How To Measure the Speed of Your Drone, UAV, or Quadcopter With a Radar Gun

One of the first questions I get asked when someone sees me flying my Phantom 2 Vision+ drone in the park is "how fast does it go?" I usually answer "really fast!" and nod knowingly. This usually does the trick with most people, especially when they see the drone whizzing past trees and above unwitting children. However, now and then I get people who are genuinely curious and interested in a number, and that's precisely where my wife's knack for gift-giving comes in handy. She gave me this--a Pocket Radar Speed Radar Gun, and it is amazing for measuring how fast my drones fly. Here's how I use it to measure drone speed:

Measuring drone airspeed with a radar gun and partner

What do I do?

If you've got a willing partner, taking a measurement with the Pocket Radar Classic couldn't be easier. You simply get your drone in the air and leave your partner to figure out the radar gun!

I'm just kidding. But seriously, you point the radar gun at the drone and realize that there's a giant red button in the middle. You push it and you read the display. That's really it. You'll get a big bright LCD number that lets you know how fast in mph your drone is flying.

The batteries last long enough for you to take around 10,000 measurements, per the manufacturers, and in my experience, I get between 9,000 and 11,000 depending on how often I use it at once (yes, I take a lot of measurements!). Remember that scene in Bridesmaids where the cop and Kristen Wiig's character sat in his car measuring how fast everyone was going by before they pulled someone over? That's my wife and I, except I don't get to pull anyone over. Someday...

What's the range?

The range of the Pocket Radar Classic is rated at approximately half a mile, or around 2,600 feet, but since that's greater than the range of most hobby drones, it essentially means the range is infinite. I haven't had the chance to test mine at that distance with a drone since if my drone is that far out, it's probably not coming back to me, and at that point, I'm hopping in the car and chasing it. But for every normal distance I've tried, I haven't had any issues measuring it.

Are there any bugs to watch for?

There can be issues of interference if you try to take measurements in a cluttered environment, such as somewhere close to a lot of birds or similar moving targets. You're also going to have trouble if you try to take measurements while you're next to certain electronic devices or vibrating devices, such as idling cars. However, if there are too many things going on, the radar will simply not give a display, which will be your cue to watch where you're pointing.

Why would I want to do this?

Personally, I do it because I enjoy it, which, in my opinion, is the best reason to do anything. I also get curious about the degree to which a drone manufacturer's top speed estimates match reality. In many cases, they're reasonably close, such as with DJI's drones. However, in some cases, they're quite off, and a drone that's marketed as being capable of hitting 30 mph that only does so when spiraling out of control into a reservoir isn't my idea of a good time. And yes, that's happened to me. More than once. You'd think I'd have learned not to fly over that reservoir after the first time, but I really thought it was like the idea of lightning not striking in the same place twice (which is also wrong, apparently)...

Measuring drone airspeed with a radar gun without a partner

If you don't have a partner, things are a bit more tricky. OK, a lot more tricky. It's possible to get an accurate reading if you essentially attempt a fly-by with one hand on the radio controller and the other on the radar gun, but it can be a nerve-wracking experience to have a $1000 drone flying at you (or a tree, or a passer-by, etc) at high speeds while you try to keep it moving straight enough to take a valid measurement. My advice is to not bother; this is something you need a friend for. The good news is that even a kid can figure it out. I speak from experience; my kids are experts at taking measurements for me now.

I highly recommend the Pocket Radar Classic as a way to measure how fast your personal drone, UAV, quadcopter, etc, is flying. You can buy it here.

If you're on a budget, also consider the Bushnell Speedster III Radar Gun. I've got both, and the Pocket Radar is much faster, but the Speedster also works decently. The Pocket Radar Classic is by far the more reliable of the two, however, at least when compared to my GPS, and that's why it's worth the price difference.


Hi! My name is Mike, and I'm the author of this personal drone blog. If you find the information on my flying drone review blog useful, you can shop through Amazon here.

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