What happens if your drone goes out of range? Full Guide!

It can be frustrating when you are flying and you notice something in the distance that you want to get close to. Drones are a fantastic way to explore the world around you but they have one limitation – the drone range. The drone range in this article will be considered to be the maximum distance you can fly away from the controller before signal is lost. In this article we will be going over what happens when you fly your drone additive range and what you can do about it.

If you have a consumer drone made by DJI the live stream video transmission will become cut-off resulting in the first person view going grey. The drone will then wait for one minute and then quickly returned to home via the height that is set in the software. Your drone may reconnect as it is returning to home. If you have a cheaper drone it will likely just lose stability and crash land.

The exact consequence of flying your drone out of range of your controller will depend on the type of drone that you have. It’s going to be a lot less dangerous for your drone if you have something like a return to home (RTH) feature on your drone. Consumer level drones such as those found from the manufacturer DJI and Parrot often have these features. Before takeoff the drone will save the GPS coordinates of the home base and this is where it will return to. As long as there are no strange obstacles at its return to home flight height it will return safely.

I have personally used this return to home feature a couple of times when I needed the drone to return home on its own and I have been very satisfied with how easy and safe it felt.

On the other hand, if your drone does not have an automatic flying stabilisation feature or a return to home function then it is likely that your drone will simply crash land close to wherever you lost the signal. That is not ideal and so I would recommend looking at the manufacturers specification sheet about the drone you are considering buying to make sure that it has a failsafe if the controller/drone connection is lost.

The strength of the connection depends on the transmission and receiving strength of the drone and the remote. This has to do with the technology that the drone uses to communicate with the controller (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, other radio signal) as well as the environment that the drone is flying in.

If the drone is in an environment where there is a lot of noise for example in places with high rise building, in an indoor location, near lots of electrical wires, or other metallic objects like reinforced concrete you can lose signal in a shorter distance because the drone is struggling to separate out the signal from the receiver from the background noise.

Here is a YouTube video which highlights the seven simple checks that you need to go through if your drone keeps on losing signal:

How far a drone can fly away from you depends on a few important features and let’s take a look at that now.

How far can a drone fly away from you?

How far a drone comply away from you depends on the model of the drone as well as its communication methods with the controller. The most common ways of connecting to your drone is through Wi-Fi, proprietary technologies such as DJI’s OcuSync, and other technologies like Bluetooth.

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

DJI’s 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.

Wi-Fi transmission

Wi-Fi can be used for short distances and Wi-Fi signal can transmit video in the range of 300 to 2000 m depending on the equipment and conditions. The range will vary widely due to a number of factors:

  • Power of the transmitter – the bigger the antenna and the more powerful it is the further the signal will radiate.
  • The frequency used – consumer drones offer a 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz frequency and the lower frequencies offer a larger range. However in cities and urban areas this band can be very noisy and result in signal loss regularly during your flights. So you have to balance the signal loss with range and quite often I tend to choose the 5 GHz frequency band.
  • The environment – if there is no direct line of sight to your drone the signal will immediately weaken and you risk losing connection. If there are nearby trees, buildings, or other obstacles between you and your drone it is likely your drone will lose signal very quickly.

Wi-Fi is the leading connection below DJI’s Ocusync and I have used it in my DJI Mavic air for a couple of years and not had any issues as long as I was comfortable changing the frequency band at which I was operating. In urban areas I operate at a frequency of 5 GHz and in rural locations I change that to 2.4 GHz.

Bluetooth

Depending on the class of Bluetooth it can be from 100 m to less than 10 m in range. Cheaper drones often operate on Bluetooth and so the range is much more limited and is better suited for drones that are primarily flown indoors. There are three types of Bluetooth class which determine the transmission distance:

  • class I is a range of 100 m (or 328 feet)
  • class II is a range of 10 m (or 33 feet) – most Bluetooth headsets and headphones are in this class.
  • Class III is a range of 10 m (or 3 feet)

Bluetooth is not something that is often used to control consumer level drones and so Wi-Fi and DJI OcuSync will be what you encounter most often.

Besides the technology that the drones used to communicate with the receiver the one thing that will determine the range that you can expect from your drone is the drone model and the technology that is built into it.

Let’s take a look at some of the ranges of drones that currently exist on the market.

  • DJI Mavic air – 2000 m (operating frequency 2.4 GHz to 5.8 GHz)
  • DJI Mavic mini – 500 to 2000 m (operating frequency 2.4 GHz to 5.8 GHz), Model MR1SS5 up to 4000 m.
  • DJI Mavic air 2 – up to 10,000 m (Ocusync 2.0)
  • DJI Phantom 4 pro (V2.0) – up to 6000 m (operating frequency 2.4 GHz to 5.8 GHz)
  • Parrot Anafi – 4000 m (operating frequency 2.4 GHz to 5.8 GHz)

Consumer-level drones offer a much larger range than you could see with your naked eye. In many jurisdictions, the law dictates that while you are flying your drone you need to keep your drone in line of sight at all times. This means that for a lot of these distances you will not be able to see your drone before you run out of range.

What happens if you fly your drone too high?

Many countries have limited the maximum height that you are legally allowed to fly your drone as it is based on the minimum cruising altitude of manned aircraft which is at 500 feet. There is normally a 100 foot buffer between the lowest cruising altitude and the maximum altitude that you can fly in your country.

The cruising altitude will be set for the highest obstacle in the area so that manned aircraft with pilots know how to adjust their height as not to come into contact with any drones or other low-flying objects.

In most of the drone apps you can set an automatic maximum altitude that your drone cannot pass. Although, you can change that yourself and you can end up flying your drone very high. Based on the amount of range that common drones have it is unlikely that you will be able to fly high enough to lose signal from altitude.

However, you can get around these blockages with certain software changes.

This video shows that the DJI Mavic pro is able to fly at a height of 2500 m:

So, it is clear that you’re able to fly your drone at a very high altitude before losing signal and the videos above may have used auto flight programming rather than a fly signal but if you watch the video you’ll see when it actually loses connection.

There are a couple of ways that you can increase your drone range…

How to increase your drone range

Increasing your drone range is easier said than done. There are only really two ways that you can increase your drone range and the first one is to use a parabolic reflector to focus the Wi-Fi towards your drone.

Buy a range extender

A drone signal booster consists of a set of parabolic mirrors to reflect the controller’s signal towards the drone. It allows you to fly further, or can be used to combat signal dropout in Wi-Fi and 5G noisy areas. They look very futuristic and maybe a bit superfluous, but are really useful if you are flying regularly in a city.

Typically, these parabolic reflectors are foldable and slide onto the antenna of your drone controller. They are easy to transport and give you added security when you are flying at long distances. A must-have for the serious drone flyers amongst us.

Buy a drone with a larger range

One of the only ways to really increase the range of your drone is to buy a drone with a better connection technology. One of the best on the market that result in a massive range is the DJI Mavic air 2:

DJI Mavic Air 2

I love my Mavic Air and was happy when DJI desided to upgrade the drone. It seems like they have done it in all of the right ways!. The Mavic Air 2 takes power and portability to the next level, offering advanced features in a compact package. It has a range of intelligent shooting functions and excellent image quality put aerial masterpieces within reach.

The camera includes:

  • 1/2-inch CMOS sensor: it has smooth 4K/60fps video. The D-Cinelike flat color profile retains more information for post-processing. The HEVC (H.265) video codec records more image information, uses less storage, and preserves the dynamic range and detail of your footage, ensuring next-level content.
  • 8K Hyperlapse: this will allow you to simply warp time and space for especially stunning footage.

this is an inexpensive and ultra portable drone that I think you’d be silly not to consider if you want to be a little more budget consious.

  • Weight – 570 g
  • Dimensions
    • Folded: 180×97×74 mm (Length×Width×Height)
    • Unfolded: 183×253×77 mm (Length×Width×Height)
  • 34 minutes max flight time
  • Max wind-speed resistance – 8.5-10.5 m/s
  • 8 GB internal storage
  • Max speed – 19 m/s

This is a great little drone and it will satisfy most hobby photographers easily!

  • Up Your Game: The Mavic Air 2 camera drone takes power and portability to the next level. It combines a powerful camera with intelligent shooting modes for stunning results.
  • Next-Level Content: Capture impressive 48MP photos with a 1/2-inch CMOS sensor while the 3-axis gimbal provides 4K/60fps video.
  • Improved Flight: An impressive flight time of up to 34 minutes allows you to pull off epic, fast-paced shots.
  • Intelligent Tracking: Mavic Air 2 features intuitive shooting functions that make aerial photography easier than ever.
  • Video capture resolution: 4K HD

Pros

+ Very portable

+ Cheaper option than Pro

+ Great intelligent flight modes

Cons

~ 4K 60FPS only available in manual modes

~  No side obstacle avoidance

If you want to get out of the DJI ecosystem and looking for an affordable drone with a great transmission range I recommend you look at the Parrot Anafi it has a range of features that I think are just awesome:

Parrot ANAFI Work Drone

The Parot Anafi is an underrated drone that is capable of many awesome things and gives the DJI drones a run for their money. The Work bundle includes:

  • 1 Parrot ANAFI drone
  • 4 smart batteries
  • 1 Parrot Skycontroller 3
  • 1 compact shoulder bag
  • 1 16 GB SD card
  • USB-A to USB-C cables
  • 8 additional propeller blades
  • 1 multi-port USB charger
  • 1 mounting tool
  • One-year subscription to Pix4Dcloud

This is more than enough to get the most serious photographer started and ready for whatever each flight has in store for them! These are the features that this drone comes with:

  • Pro drone with 4K camera: Its 4K HDR/ 21 MP Camera captures high-resolution aerial images with a unique 180° orientation, enabling you to inspect, monitor and film difficult-to-access areas. Its zoom allows to keep a safe distance during inspection work without loss of quality. The hybrid 3-axis image stabilization delivers Ultra-Stable video and photos.
  • Always ready to take off: the 4K anafi UAV is the efficient solution for all your needs. With a combined flight time of 4×25 min, a mobile USB c-type charge (to charge your batteries between 2 flights) and a multi-port USB charger (to charge your batteries simultaneously), your drone is always ready to fly in no time. Its perfect stability in winds of up to 50km/H and its silent flight are two additional advantages for successful videos.
  • Easy operation: easy to carry in its compact shoulder bag, The drone can be operated intuitively even in difficult areas with the freeflight 6 mobile application. Automatic flight Modes such as Flightplan (not included, in-App purchase) will allow you to perform reconnaissance missions. Take advantage of smart RTH (return home) and geofence (punctual restriction of the drone At altitude and distance) functions for secure flights.
  • 3D MODELLING: Create 3D models and take precise measurements of distances and surfaces: Anafi Work includes a one-year subscription to Pix4Dmodel to create 3D models easily and quickly on your computer (access Pix4Dmodel via the myPBS coupon included in the pack). The drone is also compatible with Pix4Dcapture (free application) which allows you to capture stand-alone images optimised for the creation of your 3D models.

Pros

+ Very portable

+ 3 times zoom

+ 4K camera

Cons

~ Issues in lower light

~ No collision avoidance

As drone technology gets better, we are likely to see the ranges and battery lives of these drones increase dramatically. We are still waiting for the next level up in terms of battery technology (away from lithium polymer battery technology) but there are only very few situations where you need to fly more than a few kilometers away from you. This will be limited to professional drone flyers as well as professional cameramen and different surveying operations. In this instance, you will be using a specialized professional and enterprise-level drone to do a specific function or task.

Conclusion – What happens if your drone goes out of range?

If you fly outside of your controller and drones range the chances of that drone coming back will be directly related to how much you have spent on your drone. Less expensive drones with no stabilisation will likely just fall out of the sky at the location that it lost the signal whereas, at the other end of the market, consumer level drones with advanced flying technologies like auto stabilisation auto hover and returned to home will save your drone from certain death.

As automated drone technologies become less and less expensive we are likely to see more return to home and other safety features so that your investment is not lost. If you lose signal with a DJI drone it is likely that it will return to the takeoff spot with no issues as long as there are no strange obstacles during its return to home height flight.

If losing signal is something that you are likely to be doing i.e. you are flying away from the takeoff spot regularly I would pay for a much more expensive drone with better technology such as the DJI Mavic air 2 as it has some of the best technology currently available and I look forward to other manufacturers and consumers up in their communication technology to match that of DJI.

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!