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The question of whether you can fly a DJI drone without a GPS often comes up from drone hobbyists and Part 107 pilots alike.
Can you fly a DJI drone without a GPS signal? DJI drones can fly without a GPS signal.
In this article, we’ll walk you through how drones have flown without GPS in the past, why you may want to fly without GPS, and how to fly modern drones without GPS.
Make sure you keep reading!
» MORE: What Are GPS Drones, and Why Does It Matter
Why you DO want GPS on your drone #
While it’s not necessary to fly a drone with GPS, there are many benefits to having access to GPS.
As you probably know, GPS is a system that uses the triangulation method with coordinates and satellites to locate an object.
While this seems incredibly complex, and it is, it could be made somewhat simpler with this brief explanation.
The world has been mapped time and time again. WGS 84 as a map projection coordinate system is used to convey a point on the earth using longitude and latitude.
The way an object is located on the earth is by connecting to a satellite using the coordinate reference system of WGS 84.
Satellites do not always use WGS 84, but this is a standard coordinate system for longitude and latitude.
When you connect to a satellite, it pinpoints your location as best it can.
However, this GNSS/satellite location is not always the most accurate, which is why drones will connect to multiple satellites and compare each satellite finding to get an average and precise location of where you are.
It’s important to understand how your GPS works and why it’s used to understand how and why to fly without it.
The GPS unit on your drone is an expensive piece of technology that is relatively new to the drone industry.
Many drones before 2016 did not possess a GPS unit. When you would fly your drone without your GPS unit, the drone would have no idea where it took off from and have no way of knowing where it was on earth.
For many hobbyists, this was totally fine, until an error or an outside force acted on the drone.
Perhaps you flew drones before GPS units were common. The term flyaway was used much more in those days.
When a flyaway occurred, it was often due to a large gust of wind, the drone coming into contact with electricity, or a software error in the drone. The results were disastrous.
Without a GPS unit, the drone would be at the mercy of the elements affecting it. This led to the drone flying away from you and ending up in the middle of the woods, the ocean, or someone’s backyard.
This was a huge downside to not having GPS and it’s still a downside to not using GPS on modern drones.
If these natural and manmade forces were to affect the drone today, the drone would know exactly where it took off from as well as where it was on planet earth.
GPS allows the drone to return home when the pilot has lost connection or when wind gusts and electricity are affecting the drone. This failsafe has saved many pilots from losing their drones.
Why you DO NOT want GPS on your drone #
However useful GPS may be, some pilots may wish to avoid the technology or at least circumvent it.
I’ll use DJI drones as an example of why pilots may wish to disable or even remove GPS.
DJI is known for many things and among these is geo-fencing within the software.
Many pilots feel as though this is the greatest downside to DJI. The company does not trust its customers to use their drones responsibly and fly in unrestricted and safe airspace.
There are arguments on both sides of why this is right and why this is wrong.
DJI customers become frustrated when they’ve purchased a drone and are unable to fly it because they are within restricted airspace.
It is illegal to fly drones in certain airspace because pilots may crash into a plane, interact with prisons/secure areas, or disrupt military operations.
In those cases, the restrictions are warranted.
However, there are many cases where a customer simply wishes to fly the drone around their home.
While the house may be inside a zone of restricted airspace, only the airspace above and around the house is FAA-controlled.
The area within the house is private property. However, DJI drones do not discriminate whether you are inside of a building or outside.
If the drone is within an area of restricted airspace, it won’t even take off. This is a large issue for many drone pilots in Washington, DC, as Washington has a 60-mile-wide perimeter of restricted airspace.
Even cities outside the District of Columbia such as Vienna, Virginia are No-Fly Zones, and a DJI drone will not fly due to its GPS location.
How to fly a drone without GPS #
Since geofencing is an issue affecting so many customers of drone companies around the world, the Internet is full of innovative and crafty ways to disable and remove GPS units within drones.
Here are three methods to try if you want to disable your drone’s GPS.
Method 1 – Tape the GPS Sensors #
One very common way of disabling your drone’s GPS–and the least invasive–is to place tape over the GPS sensors on the sides of the drone.
This will disable the sensor for most older drones, allowing you to fly freely within what DJI deems as restricted airspace.
Method 2 – Buy a Drone Without GPS #
Another way you can fly a drone without GPS is to simply purchase a drone without a GPS module.
There are many drones on Amazon that go for very affordable prices that may be perfect for a hobbyist entering the drone industry, or a Part 107 pilot that doesn’t need 60fps video quality.
Many of these drones are not quite as high-quality as the drones made by DJI, Hotel, Parrot, and the like, but the trade-off is freedom in flight.
Method 3 – Turn Off Your Drone’s GPS #
Disabling a drone’s GPS isn’t easily done. After all, there isn’t a switch to toggle the GPS on and off.
There IS software available online that you can connect your drone to if you want to disable the GPS, but use this at your own discretion.
Looking to the future #
None of what has been discussed is illegal. Bearing that in mind, I do not recommend you fly in FAA-restricted zones, so please don’t misconstrue my words.
Even if you can finagle your drone to forego GPS, know that flying a drone without GPS may very well become illegal in the near future.
Legislation has been passed to create new Remote ID laws which broadcast your location to whoever may wish to find it.
As far as I can tell, the way around this law is to fly drones under 255 grams. There are many choices of drones to select from under the 255-gram mark.
After all, the Remote ID laws only apply to drones registered with the FAA. All drones over 255 grams have to be registered by the FAA, which means your little outlaw drone can fly mostly free.
Flying without GPS has been done for years, and pilots will always find a way to fly off the grid as much as possible.
It’s a good idea to make sure you’re following all the rules and regulations placed by the governing body over your airspace, but if the legislation in your area isn’t an issue, feel free to fly without GPS.