13 Apps Every Drone Pilot Needs (Must Read)


The best UAVs let you fly about with ease while taking stunning images and footage. But there is only so much a drone can do, and smart pilots know the value of pairing their drones with intelligent technology.

There are numerous ways to plan and organize drone flights. Some are better suited for beginners, while others are for advanced users. Ultimately, which one is best for you depends on what you need.

With that in mind, a common question that drone pilots ask is, “what app does my drone need?”

Tesla Field Recorder, Kittyhawk, Google Earth, DJI Go 4, Litchi, Airmap, PhotoPills, Sun Surveyor, DroneDeploy, UAV Forecast, B4UFly, Pix4D, and DroneMate are some of the apps a drone pilot can’t do without. 

As a drone pilot, multiple functions need to be managed at the same time. This guide reviews the 13 apps every drone pilot needs and what makes them the best.

What apps do I need to fly my drone?

Before looking at these top picks, note that all of these apps have their pros and cons. So, it’s best to not only look at what they offer but also try them out before picking favorites.

This way, you’ll establish exactly how they work and whether they meet your needs.

Let’s dive into the best apps for drone pilots.

1. Tesla Field Recorder

Danger lurks everywhere for drone operators. Bad luck or inexperience can cause you to tap the wrong key and send your drone diving to the ground. Need I mention the mega $130M field plummet (link) a few months ago?

Almost everybody that makes a living by flying drones witnesses a drone crash at some point or another. Sometimes you get “lucky” to recover your damaged goods. Other times, your copter decides to fossilize itself for posterity.

Public data on these crashes is scant. Despite the surety that drones crash—possibly endangering the public—it’s hard to ascertain the frequency of such occurrences in the U. S.

That said, drone crashes aren’t as prevalent as you might think. Although there are no known incidences of small drones crashing and killing anyone, it’s critical for you and other pilots to have a sense of how frequently they occur and in what patterns.

With improved data, pilots can more quickly establish unsafe maneuvers and zones and monitor and control malfunctioning equipment.

This free application uses your tablet’s or phone’s magnetometer sensor to transform your device into a simple-to-use electromagnetic scanner. Due to the app’s ability to detect both metals and electromagnetic fields, it’s an invaluable tool for drone crash safety, in addition to research.

Don’t forget to keep records on these magnetic strongholds. You may be able to use the info to help a friend that wants to tour problematic areas to avoid a crash.

2. Kittyhawk

Kittyhawk is free, yet parks a plethora of features available at multiple levels. It’s simple to download and create an account, making it an excellent app for any drone pilot.

Kittyhawk partners with AirMap to provide an airspace map that includes controlled airspace. You can customize the displayed layers, such as wildfires, emergencies, airports, national parks, helipads, and more.

The forecast component is remarkable, as it displays weather predictions in two categories:

  • By time
  • By height

It also includes next week’s forecast, with hourly updates on:

  • Wind speed
  • Temperature
  • Precipitation chances
  • Visibility

The Activity panel keeps track of the total number of hours and flights. Flight telemetry is easily accessible and syncs with DJI Go. It contains information about:

  • Location
  • Battery usage
  • Weather
  • Flight time

This app is also quite useful if you have various drones or batteries. You can include crafts using their registration and serial numbers and view their flight statistics over time.

The primary distinction between Plus and Core plans is that the Plus plan includes more sophisticated weather prediction and mapping features that hobbyists may not use, though they are excellent. Although there are many Kittyhawk feature updates, you’ve to pay for the best this app has to offer.

Additionally, Kittyhawk has a fantastic browser interface, making it the most straightforward place to organize account information.

3. Google Earth

As with other decent geographic information systems, Google Earth overlays bitmap satellite pictures with vector-based representations of borders, train lines, roads, as well as a slew of other data.

Additionally, many community-generated points, like stadiums, webcams, and places of interest, are displayable. You can create customized icons for personal locations you wish to fly. Through the app’s file menu, you can also save maps in JPEG format and email these to friends or workmates.

Better still, you can save locations as miniature KMZ coordinate files shareable with other users. This way, you can enlarge or zoom out the sent spot. In addition, this app provides directions between locations, which is perfect when recording areas that pique your interest.

A disadvantage of the app is that it’s exceptionally bandwidth-intensive. Regretfully, a dial-up modem won’t suffice. You need a good broadband connection to use Google Earth without qualms.

You may wonder whether this app is vital or if simply accessing it from your browser is adequate. However, I recommend downloading the app for the most user-friendly encounter. Due to the platform’s massive data, starting Google Earth via a browser lags.

On the other hand, the app is proficient at responding quickly to commands and loading locations, resulting in more visually appealing landscapes to admire.

4. DJI Go 4

Thanks to its beginner-geared construction, DJI GO 4 is a winner in terms of ease of use. However, the initial login can be intimidating due to the many buttons and labels you need to use.

Nevertheless, it’s intuitive enough that checking out all its tabs for a bit instills enough confidence in your ability to use it quite successfully in no time.

The intelligent flying modes, in particular, make it relatively simple to capture some unique shots with minimal effort. Additionally, the camera and default settings are easily adjustable.

When obtaining videos via waypoints, DJI GO 4 performs admirably at pursuing the set points on the path. Unfortunately, the camera control is manual, making it challenging to have gentle yaw and gimbal tips while crossing points of interest.

As a drone control app, DJI GO 4 features center on intelligent flying modes, which, while convenient, fall short of providing advanced functionality.

The piloting features include:

  • Quickshot
  • Active Track
  • Hyperlapse
  • Cinematic Mode
  • Point of Interest
  • Tapfly
  • Waypoints

DJI GO 4 is ideal for beginners or recreational pilots looking to capture satisfactory aerial photography and video clips without devoting significant time and resources to learning a more intricate flight control system.

It’s also ideal if you don’t want to spend additional money on an item for this hobby.

5. Litchi

Litchi works with most of DJI’s drones, including Inspire 2, Mavic 2 series, and the Phantom 4 Pro. It’s the best app to enable you to pre-plan navigational missions from your computer.

Litchi is better than DJI Go in that it offers a more advanced variety of intelligent flying modes.

The cloud-based Litchi Mission Hub lets you code your flight route in Google Earth before leaving home. Also, your saved missions sync across all of your gadgets. Once on-site, load the pre-planned mission and click Start.

The most user-friendly and powerful flight mode is Waypoints. It enables you to program your drone to automatically focus on and establish places of interest, bearings, and camera pitches for every waypoint. Simultaneously, it allows pre-programmed activities at these waypoints.

For instance, you can instruct it to fly your drone along an oddly shaped flight route while concentrating on numerous points and interpolating the camera angle change between them. Interestingly, this all occurs flawlessly.

By connecting your gadget to another device running Litchi, your drone can follow you around without the need to handle your remote controller, in a feature called Litchi leash.

6. Airmap

Airmap is a handy drone piloting tool. In fact, it’s so popular that other drone app providers like Hover had to tap into its fantastic map features.

You can use it to ascertain whether the place you wish to fly features flight restrictions, among other things. The app allows you to note:

  • Several classes of controlled airspace (E, D, B, and C)
  • Heliports
  • Airports
  • Marine-protected regions
  • National parks

Thanks to this app, you can also determine temporarily-restricted areas such as those experiencing wildfires.

All these complement the geofencing mechanism already integrated into numerous drones, which prevents you from flying in prohibited regions. Additionally, its Digital Notice & Awareness System enables you to relay flight intentions to those airports accepting digital flying notices.

Airmap also features Drone ID, which :

  • Allows for the transmission of encrypted videos from drones to first-person view goggles
  • Authenticates commands sent to individual drones in a swarm
  • Ascertains that ground communications are “speaking” to the appropriate device
  • “Signs” data transmitted by a drone to ensure that it originates from the correct drone and avoid spoofing

7. PhotoPills

PhotoPills is a catalog of valuable tools designed to assist photographers with different aspects of photoshoot planning. Each of these tools is a ‘Pill,’ enabling you to schedule a shoot in advance and capture the image on location.

PhotoPills is available on Android and iOS, which means the workflow is entirely mobile, ideal for photographers requiring information on the go.

Undoubtedly, one of the factors for its success is the intuitive and straightforward user interface. Don’t mistake this for hassle-free usage, as the learning curve can be pretty steep. When you first use it, the app is a bit overwhelming.

PhotoPills contains over 15 photo modules, each with a unique set of capabilities. By selecting one of these modules, you can plan and delve into simple arithmetics on appropriate shooting info to accurately predict the moon and sun positions.

You can schedule sunrise and sunset pictures, which assists you in determining the amount of light available.

The encompassing of Drone View is another bonus. It lets you strategize compositions depending on the flight altitude.

The “My Stuff” section lets you customize the app and retrieve previously saved plans.

Also, there is the “Academy” segment that provides instant access to many free manuals and tutorial videos on how to get the most out of the application.

8. Sun Surveyor

As the name implies, this is an app out to give PhotoPills a run for her “bills.” It’s fantastic software for anyone who needs thorough information about the sun and moon’s positions at any time of day or year.

Sun Surveyor contains things like

  • Rising and setting times
  • Azimuth
  • Elevation angles
  • plus more

The 3D graphics depict the arc trajectories of the moon and sun across the sky. You also get to see how these arcs change with time.

Firstly, you can use this data to determine the lighting levels that best suit your photography needs. Besides, this app has niche-cutting benefits for various types of drone piloting uses.

For instance, if you’re a farmer or agricultural drone inspector, you can use this app also to determine:

  • Shadow positions and how they impact your plant placement decisions
  • Sunlight availability and the crops selected for nurturing across different months
  • Suitable months for sun drying besides other applications fueled by sun energy

If you thought ground telephoto was a must when capturing the stars, think again. For the most incredible photos, revolutionists like Gary Cummins are flying closer to the milky way (link). I won’t begin to highlight how invaluable moon data is during such endeavors.

Parked with all the features that make it easy to schedule photo shoots, it’s your go-to app when you need to determine illumination levels.

9. DroneDeploy

DroneDeploy is a 3D modeling and aerial mapping tool. It’s a robust mapping app that converts images captured with your UAV into high-definition maps that include details about:

  • Terrain elevation
  • Plant health

With DroneDeploy, you also get volume, distance, and area calculator tools.

DroneDeploy functions by allowing you to pre-plan an automated flight route for your drone. It then converts the captured images into high-resolution 2D maps and 3D models.

A master at its work, this masterpiece creates real-time drone maps on your phone or tablet. This way, you can view information that you can respond to immediately. You don’t have to await the data’s upload and subsequent processing. You get to see maps and models while your drone flies.

DroneDeploy’s worth to you is dependent on how you intend to use it. It’s an excellent solution for agricultural inspection and construction work. Farmers can use it to monitor plant health, while construction employees can calculate area and volume using included packs.

Additionally, DroneDeploy benefits mining, land surveying, and general inspections.

Whether you grab the free Start or a paid plan, this is one of those apps that go extra to help you on your journey to becoming a professional drone pilot »

10. UAV Forecast

What I appreciate about this UAV Forecast is that it considers multiple location factors when determining your drone’s safety. However, you don’t have to scour through tables of:

  • Satellite visibility
  • Wind and gust speeds
  • Geomagnetic storm indexes
  • Precipitation likelihood

It features an extensive bar at its top that quickly tells you whether it’s “Good to fly” or not. One peek, and you’re good. Still, UAV Forecast provides comprehensive weather forecasts and flight restriction maps if you need these.

Plus, this software is free. If you need 7-day hourly forecasts, you can grab the friendly-priced yearly subscription. Nonetheless, the free version still encompasses quite a lot.

This app displays precisely the information you require for flight scheduling purposes. Not to mention, it accomplishes this in a convenient and easily-readable grid of information.

You can adjust the thresholds for any atmospheric and weather metrics. Simultaneously, you can email yourself snapshots of the forecasts to include them in your flight log.

To compete with other available apps, UAV Forecast also includes maps with no-fly zones. By grabbing this tool, you’ve got all of your weather requirements sorted.

Drone Buddy and AURA are two other similar-working apps. But neither of these provide the same one-glance solution that UAV Forecast does.

11. B4UFly

B4UFLY is free and available on Android and iOS. It enables you to quickly and easily verify airspace before flying.

With this app, you can determine whether where you intend to fly your UAV is subject to any airspace advisories. It contains a comprehensive list of all U.S airports, as well as a five-mile radius demarcation around each.

Its main characteristics include:

  • A simple “status” indicator denoting whether or not you can fly
  • Customizable detailed and interactive maps
  • The ability to determine the safety of flying in various locations through area search or relocating your location pin.

You can use this app to get info on many aspects like:

  • Controlled airspaces
  • Special use airspaces
  • Airports
  • Military training routes
  • Critical infrastructure
  • National parks
  • Temporary flight restrictions

Likewise, there are links to additional FAA drone information, including regulations. Note that it doesn’t allow you to gain airspace authorizations necessary to fly in restricted airspace, as you can only get this from the FAA.

On the downside, B4UFly can be a little obnoxious at times, informing you of non-existent restricted spaces. Regardless, this is your best shot at getting well-defined airspace zoning. While you can use DJI’s app, it isn’t nearly as good in this sense.

12. Pix4D

Pix4D is a robust 3D modeling and mapping companion tool. It enables you to use your drone for more than taking dull footage of the landscape around you.

This software allows you to create fly routes and patterns. You can track your drone mid-flight and it puts the videos and photographs it automatically records to good use.

Using this app, you can set your image overlap, camera angle, and drone speed. Pix4D is exemplary at mapping and creating a grid to provide the most effective image of an area feasible.

You can begin your mission and keep an eye on it with the camera or Mapview. Live telemetry is provided by Mapview, which includes data such as flying altitude and speed. Alternatively, you can use the camera view to observe the live feed.

It best suits the latest devices equipped with LiDAR sensors and is available on Android and iOS. The software gives data collection recommendations, including cautioning when you move too quickly, or if the picture capture is unreliable.

To build precise 3D models, you can process the image data online via Pix4Dcloud or Pix4Dmapper.

Like most other apps featured here, Pix4D is free though there are paid plans if its incredible no-cost functionality is inadequate for you.

13. DroneMate

Here is another excellent app to determine suitable flying locations. DroneMate employs GoogleMaps to create a world-hue map that shows different restriction levels and approval of primary quadcopter use.

A green button indicates that flying a drone is permissible without much bother or bureaucratic procedures. On the other hand, a yellow pin indicates drone use restrictions requiring local officials’ prior authorization.

If displaying red, that indicates absolute drone restriction for which you’re unable to fly. Finally, gray indicates that you’re in uncharted terrain.

What I love about this app, unlike some restriction-determining apps, is the offline option. It’s advantageous if you’re in a remote location and lack internet access.

Besides, it receives frequent upgrades. You can make comments in various locations, describing personal experiences and informing those planning a trip there about what to expect.

Essentially, it provides an info-laden map for leisure pilots interested in flying internationally. It’s neat and easy to navigate, with pertinent information presented in a convenient style. However, it may mislead at times as you may get more information about local legislation online than it provides.

FAQs

Is Litchi a good app?

Litchi is a good app for planning and structuring your drone flights. Although it doesn’t include every aircraft setting, this app is a solid product with good value and performance.

Is Kittyhawk app free?

Yes. The freely-accessible Kittyhawk has multiple features. It’s simple to download and create an account, making it a superb addition to any drone pilot’s arsenal.

How do drones find No-Fly Zones?

No-Fly zone operation limitations are unique to a given location. Drones find No-Fly Zones using apps like B4UFLY and DroneMate. Ultimately, the best apps to locate such areas are those with constant updates.

Is Litchi better than DJI Fly?

Litchi is an excellent choice for serious hobbyists and professional photographers demanding more control over flight planning. If you only want to take a few fabulous aerial photographs from time to time, then DJI will suffice.

On the other hand, Litchi is your go-to option if this is your profession.

Read more about these two apps in our article over here »

Parting Shot

There are many, many apps out there that you can use with your drones. However, these tools are the 13 best apps every drone pilot needs due to their ease-of-use, convenience, affordability, and quality.

Even as you zero in on your favorites, I hope these apps assist you in creating better and safer drone flights.

Photo by Miguel Ángel Hernández on Unsplash

Peter Karanja

Peter Karanja is a freelance writer and drone enthusiast. He enjoys writing about how to fly drones safely, how drone pilots can advance their skills, and the latest news in the drone industry. Peter also enjoys reading, movies, and working out.

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