How far away can a drone fly from its controller?

When we are thinking about purchasing a drone we often think about how far away we will be able to explore. As the technology continues to improve the range that the drone can get away from its controller is slowly increasing. As the technology gets lighter, batteries get more energy-dense, and people understand how to get the most from drones we will continue to see an improvement.

Drone manufacturers state the drones can fly between 4 and 10 km away from the controller. Independent testing has shown that there is typically a 15% lower range than stated by the manufacturer. The maximum range verified independently was 11 km by the Mavic 2 Zoom.

The distance the earth drone can fly away from its controller is dependent on a number of factors. This includes the maximum capacity of the battery, the environmental conditions of the flight, any obstructions between the drone and the remote control – which can cause interference, the type of connection that is between the drone and the controller (the most popular are Wi-Fi, Occusync, and Lightbridge), and how brave you feel on that day.

If a drone loses contact with a controller it typically returns to home. This means that it will return to the GPS location that it recorded when it took off for its flight.

However, some drones do not contain this technology and will either stop receiving information from the controller and hover, they will fly away (common with compass errors) or they will crash land.

None of these are ideal situations for your expensive gadget. In order to understand exactly how far a drone can fly I did the research and I scoured the Internet for the manufacturer stated maximum range and also found independent testing of the drones in real-life conditions.

What range does a drone have?

Trying to work out what range a certain drone has is surprisingly difficult. That is because the manufacturer stated range is typically the best case scenario for the drone and the controller.

This means that there is no interference between the drone and the controller, that the drone is not damaged in any way, and there are no environmental issues that would be affecting its range such as wind and obstacles in between the drone and the remote control.

Here is a list of drones, the manufacturer stated range, the independent range test results and a link to the YouTube video where the test was conducted, and I have also included a calculation of the difference between the two.

DroneManufacturer stated rangeIndependent range test (and link to test)Difference (%)
Mavic Air 210 km8 km (YouTube)-20
Mavic 2 Pro8 km9.8 km (YouTube)23
Mavic 2 Zoom8 km11 km (YouTube)38
Mavic 2 Mini10 km4.6 km (YouTube)-54
Mavic Air4 km2 km (YouTube)-50
Phantom 4 v2.08 km3.4 km (Youtube)-58
Inspire 27 km8.1 km (YouTube)16
Parrot Anafi4 km3.2 km (YouTube)-20
Autel EVO7 km5.6 km (YouTube)-20
Mavic Mini4 km5.5 km (YouTube)38
DJI FPV Drone10 km7 km (YouTube)-30
SKYDIO 23.5 km1.6 km (YouTube)-54
FIMI X8SE8 km6.44 km (YouTube)-20
Autel EVO 29 km8.74 km (YouTube)-3
Average7 km6 km-15

It has to be said, that the independent testing was performed in order to return the drone to its takeoff spot. A lot of the tests were not designed to push the drone to its transmission limits but, a lot of the drones were starting to lose signal at the number stated above.

You can see that there are a huge range of distances and ranges quoted by the manufacturer. This is primarily due to the types of technology that is used to communicate between the drone and the remote controller – something we will go into more detail later in the article.

I think that the independent testing is the most reliable representation of how far a drone can travel away from its controller in the real world. It must be said that some of the tests did not result in a loss of signal whereas others cut out completely.

What is the longest range drone?

The furthest that a drone was able to fly was 11 km in a straight line away from the remote control. This was actually a 38% increase over what the manufacturer said the drone was capable of. This was the Mavic 2 Zoom.

The biggest difference between the manufacturer stated range and real-life testing was the Phantom 4 v2.0. This drone had a 58% reduction in its stated range when independently tested.

If we take all of the data, above, and average out how far out the manufacturers estimates of the range is we end up with a 15% decrease in range when tested independently. Now, there is a huge range in there and I wouldn’t be confident using this too broadly. However, what it does show is that manufacturers are keen to promote the range of their drones which may result in inflation of the number in order to compete with other drone manufacturers.

After all, this number is a fantastic way to compete for market share in a competitive environment.

Ultimately, the connection between the drone and the remote controller is what decides the strength of the connection and the range that the drone is able to be controlled over.

Let’s take a look at some of this technology so that we understand the limitations and benefits of each.

Types of drone transmission

There are many types of drone transmission and here is a rundown of what sort of distances you can expect from each transmission system. The most common way of connecting to a drone is through Wi-Fi and also DJI have developed its own proprietary technology, OcuSync, so that it can communicate over much larger distances.

TechnologyMaximum distance
DJI’s OcuSync7 km (4.3 miles)
DJI’s OcuSync 2.010 km (6.2 miles)
DJI’s Lightbridge1.7 km (0.6 miles)
Wifi300 to 2000 m
Bluetooth10 – 100 m

You can see that DJI’s OcuSync 2.0 is the best in terms of distance. Wi-Fi is commonly used in drones because of the wide availability of the technology in smart devices and small electronics.

WiFi

Wi-Fi is a common type of transmission between drone and the remote control. This is because it is a mature technology and it is widely available on a number of different devices such as smart phones. This means that your smartphone is able to control your drone if you do not have a remote control or you do not want to use your remote control for a specific purpose.

What is WiFi?

In the simplest terms, WiFi is a wireless networking system that devices can use to communicate without a direct cable connection. Something that is very important when flying a drone!

WiFi makes use of radio waves to transmit information – that’s why if you fly your drone in radio wave noisy areas like busy cities you can get connectivity issues.

We happen to be most used to using WiFi to access the internet – but it can be used in way more ways than that.

You may have heard of different types of WiFi offered in drone technology as 5GHz or 2.4GHz. These numbers are referring to the frequency at which they will transmit the data. There’s two things you need to know about each:

  1. The speed at which the data is transferred. The faster the data is transferred between the drone and your controller – the more “real time” the image is on your screen. Take home message: 5GHz is faster.
  2. The distance that the signal can communicate. It’s really annoying when you get out in the field, all ready for a flight, and you end up with a weak or unstable connection. Take home message: 2.4GHz travels further.

In real life however, the speed, distance and stability that each WiFi signal can communicate is determined by a number of different factors

2.4 GHz

When you first turn on your DJI drone it will be set to automatically select the most stable channel through which to connect to the controller on the 2.4GHz frequency. This is because the longer waves are better suited to longer range communication – perfect if you want to send your drone off into the distance. However, the 2.4GHz is a pretty crowded place!

This frequency is used by nearly every bit of wireless technology you can think of! Old garage doors, baby monitors, and older style cordless phones. So you can end up with a lot of interference and instability with your connection. This is why I always get a weak signal when I fly my DJI drones on this frequency.

Check out my other article on the common causes of unstable connections between a drone and a controller – this is a big one!

5 GHz

I now use this frequency every time I use my drone. I select a 5GHz frequency manually from the GO4 app. I never get an unstable connection warning – I used to get them all of the time.

The 5 GHz band is much less busy than the 2.4GHZ band for drone flight. You’ll also get higher speeds. The trade off (there’s always at least one) is that this frequency is less able to get through walls and solid objects. Most countries do not allow you to fly out of line of sight so for most people this won’t be an issue.

OcuSync

This proprietary video transmission system outperforms Wi-Fi and other radiofrequency transmission systems. Its secret lies in the fact that it uses a much more effective digital compression allowing it to transmit the high definition video over long distances. Because of the technology it can also work well in places with strong electromagnetic interference.

OcuSync transmits over distances of about 7 km (4.3 miles).

Recently, DJI have released a second version of this technology. This allows the video transmission feeds to be delivered up to a maximum of 10 km (6.2 miles) this is in credibly impressive and can be found in drones such as the DJI Mavic Air 2.

Lightbridge and Lightbridge 2

DJI’s Lightbridge consists of two components: airside transmitter and a ground side receiver. It does not extend the range of a drone but rather it provides a video monitoring capability which means that they can see everything in real time on an android device or a monitor.

This means that the cinematography of drones can improve and isn’t affected by the latency caused by sending the signals between the drone and the receiver.

The simultaneous HDMI and audiovisual input support allows pilot monitoring and camera work to be done at the same time using just one system. Essentially, this is taking aerial photography to the next level.

Bluetooth

Some smaller and child-friendly drones use Bluetooth for connectivity and controlling the drone via an app. This form of communication is typically found in toy drones because of the range of the connection. Bluetooth can on reach a maximum connectivity distance of 100m in ideal conditions – whereas a WiFi connection can go for 1000m. In reality the Bluetooth function only reaches a distance of about 10 meters.

What is Bluetooth?

Bluetooth operates on the same frequency as the 2.4GHz WiFi mentioned above. This can create a little bit of an issue if there are multiple devices operating at the same time. The drone community would typically use Bluetooth to capture the flight data from their drone onto their phone.

Unless you have a toy drone you will not be using Bluetooth to control your drone in any significant way.

What effects transmission range?

There are a range of things that can affect the transmission range of a drone. This includes:

  • A weak or crowded signal
  • Large metallic objects
  • No direct line of sight between the drone and the remote control
  • Interference from other sources of radio frequencies
  • weather
  • and more…

If your drone keeps losing signal check out my YouTube video where I go through the seven simple checks that you can make for keeping your drone connected.

What happens if you fly your drone out of range?

There are a few things that can happen if your drone goes out of range this includes:

  • return to home – modern drones will automatically return to home if they lose connection with the remote control. Check out any of the YouTube videos, above, for an example.
  • Hover and hold altitude – this is where the drone loses complete connection with the remote control and it simply hovers in the place that it lost signal and will hold its altitude until it gets to 10% of battery and it will automatically land.
  • Crash land – if your drone runs out of range and it tries to return home along a dangerous path it could potentially crash into something on the way home. Alternatively, it may simply run out of battery and crash land without doing a controlled descent.

If your DJI drone goes out of range you will first notice that the video stream live transmission will become fuzzy and cut off. The drone will then wait for a minute or two and then quickly return to home at the height that is set in the return to home software. Your drone may reconnect as is returning to home so that you can gain control and pan the camera.

If you want a complete rundown of what will happen if your drone goes out of range check out my other article – what happens if your drone goes out of range? A full guide – click here to be taken to article.

What happens if your drone goes out of range?

Summary

In this article we have completely covered how far away drone can fly from its controller by looking at the manufacturers data as well as the independent range tests performed by a range of people on YouTube.

We saw that in general there is a 15% lower range than that is stated by the manufacturer. Although, there are a range of different reasons why this may be. Some of the drones tested also went significantly further in their range testing and it may have just been favourable conditions on the day.

Ultimately, the range that the drone is able to be controlled over is dependent on the type of technology that is used to communicate between the drone and the receiver. DJI have been innovating in this space for a number of years and their OcuSync 2.0 can achieve a distance of up to 10 km.

Quite often, the drone has to return home at about the same time that it loses signal so that it can return to its landing spot safely with plenty of battery to spare.

If your drone loses signal while you are out and about not too much happens to it. Typically, for more advanced consumer drones it will automatically return to home without an issue.  

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton is a writer and YouTuber with a PhD in science. He has written and/or produced videos for Science Alert, COSMOS magazine, and Australia's Science Channel among others. Andy started droneflyingpro.com to share his love and the research of all things drone! He has been a drone pilot for many years and has flown many types of drone. His favorite is still the DJI Mavic Air for the portability and functionality packed into a small and portable drone!