Range of the Drone (how far can a Drone fly) is the distance to which a Drone can fly from the Controller (User) and still return, with a safety margin for any emergency. This range is called the Maximum Operating Range (MOR) and is indicated in the product description.

A long-range Drone can operate up to 3.5 miles (5.6 Kms). A mid-range drone can operate up to 2 miles (3.2 Kms). Toy or recreational Drone can be operated up to 500 yards (450 m).

The Drone range depends on the following factors.

1. Signal Transmission System (STS) Between the Drone and the Controller (User).

The transmission system is the mode (frequency) of communication used for communication between the Drone and the Controller (User). A signal transmission system is used for Drone flight control and data exchange (video and audio) between the Controller and the Drone. Whilst the flight control clearly defined the Maximum Operating Range (how far can a Drone fly), the data transfer range defines the practical usage of the Drone. The factor is 1:7, i.e., if a Drone can fly up to 10 miles (16 Km), it will lose signal for data transfer at 6.5 to 7 miles (11 Km).

The most common Signal Transmission systems used are as below:-

  1. Wi-Fi
  2. Lightbridge, Lightbridge 2.0
  3. OcuSync, OcuSync 2.0

Wi-Fi is the cheapest and the most common Signal Transmission System. It is used in low and mid categories of Drones. Wi-Fi uses two frequencies, 2.4 and 5.8 GHz, to connect between the Controller and the Drone. Signal encryption is used to avoid interference between multiple users in the same location. 

Lightbridge and Lightbridge 2.0 are the betterment of the Wi-Fi transmission system. It is suited for in case of multiple controllers and master-slave configuration of drone control.

Next came the OcuSync and OcuSync 2.0 systems. These are future improvements and more secure systems with better reliability, security, and range.

In my opinion, choose the Drone with Ocusync 2.0 Wi-Fi Signal Transmission System, if not on a tight budget. Although a little more expensive, they have significantly greater advantages.

2. Legal Limit of Line of Sight (LoS) Operations

Legally, a Drone must always be operated within Line of Sight (LoS). This implies that terrain, obstacles, and visibility play an important role in Drone operations. The Drone Controller (User) must always be aware of the impact of the terrain while operating Drone. Forest, trees, valleys, water, buildings, and rain characteristically negatively affect the Drone range. Height, duct formation, mountain reflections typically enhance the range. 

Low frequency (LF) travel longer ranges as compared to High Frequency (HF). However, they have a lower data-carrying capacity and require a bigger antenna. For example, 915 Mhz frequency can penetrate obstructions better but is limited in data-carrying capacity and requires a bigger size antenna.

Microwave Frequency Band (S band, between 2 GHz – 4 GHz frequency range and wavelength range between 7.5 cm to 15 cm and C band, between4 GHz – 8 GHz frequency range and wavelength range between 7.5 cm to 3.8cm) are used for all Drone operations. 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz are the most commonly used frequencies worldwide for Drone operations. They can only travel within Line of Sight. They are affected by even minor obstruction and require only a small antenna. 

In my opinion, you choose the Drone based on your usage requirements and not on the frequency of operation, as all Drones are optimized for their antenna size and designed use. The effect of operating frequency is minimal between near similar Drone.

3. Battery Capacity and Size

The bigger the Drone’s size, the bigger the battery it can carry. But the bigger the Drone, the higher is the battery consumption. Thus, an ideal combination of size and capacity based on your requirement and usage needs to be arrived at while making a purchase decision. 

The battery types which are used in modern Drones are Lithium Polymer (Li-Po), Nickel Cadmium(Ni-Cd or NiCad), and Nickel metal Hydride (NiMH). The Lithium Polymer has an average energy density of 100-130 Wh/Kg, and Nickel Cadmium has an average density of 45 – 80 Wh/Kg.

Choose the Drone with the higher average density battery. It is recommended to use Lithium Polymer batteries which provide a greater range than other battery types. You could also replace the battery based on the battery’s cell performance, which can be measured by taking it to any battery shop near you.

4. Environment condition

Following winds, i.e., winds from behind, increase the one-way range of a Drone. However, the wind offers resistance on the return leg. Surface winds are winds up to 10meters from the surface of the earth. They generally remain the same throughout, if not flying in an obstructed terrain.

Low and cold temperature reduce the battery discharge rate and, therefore, negatively affect the Drone range.

Drones modelFlight RangeFlight Time
DJI Mavic 2 Pro10km (6.2 miles)31 min.
DJI Mini 210km (6.2 miles) 36 min.
Autel Robotics EVO II 9km (5.5 miles) 40 min.
DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 8km (5 miles)30 min.
DJI Mavic 2 Zoom 8 km (5 miles)31 min.
Autel Robotics EVO Drone 7 km (4.3 miles) 30 min.
DJI Inspire 2 Professional 7 km (4.3 miles)27 min.
DJI Matrice 100 5 km (3.1 miles)40 min.
DJI Mavic Mini 4 km (2.4 miles)20 min.
DJI Inspire 1 Pro 2 km (1.2 miles)22 min.
Holy Stone HS720 Foldable GPS Drone 1 km (0.6 miles)26 min.
Altair Outlaw SE400m (0.4 miles) 15 min
SIMREX X300C Mini Drone 50m (0.02 miles)8 min.
Holy Stone HS210 Mini Drone 50m (0.02 miles) 7 min.
Drones in descending order to their flight time and range.

How to Increase Drone Range

  1. Position yourself on height to increase the Line of Sight (LoS) and reduce the effect of obstacles. Fly from building top or even a treetop.
  2. Choose a time when winds are less (morning, noon&evening) and higher temperature (noon). Please note that the minimum temperature in the day is at 04 AM, and the maximum temperature is at 02 PM.
  3. Fly the Drone in open areas without obstacles, woods, or forest as they absorb the signal.
  4. Fly the Drone in a non-interference zone, as Signal Transmission Strength is greatly affected by interference in the same frequency band.
  5. Use a battery with a higher energy capacity. Lithium Polymer (Li-Po) batteries are a better choice when compared to other battery types of the same size and weight. Charge the battery fully before first use and always charge the battery more than 80% before each use.
  6. Use antenna extenders (range extenders) to increase the range of the Controller. If not available, attach a piece of thin steel wire to the Controller to increase the range.
  7. Ensure your Drone firmware setting is per FCC limits and not CE limits (Europe).