The woman had been reported missing from her home in Nottinghamshire and was believed to be in the Belvoir Castle area on the Leicestershire border.
Concerns were raised for her welfare and officers from Nottinghamshire Police’s drones team were called in to help with the search.
The force’s main drone took off shortly before 11.40pm and within seconds its high-tech thermal imaging camera had identified the woman at the edge of a field.
Officers on the ground were immediately dispatched to help her.
She was later treated by paramedics but was not seriously hurt.
PC Vince Saunders, chief drone pilot for Nottinghamshire Police, said: “Finding vulnerable missing people is an area in which our drone technology really excels.
“Officers were faced with the challenge of finding a cold, missing and potentially very poorly woman in total darkness.
“A traditional search could have taken hours but our drone was able to find her within seconds of taking off with its thermal imaging camera.
“The technology allows us to search very large areas in very short space of time and can be deployed very quickly when needed.
“This was a great bit of work by all the officers involved and further proof of the potentially life-saving impact of drone technology.”
The drones team, made up of 17 volunteer pilots and four drones, is a resource shared with Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service and is on hand 24/7 to carry out pre-planned and emergency response operations.
Typical operations include finding missing people, evidence gathering and supporting the arrest of criminal suspects.
The team’s main drone, used in this rescue, also has the ability to pinpoint and follow targets on a map, and comes equipped with a laser range finder that can give accurate geo-locational data from a distance of up to 1,200 metres away.
Police forces across the UK have been using a variety of platforms to give aerial views of people and events since the 1920s – from airships and fixed-wing aeroplanes to helicopters and drones.