2023 has been quite the year for the drone industry, with the UAVs becoming increasingly meshed into day-to-day life. We've seen milestones being surpassed, like DJI's drones now being directly involved in saving over 1,000 lives globally, to intense debates on the hill by US senators about locally vs foreign manufactured drones. Then there were the hiccups with the Remote ID rule that led to the FAA extending the September deadline to get compliant by six months, giving drone pilots more breathing room and buying time for manufacturers to get Declaration of Compliance (DOC) approvals. Across the pond we have the EU doubling down on mandatory drone licenses for drones based on their weights, and fleshing out laws on maximum flight heights and no-fly zones.  

There have been significant improvements in imaging capabilities with HD and thermal imaging cameras, extension of drone flight times due to high-capacity batteries allowing drones to cover larger areas and stay airborne for extended periods,  and even autonomous navigation using sensors and GPS technology for the UAVs to follow specific flight path which is crucial in time-critical rescue operations. Public agencies and emergency responders have benefited from enhanced tech to save lives.

Now, as the year draws to a close, it's time to look back at the drones that proved to be assets to search and rescue teams around the world.

First, a quick overview...

Infographic: Best Search & Rescue Drones for 2023Infographic: Best Search & Rescue Drones for 2023

Now to get a deeper look into each of these drones...

In-Depth Analysis Of Top 12 Search And Rescue Drones In 2023

1. DJI Matrice 350 RTK

The M350 RTK, that made headlines in the drone industry with its debut on May 18, 2023, is an advanced drone designed to meet various commercial and public safety needs, including search and rescue missions​​. A feature-packed, high capacity UAV, it was bound to make it to the top of this years ranking of best SAR drones. 

Feature Highlights:

• Flight Time and Range: Maximum flight time of 55 minutes​​.

• Camera Quality and Night Vision: Supports advanced DJI gimbals like Zenmuse H20, H20T, H20N, P1, and L1, with enhanced night vision Starlight FPV camera​​​​.

• Durability and Weather Resistance: IP55 ingress protection rating, making it suitable for harsh weather conditions​​.

• GPS and Autonomous Flight Capabilities: Equipped with GPS, GLONASS, BeiDou, and Galileo for accurate navigation​​.

• Payload Capacity: Maximum payload of 2.7 kg, accommodating a variety of equipment​​.

• Ease of Use and Portability: Foldable design with dimensions of 810×670×430 mm (unfolded, without propellers) and 430×420×430 mm (folded, with propellers)​​.

Communication Systems: Features DJI O3 Enterprise Transmission for stable HD live feeds and a maximum transmission distance of 20 km​​.

Battery Life and Charging Speed: TB65 batteries with a capacity of 5880 mAh, offering quick charging times and a high cycle count​​​​.

Obstacle Avoidance and Stability: Six-directional binocular vision and infrared sensing system for obstacle detection and positioning​​​​.

Complies with global satellite navigation systems and transmission standards​​​​​​​​.

The Matrice 350 RTK, with its compact and foldable design, is highly portable for rapid deployment in emergencies. Its robust build and weather-resistant features make it reliable in diverse environments, from stormy coastal areas to the rugged terrain of mountain rescue operations.  

Additionally, its comprehensive obstacle sensing system enhances its reliability in complex environments, be it dense forests or urban landscapes packed with obstructions.

Equipped with a maximum horizontal speed of 23 m/s and wind resistance of 12 m/s, the drone is capable of covering large areas quickly​​​​. The inclusion of intelligent flight modes and advanced mapping capabilities, like Terrain Follow and Smart Oblique, enhance its efficiency in search missions​​​​.

The Matrice 350 RTK's advanced camera systems and gimbal support are vital for locating individuals from lost hikers in the mountains to people stranded in floods. Features like AI Spot Check and PinPoint assist in marking objects and calculating coordinates​​. This is incredibly useful in situations like quickly locating survivors after an earthquake or a lost swimmer off a coastline. Additionally, its capability to carry third-party payloads such as loudspeakers, broadens its applications be it guiding a lost camper in the woods, communicating with people stranded in a flood where boats can't easily reach, or guiding lost tourists in a remote park.

The drone's high-precision transmission system and cloud-based mapping functionalities enable effective air-to-ground coordination. This is essential for streamlined operations and real-time decision-making during searches, where every second counts for the safety of both the victims and the rescue teams.

2. EVO Max 4T

The EVO Max 4T, launched on January 5, 2023, is a remarkable entry in the field of commercial drones, particularly for search and rescue missions. Developed by Autel Robotics, this drone made its grand entry at CES 2023 in Vegas, showcasing its advanced features and capabilities​​. It’s distinguished by its integration of traditional binocular vision systems with millimeter wave radar technology, a first in the commercial drone space. This innovative combination enhances object detection and operational efficiency in diverse conditions​​.

Feature Highlights

• 8K 10x Optical Zoom Camera: 48MP resolution, allowing 160x max hybrid zoom​​.

• Thermal Camera: 640x512 resolution with a 16x digital zoom and a temperature measurement range of -20°C to 550°C​​.

• Wide Camera: 50MP with a 1/1.28" CMOS sensor​​.

• Laser Rangefinder: Up to 1.2km ranging distance with a measurement accuracy of ±1m​​.

• Autel SkyLink 3.0: Offers a 12.4 miles transmission range with <150ms latency and 1080p/60fps real-time image quality​​.

• Flight Time and Range: Max 42 minutes flight time with a 12.4 miles image transmission range​​.

• Obstacle Avoidance and Stability: 720° obstacle avoidance system​​.

• Weather Resistance: IP43 Ingress Protection rating, suitable for various weather conditions​​.

• Battery: Hot-swappable 8070mAh LiPo 4S battery with a net weight of 520g​​.

• Communication Systems: A-Mesh system for drone-to-drone communication and coordination​​.

The powerful cameras, including thermal and zoom capabilities, of the EVO Max 4T make it adept at detecting individuals in different environments like scanning forests for stranded travelers or hikers who went off their trails or even scouring through the debris of urban areas in the aftermath of a natural disaster. The thermal imaging camera is particularly useful in locating individuals hidden by foliage or in low-light conditions​​. Moreover, the drone's AI recognition feature ups the ante, offering advanced object identification and tracking, significantly speeding up search efforts​​.

Agencies like the Scottish Air Search and Rescue Association (SARAA) have greatly benefited from the integration of the Evo Max 4T drone into their operations. Its multi-sensor camera gimbal, superior flight performance, IP43 protection level, and advanced anti-interference technology, and A-Mesh networking technology, has proven invaluable in navigating Scotland's demanding terrain for search and rescue missions​​.

It has streamlined SARAA's operations, enabling the division of search tasks into linear or area-specific assignments, and facilitating seamless team coordination, thereby enhancing efficiency and reducing operational time​

Additional advancements like its laser rangefinder whose range reaches up to 3,737 feet, provide precise location data, essential for coordinating rescue operations. The drone's ability to maintain a stationary position intermittently during flight enhances the detection of target movements.

 - Furthermore, its split-screen functionality allows simultaneous viewing of real-time maps, drone feeds, and critical data, thereby improving team coordination and decision-making for the stakeholders involved in the operation​​.

3. Teledyne FLIR SIRAS™

SIRAS™ is an advanced, professional-grade drone designed by Teledyne FLIR, specifically optimized for applications like industrial and utilities inspection, firefighting, law enforcement, and search and rescue missions. Launched in September 2022 as an affordable and flexible solution, it stands out for its exceptional data security and capability to operate in rugged environments, while going for under $10,000. 

It is produced in collaboration with Taiwan's Coretronic Intelligent Robotics Corporation, and undergoes final assembly, payload integration, and quality checks in the United States. This is amidst increasing resistance to foreign-manufactured drones.  An interesting facet of SIRAS™ is its emphasis on data security, ensuring that all captured imagery is stored securely on an onboard microSD card without the need for cloud connectivity. This feature is especially crucial in sensitive missions where data integrity is paramount​​. The value at its pricepoint earns it a spot amongst 2023's best search and rescue drones.

Feature Highlights

• Interchangeable Payload System: Allows for mission flexibility and future-proofing with different payload needs.

• Front Collision Avoidance: Radar-based system for enhanced safety.

• 31-Minute Flight Time: Extended operational capability with hot-swappable batteries.

• High-Quality Cameras: 16MP visible camera with 128x zoom and a 640x512 FLIR Boson thermal camera with 5x zoom.

• No Geofencing: Provides freedom to operate in various locations without restrictions.

• Dual-Band Connectivity: Maintains a reliable connection in different environments.

• Weather Resistance: IP54-rated for dust and moisture resistance.

• Data Security: Onboard microSD storage without the need for online accounts or cloud connectivity.

• Night Flight Beacons: Equipped with red and white beacons for night operations.

• Quick Deployment: Ready to fly within two minutes of power-on​​.

The Teledyne FLIR SIRAS™ is an ideal tool for search and rescue (SAR) operations due to its advanced imaging capabilities. It combines radiometric thermal imaging with high-resolution photography, allowing rescuers to detect individuals in challenging conditions, from nighttime to forest searches. This feature is invaluable in locating lost or stranded individuals by their heat signatures, even when they are invisible to the naked eye​​.

Its FLIR MSX® technology with the drone’s Vue® TV128 payload deserves a notable mention. It overlays visible light details onto thermal images, providing a composite view that helps distinguish between different heat signatures, like differentiating between animals and humans. This technology is crucial in preventing false positives during searches. Moreover, its superior zoom capabilities and collision avoidance system make it particularly effective in navigating challenging terrains, ensuring detailed imaging and safe operation. 

Its long flight time of 31 minutes allows extensive coverage of search areas, which is vital in expansive or difficult terrains​​. The drone’s commitment to data security is a significant advantage in SAR operations. By avoiding wireless data transfers, it minimizes the risk of data interception, ensuring the privacy and safety of the individuals involved in the rescue mission. Additionally, SIRAS™ operates without geofencing, which means it can be deployed quickly and fly directly to the mission site without delay. Its quick startup time further enhances its efficiency in time-sensitive rescue operations​​.

4. DJI Mavic 3T

The DJI Mavic 3T was announced on September 27, 2022, alongside the Mavic 3E. It stands out with its advanced capabilities, including a powerful camera, a range of sensors for environmental mapping, and an ability to navigate hazardous terrains at speeds up to 45 mph. The drone's fire-resistant body ensures it can operate in extreme conditions, making it a reliable choice for emergency response teams​​.

Feature Highlights

• Weight and Size: Weighs 920 g and folds down for easy transport​​.

• Flight Performance: Max ascent speed of 8 m/s in Sport Mode, descent speed of 6 m/s, and a top flight speed of 21 m/s​​​​.

• Wind Resistance: Can withstand wind speeds up to 12 m/s​​.

• Flight Time: Up to 45 minutes, allowing extensive coverage​​.

• Camera Quality: Features a high-resolution wide camera (48 MP) and supports 4K video recording​​​​.

• Night Vision: Equipped with a thermal camera for low visibility and night operations​​.

• GNSS and Autonomous Flight: Supports GPS, Galileo, BeiDou, GLONASS for precise navigation​​.

• Durability: Operates in temperatures ranging from -10° to 40° C​​.

• Obstacle Avoidance: Omnidirectional binocular vision system enhanced with an infrared sensor​​.

• Communication and Transmission: Utilizes DJI O3 Enterprise Transmission, supporting up to 15 km transmission distance​​​​.

• Battery and Charging: 5000 mAh battery with quick charging capabilities​​.

The Mavic 3T's compact size and quick deployment capabilities are crucial in emergency scenarios. Its long flight time allows search and rescue teams to cover large areas efficiently​​. The advanced camera and gimbal system provide detailed aerial views, essential for surveying and assessing situations rapidly. The thermal camera on the drone offers capabilities such as measuring temperatures at specific points or over larger areas, alerting to areas with unusually high temperatures, and providing different color palettes for easier viewing. These features help experts identify hotspots and make decisions quickly.

The obstacle avoidance system of the drone and intelligent flight modes, such as autonomous path following and hovering, enhance its operational safety and effectiveness. Its high-resolution thermal imaging is invaluable for locating individuals in low-visibility areas, including at night or through dense foliage​​​​.

Pre-mission planning is streamlined with the Mavic 3T, thanks to its autonomous flight capabilities and accurate data collection. During missions, the drone's built-in sensors and technology ensure adherence to planned flight paths and avoidance of potential hazards. Post-mission, the collected data is crucial for analysis, helping to improve future operations and rescue strategies​​.

5.  The Skydio X10

The newest kid on the block, the Skydio X10 is a highly advanced commercial drone, unveiled at Skydio's Ascend Event on September 20, 2023. While it’s available for US customers as the year comes to a close, international shipping is set to begin in early 2024. We’re eager to see how well it performs in the coming year. 

Feature Highlights

• Startup Time & Dimensions: Quick startup under 40 seconds, unfolded dimensions are 31.1” x 25.6” x 5.7”, and it folds down to 13.8” x 6.5” x 4.7”.

• Weight & Flight Performance: Weighs between 4.65 and 4.72 lbs depending on the model, with a max takeoff weight of 5.49 lbs. It can reach a max horizontal speed of 45 mph and has a max service ceiling above sea level of 15,000 ft.

• Camera Systems: Equipped with a Sony 48MP CMOS telephoto camera, a Sony 50.3MP CMOS wide camera, a 64MP CMOS narrow camera, and a Flir Boson+ thermal camera for diverse imaging capabilities.

• Flight Time & Range: Offers a max flight time of 40 minutes and a wireless range of up to 7.5 miles, extendable to unlimited range in areas with cellular coverage.

• Obstacle Avoidance & Protection: Features true 360° obstacle avoidance and an ingress protection rating of IP55, suitable for harsh environments​​​​​​.

The Skydio X10 is equipped with color and thermal cameras, including FLIR, to aid in locating missing persons in various terrains like dense forests. It can detect heat and temperature differences, allowing for the identification of individuals based on their heat signature. This capability is vital for locating people in challenging conditions, such as in low visibility or at night​​​​. While it’s yet to see the level of adoption as other UAVs on this list since it just recently became available, it’s capacity has landed the drone a spot on our end year 2023 review of best search and rescue drones.

Designed with the intention of bringing the performance of a heavier drone to a more portable device, the Skydio X10 weighs under 4.7 pounds and has a length of 13.8 inches. It’s one of the most compact drone of its kind, with similar sensors, enabling easy operation by a single person. Its systematic grid search pattern ensures comprehensive coverage of the search area.  This feature enhances its usability in various field applications, including quick deployment in emergencies.

The real-time data transmission to a command center enhances decision-making during operations​​.

A key aspect of effective search and rescue operations is the ability to coordinate responses between multiple teams. The Skydio X10 supports real-time video sharing, allowing field teams, command units, and other agencies to maintain a common operating picture. This capability ensures better, faster decision-making, which is critical for emergency situations​​.

The drone's AI-powered obstacle avoidance system enables it to navigate safely near obstacles like trees, which is essential for search and rescue operations in dense environments. This feature, along with its ease of use and autonomous functionalities, makes the Skydio X10 accessible to operators of varying skill levels​​.

Also Read: Drone Training and Skills Required for Search and Rescue Operations

6. Dragonfish Pro

The Dragonfish Pro is an advanced drone by Autel Robotics, known for its unique tilt-rotor design that simplifies operation while maximizing efficiency. It was made available in the United States on April 2022, and continues to be  popular for enterprise applications, offering both VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) and fast winged flight capabilities. It stands out with a mission-ready capability and a long endurance with a 158-minute flight time, even with payloads​​. Notably, the Dragonfish Pro boasts a robust build with a wind resistance rating of level 6 and IP43 weather resistance, making it suitable search and rescue drone pilots navigating through challenging environments​​.

Feature Highlights

• Flight Time: Up to 158 minutes​​.

• Camera System: Interchangeable payloads including a 4K 50x optical zoom camera, 12MP wide-angle, and 1280×1024 high-resolution infrared​​.

• Speed and Range: Maximum speed of 108km/h with a transmission range of 18.6 miles​​.

• Portability: Quick-release design, enabling assembly and readiness in under 5 minutes​​.

• Safety and Redundancy: Features dual-redundant CAN bus communication, wind resistance rating of level 6, and IP43 weather resistance​​.

• Advanced Autonomy: Includes one-click takeoff/landing, AI high-speed tracking, and terrain following capabilities​​.

• Control System: 9.7" 1000nit Autel Ground Control Station with ultra HD resolution and up to 4.5 hours battery life​​.

• Safety Mechanisms: GPS loss protection, low battery protection, and lost signal protection​​.

The Dragonfish Pro is designed to handle complex operations, with its long flight time and broad transmission range making it ideal for covering large search areas. The high-resolution cameras, including thermal imaging, provide crucial visual data, enhancing the capability to locate individuals in difficult terrains or low visibility situations​​. The drone’s ability to switch between hovering and fixed-wing modes, along with up to 158 minutes of non-stop flight time, allows for extensive use. 

For instance, in a mountain rescue scenario, the drone can hover to scan cliff faces and rugged terrains for lost hikers. In coastal search missions, shift to fixed-wing mode, to cover large sea areas quickly to locate stranded swimmers or boats. During natural disasters like floods or earthquakes, hover to navigate through debris and tight spaces, and then switch to cover wider areas, aiding in locating survivors and assessing damages.

Its construction with a carbon fiber core and composite outer shell ensures durability and resistance to harsh weather. The safety features like GPS loss protection, low battery warnings, and lost signal protection are critical for reliable operation in search and rescue missions, ensuring that the drone remains operational and safe even in challenging conditions​​. In Utah, the Dragonfish drone series has been deployed for a variety of law enforcement operations by the South Jordan Police Department, including search and rescue missions, accident reconstruction, public safety monitoring, and tactical operations.

The AI-powered capabilities, such as high-speed tracking and terrain following, simplify mission tasks, allowing for more efficient and systematic search patterns. The quick assembly and portable design of the Dragonfish Pro enable rapid deployment in emergency situations, a crucial factor in time-sensitive SAR operations​​.

7. DJI Matrice 30T

The M30T is a remarkable drone designed for enterprise applications, including SAR missions. Launched on March 21, 2022, this drone is part of DJI's innovative efforts to deliver powerful, yet portable solutions in the drone industry​​. The Matrice 30T stands out due to its compact size, advanced camera systems, and robust build, making it a top choice for challenging operations.

Feature Highlights

• Flight Performance: Maximum horizontal speed of 23 m/s, maximum wind resistance of 12 m/s, and a hovering time of up to 36 minutes​​.

• Environmental Resistance: IP55 ingress protection rating, operational in temperatures ranging from -20° to 50° C​​.

• Camera Systems: Zoom Camera with 1/2" CMOS sensor (48M effective pixels), and Thermal Camera with an uncooled VOx Microbolometer​​​​.

• Obstacle Avoidance: Vision systems providing obstacle sensing range of 0.6-38 m with a 65° (H) and 50° (V) FOV​​.

• Dimensions: Unfolded (excluding propellers): 470×585×215 mm; Folded: 365×215×195 mm; Diagonal Wheelbase: 668 mm​​.

• Weight: 3770 ± 10 g (including two batteries), with a maximum takeoff weight of 4069 g​​.

• Battery Capacity: TB30 Intelligent Flight Battery with a capacity of 5880 mAh and a voltage of 26.1 V​​.

• Communication Systems: O3 Enterprise with a maximum transmission distance of up to 15 km (FCC) and smooth performance in situations where you'd encounter interference​​.

The DJI Matrice 30T's design and features are tailored for efficiency and effectiveness in search and rescue operations. Its compact dimensions and foldable design enhance portability, allowing for rapid deployment including in urban emergencies like building collapses, where it can assist in quickly assessing the situation and identifying survivors. Its tough build and IP55 rating ensure it can withstand harsh environments, an essential aspect for rescue missions that often occur in challenging weather conditions such as heavy rain or strong winds, ensuring reliable operation when it's most needed. 

The advanced camera systems, including a high-resolution zoom camera and a thermal camera, are crucial for locating individuals in various conditions, be it during the dead of night or through forest cover. The drone's long hovering time of 36 minutes, combined with its high-speed capabilities, enable extensive coverage of large areas, crucial for quickly locating individuals in need of help. Rescue teams get high-resolution imaging over 1.2 miles, essential for identifying victims in low light conditions or obscured terrains. 

Such drones can halve search and rescue times for SAR organizations. A notable example occurred in February 2022 in Weber County, UT, where the M30T was used to locate a lost snowboarder as a storm approached. The drone's thermal imaging camera and GPS capabilities were instrumental in guiding rescuers to the snowboarder.​ Additionally, it helped in plotting the safest evacuation route for the ground rescue team.​

Watch how it happened here:

8. Yuneec H850-RTK

Next up is a business-class hexacopter drone that became available in August 2022​​​​. This drone is specially designed for applications such as inspections, surveying, public safety, and fawn rescue, and has also found use in search and rescue missions. The H850-RTK is noted for its enhanced safety, power, efficiency, stability, and the ability to carry heavier payloads​​​​.

Feature Highlights

• Flight Time: Up to 65 minutes, depending on payload and weather conditions​​​​.

• Payload Compatibility: Compatible with all H520E payloads, enhancing versatility​​.

• Flight and Data Security: Features include dual IMU, compass, barometer, dual RTK antennas, and two smart batteries​​.

• Remote Identification Device: Compatible with YCAP-certified Drone-Tag device for remote ID​​.

• Size and Weight: Unfolded dimensions are 440×365×470 mm, with a weight of 5800 grams including batteries, and a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of 8800 grams​​​​.

• Speed and Ceiling: Maximum horizontal speed of 20 m/s, and a flight ceiling of 5000 meters above sea level​​.

• Positioning and Accuracy: Uses GPS, Glonass, Beidou, and Galileo, with hovering accuracy of ±0.5m, and RTK(RMS) accuracy of 1cm +1ppm(H) and 1.5cm+1ppm(V)​​.
Operating Temperatures: Functions in a range of -20℃ to 50℃​​.

• Remote Controller: Comes with a T-One controller, featuring a 7-inch touch screen​​.

The H850-RTK's extensive flight time of up to 65 minutes enables it to cover vast areas without the need for frequent landings to recharge. Its compatibility with various payloads, including high-resolution and thermal imaging cameras, addresses the critical requirement of locating individuals even in low-light or obscured environments. The dual Inertial Measurement Units (IMUs) of the drone enable for stable and accurate navigation. It's equipped with essential navigational tools such as a compass and barometer, and its intelligent batteries enhance its operational longevity. 

The drone's design and high payload capacity make it suitable for carrying additional equipment like medical supplies or communication devices, which can be crucial in rescue operations. Furthermore, its advanced positioning system and precision ensure reliable navigation and systematic search patterns.

Safety is a priority for this UAV, evidenced by its ability to land safely even if a motor fails mid-flight. The  dual Real-Time Kinematic (RTK) antennas come in handy for exact location tracking, critical for accuracy-dependent tasks. 

For data management, the H850-RTK records extensive flight data including raw GNSS data and real-time solutions, valuable for Post Processed Kinematics (PPK). 

The T-One remote controller, with its 7-inch display, ensures ease of control and extended use up to eight hours, making the H850-RTK a versatile tool for different operational needs.

9. EVO II Dual 640T Enterprise V3 

Going back to Autel UAVs, we have another heavy hit that stands toe-to-toe with the latest UAVs. Launched in November 2022, the EVO II Dual 640T Enterprise V3 is equipped with a 640x512 25Hz thermal imaging sensor, providing clear and discernible thermal details, which is crucial for finding hikers who lost their way in the heart of a forest, identifying survivors in the rubble of buildings that came crumbling down during earthquakes, or spotting individuals who fell overboard in the vast, dark waters during night-time maritime searches.

Feature Highlights

• Thermal Imaging Camera: High-resolution 640x512 sensor with a 13mm focal length lens; 16x digital zoom​​.

• Visible Light Camera: 50MP CMOS sensor, producing high-quality images even in low-light conditions with Moonlight Algorithm 2.0.

• Flight Time and Range: Up to 38 minutes of flight time, maximum speed of 20m/s, and a maximum transmission range of 9.3 miles (15km) with Skylink2.0​​ (plus enhanced anti-interference capabilities​​).

• Smart Controller V3: Features a 7.9-inch, 2000 nit high-brightness screen, ideal for operation under direct sunlight​​.

• Environment handling: Features level 8 wind resistance; Maximum take-off altitude set at 7,000 meters

• 360° Obstacle Avoidance: With 19 sensor groups, including visual sensors and ultrasound, for safe navigation

The EVO II Dual 640T Enterprise V3's extended flight time and broad transmission range are crucial for covering expansive search areas. As it comes with a sophisticated 1/1.28-inch sensor (compared to 1/2" CMOS of its predecessor, the Dual 640T V2) and an f/1.9 fixed aperture, it can capture high-quality photographs and HD video.

Its advanced high-resolution camera lenses enhance its capabilities, rendering it highly effective for both daytime aerial surveillance and nighttime thermal imaging operations – extending to SAR missions. This makes the drone particularly useful for locating individuals in challenging conditions like dense foliage or at night. It’s actually one of the top night-vision drones.

With a solid build and advanced features like omnidirectional sensing, the drone ensures safety and reliability in various operational environments. The comprehensive sensing system aids in obstacle avoidance and stable flight performance, crucial for navigating through complex terrains during search and rescue missions. The Smart Controller V3 enhances the operator's experience with its clear display and long-distance operation capabilities, even in adverse weather conditions​​.

Emergency responders can use automated mission modes to cover large search areas quickly, which is critical in situations where each minute that passes can be the difference between life and death.

Its user-friendly design and portability make a suitable choice for rapid deployment as it can be airborne in 45 seconds from its case. 

10. Parrot ANAFI USA

Launched back in June 2020, by Parrot, a leading European drone group, the ANAFI USA has remained a popular choice for first responders and enterprise users through the years. It is uniquely tailored for efficiency and versatility in various operations, including search and rescue missions. Manufactured in the U.S. with help from the army, it adheres to high-end security and durability standards​ ​​. This drone integrates enterprise-class data handling capabilities, ensuring secure and reliable performance in demanding scenarios.

Feature Highlights

• Compact and Lightweight: Folded size of 252 x 104 x 84 mm and a mass of 500 g (1.10 lb)​​.

• Flight Time and Range: Maximum flight time of 32 minutes and a maximum horizontal speed of 14.7 m/s​​.

• Camera Capabilities: Dual EO and IR image chains with up to 32x digital zoom, including a FLIR BOSON sensor for thermal imaging​​​​.

• Image Stabilization: 3-camera IR/EO stabilized gimbal for clear and stable footage​​.

• Durable Design: IP53 certified for dust and rain resistance, operating temperature range from -33 °F (-36 °C) to +122 °F (+50 °C)​​.

• Robust Controller: Parrot Skycontroller 4, IP5X certified for dust resistance, with a transmission range up to 9.3 miles (15km)​​.

• Security Features: Includes zero data sharing by default, SD card encryption, and secure network connections​​.

Despite being around for a while compared to other UAVs on this list, the Parrot ANAFI USA still packs a punch during missions today. The dual EO and IR cameras, along with the thermal imaging sensor, facilitate locating individuals in different environmental conditions, including low visibility and night operations. Its 32x zoom, combined with images from its FLIR Boson camera, gives pilots clear visuals from up to 5 km (3.1 miles) away. This dual camera system is essential for detecting hot spots with the thermal camera while the visual camera allows viewing of people and other critical details as far as 2 km (1.2 miles) during daytime and 150 m at night​. 

Weighing just 500g and with a 32-minute flight time, it’s one of the top picks in its class for drones of its size. It can be deployed in less than 55 seconds, allowing rescue teams to launch quickly and efficiently during emergencies.

Its rugged build, certified to resist dust and rain with its IP53 rating, ensures reliable performance in various weather conditions. The drone's extended operating temperature range further enhances its usability in extreme environments.

Featuring advanced satellite navigation systems (GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO), the ANAFI USA offers precise navigation and autonomous flight capabilities. This, along with its user-friendly controller and fast-charging battery, makes it a versatile and efficient tool for emergency responders.

11. EVO II Pro V3

The EVO II Pro V3 is another high-performance SAR drone from Autel Robotics, recognized for its exceptional image quality and advanced flight intelligence. Released on November 3, 2022, it features a 20 megapixel 1-inch CMOS image sensor, enabling it to support up to 6K video. This drone stands out with its greater dynamic range, strong noise suppression, and high frame rates, making it an ideal choice for detailed and clear imaging in different conditions, including low light scenarios with its Moonlight Algorithm 2.0​​​​.

Feature Highlights

• Image Quality: 20MP 1-inch CMOS sensor; supports 6K/30FPS video with an adjustable aperture of f/2.8-f/11​​.

• Night Photography: Enhanced capabilities with Moonlight Algorithm 2.0 ​.

• 4K HDR Video: Offers detailed and high dynamic range video, revealing clarity in shadow and sunlight​​.

• Post-Production: Supports 12-bit DNG photos, allowing greater flexibility in post-production with vast color rendering​​.

• Flight Time and Range: Up to 40 minutes flight time and a 9.3 miles transmission​​.

• Obstacle Avoidance: 360° obstacle avoidance with 19 groups of sensors for safe navigation​​.

• Smart Controller: Features a 6.4-inch OLED touch screen with SkyLink 2.0 Transmission technology for long-distance operations and enhanced anti-interference​​.

• Durability and Weather Resistance: Operates within a temperature range of 14°F to 104°F​​. Uses Smart Controller SE with IP43 rating.

The EVO II Pro V3's ability to capture clear images in low light makes it an asset, such as when searching for missing hikers under the cover of darkness or guiding first responders through power outage-affected areas during natural disasters. This makes it easier to identify individuals or points of interest​​​​. Its upgraded chipset has resulted in more processing power, enhancing the performance of its thermal camera and providing crisper images. This allows search and rescue drone pilots to see more details across various ranges and adjust camera settings based on mission needs, including the capability to see through glass.

With a maximum flight time of 40 minutes and a range of 9.3 miles, the EVO II Pro V3 can cover large search areas, be it finding tourists lost on hiking trails in sprawling national parks or extensive coastlines. Its obstacle avoidance system, powered by multiple sensors, ensures safe navigation through complex environments from urban landscapes and thick forests to rugged mountainous regions​​​​. 

The drone's Smart Controller with its high-resolution OLED screen enhances the user experience, especially in bright outdoor conditions. The controller’s long-distance transmission capability and resistance to interference are critical for maintaining control during extended operations.

Additionally, the drone's capacity to operate in a wide range of temperatures underscores its versatility in different climatic conditions, augmenting its suitability for search and rescue missions​​.

12. Yuneec H520E

Closing off our list of best drones for search and rescue missions is a second-generation UAV in the Yuneec line-up, successor to the Yuneec H520. Since taking its first flight in October 2020, the H520E has made a name for itself in different commercial applications, including search and rescue operations. This advanced drone was developed with a new processor, increasing its computing power and preparing it for a variety of applications and payloads​​.

Feature Highlights

• Flight Time and Range: The H520E offers a flight time of 25 to 30 minutes, paired with a transmission range of up to 3.5 km, facilitating extensive area coverage without frequent relocations​​.

• E20Tvx NETD Radiometric Camera: Offers 640x512 resolution, with temperature measurement capabilities and high-quality imagery in different visibility conditions, including night operations.

• Durability and Weather Resistance: The drone is designed to be tough and stable, suitable for various environmental conditions and previously difficult-to-fly areas​​.

• GPS and Autonomous Flight Capabilities: Integrated GPS data in the camera systems enhance the drone's precision in recording and navigating areas​​.

• Flight Control: Integrated 7” touch screen on ST16S/E Ground Station for full control​

• Communication Systems: The drone includes a new long-range OFDM module, ensuring reliable communication over extended distances​​.

• Obstacle Avoidance and Stability: The H520E features a high-precision, low-interference compass and a stable 6-rotor system for safe operation in challenging environments​​.

Equipped with high-quality camera systems, including the E20Tvx NETD radiometric camera for detailed and precise temperature measurement and the residual-light RGB camera with 20x higher sensitivity than the human eye for clear imagery in low-light conditions​​. The integration of the ST16E transmitter with a touchscreen and comprehensive DataPilot™ software facilitates efficient mission planning and real-time data analysis. Add this to the ability to transmit live images directly to larger monitors via HDMI enhances situational awareness and decision-making for rescue teams. 

With its durable design, coupled with a stable and a 5-rotor fail-safe, it provides reliable performance even under adverse weather conditions – you get to fly safely even if one of its six rotors fails. Moreover, the H520E's GPS and autonomous flight capabilities aid in creating systematic search patterns, enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of rescue operations. Its long flight time and extended range are critical in covering large areas during search operations, minimizing the need for frequent recharging or refueling.

In terms of communication and data security, the H520E's long-range OFDM module and no external data transfer policy ensure stable and secure communication, crucial in coordinating with ground teams and relaying critical information during search and rescue missions. The OFDM module and high-precision compass play a significant role in its ability to operate in complex environments, such as dense forests or urban settings, where GPS signals might be weak or obstructed.  Additionally, the drone's obstacle avoidance system and stable flight performance are important for navigating through challenging terrains, such as dense forests or urban landscapes.

What A Year...

And it’s a wrap! The year's leading UAVs for rescue missions - each bringing its unique tool set to help emergency responders locate missing hikers, tourists, locals affected by natural disasters and more. We can't wait to see what 2024 brings. How many of these will retain their lead? What new models will be released to aid public safety agencies? We'll be there - and keep you up to speed with the latest developments in the industry. Have any questions or want assistance for your agency? Reach out to us at (877) 299-1075 / (213) 262-9436 or email support@DSLRPros.com.