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What Happens When a Drone Goes Out of Range?

7 mins
Drone Blog
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One of the things most people do when they get a new drone is to see how far the drone can fly. So you fly and fly your drone over the course of weeks or months. But sometimes, things may get out of hand if you push the limits a bit too much and you fly your drone out of range. This article focuses on what exactly can happen when you fly your quad out of range. 

Cheaper drones might just turn off or fall to the ground, while more expensive models may return to the starting point, or stabilize and hover until you get back into range. What happens when your drone flies out of range depends on the type of drone and the manufacturer.

It’s important to know if your drone manufacturer has built in a failsafe feature to the aircraft in case it gets out of range. If you know your drone doesn’t have a return home feature, for example, which allows the drone to return to the starting point when it’s out of range, you’ll be more careful when flying the drone. 

We’ll first discuss how far your drone can fly away from you before fully discussing what happens when your drone goes out of range. Stay tuned. 

How Far Can a Drone Fly Away From You? #

This is one of the most searched questions about drones. Talking about how far a drone can fly away from you is basically talking about how far the drone can fly from the controller and still be able to maintain a viable signal. And this is referred to as the drone’s range or the range of the drone. Whichever works for you. 

Now, every drone model will come with a specified and advertised flight range. Sometimes, the flight range turns out to be accurate in real life, sometimes it doesn’t. Whichever category your drone falls into, the advertised flight range will always give you a solid idea of the limitations of your drone’s range so you know what to expect. 

There is the legal requirement that your drone must always be within your line of sight when in the air. So you must keep this in mind when flying your drone or testing the flight range. 

The exact distance that any given drone can fly from the controller depends on the quality of the drone and the type of controller signal used. For an in-depth look at how far a drone can fly away from the controller, read our article here.

Note that it’s the type of transmitting technology the manufacturer uses combined with the strength of the signal of the controller that will determine the actual range of your drone. This means that more expensive drones having sophisticated technology will have a longer flight range. But more importantly, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to test the full limit of such drones if you are going to comply with FAA regulations of keeping your drone in your line of sight when flying it. 

The Visual Line of Sight Limitation #

Remember we’ve been talking about the FAA regulation that requires you to always have your drone in your line of sight when flying it? You should always follow this regulation even if your drone has a range of up to 4 miles. It’s very unlikely that you can have your eyes on a drone that’s 4 miles away from you. 

Now, you may be wondering what the fuss is about the FAA regulations. We’ll tell you. It’s all about safety, safety, and safety. If you don’t have your eyes on your drone, then how are you going to know when your drone is about to collide or crash into something? How are you going to know if you are properly controlling your drone? 

You should also know that an out of control drone (which is what your drone is when you don’t have your eyes on it) poses danger to itself (it may get damaged), people, vehicles, and buildings (you don’t want to break someone’s window, right?)

So the FAA regulations are all about safety. Of course, buildings, weather conditions, and the type of terrain are all factors that determine how far you can physically see your drone. 

What Happens When a Drone Gets Out of Range? #

As far as consumer drones are concerned, there are two types of ranges and they are the controller range and the video signal range. Now, the controller range, which usually operates on the 2.4 GHz bandwidth, is usually farther than the video signal, which operates on the 5.8GHz range. The video range is also the range of the camera of your drone and you are going to lose the video range way before the drone actually loses connection with the controller. 

It’s easy to know when you’ve lost the camera/video signal/feed as the image on the screen will stutter and then fail. But there is no cause for alarm yet as the drone is still within the range of the controllers so you can just control your drone to come a bit closer to you. 

But when your drone gets to the limit of the controller range, there are several things that can happen, all of which will be discussed below. 

Toy Drone #

If you have a toy, cheap, or older drone model, then your drone will most likely drop from the sky like a falling rock and meet its doom. This is because cheaper drones and the older models do not have the newer technology and safeguards incorporated on the more expensive or newer models. 

Mid-level and Up Consumer Drone #

Now, newer or more expensive drones are not going to just fall from the sky. Instead, they use GPS technology to remember the home position, or basically the point of take off. So if the drone gets out of range, it’s going to return to the home position or get as close to the home position as it can.

Also, the newer and more expensive drones will alert you on the remote or device you are using to fly the drone (smartphone, tablet) whenever the drone is out of range. By the time you receive this alert, the drone will probably already be trying to get back home by retracing its flight back and getting back into the range of the signal. 

Depending on the model of the drone, some drones may just stabilize and hover in the air giving you the opportunity to try to get closer to the drone and reconnect with it. Some drones may just land wherever they are which isn’t too bad as long as you are not flying it over water. 

Even if your drone has a return home feature or a feature that lets it land safely wherever it is, note that it has to have sufficient power to return to you or land safely. Your drone may still crash anyway if the battery charge is too low. So be extra careful when flying your drone especially when the battery is getting low. 

What If I Am In “SPORT” Mode? #

If you are into stunts, maneuverability, and speed, then the “Sport mode” is for you. Sport mode gives you more control over your quad and all crash avoidance systems are disabled in this mode. You’ll still receive an alert when your drone is out of range in the sport mode but your drone won’t return to home even if it has the feature. It’s up to you to try to move closer to the drone. 

And if your drone is the type that just lands wherever it is, hopefully it won’t end up landing in a swamp, lake, or river.

Can You Track Your Drone If It Goes Down Out of Range? #

Whenever your drone appears to have gotten out of range, the first thing to do is to hit the return to home feature. If your drone doesn’t have this feature or has been disabled (if you are in sport mode), then you should immediately start looking for your drone with the remote on. If the battery of your drone isn’t dead yet, the remote control will connect with the drone when you get back within range. 

However, the best way to track your drone is to have a tracker which lets you pinpoint a precise search area. And this gives you a much higher chance of finding your lost drone. 

If you don’t have a tracker, you can check your controller’s last-known coordinates, provided you haven’t turned the controller off. Input these coordinates into your phone GPS and go to that location. Yes, you’ll still have to manually search for your drone but you’ll be able to narrow down the search area. 


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