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What is Headless Mode on a Drone?

It seems like every day that some kind fo new feature or mode is making its way into drone technology. One such feature you may have heard of is headless mode, sometimes called care free or head free mode. 

But, what exactly is the headless mode on your drone?

Well, thats exactly what we're going to be taking a look at throughout this article. It used to be that headless mode was only present on higher end UAV's, however it's now an extremely common feature, even among some cheap, toy grade models.

The chances are if you own a drone, it'll probably have a headless, hence why I'm writing this article. 

Lets get to it.

Why is There a Headless Mode?

Due to the symmetrical design of a drone, it can be hard to know which way the aircraft is facing. To help combat this problem, drone companies often use different colour propellers or LED lights to indicate the front and back end of the device. 

Unfortunately, it can be pretty difficult to make these out, especially if your drone has a somewhat decent range. This means that it can be hard to know which way the drone is facing, therefore which direction the drone will move when you in put a control on the transmitter.

Example time...

Ok lets say that you're stood behind the drone, facing the same direction as the drone. If you move the drone to the left and right, it'll move to your left and right. 

what is headless mode on a drone

Lets say you rotate the drone 180-degrees, so that it is facing you. The drones left and right is now opposite to yours. Now imagine your drone is 100m away, so you can't make out the color of the propellers or LED lights. 

what is headless mode

You could easily lose your orientation and not know which way the drone is facing, which of course can be dangerous. 

This is where headless mode comes in...

So, What is Headless Mode?

When you take off, with your drone facing the same direction as your transmitter, the drones' on board flight computer will remember that specific orientation. This means that no matter which way the drone is facing during flight, it will move according to the direction it took off.

The animation below shows the movement of the drone with headless mode off. If you are to pitch forward on the transmitter, the drone will move in its forward facing direction. 

The following animation shows the movement of the drone with headless mode activated. If you are to pitch forward on the controller, the drone will move forward according to the way the transmitter is facing.

what is headless mode

How to Activate Headless Mode?

How to activate headless mode depends on what drone you have. The cheaper drones will require you to activate the headless mode before you take off, which could be done by pushing a button, flipping a switch or holding a button down.

Check your user manual to find out exactly how to activate headless mode. Before you take off, make sure you're stood behind the drone, with the drone facing the same direction as you.

More expensive models are able to switch to headless mode mid flight using a digital compass. Again, check with your user manual to make sure you can do this and how to activate the mode.

Benefits & Drawbacks of Using Headless Mode

Benefits

  • Easier to get the hang of learning to fly. Because you don't have to worry about the loss of orientation, you can familiarise yourself with how the drone responds.
  • Much harder to crash when you're using headless mode. Knowing which way the drone is going to respond to a control without having to know which way the drone is facing gives you much more control.  

Drawbacks

  • Flying using headless mode too long can make it harder to transition to a regular flight mode. This could cause you to accidentally move the drone in the wrong direction, which could end up in a crash. Similarly, if you want to buy a new drone that doesn't have a headless mode, you won't be as comfortable behind the controller.
  • Headless mode relies on an inbuilt Magnetometer. Unfortunately, these don't work very well when they're in an area with a high electromagnetic interference. This could cause the headless mode to stop working mid flight, meaning that you may struggle to carry on flying the drone and land it safely. 

Headless Mode FAQS

Is Headless Mode Cheating?

For some reason, some drone pilots deem headless mode cheating. I don't really see it that way, however I do get where they're coming from. It's not flying 'authentically' and is a lot easier than flying a drone normally. Headless mode is however, a fantastic way to ease the learning curve and serves as a great stepping stone for learning to fly.

Should I Learn to Fly Using Headless Mode?

It's really up to you. I wouldn't recommend using headless mode for too long, maybe just your first couple of flights. Once you've got the hang of flying, change over to regular mode and get yourself familiar with learning to gage the drones orientation.

Can it Work With FPV?

On most drones, maybe all, headless mode won't work. This is down to the reason that you don't need it, as you can see from the FPV camera which way the drone is facing. Because of this, there's no need to have headless mode activated, as the screen will allow you to determine which way the drone is facing. Plus, using headless mode whilst flying using FPV could make orientation issues even worse, resulting in a higher chance of crashing.

Should I Buy a Headless Mode Drone?

This is really down to you and how you think you'll be able to handle flying a drone. If you're buying a drone for a child, I would definitely recommend buying a headless mode drone, as it'll make it much easier learning to fly. Hopefully now that you've read this article, you'll know whether headless mode is right for you or not.

How Much Does a Headless Mode Drone Cost?

To be honest, the cost of headless mode drones can vary massively, you can get camera drones under $150 with headless mode, and you can get much more expensive drones with headless mode. What ever your budget, the chances are you'll be able to find a drone with a headless mode function.

Headless Mode Video

Final Thoughts

So, hopefully you understand exactly what headless mode on a drone is, when to use it and even if you want to use it. 

If you're a first time pilot, there's no harm getting familiar with your drone using headless mode, then progressing onto the normal flight mode.

With that being said, it's really down to you and what you think will be the most entertaining and safest way to fly. 

If you've got any questions, feel free to drop them in the comments section below.

As always, happy flying!

Sources:

James Davis

A passionate drone enthusiast, travelling New Zealand whilst blogging about the thing he loves - Drones :)

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