Drone pilots generally want to fly as long as they could but the reality is, today’s drones typically have enough power to fly anywhere between 5 and 25 minutes only. Until we have batteries that can provide longer flight times, one solution would be to just bring multiple batteries along.
While this approach may work for some pilots (particularly those flying toy-grade drones that use generic batteries), some drone batteries can cost a bomb. Batteries with proprietary designs such as those used on the Phantom 4 can cost about $130 — that’s almost three times the cost of your average car battery!
Here are 8 tricks you can try to get longer flight times out of your batteries, whether you’re flying toy-grade nano quadcopters or much larger aerial photography drones such as the DJI Phantom 4. Bear in mind that getting good flight times is all about getting the best motor/propeller efficiency and reducing the overall power consumption and weight of your drone.
1. Fly Light
The heavier the drone, the shorter its flight time. Removing any unnecessary payload on your drone can certainly prolong your flights. Optional accessories such as prop guards, gimbal and camera should be removed if you don’t need them. A lighter drone is also more responsive and agile in the air.
2. Remove That Camera
A camera not only adds weight, it also draws some power from the drone’s battery. Removing the camera not only makes your drone lighter, it also reduces power consumption. Turning off your drone’s LED lights (if possible) can also help save battery power.
3. Go Easy on the Throttle
The more aggressive you are on the throttle, the faster your battery drains. It pays to go gentle on the control sticks if you want your drone to fly longer.
4. Fly in Calm Weather
This is somewhat related to Tip #3. Flying in windy conditions will force you to fly aggressively to maintain control of your drone thus increasing power consumption.
5. Pay Attention to Motors and Props
Experiment with different motors and prop sizes to get better efficiency. This can be quite tricky but there are tools such as the PropCalc propeller calculator that can help you out in getting the best combination. Be careful when selecting motors or props as the wrong combination could result in overheating motors or a drone that does not have enough thrust to fly properly. If you’re using props longer than 4 inches, balancing them using a propeller balancer can help reduce unwanted vibrations. These vibrations can cause your motors to run hotter besides making the drone unstable. This leads to higher power consumption as the drone tries to stabilize itself.
6. Keep Your Batteries Healthy
Do not overcharge your batteries or completely drain them. Ideally, lithium polymer batteries should be recharged when they are between 20 and 30% power. Batteries should be unplugged from the charger immediately after they’re fully charged. Deep discharging or over-charging can cause battery performance to deteriorate. It also helps to use a good balanced charger when charging multi-cell batteries. A healthy battery is what you need if you want longer flight times.
7. Get a Larger Battery
Drones generally come with batteries that are optimized for them but it doesn’t hurt to experiment with aftermarket batteries that offer slightly higher capacities than the original ones. These batteries could give you an extra one or two minutes of flight time. However, a significantly larger battery doesn’t always guarantee longer flight times since larger batteries are a lot heavier than your standard batteries so the best way is to experiment with a few and see which one gives you the right balance of weight and capacity.
8. Active Braking / Motor Braking
Some ESCs come with a feature called Active Braking which allows a motor to actively reduce the speed of its propeller without having to wait for it to slow down on its own. This feature allows for very precise flying but also comes with its own drawback — higher power consumption. If you don’t intend to fly like Luke Skywalker, then ditching this feature is a good idea if you want longer flight times.