With the surge in popularity of quadcopters and multicopters(colloquially known as drones), a lot of people are worried about privacy and security. The truth, however, couldn’t be further from the myth.
The range of most common drones just isn’t that far.
Most of the time, you’ll see a drone like a DJI Phantom. The Phantom is the most accessible, feature-rich drone out there, and flying it is slowly becoming more and more foolproof, so really anyone can fly it without much practice(which isn’t a good idea, but still).
The Phantom has a radio range of about 700-1000 meters, maybe even less. The video will start cutting off much closer than that. Even if the pilot does decide to take it out to the full range capacity, at so far away, the quadcopter will be barely visible, and impossible to fly!
If you are looking to buy a quadcopter for yourself, you’ll have to set your expectations realistically. Multicopter range is limited by two factors: radio link and battery life, and in some cases, FPV range.
Most quadcopters have 2.4 gHz radios. With these radios, you’re looking at a maximum range of 1000-1500 meters, and that too if you are using a radio like a Taranis and a FrSky brand receiver.
Most other radio/receiver pairs, such as the very inexpensive Turnigy 9X have a maximum range of 500 meters, and Spektrum radios that use the DSM2 technology have a range of 800-1000 meters.
Even though 1000 meters seems like a long way away, the problem of flying the machine does kick in! At such a far distance, the pilot can barely see the quad!
Racing quadcopters, or miniquads, are very small machines and have tiny batteries that push a lot of power to spin four propellers very fast. The most flight time you’d get out of a miniquad is 5-7 minutes. You just can’t go too far in that much time and expect to come back in one piece!
Larger quadcopters such as the Phantom have longer battery life at 15-20 minutes, but where you have more battery life, the problem of range kicks in.
If you are flying FPV(first-person view), then your range becomes even less, because most 5.8 gHz FPV systems start losing picture after 500-700 meters. It’s also not practical to fly so far out with FPV because if your quad crashes, that’s how far you have to walk to go and get your quadcopter back!
There are long range FPV systems that can give range of 10-20 kilometers, but they are generally suited to planes more than quads, and that too in large, open spaces.
There are long range radio systems available that can be used to extend the range to 15-20 kilometers. However, these are not common for quadcopters for the same problem as before – battery life! Long range radio systems, like long-range FPV systems are more suited to planes.
Since most planes have only one motor, and planes can glide very large distances, not much power is required to keep them airborne. If you cut the power on a plane, it’ll keep flying. If you cut the power on a multirotor, it’ll drop like a rock!
If you’re looking to buy a quad, should this bother you?
Not really! The real fun in miniquad flying is actually in close quarters! If you watch FPV videos on YouTube, you’ll see that most of the flying is actually done in a very limited area. Pilots usually stick to a perimeter and fly within it.
If you are looking to get into aerial photography, the range of the Phantom is more than enough for you to compose and capture beautiful aerial images.
Besides, you don’t want to fly your $1000 drone so far you can’t even see it anymore!