Can Drones Fly At Night, in the Dark?

Last updated December 17th, 2019
Silhouette of a forest in a night sky

“Can I fly my drone at night?” — That is one of the most recurring questions that drone users ask us.

The answer will depend on how skilled you are at flying your drone, the drone’s technology, and also the regulations in your location.

From a purely technological standpoint, your drone is capable of knowing its position and navigating via GPS. GPS is not impacted by daylight, so even in the night if you have a clear view of the sky your drone should be able to fly just as if it were the day time.

In a scenario where there is no clear view of the sky (say when you’re flying an indoor drone), your drone is usually equipped with advanced sensors that help it position itself and fly accurately in the absence of GPS. However, unlike GPS, these sensors require a strong enough light source to operate efficiently.

So what happens if you don’t have access to clear skies and you decide to fly at night?

You would be in trouble navigating properly because your drone would be lacking both of these crucial navigation systems.

To avoid this nasty scenario, if you must fly at night, make it a point to fly your drone outdoors where there are clear skies.

4 Things to Know About Drone Flying at Night

Research Regulations

The rules that apply to flying at night vary with location and country. In some areas, you are not allowed to fly your drones after certain hours (usually 30 minutes before official sundown). In other areas, the restrictions might be a little bit more relaxed.

Whatever the case may be, find what applies to your particular situation before attempting to fly at night in order not to run afoul of the law.

Sometimes, if you belong to a particular flying organization like the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) you may find that their rules allow you the privilege of fly your aircraft at night.

Commercial pilots may find they have the option to have their restrictions from night flight waived under certain conditions.

Whatever the case may be, get informed about your options before you do anything.

Know Your Surroundings

You need to know the area that you are going to be flying in at night. This is important enough when you fly by day, but it takes on a whole new level of importance when you make up your mind to take to the skies at night, even if you’re using a drone with night vision.

Your visibility is far less at night than it is during the day, and you are going to have a hard time seeing any obstacles. And so will your drone.

Scout out the area first during the day to get acquainted with the area before your scheduled flight.

Another reason that makes knowing your area so important before any flying at night is that the obstacle avoidance feature in your drone is next to useless at night. Your FPV camera is also unlikely to show much more than a black screen.

Some drone pilots even turn it off in order to conserve the drone’s battery, because it wouldn’t work anyway.

It really makes sense to know the area you are flying in because everything will depend on you.

It Is Important to Keep Visual Line of Sight

This rule holds pretty much wherever you happen to be flying your drone. So chances are you already have an idea about how important it is.

Some people even argue that flying at night is particularly dangerous because it is difficult to see your drone and maintain direct line of sight. But any drone user will know that those LED lights your drone is equipped with — if of course yours is blessed with this feature — can be seen from a long distance away.

If anything, they shine brighter at night than during the day, and they will help you stay on the right side of this important rule.

You can even take things a step further and purchase another set of LED lights if you intend doing regular night flights with your drone.

These extra lights are very lightweight, they are easy to install, they have no effect on aerodynamics, and importantly, they have next-to-no effect on your drone’s battery life.

On the other hand, if your drone is not among the models that have these LED lights, you seriously want to reconsider flying it at night. It would be too difficult to fly it within your line of sight, forget seeing where it is actually going.

Adjust Your Camera Settings

This is something small, but very important if you intend getting any footage during your night flight.

Go to your camera settings and toggle off the switch that says “turn off LEDs while shooting”.

The procedure might vary from one drone model to another, but the effects should be the same. What happens when you turn off that switch is your front LEDs will shut down whenever you hit the shutter button or record button on your controller.

That prevents any red or green glows from finding their way into your video footage and photos.

Now, before you mention the importance of having LEDs on during night flight, keep in mind that the lights only shut down when you hit the camera button.

You will have them on during and after when you make photos and videos. So you need not worry about losing the orientation and position of your drone.

As for the other camera settings to help you get the best footage at night, that would depend on what sort of pictures or footage you want to take and how bright the night is. You can try different settings to arrive at which one works best for you.

Some pilots find that they have the best footage on a full moon. Others believe they get great footage when they adjust the shutter speed.

Find out what works for you, and do away with the idea of “the best camera settings” as there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

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