For every drone out there, the manufacturer will have listed an estimated flight time. What they forget to mention is that the listed flight time is usually taken from the best times achieved in near-perfect conditions, in a hover of 6 to 10 feet, usually inside an enclosed area (warehouse).
For you, the drone pilot, this means the flight time on the package will most likely never be a number you actually ever get when it comes to real-life flight with that aircraft.
Looking at the package for the DJI Mini 3 Pro, we first see that DJI, those tricksters that they are, list two different flight times. The first listed flight time is for the Intelligent Flight Battery. This is listed as 34 minutes. The second is for the Intelligent Flight Battery Plus and is listed as 47 minutes.
The reason for this difference is that the DJI Mini 3 Pro has two different batteries available for it. The standard Intelligent Flight Battery with a 34-minute flight time and the Intelligent Flight Battery Plus with a 47-minute flight time.
Now I am aware that some places around the world will not be able to get the extended Intelligent Flight Battery Plus version, and that’s a real shame. 47 minutes – wow! That’s a fairly amazing flight time for any drone.
There is another downside for the extended Intelligent Flight Battery Plus, or at least something to consider. And that is that it does put the aircraft weight over 250 grams. For that type of flight time though, it seems like going over 250 grams is worth it.
The Mini 3 Pro’s Two Different Batteries
This isn’t the first time a DJI product has had two different batteries that work with a single drone platform, with one being a standard version and the other being a bit more powerful and offering a longer lifespan per charge.
The first Matrice 210 V1 had a similar type of system, accepting both the TB50 and the TB55 battery systems, with the TB 55’s providing longer flight times.
So this is not really something new but it is surprising to find in such a compact package like the Mini 3. Let’s take a closer look at those batteries.
The standard Intelligent Flight Battery is two cells with a voltage of 7.38V and a capacity of 2453 mAh. The Intelligent Flight Battery Plus is also two cells that produce 7.38V.
Up to this point, the two batteries are the same.
But where the big difference is and what gets one battery to last 10 minutes longer in its per charge lifespan is here – the amperage of the Plus version is 3850 mAh.
You’re probably sitting there saying, so what?! Let’s break it down a little.
First, what does mAh mean? It’s a specification for milliampere-hours or the number of milliamperes that a battery can provide for the number of hours specified.
Being that the mAh is the battery’s life in terms of current capacity, the more mAh means the longer a battery can last, or the more current it can supply in a circuit.
So batteries with higher mAh are more desirable because they can last for a longer period of time since they have a higher current capacity.
In our case with the Mini 3, the larger capacity equals longer flight time.
Real World Flight Times
Let’s be honest, we know on average when a manufacturer such as DJI states a flight time of 34 minutes or 47 minutes, that’s not how long you will actually get in the field.
After all, what’s the fun of just being in a hover of 6 to 10 feet on a still day doing nothing more than that hover. No, you’re going to fly, you’re going to fly high, low, left, right, safe. All of which will drain that little power pack.
On average we’ve learned that when DJI or other manufacturers state 34 minutes, the reality is closer to 28 to 29 minutes.
When they state something like 47 minutes, it’s more like 39 to 41 minutes.
On average it’s around 6 to 8 minutes of difference between reality and the packaging.
Battery usage is really dependent on flight conditions and other factors.
If you’re not going to get those listed flight times, what can your real-life expectations be? Well, there are many factors that play into just how long a drone battery will last during a flight. Even the DJI Mighty Mini 3.
One of the biggest factors for the Mini 3 is the wind. A large part of the reason for this is that it is so lightweight, under 250 grams with the standard battery.
Because of this, the Mini 3 will put more energy into flying and spinning those motors when it is flying into the wind vs. flying with the wind.
This level of energy use can differ quite a bit depending on the height of the flight, the wind direction, and of course the wind speed.
Another big energy user is the transmission and signal strength, or in other words, your communication between the aircraft and the ground station.
This of course is one of those behind-the-scenes sorts of things. When an aircraft has a strong signal, it is sending out a steady transmission. Everything is communicating together and they’re doing it with normal power consumption.
But when that signal gets weak or lost, the aircraft and the controller will up the power so to speak in order to reacquire or strengthen the signal.
You may be more familiar with this with your cell phone, as it’s far more noticeable. You’ve certainly noticed that when you are in a no-service or weak service area, your phone’s power drains faster.
It’s the same thing with your Mini 3 and its controller. Having a weak or hard-to-maintain signal will drain not only the aircraft’s battery but the controller’s battery as well. Although this is a hidden factor, it does have an overall effect.
Another surprising factor in battery life during a flight is the temperature. This is far more noticeable when flying in cold or freezing temperatures, although flying when it’s excessively hot can have a similar effect.
The battery can get too hot and cause it to drain out quicker than normal or the heat can cause a cell to go bad. It’s for these reasons it’s always smart to practice good battery maintenance to check for any signs of swelling or puffiness every time you fly.
Think about how hot it might get where you have your drone system stored for example. If sitting in a hot car in the sun, you could potentially damage those batteries with the temperatures inside that vehicle. If you wouldn’t leave your dog in there, don’t leave your drone in there either.
Best Practices for Maintaining the Battery
When maintaining any lithium-ion battery, it is essential to adhere to the best practices and guidelines from the manufacturer to get the most out of your batteries.
Here are some tips.
1. Read and follow the guidelines in your user manual
First, it is always good to read and follow the guidelines that the manufacturer provides. It will cover everything from usage, charging, storage and disposal. This and much more can be found here.
2. Update your Firmware
The second best practice for maintaining your batteries is to keep the firmware up to date with the aircraft. If you are updating your aircraft, the battery that is powering the aircraft will automatically be updated.
If the firmware update includes a battery update or if the battery firmware is not on the latest version, a notification will appear and the option to update will appear.
If there was a battery update as part of the firmware update, when you place the non-updated battery into the drone you will get a notification stating inconsistent firmware.
You can update that battery based on the aircraft’s current firmware with the slider. Similar to above.
3. Beware of extreme temperatures
Extreme temperatures are a battery’s worst enemy. Drone batteries should not be used, charged, or stored in temperatures beyond the recommended ranges.
The Mini 3’s ranges are listed as 32 to 104F or 0 to 40C.
Here’s where the hot car situation can come into play, as the temperatures outside climb to 80 to 100 degrees, the internal temperature of your car can reach a scorching 130 to 172 degrees. Something to keep in mind.
4. Charge Responsibly
DJI batteries are built to communicate with DJI chargers. For this reason, always use an official DJI charger.
DJI has protections built into their chargers and batteries in regard to making sure the batteries are not charged at incorrect temperatures.
Not all third-party chargers offer this feature, and a third-party charger could potentially damage the battery.
5. Don’t Forget Maintenance
As a drone pilot, you have a lot to keep in mind when planning out your next flight or hustling to get to your next gig.
It’s easy to overlook something so critical to your success such as your batteries. After all, they either charge and work or they don’t, right?
There’s more to it than that. Specifically, charging and discharging the battery ensures an accurate digital readout of battery percentage which is a vital metric when operating your drone and knowing how much flight time you have left.
If this process is ignored the battery percentage margin of error will be amplified by continued operations over time.
Complete the following every 3 months or 50 cycles (whichever comes first):
- Charge and discharge batteries per instructions below.
- Make sure the cell voltage difference is less than 0.1V after the battery is fully charged and left stationary for 6 hours.
- Make sure the battery is not swollen, leaky, or damaged. See more “Common issues to watch out for” below.
- Clean battery terminals with a clean dry cloth and make sure they are clean and free from debris.
- Make sure battery firmware is updated to the latest version.
Charge and Discharge Instructions:
- Charge the battery to 100% and leave the battery stationary for more than 24 hours.
- Install the battery into the aircraft. Fly the aircraft and when the remaining power level is less than 20%, land the aircraft and remove the battery.
- Leave the battery stationary for more than six hours.
- Check cell voltage.
- Charge the battery to 100% power level.
- Repeat the above steps 1-4.
By performing these simple steps above, you can be assured that the battery level reading in the app is accurate, but you may even get those 200 cycles out of it.
Battery maintenance is crucial to getting the fullest life from your battery and therefore your best flight times possible.
6. Battery Storage
Equally important to maintaining your battery is storing your batteries properly. There are the basics, such as:
- Don’t store in direct sunlight
- Store in a well-ventilated location
- Remove the batteries from the drone when storing
- Don’t get the batteries wet
I’m having flashbacks to watching Gremlins, a great holiday movie by the way. Those are the basics of battery storage.
Then there are the not-so-basics, such as don’t store your batteries at 100%.
DJI Intelligent Batteries automatically discharge to protect the integrity of the battery cells. In most cases, you can set a time from 1 to 10 days in the app for the batteries to start self-discharging themselves down to 60%.
If there is no option present in the app the battery will default to 10 days.
If a battery is below 40-60% it should be charged until it reaches this range for storage. I know the first instinct is to charge up and put it away till needed.
However, it must be understood that this will negatively affect the life and performance of lithium-ion batteries.
When a battery is at 100% it places stress on the cells, and this continual stress on the cells will accelerate and decrease the batteries’ capacity and operational life cycle.
You always want to avoid 0% which is known as over-discharge as this can seriously damage your battery.
It is recommended to land your aircraft when the battery level is 15% or lower, as this will maximize the battery’s service life.
7. Battery Retirement and Safe Disposal
On average DJI states that a battery should – with proper use, maintenance, and storage – be viable for 200 charge cycles before being taken out of service.
There’s no real standard though and from personal experience, I’ve never had a battery last beyond 120 to 140 cycles.
Cycle count is actually a difficult means of gauging whether a battery should be retired or not.
When deciding if a battery should be retired it’s best to keep an eye out for any of these common issues.
- Visual swelling, leaking, or damage (cracks, dents, etc…).
- Bent terminals (can cause a short circuit)
- An in-app notification or prompt regarding battery cell damage or over-discharge
- A battery has reached 200 charging cycles
- A battery error still exists after performing the standard charge and discharge operations twice consecutively
- Crash or hard impact
By following the above common issues on battery condition, you can be sure to be safe when using any of your batteries and know that you can fly with confidence.
If your battery is under 200 cycles and is under 6 months old, it is covered by DJI’s warranty. If this is the case, you can reach out to DJI for a replacement here if you have any of the above issues.
Your flight times are going to vary from flight to flight. One thing is certain, your battery and your flight time are intertwined. By maintaining your battery, you will be able to have safe and lengthy flights.
Will you get 200 cycles from those batteries? Who knows. Most don’t.
Will you get 34 minutes of flight time or 47 minutes of flight time? Not likely. All I can say is, that it sure beats 9-to-12-minute flights (DJI Phantom 1, Spark) or even 18-to-20-minute flights (DJI Phantom 3, Mavic).
As time goes by flight times will keep improving and I for one am grateful for it.
Fly Safe, Fly Always, Always Fly Safe!