How much can a small drone lift? [Experiements]

Small drones are perfect for travelling and portability. Some of the smallest drones on the market still have some of the advanced features of their larger cousins. The small size and rich feature set mean that they are perfect for anyone looking for their first drone.

Small drones can carry up to 330 g. The DJI Mavic mini was able to pick up 181 g in a YouTube experiment, whereas the DJI Mavic Air can lift up to 331 g. Perfect for carrying very light loads.

These small and portable drones are perfect for camera work and carrying very light objects. They are much better for the novelty of carrying items rather than delivering payloads regularly. If you want to know more about things that you can carry with a small drone, you should check out my other article – can you drop something from a drone?

drones that can carry things - header

Drones can carry a range of items, including:

  • Water balloons – everyone enjoys a water fight in the heat of summer, and carrying water on a drone can add a fun element to your summers. Water is very heavy, and it can quickly become too heavy for a small drone to lift.
  • Fishing tackle – drone fishing is becoming increasingly popular as many waterproof drones can drop the bait. The smallest and most portable waterproof drone is the Spry+. Fishing tackle is relatively heavy, anda small drone can only carry the lightest of equipment in low winds
  • Parcels – drone delivery using parcels was tainted as the next biggest thing. Small drones cannot carry any significant weight, and therefore the parcels are limited to small things like sweets and novelty items.

Much bigger drones can carry up to 30 kg. We certainly cannot expect this level of power from a small drone. Considering the smallest commercial drones on the market weigh less than 2.5 kg, we need to be careful not to overload the motors of a small drone by adding weight to the aircraft’s frame.

The most popular small drones currently on the market are:

  • DJI Mavic mini
  • DJI Mavic mini 2
  • DJI Mavic air
  • DJI Tello
  • Holy Stone HS270 2.7K Drone

and many more.

Small drones are popular because they are cheaper than the larger varieties of drones on the market, and many of them still offer high definition cameras. This combination of affordability and capability makes them perfect for social media videos and capturing aerial footage of important and fun activities.

How much can Mavic mini lift?

The DJI Mavic mini can lift 181 g, as demonstrated in this YouTube video below.

Even though this is the maximum weight that the DJI Mavic mini can lift, the stability and length of the flight will be severely compromised.

The DJI Mavic mini is designed for capturing high definition video footage in a small and portable drone. The motors will be easily overloaded if you try to lift anything more than approximately 100 g.

The payload’s more unstable the drone will become, and the battery life will be significantly lower.

How much weight can a hobby drone carry?

It can be hard to know exactly what a drone can lift in the wild vs what the manufacturer says. Here is a comparison of some of the most popular commercial drones and drones manufactured to lift heavy things!

Drones can carry things because the manufacturers have two powerful motors to overcome wind issues, acceleration issues, and quick direction changes. The quick changes of direction require the drone to accelerate against its own momentum, which can use a lot of battery. The extra power in a drone (above the amount required to lift its weight) means that it can carry some small payloads as long as the pilot doesn’t want to carry them very far or do anything crazy during the flight mission.

The extra power redundancy in some of the smallest drones means that you’ll be surprised at exactly how much some of the smaller drones can lift!

According to the YouTube experiments that I have found, here is a list of some of the most popular commercially available small drones and how much they can lift.

DroneMaximum PayloadSource of information
DJI Mavic Mini181 gYouTube experiment
DJI Mavic Air331 gYouTube experiment
DJI Mavic 2 Pro531 gYouTube experiment
DJI Spark65 gYouTube Experiment
DJI Mini 2283 gYouTube video

The DJI Mavic mini 2 can carry up to 285 g but needs to have the joystick accelerating upwards at all times. Even the DJI Spark can carry up to 65 g.

Of course, because hobby drones are not meant to carry objects, the power and battery capacity would mean they have to take short trips. Many of the experiments from the above table dangle the payload from string, so the drones would be very unstable when flying in windy conditions.

I do not recommend that you use a photography drone for carrying purposes as it could damage your drone and quickly burn out the motors. The battery drain rate would also mean that your battery cycles could be reduced. Essentially,m everything is under strain when attempting to lift heavy objects.

That said, using “fit for purpose drones” means that you can carry a load of objects – including really heavy ones!

Why small drones can’t carry much

Small drones cannot carry very much simply because they have very small motors and smaller battery capacities. The smaller motors and battery capacities mean that the smallest payloads are harder to move when placed on a long pendulum. The pendulum effects amplify the drones instability.

Small motors

The very first selection criteria for a drone is the overall way of the drone itself. Once the drone manufacturers now have the overall weight of the drone, including the gimbals, camera, batteries, motors, wires, flight controllers, and frame, they need to choose a motor with the appropriate power output.

The golden rule for selecting a drone motor is that it must allow your drone to hover with half throttle.

That means that the selected motor for a drone must be capable of producing about 50% higher thrust than is required to keep it steady.

Manufacturers choose the size of the motor based on the size of the drone rather than any potential payloads it could be carrying. For example, if you have a drone that is approximately 600g, they need to pick motors that can generate at least twice that amount of thrust.

Propellers

The size of the drone also limits the size of the propellers that a drone can use.

Our requirements for small and compact drones means that the frame and body of the drone are kept small. This smaller size increases the portability and the cost of the drone, meaning that it appeals to a wider range of drone consumers.

One of the issues of having smaller drones is that the arms are not long enough to use big propellers. The arms of a drone keep the propellers away from the body, which means that they can force air downwards. If the body of the drone gets in the way of the propellers, it significantly impacts the airflow over and under the propellers, making the lift much less effective.

Pendulum effects

Small drones can also carry very much due to pendulum effects acting on the drone as it is carrying items.

Adding any significant way to your drone changes the balance. This balance can affect takeoff and landing and, when the water balloon is released, it changes the upwards thrust component of the flight. As soon as the balloon is let loose, the drone needs significantly less power to stay in the air.

While the balloon is on the drone, there is a significant pendulum effect. The size of this effect depends on how long the payload is hung below the drone. The closer to the drone you can get the payload, the better.

The issue is that if the payload is much larger than the drone, it can interfere with the airflow around the drone, making the motors work harder and decreasing the efficiency of the propellers.

Even the smallest amount of movement can cause significant changes in a payloads direction on a long string. The pendulum effect makes navigating and controlling your drone much more difficult.

As long as you are in a wide-open space and you can fly your drone with a significant error bar, you are unlikely to clip any nearby obstructions or overhanging branches.

Smaller battery capacity

The smaller battery capacities of smaller drones mean that they are limited with the amount of time they can stay in the air.

The capacity of a battery dictates how long the drone can stay in the air. The smaller the drone, the smaller the battery tends to be. The battery will drain quickly if there is a larger payload and if the drone needs to work harder to move.

If you have a long tether hanging under the drone, it can significantly increase the angular momentum of the drone as it is turning. The propellers have to work harder to move the drone through the air and change direction.

All of this will deplete the battery quicker and mean that your flight mission will be in the order of 5 to 10 minutes instead of the 30 minutes plus that consumer-level drones are reaching at the moment.

Dangers of carrying stuff with a small drone

There are many dangers associated with carrying items with a small drone. These include:

  • Overheating drone – the motors have to work much harder to keep the drone in the air. Even during regular flights, my DJI Mavic air gets relatively warm. The extra strain put on the motors and the extra draining speed of the battery can cause overheating. The drone is also not moving through the air very much, which it relies on for dissipating heat.
  • Unstable flight – because your drone uses its redundant power to lift a heavy payload, it is unlikely to overcome strong wind gusts very easily. Also, the pendulum effects mean that the drone will struggle to move quickly and not be very agile.
  • Reduced warranty – stressing your drone out would significantly reduce its warranty. It is unlikely that the manufacturer will replace your drone if you are suspicious of using it to carry heavy items.
  • Increase risk of damage and injury – if you are carrying items with your drone there is an increased risk of damaging the drone and also injury to the pilot or any other people in the environment

How much can a small drone lift? Summary

I would recommend that you do not lift very heavy items with your small drone.

A small drone can carry very light items out of novelty rather than using it to carry stuff regularly. The extra weight can put extra strain on the motors, causing the electronics in the drone to work harder, and you may also decrease the lifetime of your drone. Manufacturer warranty is unlikely to cover problems arising from lifting heavy items with your small drone.

If you are lifting items regularly with your drone, such as drone fishing, I recommend that you buy a fit for purpose drone which is capable of carrying your desired payloads.

 

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton is a writer and YouTuber with a PhD in science. His drone footage has been featured on TV and he has written and/or produced videos for Science Alert, COSMOS magazine, and Australia's Science Channel among others. He has been a drone pilot for many years and has flown many types of drones. His favourite is still the DJI Mavic Air for the portability and functionality packed into a small and portable drone!