For those among use who struggle with spatial orientation, headless mode may be an easier way to fly your drone. But in most cases, we don’t recommend it.
Headless mode is a type of flight mode commonly marketed at beginner drone pilots, where the drone will always fly in relation to the controller, agnostic to which direction the drone is facing.
Drones have a clear front side (usually where the camera is), back, left and right. But in headless mode, that goes out the window. Even if you yaw your drone left or right so that, say, the drone’s right side is facing ahead of you, the direction that the drone is facing goes out the window. In that example, the right side becomes the front side when flying headless mode. That means even if you were to move the sticks on your controller for your drone to go straight forward, it wouldn’t move to the left, as is the case with normal flight modes. No, it would actually just go straight in front of you.
Most drones marketed at beginners and kids, such as the Tomzon Mini Drone, market it as a feature. Even some DJI drones have a type of headless mode, though — depending on the drone they refer to it as “Home Lock” or “Course Lock” instead.
Flying headless mode on DJI drones
Some, but not all, DJI drones have a type of headless mode, often referred to as “Home Lock” or “Course Lock.” Though, it’s largely been a retired featured, and many newer DJI drones don’t have it.
For example, the Mavic Pro Platinum (which is since out of production) has both Intelligent Flight modes. With “Course Lock” you can lock the current nose direction as the drone’s forward direction. From there, your drone will move in the locked directions, regardless of its orientation (which some may call its yaw angle). Then, there’s home lock. With that mode activated, you can pull the pitch stick backward, which moves the aircraft toward its recorded home point.
Why we don’t recommend headless mode
There are a few reasons we don’t recommend headless mode.
If you want to do advanced drone piloting, such as FPV racing, headless mode simply won’t work. Since FPV flying requires wearing goggles or look at a screen that shows you exactly what the drone’s camera sees, you’ll need to be flying in a traditional method. If you dream of becoming a professional drone racer (or simply doing other forms of FPV flight such as search and rescue or inspections), don’t count on headless mode.
Then there’s the safety aspect. Some drones rely on the magnetometer for headless mode. If you’re flying near metal objects like power lines, that can throw off the magnetometer — and put you at risk of crashing.
Many liken flying in headless vs. traditional mode to driving a car in automatic vs. manual. You can most certainly drive in automatic. But a real professional driver is a pro at driving in manual transmission.
Ask a pro NASCAR driver, and they’ll probably tell you to learn to drive in manual transmission. With drones, if you’ve learned in headless mode, you’ll likely find it harder to transition to flying in traditional mode (essentially the manual transmission of cars). And if it’s harder, you might never learn it.
When home lock/course lock or headless mode makes sense
We don’t hate it completely. There are a few use cases where this flight mode can be useful. For example, if you’re flying beyond your visual line of sight and need to yaw your drone in either direction, you might turn this mode on so you don’t get mixed up with where the drone actually is.
It could be helpful if your drone gets too far away with you. With this mode engaged, as long as you pull back on the controller’s right stick, the drone will fly straight back to you (rather than you potentially making things worse by accidentally flying the drone even farther away if the drone is turned around).
Some might just rely on return-to-home in this example, but we also don’t recommend that in most circumstances, as return-to-home typically can’t account for obstacles in the way, such as trees, power lines or buildings. When flying yourself, you would be able to adjust the height of the drone and navigate it your own to avoid scenarios such as flying over people or crashing into something.
Do you fly in headless mode (or home lock/course lock mode, if on a DJI drone)? Why or why not? Leave a comment below!