How Much Weight Can a Drone Carry - 2024

By Lauren Nagel

Today's largest drones and eVTOL are capable of carrying thousands of pounds, in the form of humans, cargo and more. But how can we determine how much weight a drone can carry?

The amount of weight a drone can carry first and foremost depends on the amount of thrust produced by its propellers.

To say it in one sentence: the amount of weight a drone can carry is equal to the difference between the drone's total thrust and the thrust required for the drone to fly.

This number will differ based on the type of flight the drone is intended to complete, which we will get into below.

In this article we will cover:

  1. The Drone Thrust: Weight Ratio
  2. Thrust Requirements for Basic Operations
  3. How to Calculate How Much Weight a Drone Can Carry

cargo drone carrying package

Figure 1: A cargo-carrying drone

Drone Thrust to Weight Ratio

When a drone is hovering in place (in a no-wind condition), the thrust produced is equal to the weight of the drone:

how much weight a drone can carry formula

So if the mass of the drone is 35 kg for example:

how much weight a drone can carry equation

The drone’s propellers therefore need to produce 343 N or 35 kgf of thrust for the drone to hover. If we’re building a quadcopter with four propellers, that comes to 86 N or ~9 kg per propeller.

But it’s not that simple, because in most cases the drone will also need to take off and maneuver, which requires acceleration and greater thrust.

Thrust Required for Basic Operations

There is a basic rule that says that for most drones, if your propellers can generate twice as much thrust as is required to hover, you’ll have sufficient control for most operations. So if you’re building a drone for surveillance, videography or basic flying, this is a pretty simple rule to follow.

For our 35 kg drone, each propeller would therefore need to produce about 18 kgf of thrust for stable control.

heavy lifting hexacopter if1200

Figure 2: IF1200 Heavy Lift Drone

How to Calculate How Much Weight a Drone Can Carry

Let’s say that we want our drone to carry a load in addition to its own weight. We just have to figure out how much extra mass we need to carry, then make sure that the propellers can produce enough thrust.

Let’s assume we want our 35 kg drone to carry a 5 kg load, so it will weigh 40 kg in total.

If we use the same formula as before:

drone carrying capacity calculation

We figure out that we need our quadcopter to produce 40 kgf of thrust to hover, or 80 kgf of thrust for stable control. Divided by four propellers, this is 20 kgf per propeller.

There are several methods we can use to confirm that our propellers can produce 20 kgf of thrust each, covered in this article on How to Calculate and Measure Propeller Thrust.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the amount of weight a drone can carry depends on a few factors, but most importantly the amount of thrust generated by its propellers.

There are several ways to estimate whether your propellers can produce enough thrust, but the only way to be sure is with proper testing.

If you’d like to learn more about drones, propulsion systems, and how to improve performance, we encourage you to check out our collection of articles.

3 Responses

Steve Mitrovich

October 30, 2023

Good info. Next step: For standard practice what is the relation between prop diameter (single motor and prop) via lift?

skip

October 16, 2023

we get 9:1 lift to weight ratio, super better!

skip

September 18, 2023

we get an 8:1 lift to weight ratio with new tech, do not know if that is more than the norm.?

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