One of the most frightening things that you can face as a drone user is it one day, out of nowhere, just flying into the abyss. After all, a quality drone is not cheap and it can be devastating to not only lose your favorite toy but see hundreds (or thousands) of dollars fly off into the sunset.
Despite experts stating that as many as 1/3 of all drone pilots experience a flyaway, most of the incidents are preventable if you follow some simple and straightforward guidelines.
In today’s post, I want to talk to you about the things that can cause a drone to fly away and top tips to help you prevent it from happening.
What Causes Drone Flyaways?
Understanding what causes drone flyaways is a sure-fire way to help to prevent it from happening. So, how does it happen?
The major reason behind a flyaway is the loss of signal between the drone and the remote controller which causes one of a few things:
- It has a collision
- It can fall out of the sky
- It simply flies away and you’re unable to see it because you weren’t flying in line of sight
The latter can be especially heartbreaking if you’re flying the drone near water, as there’s every chance it may have taken a trip to the sea.
When you get a signal loss like this, it could be an error on the manufacturer’s side (i.e., a malfunction) or, it could be because you’re flying it in a way that is considered careless (i.e., out of the line of sight, in poor weather conditions, through obstacles, etc.)
Even things like flying your drone too close to powerlines can mess up the signal on the drone and cause a flyaway.
Before powering up your drone for the first time it’s worth reading the manual to help you understand all the drone’s intricate gadgets and how they could be adversely affected.
How to Prevent Your Drone From Flying Away
1. Give Beginner Mode a Whirl (Even if You’re a Pro)
Beginner mode comes with a wealth of features to ensure that you don’t lose your drone. If your battery gets too low, or if you lose signal, the drone will automatically return to the home point. In addition to this, when you have beginner mode enabled on your drone it’ll not fly above a certain altitude which will make it much easier to maintain your line of sight
2. Ensure Return to Home (RTH) is Enabled
The easiest way to ensure your drone comes back when you lose signal is to check that the return to home feature is activated before setting off. Drones, like those from DJI, have this capability, and even now as an advanced flier, I ensure that whenever I take off I have the setting activated so it knows the home point and can return if anything happens.
Some drones come with the capability to set the home point as the position of the controller too, which is good if you’re using features such as active track and are on the go.
Remember that if you are moving, it’s important to double-check where your drone has registered the home point. It should be you, or the object that you’re moving on. This applies especially if you’re in the water. If the home point is incorrect, your drone could go down with a big splash. You can check the registered home point in your app or remote controller.
3. Monitor Your Battery Life
Ensuring your battery is full before takeoff is a great way to prevent your drone from flying away. Drones like the Mavic Air from DJI will not take off unless there is more than 30% battery, and whilst flying, it will automatically return home if the battery life drops to less than 20%.
Remember, if your drone is far away when you choose to return it, you’ll lose precious minutes of flight time and the last thing you want is for your drone to lose power when it’s only halfway home.
Most high-end drones only have a total battery life of around 20-25 minutes battery life so it’s best to keep your drone close throughout the flight and monitor the status of the battery consistently. The battery level is usually displayed in the top right-hand corner of your screen; don’t leave it until the last minute to bring it back safely.
4. Ensure You’ve Got Enough Altitude (But Don’t Send it Too Far)
Many countries have strict guidelines as to how high you can fly your drone (for example, in the UK you can only fly 400ft above your current altitude).
Nevertheless, you still need to ensure your drone is high enough to avoid any obstacles when you’re bringing it back to the home point. This is especially important for drones that are not equipped with obstacle avoidance. Bear in mind how high trees and hills can be.
5. Monitor Compass Interference
Compass interference can be a major cause for drone flyaways because, without an accurate heading, your drone could fly off in the total opposite direction. Compass interference can be checked on your drone’s app prior to takeoff. If you’re in an area with high interference, I recommended that you fly it elsewhere just to be safe.
It’s also always a good idea to regularly recalibrate your compass so that it’s in tip-top shape for navigation. This applies even more so for those of you who travel regularly as your compass will react to the different shifts in the earth’s electromagnetic field.
Remember GPS isn’t 100% accurate, so the compass is the more reliable tool. You’ll be able to check the status of the compass in your drone’s app. With manufacturers like DJI, they will warn you if your compass is “out-of-whack” before takeoff; 99% of the time, it won’t take off at all if it needs to be recalibrated.
6. Always Fly Line of Sight
This is rule number one when it comes to flying a drone, and is even the law in some countries. However, some people get excited and want to push their drone to the max; it’s important to be aware that just because your drone can fly 4 miles away, it doesn’t mean you have to do it…despite how cool it may seem.
It’s likely that when flying your drone at its max distance capabilities (unless you’re high up in a wide-open space) you’ll lose line of sight anyway.
Flying line of sight is the best way to avoid any obstacles too; the camera on the drone is a great aid in navigation, but it’s not able to see what’s to the left, right, or back of it.
In order to ensure you’re not tempted to fly your drone too far away, you can set a max distance for your drone to fly away from you.
What to Do If your Drone Flies Away
If you follow my guidelines above, you’re likely not to experience a flyway. However, if it does fly away.
Firstly, be sure to remain calm. Head towards the drone to see if you can re-establish the connection between it and your controller; this is the best chance you have of stopping the flyaway whilst it’s happening.
On rare occasions, a hardware or software malfunction may have caused the flyaway. If you suspect this is the case, gather as much evidence as you can to back up your claim and report it to the manufacturer immediately so that they can investigate this for you.
If you don’t manage to regain control of the drone whilst it’s flying away and you suspect it may have crashed, be sure to check the GPS on your app to see where it was last seen. You should begin your search for your drone in that last known location. Look for obstacles that it could’ve flown into such as bushes and trees; drones can camouflage themselves pretty well in thick branches and leaves.
If possible, ask a friend to fly their drone around the area to see if their camera can spot the drone.
If you don’t manage to find it, it’s always worth reaching out to members of the public to see if they came across it during their day. Try posting on a local community Facebook group, or, ask people to share your status about your missing drone. With a bit of luck, you may be contacted by a good Samaritan who has the drone and wants to return it to its rightful owner.
I hope this article has helped you in taking all the necessary precautions to avoid a drone flyaway and I genuinely hope that you never have to go through such an experience. If you have any questions surrounding this topic, or anything else drone-related, feel free to leave a comment below.
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