How long do drone batteries last? Everything you need to know!

If you have just typed this question into Google I will assume that you mean one of two possible angles to this question. Firstly, you could be asking how long does the average drone flight last? Secondly, you could also be asking how many cycles before replacing your drone battery? Whichever one you are asking I have the answer for you in this article.

Drone batteries have advanced quickly in the past few years and you can expect a drone flight of about 20 to 30 minutes. Your drone battery will last between 300 to 500 recharges before needing replacing. That is about 12,500 minutes of flight time per battery or over 200 hours.

Before we delve deep into flight times and drone battery maintenance let’s take a quick look of why drone batteries are so special. As you will find out, they are very different to the rechargeable batteries that you are used to seeing in consumer electronics like your laptop.

Why drone batteries are special?

Drone batteries are lithium polymer batteries and need to have a more rigorous maintenance and storage routine than other rechargeable batteries. The lithium polymer batteries are the one innovation that allows drones to perform as well as they do! These batteries are the best combination of light and powerful – just what a flying gadget needs!

Every LiPo battery is made up of individual cells – between one and eight of them. Each of these cells are always rated at 3.7V and are fully charged at 4.2 V. If you let the battery drop below 3.7 V you will permanently harm the battery – so that is why you need to take special care of them!

If you take good care of lithium polymer batteries they will last for a very long time and will bring you many hours of flying enjoyment.

Now, let’s turn our attention to the first way that this question can be interpreted which is the typical flight time which a lithium polymer battery allows.

What is the typical flight time for a drone battery?

When you are buying a drone you want to be flying more often than you are waiting for your batteries to charge. With some of the advanced current technologies such as DJI’s smart batteries you can be up and running within 30 minutes.

Even though lithium polymer battery technology is getting better and better there is a natural upper limit to the amount of energy that can be stored and therefore the amount of flight time that you get.

Manufacturers are getting better at using this stored energy efficiently and are making their drones lighter and more energy efficient. This is resulting in a creep upwards of flight times. However, we will need to see a relatively large leap forward in battery technology to significantly break past what we are currently able to achieve.

Below in the table are some of the most popular drones currently available, their weight, flight time, cost, and how many dollars per minute of flight time that each drone has.

DroneWeight / gFight time / minCost US$$/min
Mavic Air 25703479923.5
Mavic Mini2503039913.3
Phantom 4 PRO V2.0137530159953.3
Mavic 2 Pro and Zoom90631159951.6
Vanguard35009030,000+*333.3
Anafi Parrot3203266720.8
Inspire 23440273549131.4
Phantom 4 RTK1319305890196.3
*based on last model

We can see that the Mavic mini has the lowest cost per minute flight at $13.30 per minute of flight time. Closely followed by the Parrot Anafi as well as the Mavic air 2.

You can see that the average flight time for a consumer level drone is around 30 minutes. The latest consumer level drone from DJI tops the list at a top-flight time of 34 minutes.

These numbers will need to be taken with a grain of salt as the manufacturers often quote the numbers during hover and no wind. If you are moving about and flying normally this flight time can be reduced by about 5 to 10 minutes depending on the weather conditions at time of flight.

If you want significantly more flight time the only option for you at the moment is to purchase a second drone battery. Otherwise you will have to be patient and wait for new technologies to be developed.

Such developments can take many years but the scientific community is working on it. Check out the section below for one of the longest drone flights of four hours and 40 minutes with a dual fuel drone.

What is the longest battery life for a drone?

One of the longest flight drone times ever recorded is four hours and 40 minutes. Given that the average drone can only hover for only half an hour this is pretty impressive. This record is claimed by Spanish drone manufacturer Quaternium. The drone uses a hybrid fuel source which includes an electric engine and a combustion engine. The combustion engine keeps the battery charged throughout the flight

The company’s mission is to:

Quaternium mission is to design the most advanced multirotor UAVs in the market. We combine experience and high tech to develop a disruptive product that aims to revolutionize the multicopter field. With this ultimate innovation, flight duration is increased 6 times compared to existing alternatives.

That’s pretty impressive and it’s something that they seem to have been able to achieve. One of the current models of drones involves a two-stroke combustion engine that requires a 95 octane +4% oil mix. It also contains a lithium polymer battery. It can carry up to 10 kg and at a full load can stay in the air for approximately two hours. The cruise speed is 50 km/h with a maximum speed of 80 km/h.

That’s a pretty impressive drone that has a load of potential applications where lithium polymer batteries alone will not cut it.

How to extend your battery life

If you want to extend your battery life and spend more time in the air there are a few little tricks that you can employ to make sure that your battery lasts as long as possible.

If you want a summary of how to extend your flight time you can find it in my YouTube video, below.

Extending your battery life during a flight means that you have to be a very conscientious pilot. If you find that your battery is not lasting nearly as long as you would hope consider these solutions:

  • No more aggressive flying – when you are a new drone owner it is very tempting to fly as fast as possible all the time. This very quickly depletes the batteries energy as a load of energy is used to make the quick turns. This is because the drone has to accelerate against its own momentum. Anytime the drone is working against itself you are robbing yourself of precious minutes in the air. Stop flying aggressively and you should see your flight time increase.
  • Turn off sports mode – drones can come with a load of different settings to make it more fun to fly. If you are using a DJI drone they have an option for sports mode. This turns acceleration and movement up a notch. Make sure that your drone is not in a sport or extreme mode for taking off. You can find that in a software or hardware setting.
  • Turn off recording – I record nearly every single part of my flight. But I find that this could be robbing me of time in the air. If you are using your camera throughout the entire length of your journey you could be using up a little bit more energy stop turn off recording and any other power hungry activities and you could find yourself a couple more minutes.
  • Avoid flying in high winds – sometimes it is completely unavoidable to fly in high winds. Your drone will try its best to stay stable in high winds and at a fixed height and GPS location. If the motors are working hard to maintain the stability it will quickly gobble up any energy. A little pro tip here is to make sure that on the outbound journey of your flight you are going against the wind so that you have the wind helping you to return to your landing location.

Use these simple tips to extend your battery flight time.

Let’s now turn our attention to how long a drone battery lasts before it needs to be replaced.

 

How long before a drone battery needs to be replaced?

Drone batteries are relatively robust bits of electronic equipment and you can expect that from an average battery you can get anywhere between 300 and 500 charge cycles. In the DJI app you can check how many charge cycles a battery has gone through before deciding whether or not you need a new drone battery.

Symptoms of needing a new drone battery may be:

  • Shortened flight times – if your flight times are getting shorter and shorter with the same batteries it could be that your battery needs replacing.
  • Excessive heat while discharging or charging – if you find that your battery is becoming uncomfortably warm during charging or discharging you should replace it out of a matter of safety.
  • Corroded or damage metallic connections – if your battery has significant corrosion or discolouration on the metal components then you should replace the battery as soon as possible.
  • Excessive time charging – if your battery is having issues with charging i.e. unable to charge over a few hours then you should consider buying a new battery.

Also, any strange activities to do with batteries should be investigated and if in doubt replace the drone battery. However with good maintenance and care a drone battery will last you for a very long time.

In the next section we will talk about exactly how you should care for your drone batteries so that they last for as long as possible.

Drone battery maintenance for extended lifetimes

If you want to look after your drone batteries properly then you should follow these simple rules. Treat them with care and respect and there is no reason you can’t get them to last for many years. If you do it properly they will last for the entire 500 or more charge cycles.

Keep them clean and dry

Store your batteries in a clean and dry area. Avoid contact with moisture and excess dust. If the battery comes into contact with moisture it can rust and corrode the contacts. If you want, you can clean the metals contacts with isopropyl alcohol (IPA) if you need to clean off some dirt that has accumulated,

Let your batteries cool off before charging

If you are like me – you will be eager to get back in the air as soon as you land your drone. However, charging up your drone battery as soon as you land is not a great idea! During flying the batteries discharge at a fast rate and all this movement of electrons can cause a little bit of heating. The battery shouldn’t get really hot but it’ll heat up a little bit.

Wait 20 minutes before charging again – this will protect the battery from over heating as charging the batteries can also cause the battery to heat up.

Store at 50% charge

Never leave your drone batteries fully charged if storing for long periods of time – like over a month. It is best to leave your batteries at 3.9 volts per cell if you are not planning on using them within a week. 100% charges LiPo batteries are much more unstable than when at 50 % – increasing the likelihood of a short.

Some of the smart batteries will also discharge themselves so that they reach about 3.9 V per cell. Here are some basic rules of thumb if you want to store your drone batteries for various lengths of time:

  • Short-term Storage – Batteries should be discharged to between 60 and 80% if you’re not using them for between one and ten days.
  • Long-term Storage – If storing for more than ten days, store the battery between 40 and 60%. Batteries should not be left for over three months without being charged as the battery life will be reduced.

Cycle the LiPo batteries for first use

If you have purchased a new battery you can cycle the battery a couple of times to help increase the longevity of the battery. after an initial couple of cycles, you can repeat this every few months. That is combat something referred to as “battery memory” where the battery remembers how far it was last discharged and causes it to artificially shrink its capacity.

Keep in a relatively cool spot

You should make sure that your lithium polymer batteries are kept in a spot that is no more than 40° C. Leaving the batteries in the back of a car while on a shoot for example is a very bad idea. Cars can easily get very hot in the sun and incredibly cold during the winter months. If you can you should carry your batteries with you at all times so that they do not get too cold or too hot.

Summary

This article has attempted to answer the two slants on the question of how long do drone batteries last. In summary, here are the short answers to those two different types of angles on the same question.

How long is a typical flight?

A typical flight for a consumer level drone at the moment is somewhere between 20 to 35 minutes. The more you spend on a drone the more flight time you can expect to get. Drone manufacturers are standing this time by increasing the energy density able to be stored in a battery whilst also using the stored energy more efficiently. This is being done by reducing the weight of the drone whilst also improving the conductivity and efficiency of the electronic components.

When should a battery be replaced?

Drone battery should be replaced every 300 to 500 charge cycles or when the battery is acting strangely. Batteries can be incredibly dangerous if they are allowed to overheat or overcharge. If in doubt replace the drone battery and dispose of the old one in a responsible manner. This can be done in an e-recycling place and also by sending the battery back to the manufacturer.

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!