Understanding Betaflight Airmode for Better Aerobatics

by Oscar

Airmode in Betaflight can seem daunting for those new to the drone hobby. In this guide, I’ll break down Airmode in simple terms and guide you through setting it up in Betaflight.

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Learn how to setup Betaflight the first time: https://oscarliang.com/betaflight-firmware-setup/

What is Airmode?

Typically, when you drop your throttle stick to the lowest, the motors on a quadcopter would either be running at their minimum speed constantly or stop entirely (depends on your setting). However, Airmode changes this behavior. It keeps the PID loops active even when your throttle is at zero, motor speed can change even without throttle inputs from user which allowing you to maintain control of the quad during a free fall. This feature is essential for executing complex aerobatics and maintaining precise control throughout the throttle range.

Airmode enables the quad to maximize throttle to control its angular position independently of the throttle input from the pilot. Before Airmode was introduced, the quad’s propellers could only spin as fast as the throttle setting allowed. This limitation made certain maneuvers impossible without maintaining some throttle input (you couldn’t lower throttle to zero). Now, with Airmode, you can leave your throttle at zero, and yet still perform a flip, and you can re-engage the throttle at any time seamlessly. This capability is standard in Betaflight, whereas systems like KISS still require some throttle input for flips because they do not have a true Airmode.

Downsides of Airmode

While Airmode enhances maneuverability, it also has its drawbacks. The quad will attempt to correct its orientation even when held in your hand, potentially leading to unexpected behavior or injury if not handled carefully. It’s particularly sensitive to ground effects, which can cause bouncy landings or erratic behavior during low-altitude maneuvers. Furthermore, a collision while Airmode is active could cause the motors to throttle up aggressively, increasing both damage and danger, especially if flying near people. For safety, it’s wise to assign Airmode to a switch so you can deactivate it when it’s more hazardous than helpful.

The Trick to Flying as if Gravity Barely Exists

Ever watched top pilots perform moves like inverted stalls, where the copter seems to hang in the air indefinitely? It almost looks as if they’re defying gravity. The secret lies in their throttle management. By setting the throttle just above the minimum (min_throttle), pilots can minimize downward force when inverted, yet keep the PID loops active to maintain stability.

To prevent the quad from becoming a free-falling object if the throttle is accidentally reduced too much, some pilots disable the motor_stop feature. This setting ensures the motors continue spinning even at zero throttle input. Additionally, many pilots use an “idle-up” switch to keep the throttle slightly engaged, ensuring the PIDs remain active below the min_throttle threshold. This setup helps maintain smooth control and prevents the quad from losing orientation during critical maneuvers.

Understanding and configuring these settings in Betaflight will enhance your flying experience, making your drone more responsive and capable of impressive aerobatics.

Why Was Airmode Created?

Originally, Betaflight’s mixer logic wasn’t very active at lower throttle ranges because it wasn’t expected to fly in that range. The feature “pid_at_min_throttle” allowed the copter to continue processing the PID algorithm at minimum throttle, but it only kept the P and D components active, zeroing out the I component. This often led to quads tumbling during drops at zero throttle.

To address this, Airmode was developed to replace “pid_at_min_throttle.” Airmode keeps all components of PID—P, I, and D—active, even when the throttle command is zero. This enhancement allows for smoother recovery and control during zero throttle maneuvers, differentiating it from simply disabling motor_stop, which doesn’t ensure control over the quad at zero throttle.

Setting Up and How to Use Airmode

To begin, ensure your Betaflight firmware is updated to version 2.1.5 or newer. In the Betaflight configurator:

  1. Disable motor_stop.
  2. In the Modes tab, assign a switch to Airmode or enable the Airmode feature permanently.

Assigning Airmode Switch: One Switch or Two?

Initially, it was recommended to use separate switches for Arming and Airmode due to potential issues with PID “I term wind-up” on the ground, where the quad could unexpectedly spool up. However, improvements by developer Boris B have introduced a safety feature that prevents I term wind-up by activating Airmode only when the throttle is above min_check for at least one second, and roll or pitch is not centered.

Many pilots now successfully use a single switch for both ARM and Airmode without issues, though using two switches may add an extra layer of safety.

PID Values and TPA

With Airmode’s more active mixer, it’s often advisable to slightly lower your PID values. Additionally, TPA (Throttle PID Attenuation) may not be necessary when Airmode is active, according to insights from experienced pilots.

Here is my first flight with Airmode enabled (very old video).

Tuning On Airmode?

Typically, no special changes related to Airmode are needed—just enable it and experience the improved flight dynamics. However, powerful quads might react unpredictably during takeoff with Airmode enabled. To ensure a stable takeoff, set the airmode_start_throttle_percent near your hover throttle value. For a quad that hovers at 20% throttle:

set airmode_start_throttle_percent = 20

For racers who need to maintain an angle on the starting block without taking off, adjusting the start percentage slightly below the hover point, such as 10-15%, can be effective.

In conclusion, understanding and correctly setting up Airmode can significantly enhance your flying experience by providing better control at low throttle settings and enabling more dynamic maneuvers.

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Chris 24th December 2019 - 7:43 pm

I am having an issue with certain quads, seems to be more with newer prebuilts. Hoping someone can help. For example: acro, stock PIDS out of the box nazgul5. When the quad is inverted it seems to keep self correcting back to level. It’s really frustrating in a power loop because it reverts itself. I have a sector5 4s which does the same thing. I was assuming this is an air mode motor idle value issue causing the problem. Or possibly the air mode throttle percent value. I have several diatone quads with stock BF setup and they float like they are weightless no matter the orientation of the quad. Same with emax. Any help would be much appreciated.

Ryan S 1st February 2023 - 10:24 pm

I know this is an extremely old comment, but I’m answering for someone else that may read this with the same issue —

It sounds like youre in horizon mode instead of acro mode, acro mode is what you want with freestyling, its the mode where the flight controller will happily fall into oblivion with the aircraft upside down. Horizon mode allows you to go inverted for brief moments, but it will snap you back to “level” after a second or two, as a training wheel for new pilots. Acro mode is the “default” in betaflight, so when youre setting up your mode sliders, you would want “nothing” selected for your “mode” switch position for your quad to go into air mode.

Roel 21st March 2019 - 3:51 pm

Hi Oscar,
i have set a value with the set command like you described above. Now i want to remove the value
set airmode_start_throttle_percent = 15
so airmode will kick in as soon as i flip my switch (programmed it to an aux)
is ther like a “unset” command or should i just use
set airmode_start_throttle_percent = 0

thanks in advance!

Hal Bishton 1st June 2018 - 8:26 pm

Hi Oscar

I have set up air mode on a betaflight quad but when I land most of the motors will cut out and will reboot when disarmed. It will also occasionally do it when doing fast flips, do you have any suggestions on a solution.

many thanks Oscar Bishton

Brad 20th February 2018 - 11:23 pm

Can AirMode always ON interfere with turtle mode? My experience has been if I’m flipped over and try to switch on turtle mode, once I arm with AirMode always ON – the motors will go almost full throttle. Is the recommendation not to turn AirMode always ON and instead have it a switch position opposite of turning on turtle mode?

Chris 22nd July 2017 - 3:01 pm

If I enable air mode will the motors stop completly when fail safe kicks in? I know they dont on cleanflight 2.1 and betaflight 3.2. Would like to race with motors still spinning on 0 throttle but I have an aT9 transmitter which I have not figured out how to do this yet. Can’t get past inspection if they don’t stop completly. I have a fly color tower on cleanflight 2.1 and a lumineer f4 on lux osd.any answers that may help?

Oscar 24th July 2017 - 4:08 pm

I would recommended activating air mode with a switch rather than a feature. Not saying one is better the other, it’s just that’s what I am using and I’ve never had problem with that.
Yes with this config airmode will stop when failsafe kick it (given that you have setup failsafe properly).

Lonewolf 23rd April 2017 - 7:27 pm

can you teach us how to set up anti-gravity ? can i set both as same switch? airmode and anti-gravity mode

Markus 18th October 2016 - 9:37 am

Hi Oscar,

can you tell me, where/how I can change the value for “min_check”?
Thanks in advance for your help!!


Oscar 19th October 2016 - 3:14 pm

you can do it in CLI

Werner 21st June 2016 - 7:54 am

Hi Oscar, I think you didn’t mention it explicitly but I’m pretty sure that airmode also keeps some power going to the motors at zero throttle. This is obvious since otherwise having PID’s active would do no good, as the props power is the only way for the copter to influence its motion. But I wonder if everyone got that, hence my comment.

nick kinzie 9th April 2016 - 2:26 am

Is there a favorite pid controller when using airmode? Luxfloat?

Oscar 12th April 2016 - 10:15 am

no should work fine on both.

Felix Perez 10th February 2016 - 5:16 pm

Hi Oscar
So it looks like the real challenge here is assigning the switches properly and making sure min throttle is at a reasonable range. Now can we please have a detailed video on how to do all of this properly. Especially those of us who stick arm. Thank you for all your great work.

Miah 31st January 2016 - 5:37 pm

Hi Oscar,

You typoed “swtich” a lot.

Miah 31st January 2016 - 5:35 pm

Do a ctrl-f “swtich” ;)

Oscar 7th February 2016 - 11:54 pm

thanks :) not sure how i could misspell the same word 4 times haha

Daeyoung Kim 28th January 2016 - 7:22 am

Hi Oscar,
Good to be understood about ” Air mode”. Thank you.

Jason 19th January 2016 - 1:03 pm

Oscar, I’m having a hard time getting the motors to arm by the stick command on betaflight, where it works fine on cleanflight. I’m a noob, and needing help. Any help would be great.

Daryl Wade (www.rotortechs.com) 22nd January 2016 - 12:47 am

Hi Jason,
If you are arming with the stick, you might want to check to make sure that the range of low throttle and right yaw is calibrated correctly on your receiver tab in Cleanflight. You will know this if the top Yaw value is near 2000 and Throttle is near 1000. To ensure that it is working, you may also want to recalibrate the motors and disable motor_stop while testing with the flight battery connected (but be sure to remove your propellers first until it works as expected) Hopefully this helps.

SlipperySquid 4th February 2016 - 10:45 pm

Hi Jason,
My problem might not have been the same as yours but I was having random problems with arming also when trying to use betaflight. Some times it would arm then after disarming would not arm again.

My problem was “processing power” of the board I was using, in my case a naze rev6. Using S-bus and smart port was just taking up to much cpu.

If you’re trying to use luxfloat try setting to rewrite instead and see if that helps out at all?

I’m no expert but it’s worth a shot.

Jerrod 5th January 2016 - 11:06 pm

Hi Oscar,
thank you again ! great explanation for noobs like me!


prokreat 21st December 2015 - 7:18 pm

Hi Oscar

actually it was created as an answer to the idle up switch that finalglide developed so that even bottoming out throttle stick, it was still outputting min_throttle. this was dont on a switch which would have to be disengaged if you still wanted to stick arm/disarm [or do other stick commands]

posted as a comment on joshua bardwell’s youtube channel by finalglide: “I remember when I first came up with my idle up technique idea in early 2014 and people said I was being silly. They started taking notice after a while though :)”

the airmode code itself was written by bdoiron74 5 months ago, seemingly dismissed originally. github.com/cleanflight/cleanflight/issues/1130

amazing how things happen sometimes.

Jan 21st December 2015 - 11:24 am

Hi Oscar,

do you know anything about the compability of the different flight controllers with the airmode feature?

Richie 15th December 2015 - 7:41 pm

Why not just leave arm as a stick command as normal like left yaw?

Oscar 16th December 2015 - 3:50 pm

if you do that… you won’t be able to control yaw at 0 throttle, because you could trigger disarm! :D
i should have included that in the post…

Mpkiteman 15th December 2015 - 12:15 pm

Hi Oscar.
It’s always a pleasure to read you !
I’m learning a lot with all your tutorials.
For example, this week end, I wanted to explain you in your discussion group what was the air mode (that I discovered last week), but I wasn’t able to make it run…and today, you gave me the solution in your blog : I didn’t disabled the motor stop…so my quad was falling every time at zero throttle.
So thanks for your help ;-)

Oscar 16th December 2015 - 3:48 pm

LOL, that’s great :)

Timo 15th December 2015 - 9:46 am

Hi Patrick, I have bound arm+airmode on the same switch. Just take off fast after arming, this way there shouldn’t be any problems with motors spooling up and going crazy. But the 3-pos switch sounds like a good idea too.

Patrick 15th December 2015 - 2:22 am

I originally started with Arm and Air Mode on a single 3-pos switch (up was disarm, middle was Arm, down was Arm + Air Mode), but I shut Air Mode off prior to landing and found it was easy to flip the 3-pos switch too far and accidentally disarm my quadcopter mid-air causing it to fall from the sky. I now have it on two separate switches.

Ole 15th December 2015 - 1:44 pm

Hi Patrick

Same here, arm switch is my throttle kill switch and air mode is a seperate.