How to Spot a Drone at Night in 6 Ways

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Drones have become increasingly useful today than ever before, and even though most drone operations are done during the day, it’s possible to see drones at night.

While some people are using them to better their living, others are misusing them by snooping on people’s privacy. Moreso now that you don’t need waivers to fly at night.

For that reason, knowing how to spot these gadgets at night is essential.

So, how to spot a drone at night? 

You can spot a drone at night by searching for its lights, listening to its sound, or tracking its radio frequencies. You can also use sensors such as infrared sensors that detect energy, or microwave sensors that send waves to detect objects. 

As a drone pilot myself, I know the good and the bad of drones all too well, and below are some of the most effective methods of detecting drones I’ve tried.

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How To Spot A Drone At Night: 6 Remarkable Strategies

As highlighted earlier, there are diverse ways of spotting a drone at night. Here are the most outstanding ones:

  • Searching for the drone trail lights 
  • Listening to drone sounds/propellers
  • Infrared light motion detectors
  • Microwave motion sensors
  • Radar detectors
  • Acoustic sensors
  • Drone detector apps 

Below, we’ll look at each in detail.

1. Searching For The Drone Trail Lights

The most straightforward way to spot a drone at night is by watching out for its lights. There are two types of lights; navigation and anti-collision. 

Navigation lights, also known as position lights, are permanently on (non-blinking), allowing you to locate the drone at night.

Additionally, these lights inform you of the gadget’s direction.

Most hobby and commercial drones have two navigation lights in the front and back. Navigation lights aren’t too bright, making it strenuous to spot a drone when it’s too far. 

On the other hand, anti-collision lights are extremely bright and they blink throughout the flight.

Red and green anti-collision lights on a Mavic Air 2

The lights can be white or colored, and the most common colors are green and red.

Since anti-collision lights are mandatory for flying at night, this is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to spot drones around your home.

2. Listening To Drone Sounds/Propellers

Drones are generally noisy. Their sound mainly results from the motor rotation and spinning of the propellers. 

This works to your advantage because you can easily spot drones at night spying if anyone tries to meddle with your privacy.

These devices are so loud that even the less noisy ones can be heard clearly in the quietness of the night.

In fact, a drone can sound closer than it is in quiet places. 

What Are The Causes Of Drone Noise?

There are several causes of drone noise. As they hover and fly, they make different sounds depending on the drone size and the pitch of the sound.

  • Propeller rotation frequency: Propellers whip through the air quickly to generate a higher frequency that keeps the drone in the air. The high frequency produces a high-pitched “bees swarm” sound.
  • Propeller blades passing over arms: When propeller blades pass over the drone’s arms, they build a high-pressure system. Consequently, fairly low-frequency pressure waves and sounds are produced. 
  • Drone size: A large drone has more weight and its propellers spin faster producing a louder sound than a lighter one.
  • Propeller’s length, pitch, and depth: Large propellers displace more air when spinning and thus produce more thrust. They require less rotational frequency to keep the gadget flying. The sounds may also vary due to the angle or pitch of the propellers. High-pitched ones are louder.

Although you can spot drones easily by the sound they make when flying, it might be difficult when they’re more than 60m away.

3. Infrared Light Motion Detectors

This drone spotting method is uncommon but effective. The technology uses infrared motion detectors located in your area.

These include the night vision camera’s thermal energy that detects the movement of any drone near you, making it suitable for use in low-light areas or at night.

A picture of a typical infrared motion detector

Furthermore, the infrared camera locates the drone’s heat signature, allowing you to spot it easily.

How Do These Infrared Light Motion Detectors Function? 

Infrared light is an invisible type of light emitted by all objects.

Infrared cameras allow you to spot drones at night because they see clearer than your eyes. Once the invisible light hits the drone, it bounces off and sends the signal back to you where the camera captures it. 

This technology is very helpful when the drone in question is the fixed-wing one because it’s considerably less noisy.

Also, since some drones may fly with lights off, infrared will still detect them since they detect energy emitted by a device. 

To use the infrared cameras efficiently, ensure the area has no lighting, set the cameras, allow enough adjustability time, and take note of any artificial moving object in the area.

Infrared light motion detection is a great method because it functions excellently in the dark, has a wide coverage, and can see small drones, and spot them from a distance.

However, these detectors can be pricey, can’t work without a power supply, and the cameras are fragile.

Although these devices can capture infrared light from far, they can’t go beyond 30 feet. 

Due to their complexity and high cost of operation, infrared sensors work best for military operations or in areas at high risk of attack by stealth drones.

4. Microwave Motion Sensors

Microwave motion sensors emit electromagnetic waves to their surroundings and capture any wave that reflects back.

Hence they can spot a drone at night because it causes the bouncing back of some of the waves.

Additionally, these sensors can calculate the speed of the drone and determine the direction it’s headed by analyzing the bounced wave.

An example of a microwave motion sensor

These gadgets are highly reliable. Why? They can distinguish between ordinary and unusual movements.

Hence, they make a great drone detector at night, when normal identification is tricky.

Microwave motion sensors are safe and you can use them inside or outside a property.

They’ve got wide coverage and can be customized to ignore sensitive areas like where there are children or pets playing.

The benefits of microwave motion sensors include:

  • They’re the most flexible type of sensor system. These sensors can be used virtually in all environments including areas unfriendly to other sensors, making them applicable for all types of drones.
  • They can oversee large areas as they can traverse through holes and walls. Hence they can keep your large pieces of land secure from intruders throughout the night. 
  • You can enhance the ease of use and accuracy by customizing your sensors to minimize false alarms, while you maintain the positives.
  • The sensors have a low initial cost but might be expensive to operate.

4. Radar Detectors

If you want an accurate strategy for spotting drones at night, think of radar detectors.

These devices detect the drone by analyzing the signals that reflect off any drone or any other object along the radar’s transmission path.

An example of a ground radar detector

Although they function similarly to microwave motion sensors, they cover a wider area and are more expensive to install.

The detectors can watch over a specific location or several depending on your needs and preferences.

Furthermore, radar detectors can spot a drone from far and calculate its distance from where you are.

Thanks to machine learning, Radar detectors are accurate enough to distinguish birds from drones and produce sound when birds come in their transmission path.

Since most consumer drones wouldn’t be categorized as stealth drones, it becomes quite easy to detect them, making the radar method perfect for personal users, institutions, and law enforcement agencies. 

5. Acoustic Sensors

Acoustic sensors are suitable for use in quiet environments, making them ideal to detect a drone at night. Although these sensors are expensive, they’re worth it!

Why? They provide functionality not found in other sensors. 

The Squarehead acoustic sensor on a snowy backdrop

Acoustic sensors track a device’s characteristics, registering changes in movement, velocity, and path.

They work best for drones that don’t have a link to a controller or ground station, or drones designed to bypass radar detectors. 

A good example is the DroneShield sensors, a system designed to help law enforcement officers detect and act on intruding drones using acoustic sensors.

These sensors know how to detect drones in the sky including those with poor or no communication signals. Some can go as far as detecting the drone models.

Acoustic sensors are best used in a static formation to protect something like your house or office, rather than on the move.

They do not tend to cover the full 360° area around them so you’ll probably need more than one to ensure coverage and to think strategically about where to place them.

If a drone comes within range of two acoustic sensors, its location can be pinpointed quite accurately. 

They are also passive systems. You set them up and leave them to do the work.

6. Drone Detector Apps 

There are various apps you can download for drone detection purposes.

Although they aren’t very accurate, they’re multipurpose and go beyond spotting a drone.

DroneWatcherApp and RF Sweeper are some of the most effective and affordable ways of detecting drones. 

DroneWatcherApp is a free app you can download on your tablet or android smartphone.

The DroneWatcherApp platform

This app can locate, track, or record information from most consumer drones. It has a 0.25 to 0.5 miles coverage range and can collect details such as the drone’s model and ID. 

This detector app catches unencrypted wifi signals from the drone and compares them with the database information to identify essential details.

The free version of DroneWatcherApp is available on Amazon.

RF Sweeper is a handheld radio frequency detecting app. It detects all electronic devices emitting radio signals including drones. 

How Far Can Drones See At Night?

How far can drones see at night?

Drones can see up to 165 feet away at night. Beyond this distance, the gadget picks up blurred images that are difficult to interpret.

Even so, how far a drone can see is dependent on the nearby barriers, landscape, air conditions, and its camera’s quality.

How Do These Factors Affect The Distance A Drone Can See At Night?

  • Barriers and landscape: If there are obstacles or uneven landscapes where the drone is flying, chances are that it won’t see beyond that point. This device can’t see through solid objects.
  • Camera quality: High-quality cameras see farther than their low-quality counterparts.
  • Air conditions: Drones collect clear images in a clear sky and a bit farther. On the other hand, rainy and windy conditions lead to blurred images and are only taken within a short range.

To have your drone see farther than 165 feet at night time, your drone’s camera must be fitted with night vision.

There are also other drones with better lenses and zoom cameras but you’ll have to dig deeper into your pocket.

How To Tell A Drone Is Watching You At Night?

How to tell a drone is watching you at night?

You can tell the drone is watching over you at night if you detect that its red light is facing your direction while the green light is facing away from your direction.

That indicates that the drone cameras are pointing to where you are.

Sometimes, it’s different, though.

The device might be watching over something different. If you can’t hear the drone’s sound or see its orientation, then the gadget is too far to spy on you.

This situation is even more real at night when drones’ ability to see is limited. 

Which Types Of People Are Flying Their Drone At Night?

Different types of people are flying drones at night for diverse reasons. 

These include the police, security, scientists, hobbyists, professional photographers, and snoopers.

The FAA does allow both licensed pilots and recreational pilots to fly their drones at night, with the condition that they should have anti-collision lights.

As such, there’s no telling whose drone could be flying over your property

Why do each of these categories of people fly drones at night?

  • Police: This group will fly law enforcement police drones at night to curb criminal activities in an area. These drones are heavy, have red and blue colors, and are fitted with six propellers. 
  • Security: Private firms can fly drones to monitor the residents and ensure the security of their assets.
  • Scientists: Scientists fly thermal camera-equipped drones to detect wildlife at night in conservation parks or wooded areas.
  • Hobbyists and Professional Photographers: Sometimes, photographers want to take photos of the city at night, or images of the sun rising.
  • Snoopers: Some people fly spy drones at night just to interfere with your privacy. While this act is illegal, it does happen anyway!

FAQ

Wrap Up

Drones are essential in today’s world, with their usefulness spanning across several industries.

As such, it isn’t uncommon to come across one during the day or at night.

However, some of the people using drones at night could be up to no good. Hence, it’s necessary to know how to detect a drone in the sky to be safe from such intruders.

This article has given you several tips on how to spot a drone at night.

From identifying the drone’s lights to listening to the sound it produces, the use of applications, detective cameras, and sensors, you’re well-armed to prevent the infringement of your privacy.

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