What is the curiously named “headless mode” on a drone? Should you use it or is it just for beginners? In this post, you’ll learn about drone headless mode, what brands use it, and why you should and shouldn’t use this setting.
Drone headless mode is a setting that orients your drone to the controller (you), regardless of the direction the drone is actually facing. This means that right is right and left is left. This makes some maneuvers easier and others much more difficult.
In contrast, regular drone mode is dependent on the direction your drone is facing. If your drone is facing away from you, left is left. But if your drone is facing you and you move the stick to the left, your drone will move to the right.
As The Drone Girl explains, “it’s absolute vs relative”.
What is Drone Headless Mode?
From a distance, most drones look the same from the front and back. It can be hard to know which direction they’re facing when in the air. Some drones have different colored LED lights. But at a distance or when flying into the sun, you’ll not be able to see these LEDs.
What’s the solution to simpler navigation? Use your drone’s headless mode.
Headless Mode on a drone is an algorithm-controlled mode that works in relation to your orientation, not your drone’s. It can make navigating super simple.
Regardless of the way your drone faces in the air, if you press right on your controller, your drone will move to the right; if you press left, it will move to the left.
Do Drones Have a Front?
Of course, drones always have a front and back. The front of the drone is where the camera is mounted.
In headless mode, the front is ignored and it travels based on your location.
What Drones Have Headless Mode?
Headless mode is often listed as a feature on beginner drones. You won’t find it promoted on higher-end models.
Here are some inexpensive drones that come with a headless mode option:
- DJI Mavic Mini / DJI Mini 2
- Holy Stone with 4K Camera This drone looks similar to the DJI Mini 2
- Holy Stone Drone with 1080P Camera
- Holy Stone Mini Drone for Kids
- Altair AA108
Do DJI drones have headless mode? Yes, some have this feature. For some, you can find Course Lock mode hidden inside of the Return to Home feature. See more on the video below.
From what I can tell, Autel used to make drones with headless mode, but it doesn’t appear like they are still available.
DJI Mini 2 “Course Lock”
Here’s a video explaining how to use Return to Home (RTH) feature to create a course lock in a DJI Mini 2 drone.
It’s a bit of a hack, to use RTH to manage your flight pattern. As you’ll see in the video, it works pretty well.
Using Headless Mode on a Drone
You can activate Headless Mode by choosing that setting or selecting the corresponding button on the controller.
What’s Headless Mode Called in Other Brands?
There won’t always be a setting labeled ‘Headless Mode’ on your drone. The mode’s name will vary based on the brand.
Here’s what headless mode is called on these brands.
- DJI: Home Lock or Course Lock
- Yuneec: Safe mode
- Autel: Not available
- Random brands: Low-end brands might include these terms ‘Carefree Mode’ and ‘Headfree Mode’.
There will be information on how this feature and controller work In your instruction manual.
Most beginner drones make it super simple to activate. It should take just a few seconds to activate Headless Mode and be up and flying.
4 Pros of Using Headless Mode on a Drone
Headless Mode has its pros and cons. Here are some reasons you might choose to use this setting on your next flight.
- Headless mode is good for beginner drone pilots
This setting is excellent for beginners as it enables you to fly almost straight out of the box with zero experience or technical knowledge.
- Headless mode makes drone navigation super simple
As it works in relation to your orientation, not your drone’s, Headless mode takes away most orientation confusion.
This means you won’t travel left when you really want to go right.
This can be the difference between flying where you want to, and not into a building (tree, waterfall, person).
If you have challenges with spatial awareness, this might be a deciding factor for you.
- Allows beginner drone pilots to focus on framing the shot
Headless mode means that you won’t need to stress about your drone’s orientation, but instead focus on framing your shot.
- Headless Mode can be a stepping stone to higher-level skills
Headless Mode is the best option if you want to get in the air right away.
Don’t get overly reliant on it, as it isn’t used in the bulk of commercial drone applications. It’s best used as a stepping stone to higher-level skills and FPV (First-Person View) flying.
5 Cons of Using Headless Mode on a Drone
For all its advantages, there are disadvantages to the drone headless mode.
- Headless mode won’t give you the skills to operate in other modes
Flying in headless mode will not give you the skills to operate a drone in normal mode.
It isn’t just a different setting – the difference between headless and normal mode is a completely different way of thinking.
It’s much like learning a new language. You can’t just translate each word in the same order. Your sentence won’t make much sense. To communicate clearly in your new language, you’ll need to learn a new way of thinking.
- Headless mode can fail
Certain drones rely on the magnetometer for headless mode operation. Flying near power lines or other electromagnetic interference can cause the magnetometer to malfunction.
You’ll have to go back to normal mode if the Headless Mode function is fully gone.
You’ll have obvious problems if you don’t know how to fly in normal mode, and you’ll run the risk of crashing.
- Headless mode means flying blind (sometimes)
The camera won’t always be facing the direction the drone is traveling. Because of this, the camera might film where you’ve been, but not where you’re going.
If you’re watching this on your display, it would be super easy to crash. You’ll only know after impact that you hit something.
- Headless mode makes bad habits
It can be difficult to move from Headless Mode to Normal Mode; you may have to unlearn bad habits.
- Headless Mode won’t let you earn money from flying your drone
Headless Mode isn’t used in the bulk of commercial drone applications. If you want to make some money from your drone, you need to learn to fly in other modes.
Learn more about drones: Guide to Drone Terminology (63 Terms and Acronyms)
Another Headless Mode Definition
On a lighter note, DJI forum user Hallmark007 gave an alternate definition of headless mode: “If you just stick your neck in the way of props when it’s landing, you are now in headless mode”.
Is Using Headless Mode Cheating?
There can be some snobbery about advanced drone pilots using headless mode.
It’s a little like in photography circles. Most cameras have point-and-shoot modes which are perfectly good for most everyday scenarios, whatever a professional photographer may say to the contrary.
However, if you want to get the most out of your camera, it’s best to learn about apertures and shutter speed and their relation to each other.
In the same way, to get the most out of your drone, it’s best to learn about all of its functions too. But that doesn’t mean it’s not okay to use the shortcuts sometimes if they do what you need them to do.
Now you know what headless mode is on a drone. It’s good to be aware of its limitations and try not to be over-reliant on it.
That way, you can have the best of both worlds. That’s not cheating; that’s being smart.
Who Should Fly With Headless Mode?
Generally speaking, the headless mode feature is for beginners. Specifically, beginners who don’t plan to fly a drone in normal mode.
It can also be for people who have trouble with spatial orientation. Or if you only need to fly for a special event.
But, if you plan to buy an actual drone and regularly fly it, you should skip this feature. It takes enough work to get used to the normal controls, it will make it much harder if you’ve used a setup with a reverse (inverse) interface.
There are expectations as noted above. And I’m sure there are others. But this isn’t really a serious flight mode. And switching between modes is a recipe for frustration. And maybe a lost/crashed drone.
More Reading: 13 Tips for LiPo Battery Storage
More about drones:
- GoPro Drone Guide (2 Types)
- Here’s how to get your Canada Drone Pilot Certificate and choose the best drone insurance in Canada.
Have you flown in headless mode? Is this a feature you want in your next drone? I’m interested to hear your thoughts.