There are approximately one jillion apps made for Android and Apple phones for use with a variety of drones. So many that it’s hard to find, or even know what you want or how to use it. Below is a non-comprehensive list of phone apps for your drone.
I say this list is non-comprehensive because in my short period of drone ownership, I see many more now than a year ago. It’s a near-impossible task to download and test every single one, so the list below isn’t an endorsement. However, it’s more of a non-prioritized categorization of some of the different ones out there. As an Apple user, I am only listing ones found in their App Store, so apologies to Android users. However, my research has found most of these apps are available for both platforms. Some are even available as web-based apps. I’m sure I’ll miss some, so please let everyone know in the comments what they are and how they compare.
Weather apps for your drone
When I’m sending my Mini 2 up, I always hit UAV Forecast first. I listed it as a must-have accessory for any pilot in this previous post. What I love about this app is that it uses many location factors to determine drone safety. But without having to look through tables of wind and gusts speeds, satellite visibility, precipitation probability and geomagnetic storm indexes, a large bar at the top of the app simply reads ‘Not Good To Fly’ in red or ‘Good To Fly’ in green. One-glance shopping, I love it. If you need extended weather forecasts or check flight restrictions maps, UAV Forecast has these as well. Best of all, this app is free. It does have a yearly subscription fee if you want seven-day hourly forecasts. The free model, perhaps to the developer’s detriment, serves all my needs. Other apps offering similar functionality are AURA and Drone Buddy but none offer the quick glance ease as UAV Forecast.
Drone apps for knowing where you can fly
Even with drone-specific map apps, good ol’ dependable Google Maps and Apple’s Maps are will give you good info. DJI Fly is the gatekeeper for where and how you can fly according to not-terribly accurate geozones. Where I live in Toronto is right on the edge of our downtown airport airspace. Only a sub-250g drone is allowed to fly here but different maps show different results. This is a commonly heard frustration among pilots. Airmap is an app that shows you your local geozone map as well as coordinates, local weather and area advisories. It also can work with your controller for flight. Here in Canada, we have an app put out by Nav Canada that shows restricted zones according to current federal and provincial laws.
Apps to check before you takeoff
I admit that my preflight checklist starts with checking UAV Forecast and ends with checking battery power. But when I looked at Thunder Drone, it reminded me to look into more safety factors. Not only does it run you through preflight, but also your packing list and a quick map and weather report. It’s a handy at-a-glance app, especially for beginners.
Drone apps to cover your butt
I was surprised to find an app that offered real-time insurance coverage charged by flight time. Starting at just $10 an hour, pilots can cover themselves for everything from crashes to privacy violations using Verifly. It’s only available in the US, but other drone insurance apps can be found for Canadian pilots through SkyWatch and globally via Coverdrone. There’s an argument here that this may actually be the most important phone app for your drone.
Apps to help get certifications
If you need to get advanced drone pilot licensing, there are apps that will help you prepare for the tests to help you pass with flying colours. Sorry. This is a hard category to research for obvious geographical reasons but the most popular one I found for US-based pilots to train for their FAA Remote Pilot Certificate is Drone Pilot (UAS) Test Prep. Unlike many phone apps for drones, this one ain’t free or even cheap, ringing the register at $59.99. But if you’re planning to make a few bucks off your drone, it’s likely a worthwhile investment. Similar apps for US flyers are Drone Study Buddy and FlightReady FAR/AIM. In Canada, we have two levels of certification, basic and advanced RPAS operations licenses. I have neither but I have considered obtaining my basic license. It’s a well-known fact that advanced certification requires hard work to obtain. Here as well, FlightReady provides study guides for both licenses. A Canada-specific app that is available is Drone RPAS Exam Canada.
Drone apps for autonomous flights
For owners of Phantoms and up, DJI has their free (with in-app purchases for additional features) DJI GS Pro app for waypoint flights. There is a wide range of commercial and industrial uses for this technology. For us non-enterprise pilots, there are no options from the company for similar use. This is where third-party providers have filled a niche. The app found on most auto-flyers’ phones is Litchi. This app is also a DJI-only autonomous flight app that covers the entire fleet except the Mini 2. Litchi offers waypoint planned flights as well as shooting modes like panorama, follow and focus mode. Additionally, apps like PIX4Dcapture (which is compatible with Parrot and Yuneec drones as well), Flight Plan and Autopilot (both only for select DJI drones) offer similar functionality. Few if any of these types of phone apps for your drone are free.
Games and sims for flights from the couch
Maybe this is something to bring up with my therapist, but I have thought about crashing my drone, just to see what happens. Luckily, the vast majority of my brain doesn’t want this to happen. However, I did this over and over again by accident while using the DJI Virtual Flight game. If it’s close to the real thing, I have a lot to learn about FPV piloting. This category of phone apps shows dozens of different flight simulators with what looks like fairly similar offerings. There are some story-driven games like Criminal City RC Drone Simulator 3D where you play a criminal drone pilot operating illegal missions. Or more games that offer a more virtuous simulation like Drone Ambulance Simulator or Drone Pizza Delivery 3D. Most are racing games or obstacle courses, the latter being a game that could perhaps improve real-life flying skills.
Your general drone use dictates what phone apps for drones work best for you. I shoot a lot of photos and video so I’m drawn more toward editing apps like Snapseed, Adobe Lightroom and Videoshop. I personally mostly use UAV Forecast but now that I’ve discovered apps that I never knew existed, I’ll be trying out more to see how I can push myself as a pilot.
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