi can have a range from a few hundred meters up to 2000 meters (for example, DJI Mavic Air enhanced Wi-Fi uplink). It’s a cheaper and robust system that utilizes 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz dual frequencies with auto-switching and fallback capabilities.

Some advanced manufacturers have their own standard communication protocols like the DJI Ocusync 2.0 and Lightbridge that can push the telemetry and video transmission range up to an astounding 10,000 meters (10 Km).

Flight Environment

Your range also depends upon the area in which you are flying. Physical obstructions greatly impact the range of radio communication. Especially if your drone is using a high-frequency band. High-frequency bands have a high data rate (means better telemetry) but suffer in an area with high-rise buildings or mountains. You might face difficulties flying out of visual sight.

If you are operating on lower frequencies, you can have a higher range but will have to compromise on the data rate. That means you cannot get a high-quality video stream over long distances.

  • 915 Mhz – can penetrate large obstructions (high rise buildings, mountains) but has low bandwidth for data transmission.
  • 2.4 Ghz – can penetrate obstructions with suitable bandwidth for video transmission. Often overcrowded
  • 5.8 Ghz – high bandwidth for max data rate but often overcrowded.

Wind & Temperature

Lastly, the wind and temperature on your particular flight day can also change your normal range by affecting how your battery is drained.

If you are flying against the wind, you are pushing hard on your motors to compensate for the air resistance hence draining the battery before reaching its full range. It is a good idea to fly with the wind or choose a less windy day for your aerial adventure.

Similarly, cold temperature can severely limit your LiPo battery discharge rate. Cold temperature affects how ions move in the electrolyte and hence the battery voltage drops before it can fully discharge limiting your maximum range.

In general, choose a sunny & calm day for a good flight.

How far can a drone fly?

Related article: How long does a drone battery lasts?

How to increase a drone range

Since we discussed in detail the factors affecting how far can a drone fly from the controller without losing remote control signal, telemetry, or video transmission, below are some best practices to get the most out of your flying machine.

  1. Always charge your battery fully before leaving for a flying session. Half charged batteries can only give you half a range.
  2. Choose a day & time of flight when the weather is calm and warm. Wind and low temperature can reduce flight range.
  3. Fly in open area without little or no physical obstructions like trees or high-rise buildings.
  4. Fly away from high radio interference areas like cities to minimise signal interference. Rural open fields are best for maximum flight range.
  5. Position your remote controller antennas as per the manufacturer’s guidelines. Crossing antennas often results in high interference that can reduce the range.
DJI recommended remote control antenna positions

Conclusion

Wrapping up our discussion, commercial camera drones come in all different kinds of ranges. It depends on your budget and use case which drone is best suitable for you.

If you are a beginner pilot and only want some fun flying, you can go for the toy category drones you can control with your smartphone and only have a range of 50 to 100 meters.

If you are a serious photographer or a professional drone pilot, you can benefit from high range drones of DJI like the Mavic Pro and Phantom series with flight ranges as long as 10 kilometers with the new Ocusync 2.0 data link.

It’s important to check your county’s drone laws for compliance. For example, in the UK, your drone has to be in a visual line of sight (VLOS) at all times during the flight. Such regulations will determine how long you can go instead of your drone’s technological prowess.

Have a safe flight.

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