Whenever I am out in the park enjoying a good early Sunday morning fly around, I get to hear two questions very frequently. I call them the ‘The Joggers FAQs’ because most of the people are joggers in the park who get amused by the sound of the rotors. These questions are; How fast can a drone fly? and How far can this go?
For them, I usually have a very short numerical answer based on the model I am flying, but here, I want to talk about this in detail so that anybody curious enough to google the question can have a good time reading about it.
So how fast can a drone fly? The average speed of commercial camera drones is around 40mph. Some models can fly up to 60 mph and some lower category drones have speed around 20mph as well. For racing drones, the flying speed can go well above 100mph.
Ok, let’s discuss this in more detail.
Before jumping into the main topic, it’s a good idea to understand how drones fly. You must be thinking, “yeah, I know how they fly. They have those rotating motors with fans on top”. Yes, but it’s not that simple. Many things go into keeping them in the air precise enough to make a 4K video and push them around, avoiding minute obstacles.
Also, this article is for people who might not be as tech-savvy as my drone enthusiasts friends out there. As a hardcore drone enthusiast, it’s always my wish to educate more and more people about these beautiful flying machines so that they can join the club and have fun too.
How Drones Fly? – The Physics of it
A little heads up here; whenever we use the word drone in this post (and on this blog in general), I always mean the rotary-wing drones that come with a little camera and not those fix wings airplane types. This is important because both have very different physics of staying in the air and flying around.
The Hovering: Most drones have three or more rotating propellers on top, which helps them stay in the air. The rotational speed of these propellers (aka the RPM) and the resulting lift is very precisely controlled by Electronic Speed Controller (ESC). All the motors have to have the same RPM to produce the same amount of lift and hover the drone in place. This is something that sets the rotary-wing drones (aka quadcopters) apart from fixed wings. Fixed wings can’t hover in one place because their lift depends on the relative velocity of air flowing over their wings, so they have to move forward to remain in the air continually.
Moving forward/Sideways: Here, things get interesting. When you push the joystick on your remote controller or mobile screen to move the drone forward or sideways, the onboard computer intelligently increases the RPM of the two adjacent motors. This increase thrust slightly raise one side of the quadcopter. This slight tilt now divides the thrust force horizontally and vertically (during hovering, it’s all vertical). The vertical part of the thrust force keeps the drone in the air, and the horizontal force pushes the drone forward in the direction of the tilt. That’s how a drone can freely move in any direction you want it to.
Factors influencing drone speed
Now that we understood the basics of a drone flight, let’s discuss what factors influence the speed of a particular drone.
Type & design of the drone
Drones are designed for specific purposes and that greatly affect its speed.
Some drones are designed for learning purposes. They are normally cheap and have low powered motors. Since their main purpose is to learn flying for beginners, they might not go as fast as the more sophisticated drones in higher price categories.
Other drones are designed specifically for high-performance flight e-g racing drones. They have high output motors with a sleek design with minimum possible air resistance (lower coefficient of drag). Most commercial drones like the DJI Mavic Mini also come with “sports mode,” which gives the motor extra battery juice to perform a high-speed flight, albeit at the expense of a high battery drain.
Weight of the drone
Drone flight is a constant struggle between the forces of nature and the motors. The forces of nature include the Gravity, which pulls the drone down, and the air resistance, which pushes the drone in the opposite direction of flight.
The more the weight of the drone, the more it has to fight Gravity. More weight also means a bigger size and more resistance against air. So, the need for speed dictates lower weight and a smaller size.
Motors & Propellers
The type of motor and propeller combination also affects the speed of drones keeping everything else the same. A more powerful motor can produce high RPM which results in higher thrust forces.
The type of motor used is critical in the overall design of the drone. There are basically two main types of motors used in today’s drones; Brushed motors and Brushless motors. Lower price category drones like Holystone use the cheaper brushed motors, which are not very power efficient, while higher category drones like the DJI Mavic series use the more efficient brushless motors. If the motor is inefficient, it will use more battery juice to produce the same power output hence either require a bigger battery or have lower flight time. They also have lower power output hence low flight speed.
Similarly, if you want to produce more thrust, you have to use propellers with higher pitch angles, but that comes with a compromise. Higher pitch means higher drag hence higher motor power required to move them. So, if the pitch is too high, you will have to use a bigger motor and bigger battery to power, thus increasing the overall weight of the drone. For maximum speed, you will have to find a sweet spot between the required motor size and the pitch angle. Lower pitch angle propellers are more power-efficient, have a smoother operation (lowe vibrations); thus are considered good for drones used in photography.
Mode of operation
Some drones come with a special “sport” mode like you will see in most models of the DJI drones. When you switch to sports mode, the onboard computer disables some of the safety features that are used to make the drone crashproof (forward and downward crash sensors) and also increase the motor output by increasing the power input from the battery. So, how fast can a drone fly also depends on which mode you are operating it in.
And finally, the atmospheric conditions also affect the motor output power and hence the how fast can a drone fly.
If you are flying your drone in a low-temperature area like in northern Canada, you can expect a lower power output from the motors due to a lack of full discharge from cold batteries. This lower output can result in slower speeds for a model that can normally fly much faster in warmer areas.
Related article: How Long Does a Drone Battery Last? 7 Ways to Maximise Flight Time
Wind conditions also affect the speed. When a drone flies forward, it has to overcome the resulting inflow of air that tries to push it back. If the wind is blowing in the opposite direction of flight, it can greatly affect the speed of the drone. It’s like swimming against the current.
Common Commercial Drone Speeds
Below, I am going to list down the advertised speed of some of the famous commercial drones available in the market. Remember that these speeds are recorded in perfect lab conditions, and actual speeds can vary based on the flight mode, batteries, environmental conditions, and your flying skills.
Max Speed for DJI Drones
|DJI Drone Model||Advertised Speed (mph)|
|DJI Phantom 4 Pro||45mph|
|DJI Mavic 2 Pro||45mph|
|DJI Mavic Air||42mph|
|DJI Mavic Pro||40mph|
|DJI Spark||31 mph|
|DJI Mavic Zoom 2||45mph|
|DJI Inspire 1 Pro||58mph|
Max Speed for Other Commercial Drones
|Drone Model||Advertised Speed (mph)|
|Yuneec Typhoon H Pro||70 mph|
|Ryze Tello||18 mph|
|Autel Robotics Evo||44 mph|
|Hubsan Zino Pro||37 mph|
|Walkera Vitus 320||31.1 mph|
|PowerVision PowerEye||40 mph|
Max Speed for Racing Drones
|Racing Drone Model||Advertised Speed (mph)|
|Walkera F210 Professional||50 mph|
|ImmersionRC Vortex 150||60 mph|
|Eachine Wizard X220||68 mph|
|Bolt Drone FPV Racer||30 mph|
|HGLRC Wind5||50 mph|
Drone Speed Limit by FAA
The flight speed you see from most commercial drone manufacturers is not the max possible speeds. Drones can go much much faster than these typical speed stickers. But most consumer drone manufacturers have low max speeds due to one simple reason: no one really needs a high-speed camera drone except for very special applications like FPV drone racing.
But despite having the technical capability of going much faster, most drones limit their speed because FAA and other aviation control agencies do not allow drones to go faster than a specific speed limit.
FAA limits drones to 100 mph. This limit is enforced on all drones in FAA Rule 107 (14 CFR Part 107). There are other regulations in Part 107 such as how high can a drone fly in an uncontrolled area so if you are going to fly your drone for the first time in the US, it’s a good time to check all the applicable regulations before you push the throttle.
Fastest Drone Record
The Drone Racing League (DRL) Racer X holds the world fastest drone record and have their name in the Guinness Book of world records. On July 13th, 2017, DRL pilot Ryan Gury flew the Racer X drone at the max speed of 165.2 mph (265.87 kph) before it caught on fire and crashed.
This feat was accomplished in the presence of a monitoring team from the Guinness Book. Before that, they achieved a max speed of 179 mph on the same model, but that was not recorded by the Guinness monitoring team
Below is a video breakdown of how the fastest quadcopter was built and what components were used along with the actual official video.
Drones are amazing flying machines that can demonstrate great speeds when configured correctly. But do you always need the speed? I would say it depends. Most drones are meant for aerial photography and videography. The slower they go, the better the image will be.
But how fast can a drone fly? Most commercial drones from DJI and other manufacturers have max flying speeds lower than 50 mph.
But if you are into the crazy sports of FPV drone racing, you definitely need to own the fastest machine possible. For that, you either have to buy an optimized racing drone from specialized manufacturers like the DRL, or you can also build one yourself. All the components for getting your own drone up and ready are easily available off the shelf. When built for raw speed, drones can clock at 179 mph as well but do remember the FAA limit on the speed that is 100 mph.
See you next time 🙂
Related: How high can a drone fly?