How long do drones usually last? Insider considerations

When you are buying a new drone it can get very exciting. When I first bought my drone I couldn’t wait to get it up in the air. Two years later my drone is still going strong but there are components that are failing. The materials a drone is made of are light and are often plastic. This means that the plastic is subject to degradation and brittleness. Also, electrical components such as the inertial measurement unit and the batteries can easily become degraded.

The flight time of a drone is typically between 25 and 40 minutes. The lifetime usage of a single drone depends on the materials that it is made from, the availability of replacement batteries, and your ability to keep it safe during flights.

There are also issues like planned obsolescence – where manufacturers design the products to only last a few years. This is particularly common in a market where electronic gadgets are regularly upgraded. Just like the drone market.

In this article, we will go over every answer to the question: how long do drones usually last? You may be wondering about the drone’s flight time, whether or not it will last for longer than a few years, or it may be that your enthusiasm for flying the drone will quickly decrease.

I’m sure that there are plenty of drones in the world that are not being flown and are simply sat in someone’s office space or are not being used and sat at the bottom of a drawer.

What is the average lifespan of a drone?

The average lifespan of a drone is very much dependent on the quality of the construction, how recently the drone was manufactured, and how well you look after the battery and the internal components. Also, if you have an accident, you will significantly reduce the lifespan of your drone.

Choosing a drone from a quality and well-known manufacturer will increase the lifespan of the drone and, learning how to fly properly by slowly expanding your zone of capability and increasing your confidence will ensure that you don’t make any silly mistakes that can significantly damage your drone when you crash.

Understanding how to look after your drone after it has been through dust, insect guts, and other contaminants will keep your drone performing for many years to come. Also, learning how to store and properly maintain the lithium polymer batteries will ensure that you enjoy up to 5 years of fun with your current drone.

Flight time

If you’ve typed this question into Google you may be wondering what the average flight time of a drone is.

Luckily, I have plenty of other articles that answer this question in detail:

The average drone flight is anywhere between five minutes (for a very small drone) all the way up to 40 minutes for a high-level consumer range drone such as the Autel EVO 2 Pro.

Drone times are so short because of the high amount of energy required to keep the propellers spinning to displace enough air to create lift.

Here is a table of some of the most common drones and their flight time in minutes.

DroneFlight time / min
Mavic Air 234
Mavic mini30
Phantom 4 Pro V2.030
Mavic Pro31
Parrot Anafi32
Phantom 430
Mavic Air21
Autel EVO 240

The average flight time of all of these drones is approximately 31 minutes. The flight time of the drone is very dependent on a variety of variables such as the wind condition, the weight of the drone, as well as any particularly aggressive acceleration during flying.

You can extend the lifetime of your drone by reducing the weight, making sure that the battery is well looked after, that you fly on relatively calm days, and you learn to fly without the need for aggressive manoeuvres.

Materials

Besides the actual lifetime of the battery of a drone you may also be wondering what is the lifetime of a drone – when will it no longer be able to be flown?

Drones bring together a load of materials and components. A weakness or breakage in one of these materials or components can cause a drone to be grounded forever.

For example, electronic components inside the drone can easily become damaged through water ingress or simply degrade over time. Alternatively, the materials that a drone is made from can also degrade and make it unsafe for the drone to fly.

The choice of materials used in the manufacture of drones comes down to the density of the material and the amount that is used – trying to keep the weight the drone is carrying as low as possible.

What materials do drones use?

Drones need to be made from materials that are lightweight but also impact resistant and able to withstand high operating temperatures due to the fact that the drone electronics can get relatively warm during flight.

The frame

The frame of the drone is typically made up of a magnesium alloy which contains approximately 90% magnesium, 9% aluminium and 1% zinc. This can change for each drone but it offers incredible strength and corrosion resistance. It is lighter than aluminium by 34% and it is a popular choice for drone frames. It is one of the lightest structural metals in the world which makes it perfect for drones because even the smallest increase in weight can result in a much lower flight time.

The body

On top of the frame, encasing the components, is the body. The material which is used for the body also has to be impact resistant as it is the last shield that is protecting the internal components from any accident or incident which may happen.

Depending on the type of drone the body may be made of high impact polystyrene (HIPS) or Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). Let’s take a look at some of the drones that utilise each of these materials.

High impact polystyrene (HIPS)

High impact polystyrene is used in drones such as the DJI Phantom and is typically used on the shell.

Because of the way that styrene does not mix with some other polymers it forms a matrix instead of a complete mix of the materials. This peculiar activity means that when the material is put under stress microcracks form and the energy of the propagating crack is transferred to rubber particles.

The transfer of energy into the rubber which is mixed into the polystyrene means that it is resistant to impact.

Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) – Mavic series drones

ABS is made up by reacting styrene, acrylonitrile, and poly butadiene. These can be mixed together in various ratios giving a different physical property for each mix. The addition of acrylonitrile makes the ABS are stronger than pure polystyrene whilst the acrylonitrile can also contribute to chemical resistance, fatigue resistance, hardness, and rigidity was also providing some protection against the higher temperatures that drones can operate under. The styrene gives the plastic a shiny and impervious surface as well as improving the hardness, rigidity, and improved processing ability.

A lot of drone body materials are created via an injection moulding technique which means that it can be made very quickly in a continuous manufacturing process.

This material can also be used for the drone propellers as it is light and resistant to stress and strain – something that the propellers go under a lot of.

Electronic components

The electronic components in a drone are machined to precision. Typically, drones have a printed circuit board that mechanically supports and electrically connects electronic components using conductive tracks, pads, and other features.

At any one time, one of the many electrical components on a drone can fail. You see, drones are running components like:

  • inertial measurement units
  • motors
  • GPS units
  • electronic compasses
  • barometers
  • lights
  • cameras
  • accelerometers
  • gimbals

and lots and lots of computational power for running artificial intelligence algorithms to keep it in the air. The more often you use the small electronic components and motors the more likely they are to simply break due to wear and tear.

Each of the electronic components are different and component manufacturers often specify this for the components within the specification document. The end of its useful life will either happen from burnout or it will just simply not perform as expected.

Some drone users get lucky and they can fly there drone for many years without any issues whilst others struggle after a few months to get there drone to perform in the same way as when it was new.

Battery

The battery is one of the weakest components of a drone. This is because the internal components have to pass many electrons between components very quickly to keep the drone in the air.

Drone batteries are typically lithium polymer batteries which means that they need to have a much more rigourous maintenance and storage routine than other rechargeables.

The lithium polymer batteries are super light and powerful which is just what a drone needs to stay in the hair.

Every lithium polymer battery is made up of individual cells – between one and eight of them. These cells are typically rated at 3.7 V and up fully charge when the voltage is 4.2. If anyone of these cells fails you will need to replace the battery or if you let the battery voltage drop below 3.7 you will permanently harm the battery.

Because the batteries are the weakest component of a drone manufacturers provide the option to swap them out quickly during a flight mission.

I carry with me at least two batteries each time I go flying.

However, now that my Mavic air is getting older I cannot find replacement batteries and it will be the limited number of batteries on the market that will ultimately determine when I have to change and upgrade my drone. Unless I crash it before then!

Crashes

The lifetime of the drone is also dependent on how many crashes the drone in jewels throughout its lifetime. Not only is it the number of collisions but also the severity of them.

Each time you fly your drone you run the risk of crashing it. If you are a particularly risky flyer the likelihood of you damaging your drone and significantly shortening its lifespan increases.

Because of the light materials that a drone is made from even the slightest of heavy landings can cause repairable and fatal injuries to a drone arm or body. If you want to know more about the materials used and how you would fix a broken drone arm check out my other article – how to fix a broken drone arm – click here to be taken to article.

How to fix a broken drone arm

Plastic degradation

Lastly, the lifetime of a drone is very much dependent on how the different materials age. The weakest and material most affected by weathering effects is the plastic of the drone body.

A drone body is sometimes made of ABS. This plastic will undergo a cracking reaction with moisture when it is heated under damp conditions.

This causes large strains in the shell of the drone and can easily result in cracking and breaking.

Other plastic can also turn brittle due to its molecular weight, bad additives, dust and impurities being incorporated during the manufacturing process.

Making sure you get your drone from a reputable manufacturer – one that has been in the market for a long time and has produced a number of well-known drones will mean that you are less likely to get a drone which will become unusable due to brittleness of the components.

Choosing a drone that has a metal alloy frame will also mean that it is less likely to undergo brittleness due to the sun or other weathering effects.

Planned obsolescence

Many technology companies actually design into their products a failure mechanism so that you buy more products from them. This is known as planned obsolescence.

To demonstrate that this is a real issue take a look at this WebCam which is focused on a lightbulb that was first flipped on 115 years ago.

Light bulbs and other various technologies could last for decades but it is more profitable to produce artificial lifespans so that the companies get repeat sales.

For example, in one African country a major international organisation purchase dozens of expensive drones for a large-scale mapping project. At least one of the drones needed to be shipped back to Europe every month. This significantly increases the cost of the drones but also increases the carbon footprint of the project significantly.

As a consumer, planned obsolescence also makes you spend more.

The drone market is regularly updating its drones and every year a new type of drone comes out. Of course, if you currently have a drone that is functioning well you are very unlikely to upgrade. However, if your drone is starting to act unpredictably or some of the components have failed the release of a new drone may excite you enough to purchase the latest model on the market.

Luckily, there is a movement for the right to repair products that you own without having to pay the manufacturer. The right to repair movement is building up steam in places like the United States. The ability to be able to repair your own drone means that it is done in less time and is not as costly. Just like smart phone companies, drone companies are fighting against the right to repair. Some of the reasons they present such as safety issues, are shortsighted and will ultimately mean that customer loyalty will move to companies that provide some with the ability to repair their own drones.

General interest in flying the drone

The last reason which can severely impact the lifetime of your drone and how long it lasts is your general interest in flying your drone.

I have experienced first hand what it is like to be passionately motivated to fly my drone in the early months of owning it and then after approximately one year never taking it out of my house.

There are plenty of drones for sale online which follow this same pattern.

Typically, the excitement of owning a new gadget will last for only a couple of months before you need a reason to actually fly it. I got a lot of use out of my drone early on because I was using it for a daily blog and all of the footage was able to be used. Nowadays, I often forget to take it out of the house when I’m going somewhere fun and interesting or the batteries are not charged up enough for me to be able to take it.

If you are purchasing a drone I would highly recommend considering what your drone ownership would look like in a few months time and whether or not you have a place for the footage (if you are buying a camera drone). This will significantly increase the usage of your drone and its ability.

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!