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How Close Can Drones Fly Next to Each Other? (Explained)

6 mins
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Drones have become an increasingly popular topic in today’s world. These small, unmanned aircraft are flown for recreational purposes such as filming, photography, and surveillance.

Increasingly, drones are used for commercial applications such as search and rescue, scientific research, surveying, and crop spraying.

One of the most impressive applications of drones is formation flying. Formation flying allows small aircraft to fly cooperatively, tightly controlled, and synchronized to each other.

A popular question from enthusiasts looking forward to community hangouts and flying together is how close drones can fly adjacent to each other before encountering risk.

Keep reading as we answer that question ahead!

How close can drones fly next to each other? #

Multiple drones can be flown simultaneously without confronting any risk of collision as long as they are flown within the commended directives.

No more than three drones are recommended to be operated within the same perimeter, as more would result in crashes and signal interference.

Frequency hopping and sidestepping each other’s signals will ensure their safety.

However, a pilot will need to possess copious amounts of skill and experience to maneuver a drone around the rest and handle problems arising in frequency selection.

Why can only three drones fly next to each other? #

The flying of only three drones per arena is stressed because the drones will utilize three out of the limited accessible channels for wireless connectivity, and the rest will be a necessity to maintain stability.

Although eight or more Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or other channels exist, solely three are observed as non-overlapping.

A drone continuously channel hops to establish a stable and secure connection between itself and the remote control. Spare channels must be available at all times to connect in incidences of frail connectivity.

Using more than three drones at once will increase the chances of signal overlapping and potential interference resulting in a communication breakdown between the drone and the controller. 

However, flying more than three drones concurrently has not totally been unheard of and has been made to occur in spaces of requirements demanding so. 

Swarms of drones, sometimes more than 30, can be treated as one entity and flown as such. Some of these drones have also been known to fly unmanned with powerful, state-of-the-art technology that eliminates the need for operators.

Formation flying is a remarkable utilization of drones for many reasons. It allows drones to fly in organized patterns and sequences that are choreographed to specific maneuvers.

This opens the possibility of using drone swarms and formations in search and rescue, surveillance, information gathering, and even space exploration.

The capability of flying in formation gives drones the advantage of traveling further, faster, and more safely than they can independently.

To create a formation flight with drones, flight parameters, such as speed, altitude, and separation distances must be predetermined to guarantee safe and efficient operations.

Flight planning and coordination must also ensure all drones fly in the same manner and maintain the designated formation.

How far apart can drones fly when in formation? #

The exact distance depends on the type of drone, but generally, drones in formation flight should maintain a distance between 20 and 50 meters apart.

Regarding altitude, drones can fly as close as 5 meters apart to form a line with adequate separation.

In Canada, formation flying is legal, provided the drone operators follow the aircraft operators’ requirements, including adhering to the safety distance between the other aircraft and them, paying attention to the airspace they’re flying in, and heeding the regulations set by Transport Canada.

To safely fly drones in formation in Canada legally, here are some rules:

  • Obtain a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC). SFOCs are required to fly Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs) in Canada.

  • Ensure that safe operational practices are in place and that all drone operators are properly trained and authorized.

  • Confirm that the airspace where the flight formation is to take place is suitable for such operations – verify that the area is not a no-fly zone and doesn’t interfere with any other aircraft that may also be operating in the vicinity.

  • Create a detailed flight plan that outlines the formation’s takeoff location, flight route, and destination.

  • Adhere to Transport Canada’s Rules for Flying recreationally or commercially.

  • Maintain the drone’s visual line-of-sight (VLOS) with the pilot(s) at all times.

Also, per the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs), small remotely piloted aircraft (drones) must follow the rules outlined in Section 602.41 – Unmanned Aircraft Systems:

  • Keep the drone within Visual Line of Sight (VLOS), meaning that the drone must be within sight of the pilot/observer.

  • The drone must stay at least 30 meters from bystanders and at least 75 meters away from open-air assemblies of people.

  • The drone must not fly in controlled airspace without authorization from Transport Canada.

  • The drone must not fly 90 meters above the surface and must remain at least 5.6 kilometers from aerodromes.

Additional requirements may be specific to local municipalities or territories.

What are the purposes of formation flying? #

Formation flying with drones has many practical uses in the military, civil, and commercial sectors.

Military use #

One of the most important uses of formation flying is in military operations.

UAVs can fly in formation while performing reconnaissance and surveillance missions to better understand the situation on the ground.

Additionally, formation flying can provide security and counter-terrorism operations by gathering intelligence and providing better area coverage. 

Commercial/recreational use #

Formation flying with drones is an important skill to learn for commercial and civil use. This type of flight allows drones to fly in a synchronized pattern, which can be used for many applications. 

It is most commonly used for aerial filming and photography.

By flying multiple drones together in tight formations, filmmakers and photographers can capture aerial perspectives that would normally be impossible to achieve with a single drone. 

Formation flying has other commercial advantages as well. It can be used for surveillance, mapping, and search and rescue (SAR).

By coordinating flight paths, drones can cover more ground, making it easier to map large areas or search for lost persons. 

Civil use #

Formation flying has also gained popularity in the civil arena. It allows drone operators to do complex maneuvers, such as flocking and swarming, which can be used to track animal movements or showcase aerobatic skills. 

Agricultural use #

The agricultural use of formation flying with drones is rapidly becoming popular for farmers. Formation flying allows multiple drones to be controlled simultaneously, enabling farmers to cover larger areas quickly.

This technology can be used to increase crop yields, monitor crop health, and detect pests or diseases that could threaten harvests. It can also help spread fertilizer and pesticides more quickly and evenly.

Farmers can also use formation flying with drones to obtain data and aerial imagery for more detailed and accurate crop health assessments and to identify areas that could benefit from fertilization, irrigation, and pest control.

Ultimately, this technology enables farmers to make more informed, data-driven decisions about their land management.

This mode of flying drones is quickly changing the landscape of many industries, providing a systemic order for uncertain parameters.

The next 10 years will witness cooperative regulatory input and global adaptation of formation flying to eliminate industry challenges.

Flying drones also can be a fun, relationship-building activity, that could be great to explore as a hobby.

Tell us if you’ve been a part of formation flying in the comments below.


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