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How to Detect a Drone in the Sky

Today, drone popularity continues to climb. Drones have all kinds of uses for individual enthusiasts, private organizations, and state agencies.

However, when weaponized, they can pose a security threat. For that reason, these entities must know how to detect a drone in the sky and determine if it’s a potential danger in the airspace.

Drone detection methods include drone radar, optical technology such as thermal cameras, RF detection, and a software app that links these components together in one system, also referred to as the layered drone detection approach.

Whether you’re using one or all of the technologies above, you can gather enough information to help you make decisions about the risk any particular drone might pose.

The different technologies of drone detection can do an excellent job. But as expected, each method has its weaknesses and, therefore, the need for a variety of alternatives.

Let’s look at the different ways or technologies to detect drones:

1. Radio Frequency or RF Technology

Radio Frequency technology is arguably the most commonly used innovation for drone detection. RF is an effective method because many drones use the RF spectrum to keep in touch with operators. The transmitter and receiver are paired through RFID chips to communicate via radio signals.

In employing the RF technology to detect a drone, RF sensors capture and track frequencies within a range of 70MHz to 6GHz. These sensors collect different pieces of information, including drone make, model, serial number, drone’s current location, and location of the pilot.

With some RF sensors, drones as far as 100 miles away can be detected and tracked, given that weather conditions and the terrain are favorable.


  • This method can detect multiple drones and their pilots at the same time.
  • There’s no need for licensing to install RF technology
  • Provides the precise location of drones and pilots
  • Low-cost drone detection solution
  • There are mobile detection systems for security teams and law enforcement agencies


  • The features might malfunction
  • Non-piloted or autonomous drones cannot be detected and tracked
  • Multiple radio signals aren’t easy to detect using RF technology
  • The method is limited to terrain obstructions and weather conditions.

All in all, RF analysis is a critical approach in detecting drones in the sky.

2. Radar

In certain scenarios, high-resolution radar is the ultimate drone detection and tracking solution. Radar comes with radio energy essential for detecting a drone flying in the sky.

With a well-tuned radar system, any slight movements or changes in the airspace are detected. The radar scans the sky continuously to check for any movement or signals.

As they scan through the sky, they often don’t pick small objects but only aircraft such as drones, although they can sometimes have a hard time differentiating large birds from drones. However, drone detection radar can sense drones flying 3 miles away.


  • Radar continuously tracks the airspace
  • It provides long-range tracking and detection
  • It provides accurate drone detection
  • Radar can detect non-piloted drones
  • This technology can also detect multiple aircraft at one time
  • They’re not limited to either weather or terrain conditions


  • There’s a need for a transmission license for this technology
  • You must always check the state of frequencies to ensure there’s no interference from other sources
  • They can’t differentiate drones from birds easily

In general, radar is a sure way of catching drones in the air. The fact that they’re not deterred by the prevailing weather and terrain conditions makes them suitable for many applications.

3. Thermal Detection Cameras

Thermal cameras have come in handy as a modern-day technology for drone detection. Using standard daylight camera features, thermal and visual camera units are utilized with infrared imaging techniques to capture precise visual data.

Notably, the cameras are controlled by a robust technology operated through drone detection software. They’re the perfect tool for taking records of real-time incidents involving a drone. However, thermal detection cameras may not be ideal for catching drones, especially in harsh weather conditions.


  •  Thermal detection cameras offer real-time visual data
  •  The camera units are swift to observe information on a drone
  • They provide evidence via recorded video and images if a legal course is initiated


  • This technology isn’t very effective on its own
  • The system is prone to false alarms
  • Where there’s darkness or foggy conditions, the unit can’t work well

Overall, thermal camera detection is a reliable method of detecting drones where real-time visual data is required.

4. Layered Approach for Drone Detection

Sometimes using only one method can limit detection possibilities. This isn’t something you want to experience if you’re on a critical mission of securing your airspace.

To effectively execute your mission, the layered approach combines the three technologies discussed above. To link the different methods you can use an appropriate drone detection software and app that make operation easy and efficient.

Everything is tied to the app so that anytime data is collected, it sends you a notification. You can then act on the situation accordingly, depending on how serious of a threat it is.


  • This approach combines all other methods and technologies to complement each other
  • It works in a range of conditions
  • It helps you get a wide range of data
  • Quick response


  •  Combining different technologies can be an expensive venture for an individual

Generally, the layered approach of drone detection ensures that you can detect and track drones in different circumstances as the technologies complement each other.

Is there an app to detect a drone in the sky?

As drones become an integral part of the global community, the chances of misuse also rise every day. It’s not uncommon for drones to be used in such a way as to invade privacy or simply to annoy.

Luckily, there are specific drone detection apps like DroneWatcherApp and Airmap. These are pretty popular apps that are common among many drone users.

1. DroneWatcher App for drone detection

DroneWatcher app has been introduced as an intelligent tool for android phones and tablets. This app is excellent for catching the activity of small unmanned aerial vehicles and consumer drones.

Once it detects a drone, it sends a notification to your phone. The app can record signals within the range of half a mile.

Besides, it provides crucial drone information like drone ID and type of drone. Drone ID information can be vital if the unit owner is prosecuted in a court of law.

The app detects drones that use non-encrypted RF data protocols to send and receive signals. So, it might not be the ideal app for drones that utilize encrypted radio frequencies.

For effectiveness, the DroneWatcher app needs to be used with DroneWatcherRF and Harrier Drone Surveillance Radar. This is a free app that provides you with the basic features and functions of drone detection.

You should activate the paid version to enjoy advanced functionalities such as detecting and monitoring drones on multiple devices. You can download the app on Google Play.

2. AirMap App for drone detection

Unlike the DroneWatcherRF app, AirMap is designed for both iOS and Android phones and tablets. This is an advanced app that offers users the advantage of accessing real-time airspace feedback.

AirMap app enables you to view the flight of a drone as long as the owner of the drone shares the flight information publicly.

What are the benefits of drone detection?

Drone detection is essential for risk mitigation. You may not know why the drone is over your shoulders, but finding out can help you make crucial decisions. Here are the benefits of detecting a drone.

  • Drone detection allows you to identify a drone and its pilot.
  • Once you’ve detected a drone, you can take measures to intercept it. If it’s lurking on your property, you can alert security and give them details of the drone.
  •  With drone detection methods, you can get real-time visual data.
  • These technologies can record evidence in the form of videos and images that you can use against the offender.
  • These techniques provide quick responses in case of a threat in your area.

With these benefits in mind, security teams and law enforcement agencies often utilize drone detection services. Think of a low-flying aircraft around the runway – this is obviously a significant danger for planes taking off or landing.

How to Detect a Drone in the Sky

If drones are flown close to stadiums, prisons, and oil and gas refineries, that would also be a serious danger. All these scenarios can be averted with drone detection technologies.

How to deal with drones after detection?

So, we’ve already seen the different methods of catching drones in the airspace. But the big question is, what do you do with the drone after detecting it?

In a nutshell, you can go ahead and sue an offender that repeatedly meddles with your privacy and disrupts your peace. You have all the evidence stored in the unit you used to capture drone data and flight information based on a unique serial number.

As usual, drone laws and regulations exist for different states. If someone is found culpable of misusing their drone, they’d be prosecuted under federal law.

Even more, organizations and security agencies can mitigate the drones by physically impeding them over their airspace. Here are the two drone mitigation methods that you can explore.

1. Radiofrequency Jamming

With this method, you simply interfere with the drone’s controls. A radiofrequency jammer is used to transmit RF energy in the drone’s direction.

The energy produced by the radiofrequency jammer covers the signal of the controller. As a result, several things can happen; the drone lands at the current spot where it was flying when the signal was interfered with. Or it can return to the home location where its controller first launched it.

Worst of all, the aircraft could come crashing down to the ground. Jammers can do some remarkable jobs, but they’re not a common option since they have legal questions.

2. Radiofrequency Interception/Spoofing

Spoofing radio signals, also known as radiofrequency interception, involves emitting signals beside the controller’s signals to confuse a drone. Spoofing can direct the drone in a completely wrong flight path once the drone takes the signal. In other words, another person takes control of the drone and can do whatever they want with it.

There are other mitigation methods like shooting the drone down using a gun. But that’s quite radical and will definitely land you in big trouble as you’d be destroying someone else’s property.


What does a drone look like in the night sky?

Drones can emit different types of lights in the sky at night. These could range from green, white, or red lights. Sometimes, the lights are seen as blinking LEDs. Drone lights make the drone visible from far distances at night.  

» MORE: How to Spot a Drone at Night (Things to Look For)

How can you tell if a drone is spying on you?

Generally, you can use different surveillance methods to detect a drone and track it. All these methods are discussed in this post in detail.

» MORE: Why Would a Drone Be Following Me? (Read This First!)

What can a drone see at night?

Drones can see only images that are well lit at night. Yet, they must be equipped with night vision to achieve this. A drone can also see objects up to 50 meters or 165 feet away.

What’s drone detection?

If you’ve been having suspicions about prying drones, it’s probably the prime time to try drone detection. Drone detection involves sensing and tracking drone activities in the airspace in your area.

In detecting small drones or other unmanned aerial vehicles, explicit technologies are used. These technologies collect vital data about the drone and its flight. You can retrieve the information they gathered to take any further action.

Final thoughts

Drone detection is becoming an important mission for individuals and security agencies. You can use radiofrequency analysis, radar, and optical sensors to catch the spying or stray drones in your airspace.

These methods may be ineffective in some instances when used in isolation. But if combined to complement each other, you can detect nearly all drones flying in an area.

What you do with the data from these drone detection technologies depends on the severity of the spying. You can stop the intruders quickly when you invest in solutions like these.

After catching a drone on your property, you can decide to use the data to prosecute the offender. Or you can take matters into your own hands and stop the drone by interfering with its signals through jamming or spoofing.