Quadcopters, hexacopters and other multicopters are becoming increasingly affordable every passing day. This means that more and more people across many different countries are being able to afford a quadcopter drone, either for recreational or for professional purposes.

The prices aren’t the only thing changing; drone manufacturers are striving to add more features because of the increased competition. The first half of 2015 saw companies dish out uber affordable headless mode drones; towards the latter half of the year, these companies found their next favourite feature — One Key Return or Return to Home.

What does Return to Home/One Key Return mean for a Quadcopter Drone?

I’m sure you have a very accurate guess of what the feature could mean. In simple words, hitting the Return to Home/One Key Return (referred to as ‘RTH’ henceforth on this page) button will trigger your quadcopter drone to fly back to the take off position.

Didn’t quite get it yet? Let me explain in layman terms.

Assume you have a drone with the RTH feature, and you place it right outside your house’s door before takeoff. You’re having a great flight, but in the rush of blood, you lose control (and orientation) of the drone so you can hardly see it, forget controlling it and getting it back safely to you without harming others. You being a cool, calm customer that you are, hit the RTH button on the controller, which causes the drone to come back right to your doorstep — i.e., the point of takeoff.

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Return to Home on a drone with GPS v/s one without GPS

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Now is where the real game starts. DJI, Cheerson (with the CX-20) and some other well-known companies first introduced the Return to Home feature on drones that were, well, expensive. However, even a $15 quadcopter can boast of the same feature. Something’s got separate the two, right? Spot on!

On a GPS-powered drone, you should first wait for the drone to lock on to GPS satellites. This lets the drone know exactly where it is before takeoff, so when you hit the RTH button it knows where to go.

On the other hand, on a budget, entry-level drone without GPS, hitting the RTH button will cause it to simply go backwards. This might sound utterly useless, but there’s a very interesting use-case which makes having the feature worthwhile.

Enter headless mode.

On the very cheap (sub-$25) and affordable drones (sub-$150), RTH makes sense only when used in conjunction with headless mode. This is because these drones generally will not have a GPS module inside of them, are can only ‘come back’ to you when flying backwards… in headless mode.

This can be a little tricky to understand for beginners, especially those that aren’t aware of what headless mode means. Which is why, you should definitely first understand what headless mode is.

Assuming you’ve gone through the headless mode articles, things should be easier now.

To put it out short, hitting the RTH button while in flight with a headless mode drone (with headless mode turns on) is what will cause the quadcopter drone to come back to where it took off from.

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But if you hit RTH when its in a non-headless mode flight, you’ll probably have to go running behind your aircraft to see where it’s headed…

Basically, you want your budget drone (sub-$150) to be in headless mode before hitting the RTH button.

Return to Home on a Drone: Some things to note

Say you’re flying in the woods and you lose control of your quadcopter drone. A natural reaction would be to hit the RTH button. But, something worth noting in this case is that most consumer drones (except the very high end ones) will NOT have obstacle avoidance features.

What this means is that the quadcopter drone will simply want to trace the shortest trajectory to the take off point. Now, the quadcopter drone won’t care if there are trees or buildings or electricity poles in the way; and this could result in some serious damage.
What’s more, this applies to not only the very cheap drones (~$20-100) but also the ones which have GPS fitted in them. Which is why, you should use the RTH feature with caution.

  • Ray

    When you hit the Rth button does the drone go up before it starts to return

    • It depends on the drone. You can configure RTH behaviour on the more powerful ones, which usually cost upwards of $150 (Cheerson CX-20 for example).

  • Marcel Saracut

    Does anyone know cheap drones who come back to the transmitter and not to the Take off place when pressing RTH button ?

    • Check these out, these come back to the transmitter (non-GPS assisted of course): Best headless mode quadcopters under $25

      • Fred York

        I have the same question. I’m looking for a drone that will return to the transmitter, not a home point. Any advice?

  • feber ginting

    what the meaning of return to home and how it work ?? thank you

  • i thought it is possible only on drones with gps.