How to Spot a Drone at Night

Drone flying at night may not be illegal, but it can pose risks and raise questions. Just like what happened in Colorado and Nebraska late last year. Some residents noticed unmanned drones swarming over their neighborhood, and authorities could not identify who was controlling them.

It was mysterious but also creepy. While not every quad that buzzes over your house in the dark could be spying on you, it would be unsettling to deal with the unknown. As precautionary measures, here are our top 5 tips on how to spot a drone at night

How to Spot a Drone at Night

How Do You Spot a Drone at Night?

There are two things you need to look out for when you’re suspecting a drone is in your area beyond daytime: lights and sounds. To help you spot drones click here for good binocular options or go here for excellent night time googles.

Check Out the Lights

When you can’t make out the outline of a flying object, the lights it comes with can help you determine if it’s a drone. Prosumer drones, like DJI and Syma, are equipped with a native lighting system. You may know them as navigation lights. The other, which the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires, is referred to as anti-collision lights. A drone that is legally operating at night will display both types of lights– navigation lights and anti-collision lights.

To distinguish between the two, consider the regularity and the color of light.

  • Navigation Lights – These are solid, non-strobe lights that are green, red, or white. They are mainly used for allowing the operator to see where the drone is going. It is not necessary to pick just one light color so that you can use multiple colors simultaneously.

Most manufacturers include them in the quad’s system. Meaning, you don’t have to install them when you have a typical drone. However, they may not appear too strong during the evening. They are also not visible during the daytime. If you want to pilot your drone at night, you need to install the second type.

  • Anti-Collision Lights – Spotting anti-collision lights is easier. They blink, like stars, while they move. And they come in white or red. You can also choose from more advanced options when it comes to strobes: fast strobe, slow strobe, and constant light. 

Sometimes, this feature is pre-installed in the unit. But other times, you need to buy it as an add-on. See item here

Note that we said a legally operating drone will have these lights. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires these of drones that are flying at night especially for those who plan to use their drones for different purposes and reasons. The night is defined by the department as the time between the end of the Evening Civil Twilight and the start of the Morning Civil Twilight.

That being said, if someone is using their drone to spy on you, they are likely trying to be discreet and may not be all that concerned with legal regulations. It is entirely possible that someone would take steps to cover up a drone’s lights in order to help the device stay hidden.

Evening Civil Twilight is the period that occurs between 30 minutes and an hour after sunset. Morning Civil Twilight begins one hour before sunrise and ends 30 minutes before sunrise. These definitions are determined by the FAA.

Listen to the Sounds

The other indicator that the passing object is maybe a drone is the sound it comes with. Drones have a distinct sound. That is, if accompanied by a blinking or solid colored light, its buzz will betray itself. Take note that this sound is already quieter than the ones used by older versions. If you live in a busy area, there is a good chance that your neighborhood’s sounds drown out any drone noises.

If this is your first time to deal with drones and have no idea, this video clip may come in handy. The lights here may not be up-to-date but focus on the sound.

Meanwhile, you can also detect a quad through other means, such as a contraption called the DroneShield. Based on the whirring noises, it can identify the model of an approaching drone and send an alert via text message. This can be useful for security personnel or when you are flying a drone at night as well.

What Color Lights Do Drones Have at Night?

As mentioned above, there are three light colors you can typically find on drones: red, green, or white. Depending on their regularity, you can identify them as navigation lights or anti-collision lights. Navigation lights are solid or non-strobe red, green, or white. On the other hand, anti-collision lights are blinking/strobe red or white.

These colors can go together. It does not mean the drone is only allowed one solid green light, and that’s it. In many instances, you can add another color of the same lighting system. And then, you can add anti-collision lights to ensure the drone is compliant with FAA rules. Also, you can only see navigation lights at night as they are not visible in daylight.

Can Drones See Inside Your House?

No, drones should not be able to see inside your house. This level of scrutiny can only be possible if the quad is flying near your window. Even in that case, a drone’s capacity to deal with the distance and glass glare depends on the technology. During the day, reflection issues might interfere with the recording anyway.

It is a bit different at night, though. The lights on the drone can assist the camera in taking clearer shots of the inside of your house. And that is if it’s hovering a few inches away from the window. While professional drone cleaning kits such as CamKix aid the user it would not be enough to view inside your home unless drone was near window.

How Do You Tell if a Drone is Spying on You?

Motion Detector Lights

It’s possible your house already has one or two of these installed. Motion detector lights are a standard security feature for many homeowners as they can help deter intruders. It turns out, they may also be effective at detecting the presence of unwanted drones.

Motion detector lights have built-in microwave sensors that emit a constant signal. Most of the time, the light stays off. If a solid object suddenly disrupts the microwave’s signal, the light will automatically kick on. Now, this solid object could be anything from a drone to a squirrel or another harmless critter. The light turning on doesn’t necessarily mean you have an unwanted visitor, but it may be an indicator that there is something outside that warrants your attention.

If you are interested in installing a motion detector light at your home, you have many options. These lights come with a variety of features and are available at just about any price point. One of the better and more budget-friendly options out there is from LEPOWER. Their 35-watt security light can detect motion up to 72 feet away and the three lights are easy to adjust, allowing you to illuminate a wider area.

Microphones

Depending on your environment, microphones could be another helpful tool for detecting nearby drones.

Recall that earlier, we mentioned that drones are not exactly silent. A microphone may be able to detect and amplify sounds that your ears may overlook. Better yet, a good microphone may even be able to pinpoint the drone’s location.

There are, however, some limitations to this approach. Microphones only work if the drone is within 500 feet maximum, and if your surrounding environment is too noisy, they may not work at all. Furthermore, most microphones that can detect the presence of a drone are very expensive and primarily intended for commercial purposes. Discovair G2 by Squarehead Technologies is one such microphone. While highly effective, it may not be practical for the average consumer.

RF Scanners

Most connected devices emit what is called a radiofrequency (RF) signal. This signal falls at the higher, non-ionizing end of the electromagnetic spectrum. WiFi is one example of an RF signal, as are most other frequencies that are used for communications. You can use this to your advantage when trying to spot a hidden drone.

Drones are in constant communication with their operator. They may be sending back live video or simply receiving navigational information. Either way, RF signals are being either transmitted or received. With an RF scanner, you can potentially pick up on these signals.

An RF scanner does just that– it searches the surrounding area for any RF signals. Now, if you live in a neighborhood, you are more than likely going to pick up several RF signals, even if there is not a drone present. Your neighbor’s WiFi, nearby cell towers, and even your cell phone can all set an RF scanner off. It is therefore a good idea to try your device out during the day first, to get a feel for what RF signals are normal for your area.

If you are interested in trying an RF scanner for drone detection, one highly-rated and affordable option is JMDHKK’s Anti Spy Detector. Not only does this device detect RF signals but it also helps spot hidden camera lenses and magnetic fields.

Motion Detector Cameras

If you thought motion detection lights were useful, you will love the idea of motion detector cameras. These devices use infrared frequencies to detect movement at night. Depending on the model, the camera will then send an alert to notify you, at which point you can use an app on your phone to see what the camera detected.

These cameras are useful for home security in general, as well as for spotting drones at night. You can install as many cameras as you want around your home, and you may want to station them around doorways and windows, in particular. This option can be a bit of an investment, but it does provide good peace of mind.

One excellent option is from Amazon. Their Blink Outdoor camera is easy to set up, runs on AA batteries, and is highly weather resistant. It is also compatible with Alexa. You can purchase one camera at a time or buy them in bundles of two, three, or five cameras, depending on your budget and needs.

Smartphone Apps

These days, there is almost nothing that a cell phone can’t do. Our phones are our constant companions, so it should come as no surprise that your phone can double as a drone detection device, as well. Certain apps can be used to scan for suspicious unencrypted WiFi signals and alert you to the presence of an unwanted drone.

This method isn’t foolproof. Some drones use encrypted WiFi, while others use different signals altogether. Nonetheless, an app is a free or relatively inexpensive route to take when it comes to spotting drones. One of the more popular options out there is for Android devices specifically– the DroneWatcher app.

According to the manufacturer, DroneWatcher is capable of detecting around 95% of all consumer drones. It does not require active use, either. The app runs in the background on your phone and will send you a push notification if a drone has come within a certain range.

Remember shooting down a drone is illegal, according to the FAA, even if you think it fits the description of spy drones. So, if a suspicious drone is flying directly above your home, here are the things you can do instead:

Talk to the Operator

Often, the purpose of drone flying is legitimate. Commercial rigs are allowed to operate in residential areas. Your security and privacy issues can be valid, but sometimes the purpose may have nothing to do with you. Low-altitude ones can be doing any of these things: filming, assessing roofing, inspecting properties, and measuring solar installations. 

In such cases, after carefully considering the reason, you may trace the drone operator once the flight ends. The FAA requires flyers to keep the unit within their line of sight. But depending on where you live, tracking the user can be relatively easy.

Note: Make sure you gather information about the use of drones for night-time patrols in your community. For people wondering what do police drones look like at night, check out this video:

Define Your Issue and Consult Local Laws

If you have valid reasons to believe you are being spied on, go ahead and define what’s bothering you.

You may take issue with the drone spying or stalking you. Or it’s the noise that you want to get rid of. In either case, check what your state or local privacy and noise ordinances are, respectively. However, if your problem is related to the drone allegedly taking pictures of your property, the law may not be on your side here.

Airspace is regulated by the FAA, so you don’t have the right to take down the unmanned aircraft even if it’s flying over your home.

Record the Event

If you want to draft a complaint, you should document the incident, if possible. Take photos or videos of the aircraft. You can also log pertinent information, such as the time and date of the supposed spying/stalking, the model if you can identify it, and the number on the side of the drone if you can see it.

Drones you see outdoors usually fall under the FAA registration rule. Write everything down to help the authorities track the owner quickly. Since it has a relatively short battery life, the thing will have been gone when the police arrive. So they will rely on the details you documented.

Call the Authorities

Like we said earlier, you can call the police because your case may not be related to drone laws but other existing laws on privacy, harassment, and the likes. Reporting the incident to the proper authority can help move your complaint forward.

If the local law enforcement finds that drone regulations have been violated, they can call the FAA to collaborate on or take over the case. 

Conclusion

Learning how to spot a drone at night can give you peace of mind. You can take the necessary precautions when you are able to determine that there is an unwanted drone near your home. Being armed with the above information will allow you to do more than realize that “hmmm, why are those drones following me?” At the same time, you can act accordingly.

Since you know you shouldn’t attempt to take down the aircraft and that it is a better idea to simply take note of any identifying information you can. Consider making visual contact of the drone using regular or night time binoculars. Try to spot any visible identifying features.

Maybe now when you see a drone flying around the area, you can narrow down the possible reasons for the event. You might want to put yourself in the shoes of the drone operator. Perhaps they can’t fly the device during the daytime. Or they’re working overtime to meet a project deadline.

It is understandable to be concerned if you spot a drone near your home at night. By keeping calm and filing a police report, you will be putting yourself in the best position possible to fight back against drone spying. No matter what it is, know that the lesson on how to spot a drone at night works both ways. You must exercise patience and common sense toward the person flying the quad as you might find yourself in their position someday.

Learn more about drones, how to use them, or where to buy them here at Drones Watch.

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