A crucial accessory for many drone operations is a landing pad. You might think they’re just for show, but as well as protecting delicate components, highlighting where you’re operating from is actually quite important. Placing them effectively “bagsies” (reserves) a spot on the ground, like throwing a towel at the beach, so people know where you’re operating from.
For a technology with a built-in return-to-home, it’s important that people know to give the drone a bit of space. Dare we say it, it also helps the pilot to be reminded by something a little low-tech exactly where you took off from too. As pilots turn to watch their craft it is very easy to cover a little distance without noticing.
Drone landing pads will likely end up saving you money by protecting the drone from all the detritus thrown up during take-off and landing. Even a little dust in the motors can cause significant harm, and even grass will harm propellors.
Modern folding drones all have very short legs so, without a pad, short trimmed grass will likely reach the lens, too, which won’t help your photography.
The best landing pads are lightweight and feature a high contrast design. The design should be easy for a drone’s optical-flow sensors to read so landing is smooth. These kick in when near landing and help the drone make smaller, more accurate hovering movements than GPS can. That means high contrast is good. An ‘H’ is actually a fine choice which has the benefit of making sense to untrained passer-by.
Securing the pad to the ground is important too; the drone produces a decent downdraft (most at take-off and landing), so ensure you’re confident in how the pad’s secured. Usually tent pegs make a good choice.
Finally, don’t forget size matters. After years of drones getting smaller, it’d be a shame to have to carry a pad you couldn’t fit in your backpack.
Best drone landing pads 2023
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While it might not be necessary for many drone operators, the colorful LED edge on this pad is certainly cool. It might even be handy if you’re cleared for night operation, though we can’t imagine the color-changing helps a drone’s visual system (though it probably doesn’t cause issues either, as most are monochromatic).
The folding approach, similar to others, differs only in that you must remember to leave the electronics in the right spot. We like that its rechargeable by the common USB-C (no cable is provided). Obviously it does protrude a little, so packing needs extra care. It also means the pad isn’t waterproof, so placing it on the ground needs caution. Nevertheless, the pad is much easier to set up than separate lights previously required at night, a convenience which usually outweighs the mild vulnerability.
Very reasonably priced, the PGYTECH isn’t quite a no-frills fold-out pad – it does have one surprise underneath: a second color. We all like a choice, from time to time, and you might find one is better suited to the environment or even your aircraft’s behaviour (though that seems less likely). The fabric is simply nylon, keeping things very low weight, so carrying it with your gear isn’t much of a chore, though over time the stitching of the (slightly stingy) three loops for the pegs could be better and the sewing of the nylon to the zip on the bag could be better too. Nevertheless, this is a low-cost solution to the issues posed by grass or sand (anywhere you can peg).
While a lot of creatives and camping enthusiasts are well used to the pop-out principles of the circular pads, lighting reflectors and the like, there are some who find them a little confusing. If you count yourself among them, then a traditional fold is a much easier alternative, which can also have the virtue of fitting into a rectangular backpack. This pad is weighted, so in low winds it can be placed on multiple surfaces – opening up rocky ground – while it also has the option of being pegged in place too. The simulated leather material is water resistant so easily cleaned, but we would have liked it to have a case to, even if it’s not a necessity – it won’t pop open like others on the list!
This sprung loop pops up (and can be pushed back) in seconds, so setup is fast, while pegging it down is optional thanks to the weighted loop. We’d still recommend it, but it’s a great option to have, opening up the choice of taking off from surfaces (like rocks) a standard pop-out pad, which needs pegging down, simply isn’t going to allow.
We like the Hoodman landing pads because they’re good quality products which go a little further than needed; there is a repeat of the ‘H’ design on the outside of the bag which could be stuck on a tripod as a warning sign (or even used as a tiny pad). Another sign of that care is the addition of more than the bare minimum three peg loops on the outer ring, so if you do peg down there are choices.
You might wonder what a small landing pad is good for; there are several answers. You might make it the start-and-ending point of a competition with indoor drones, or release largely indoor drones on the world on a nice day. Models like the Ryze Tello, which have optical flow sensors, will definitely appreciate this pad’s contrasty design. 40cm is also a good size for the popular DJI Mini 2 and Mini 3 Pro which definitely benefit from camera protection at take-off. The size and weight of the pad, especially packed, is definitely not going to be a problem, and if you can’t visualize it, the diameter is roughly the same as the length of a ‘real’ computer keyboard with numeric keypad. Cautious flyers might even get airborne with a drone the size of an DJI Air 2S from here, though you’d only be protecting the camera, not the propellors.
A smaller variant of the concept seen in the STARTRC above, this folding weighted plastic pad is ideally suited to smaller drones like the DJI Mavic Mini / Mini SE series , aircraft so small they’re notoriously difficult to find a safe spot to take off with. The pad’s size means it can be rested on a rocky beach and keep enough flatness to be used and the central white H in the design is a nice touch as it adds contrast for the drone’s sensor as it gets close. The lack of peg holes means this will only be useful in circumstances you’re not expecting it to blow away; a DJI Mini won’t flip it over and they don’t enjoy very windy days either, so that’s probably OK, but it would have been nice to have the choice.
The Aurtec is a similar product to the usually cheaper PGYTECH, a pop-out circle, and indeed you’ll find others manufactured by unknown brands. What makes this stand out is that it ships with LED lights designed to assist with night landing, assuming you have permission for night operations with your aviation authority. It also ships with reflective strips, though we’ve not been able to find much of a use for them – they might even confuse some drones as they land. We’re also surprised that the LEDs weren’t green – the color less likely to affect your night vision which you’ll see used on real helipads.
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