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Can Drones Fly Without GPS?

Having a new experience of flying a drone can be quite difficult for beginners to get the hang of however many drones have features like hover, auto land, etc. that are extremely helpful to allow even the newest drone pilot to easily control their drone. One issue with many of these features is that they require GPS to work properly but does that mean that drones can’t fly without GPS? 

Drones can be used without GPS as many drones that were released just a few years ago didn’t even offer GPS; however, if your drone is designed to be used with GPS then not having GPS will mean that some of the features won’t work properly. 

Since some features will not work without GPS that in turn means that flying the drone becomes more difficult so if you are a beginner you should definitely try to avoid flying your drone where you don’t have a GPS signal. To understand how important a GPS signal is to a drone we should first talk about how exactly a GPS actually functions. 

What is GPS, and how does it work in drones?

A Global Positioning System (GPS) is a network of about 30 navigational satellites set at a given altitude. Each of the satellites sends its positional information and current time after specific durations. The GPS module installed in the drone picks up the signals from the spacecrafts and calculates the in-between distance. Out of the 30 satellites, only three are required to determine the exact position of the drone.

The principle of calculation of a drone’s position using three satellites is known as trilateration. It states that three circles (distance from each satellite) with different centers can have only one crossing point, which is the drone’s position.

Tips for flying a drone without GPS

Flying a drone without GPS may be more fun than using GPS only in that it is more demanding and will challenge your skills more. The aircraft will not be as stable in the air and requires partial or total active control by the pilot. A beginner can find this quite troublesome, but with more practice, the art will be mastered. 

Have a large and open flying area.

You may fumble with the control buttons one or more times, and this could in turn cause the drone to crash. It is, therefore, essential to be in a larger more open area if possible to help prevent any damages. Always stand behind the device so that you face the same direction as the drone.

Use Loiter/hover mode

Before you can comfortably operate the drone in non-GPS modes, you should use the loiter/hover mode first to fly the machine to a safe altitude. After this, you can now switch to altitude hold mode and prepare to control the aircraft actively.

Change modes if needed

For the safety of your drone, you can always go back to hover(GPS) mode if you experience any trouble during the flight. Of course this is only if you actually have access to GPS where you are at. 

Is it possible to use autopilot without GPS?

Unfortunately, this function on the controller requires an up to date GPS signal to operate. It works by calculating the distance between the actual drone position and the desired place and sending the signal to the drone, thus automatically correcting the drone’s position.

If you don’t have a GPS signal then you can’t use autopilot on your drone. 

Can I use IOC without GPS?

Intelligent orientation control (IOC) is an essential tool that helps the pilot take charge of various adverse conditions. There are three modes of IOC which differently change the method of controlling two axle (pitch and roll).

Normal flying-In this IOC mode, the drone moves forward with the forward positioning of this control stick on the pitch axle. The direction the drone faces does not affect the side of movement whatsoever.

Course lock- The drone automatically saves the nose direction after being turned on. Any change in direction, later on, may not be useful as a forward signal will produce movement in the nose direction of the start position. As a pilot, you must not change your position; otherwise, you may lose control of the flight.

Home lock Flying-Home position of the drone is the most vital in this mode. A forward control signal causes the drone to move away from the home point, while a circular movement around the home point is the result of a right or left signal.

The normal flying mode does not require GPS to function while the course lock and home lock cannot work without the GPS.

Modes of flight for a drone

There are four modes of flight for drones: loiter/hover, altitude hold, stabilize, and manual.

Loiter mode

This is the most commonly used and recommended for beginners since it employs GPS technology. In this mode, every movement due to external forces is automatically corrected. The drone holds a position on all the four axles and only changes direction upon receiving a signal from the transmitter.

Besides loiter, the other modes do not require GPS to fly the machine. Let’s explore how they work.

Altitude hold mode

The drone uses a barometer to maintain its height in the sky automatically. Its difference with the GPS mode is that change in position due to an external factor like the wind needs the controller’s input to correct. Again the pilot must actively control the position in roll, yaw, and pitch axles.

Stabilize mode

The drone does not hold any position, and the pilot must actively control the position in all four axles. However, when you take your hands off the control stick after making any control movement, the drone automatically zones out roll and pitch, thereby landing on a horizontal position.

Manual mode

This is the last and most challenging mode to use, therefore, it should be left for the most advanced users. In this case, the device does nothing without the pilot’s input. Upon making a control movement on the yaw axle, the aircraft maintains that positions and keeps moving until a reverse command is given. Since there is neither horizontal leveling, nor altitude/position hold, this mode is mainly used for gaming and acrobatics.

For beginners, you are advised to first acquaint yourself with the GPS mode before trying out the other patterns. Then slowly, you can start with more straightforward non-GPS modes such as ATTI and move upwards after mastering each level. You must, however, be aware of how the drone reacts in each mode before practicing.

Remember, certain functions such as ‘coming home’ can only operate in the loiter mode which requires you to have access to a GPS signal. 


Drones can be flown without GPS though it is quite tricky and requires some experience. The different non-GPS modes of flight must be mastered to fly the drone flawlessly.

Most drones that are made currently will have GPS automatically built in but if your drone doesn’t have that or if you are flying in a location where you don’t have GPS for whatever reason then it would be wise for a beginner not to use a drone there at all.