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What Is Headless Mode on a Drone? (Explained in Detail)

7 mins
Drone Blog
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When I got my first drone, I was more than happy – I was elated! But my excitement didn’t last as I discovered how darn hard it is to control a flying drone. That’s when I learned about flying in headless mode (also known as home lock, or safe mode). After that, flying my little mechabird (yeah, I just made up that word!) became more enjoyable and less frustrating. What is headless mode on a drone, you ask?

Flying a drone in headless mode means that your drone “faces forward” no matter your position on the ground. The headless mode makes the drone respond to your controls irrelative to which way it’s actually facing, so that you don’t have to keep track of the drone’s orientation in flight.

As a drone beginner, it was impossible to figure out all that stuff on my own. When I Googled “headless mode,” the information was too much to process. The instruction manual was pure gibberish to me. Let alone understanding that mysterious headless mode. So, I sympathize. Give me a few minutes, and you’ll get all the cool moves.

How Does Headless Mode on a Drone Work? #

To understand how the headless mode on a drone works, you first need to understand the physics of flying a drone, because drones are totally different animals. They’re like flying robots, and “robots” have different aerial dynamics than, say, a bird or a plane.

Your drone has four propellers (blades) that manipulate the airflow in order to fly. Two of these propellers rotate clockwise, and two rotate counterclockwise. Each one has a motor that determines the speed of rotation. Furthermore, the rotation rate of a given pair of propellers determines the direction the drone will take.

This flying mechanism gives the drone three basic maneuvers: Yaw, pitch, and roll.

  • Yawing is when the drone rotates on its own axis.
  • Pitching is when the drone moves forward or backward.
  • Rolling is moving to the left or the right.

You can combine these maneuvers to fly in any direction you want, because all flying patterns, no matter how complicated they seem, are based on these three drone movements. So, if you’re going to make the “advanced” moves, you’ll need to master these basic movements.

How the drone makes these moves is by “pushing” the air in the opposite direction. And this is where things get a little bit confusing. For the drone to lift off, it pushes the air down. For the drone to roll in the right direction, it pushes the air in the left direction. For the drone to roll in the left direction, it pushes the air in the right direction. To yaw, the drone spins all propellers at full speed. For pitching, it pushes the air forward or back, depending on whether you’re flying forward or backward.

Why is headless mode like a compass for your drone? #

Thus, after you’ve had the drone in the air for a few minutes, you might not know the actual orientation of the drone. And then you end up rolling to the left when you meant to roll to the right. And that’s where the headless mode comes in.

Basically, the headless mode works like a compass for the drone. Do you know how the compass always points to the North? It’s a similar principle; the headless mode gives you a big “N” while flying your drone.

That means, no matter how you yaw, roll, or pitch, you always have a “reference point” of where your drone is heading. It’s a marvelous engineering feat.

When you have your drone near you, you know which direction it’s flying. In other words, you know its front from its back. But while flying, it can be much harder to tell which is which, especially after flying for a while.

With headless mode, you can always tell how your drone is flying. Thus, you get a better grip on your drone and increase your control over its maneuvers. Doesn’t that make complete sense?

Benefits of Using Headless Mode on Your Drone #

Flying headless has many benefits, and here are a few of them:

Fly in windier weather conditions #

Weather conditions can significantly hinder your flying experience. Since drones fly by manipulating air currents, in windy weather conditions it’s much harder to fly safely. However, flying in headless mode can lessen the wind’s effect by giving you a better handle on your drone. Furthermore, the more control you have against changing weather conditions will help you fly and land safely. In headless mode, the risk of losing control and crashing is reduced significantly.

Fewer accidents #

Headless mode can further prevent unfortunate accidents whether you’re flying in a city or rural setting. When flying in headless mode, you’re less likely to lose your sense of direction and end up crashing into a building or getting stuck in a tree. Keeping your orientation, and therefore your control, keeps your drone out of harm’s way.

Beginner-friendly flying #

Headless mode is a beginner-friendly drone flying mode. It works for people who have just gotten their first drone and need those training wheels. When you’re flying in headless mode, you can experiment with maneuvers and even design your own moves. It’s relatively easier to fly in headless mode, especially when you’re a beginner.

More control, speed, and space #

When you’re flying for recreation, the headless mode can give you more room to try to trick moves. Even if you’re drone racing with friends, you’ll be more “in the zone” with the headless mode. In the heat of the moment, you don’t want to accidentally roll left when you really wanted to roll right. In these scenarios, flying free will give you more freedom, space, and speed.

Downsides of Using Headless Mode on Your Drone #

The headless mode on a drone may have some drawbacks as well:

Learning headless mode #

While flying your drone in headless mode is much easier than flying without it, you still need to learn it. It’s more like a training school where you’ll do some work. Plus, it’s a good opportunity to learn about speed and altitude limits. It may be confusing at the beginning, but it’s important. Once you understand the basics in headless mode, you can really fly like a professional without it, but you’ll have a learning curve once again to get there.

It’s addictive #

It’s so easy to fall in love with the headless mode that it becomes your default flying mode. If your brain gets used to it, you might find it hard to transition to other modes. Plus, spending too much time on the headless mode will make it difficult to fly without it. If your current drone supports headless mode, if you get a new one without it, it’ll be like relearning to fly.

It’s a bit dangerous #

The headless mode relies on internal magnetic sensors inside the drone. So, flying in an area where there’s a lot of electromagnetic interference (e.g., cell phone towers) could increase the risk of crashing. You have to be careful because you’ll find it troublesome to fly safely in such areas.

You might not need it #

Headless mode is somewhat useless in FPV (first-person view) drones. The biggest perk of a headless drone that it lets you know the direction your drone is facing. With a camera installed and FPV goggles to your eyes, you already know because you’re in the “driver’s seat.” In such cases, orientation is much more intuitive, so there’s no pressing need for headless mode. Perhaps the only case you’d want to use headless mode in that scenario is taking an aerial selfie.

Should You Use Headless Mode on Your Drone? #

I don’t recommend always flying in headless mode as your default. You should try other modes as well. In some scenarios, it’s absolutely necessary to fly headless. In some cases, it might actually hinder your experience. So, it depends on your goals.

When you get too excited and fly too far, switching to headless mode will help you return to home base safely. In that case, it’s recommended to use headless mode on your drone. Furthermore, it’ll help prepare you for an FPV flight.

When you’re beginning to fly, the headless mode can give you an edge before switching to normal flying mode. It’s a great introduction to learning how to fly a drone efficiently. Ultimately, it’s best to use headless mode when there is a genuine need for it.

I like to compare flying headless or normal to driving manual or automatic. Manual driving involves the driver and is more enjoyable. But there are times when you want to go automatic. Flying headless isn’t a do-or-die thing, but it has its uses.


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