Unpacking your new drone, you get a battery or two, some accessories and tools, a remote control and the drone itself. But wait, where is the display?!? Chances are, you are supposed to use your mobile device as the display, but do you have to, do you really need to use your smartphone to fly your drone?

The answer is no, but, probably, yes. Let’s dive in.

Science of Flight series

We have plenty more to read if you are interested in the science of drone flight. We are not physicists, but we know just enough to explain some of the basic concepts of how drones operate, how they fly and how to do so effectively. Be sure to check out our other Science of Flight articles to learn more.


We are about to make some sweeping generalizations about how your drone operates. After all, there are hundreds of models of flying machines to choose from, from dozens of manufacturers, each machine has different needs. We’ll do our best.

Note: when we use the word smartphone today, we are referring to a modern mobile device, be it phone or tablet, that is running an operating system such as Android or iOS. We’re taking to this topic from a mostly theoretical ‘do I need another device to operate my drone?’ perspective, we’ll talk about the best mobile device to fly drones another day.

If you are flying for pay, or any other form of compensation, you must operate under a different set of rules and possess a commercial drone license. We call it the Part 107, it’s not too hard to get, but it will take some time to learn all the rules. We want to help you learn the rules and get your commercial license, check out our drone pilot training material.

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Why do you need a smartphone?

You probably already know the answer to this, for most drones a smartphone is used as the FPV screen, to display the live stream video from the drone. A mobile device can do a lot more, however, providing flight controls and more.

What it really boils down to, the more functionality a manufacturer packs into the remote, the less you’ll need a smartphone attached. If we look at drone racing, or the older RC Airplane hobby scene, no smartphone is used. Racers do have a display in the form of an FPV headset, but no phone.

The more functionality you offer in your remote, the more complicated it is to operate. I’m sure you’ve seen some intense RC remote controls in you time – the ones with buttons and knobs and dials all over the place – most have a small LCD display.