We have a theory, if a drone cannot land safely, it has no business flying. Assuming your drone does fly safely, you can manually manage the flight and landing, or you can utilize a built-in feature for many machines, RTH. Just what is RTH? Simple enough, RTH stands for Return to Home.

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RTH is an automated flight feature that sounds simple enough, but there is more to it than just hitting a button, let’s talk about the capabilities of RTH on your favorite drone to help you land safely.

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What is RTH

What is RTH?

DJI Mavic Air 2 flying front bottom

Return to home as a concept is fairly easy to understand, computationally, however, there is a lot going on. For starters, where is ‘home’ exactly?

The RTH function on your drone can be a lifesaver. Particularly if you lose sight of your machine in the air (which you should never do, remember those FAA rules,) or your remote loses connection to the drone. A tap of a button on the remote or in the software should soar your drone back to a home location.

As I said, your drone needs to know where home is. This can be done in one of two ways, fundamentally. Your drone may be equipped with tech, like GPS, that records your take-off location, the drone then returns to that point. Other drones may track your travels, then manage to reverse your flight back to where you started.

 

DJI FPV controller N S M button

On most DJI drones, for example, a combination of GPS and image capture is used to determine where home is. When it leaves the ground it sets the GPS location, it then is able to see forward and downward. When the Mavic Pro returns to home, it narrows in on the GPS coordinates and then does its best to match the images as it comes in for a landing. I dare say, it is very accurate, almost always landing within about ten inches of my launch points.

A few drones use your remote or another physical beacon to hone in on, this for both location awareness and for landing accuracy.

 

Things to know before you fly


 

How do I use RTH?

How do I use RTH?

For most drones and situations the default RTH trigger is a button. Many drones use RTH for safety as well, if your battery is low or you lose connection to your remote control, the drone can fly itself home.

Watch out for that tree!

DJI Drones Guide

You might be wondering about mid-air collisions when your drone is autonomously soaring back to its home spot. Particularly of concern if your drone does not have obstacle avoidance sensors on board.

The most common obstacle avoidance technique for RTH is to set a specific altitude. Many drones default to 20 or 30 meters, about 60 or 90 feet above the ground. Living in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, I try to go even higher, if possible, we have some massive trees around here.

Depending on your flight location, the idea is simply to ensure that your RTH altitude is greater than the tallest tree or building in your flight area.

Are you on the move?

I often fly in a large area with hiking trails, you might have your drone following you while you snowboard or mountain bike. It would suck if your drone decided that the top of that big hill was home and took off without you. There are solutions available that differ by drone, but the idea is to frequently update your home location. You could turn off RTH for that flight as well.

Also take note of where your drone will end up if it does head for home, rather, will you be able to see it make it all the way back? The FAA says you must always be within line-of-sight of your drone, if your set home location is behind some trees or on the other side of a building, you cannot legally utilize the RTH feature of your machine. Sorry. Learn more about the FAA’s rules from the links below:


Warning, look up!

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The biggest problem I have with RTH capable drones is when they cannot be overridden. I had an incident once where my flight was to hover a few feet from the ground, then land. I just needed a couple photos of the machine in the air. The low battery warning came on, which was fine, I still had ten times the juice I needed to land, but the RTH kicked in and the drone flew up.

It seems ludicrous that a drone that is 5 feet in the air and just 3 feet over from its Home location should shoot straight up to 60 feet just to move over and come back down, but that’s what happened. Or, that is what would have happened, I was under a tall tree canopy, probably forty feet above my flight plan. If this drone would have let me bypass the automatic RTH and manually land, we would have had no issues at all. Long story short, I caught the drone as it plummeted to the ground.

The lesson is easy, your RTH elevation and flight path must both account for flying over objects and staying under objects. Keep it safe out there.

Drone legal and safety

 

 
Great RTH drones

A few great RTH drones

Before we call it quits for the day, let’s look at a few of the best drones for RTH flying.

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DJI Mavic 2 Pro

August 2018

Release Date

Introduced in August of 2018, the DJI Mavic 2 Pro instantly became the best consumer-class folding drone that DJI had to offe