By James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)
Although it’s gotten considerably easier since DJI launched the Phantom series, flying a drone can have a steep learning curve. I’m not talking about remembering hand gestures, mind you, but learning not only how to control a drone as it changes direction, but also learning to think like a pilot. But even then, there’s plenty of ways you can crash your drone if you’re not paying attention, and many of them can be completely avoided.
Here are the top 10 ways people crash their drones:
1. Don’t do a Preflight Check. If you just go outside, turn on your drone and start flying, chances are, you’re either going to crash, or you’re going to lose your drone in a flyaway. Doing a proper preflight check, and calibrating your drone is vital to keeping it in the air and keeping it under control.
2. Don’t wait for a GPS lock, and don’t know how to fly your drone without a GPS lock. Calibrating your drone means to align the drone with the GPS satellites that your UAV will rely on to know where it’s at in the sky. Without the GPS, your drone can not only risk flyaways, but you won’t be able to locate it once it crashes. So being patient and waiting for your drone to lock on GPS before taking flight is common sense. And your patience will be rewarded.
3. Watch the camera’s video feed instead of the drone itself. Often times, a beginning drone pilot will get tunnel vision as he focuses on the camera’s video feed for that first person point of view. It kinda makes sense as you don’t have to worry about changing your control perspective when the drone is returning flight. But all too often, that video image has a limited field of view, even though it can be wide angle. And that’s when, what I call a “wait a minute” branch grabs your drone and it crashes. So always split your attention between the camera view and the line of sight, keeping your UAV’s surroundings within eye shot.
Better yet. Concentrate on flying your drone and let someone else handle the camera work. There’s an app for that.
4. Fly out of sight. Not only is flying your drone out of your line of sight a bad idea, it’s also a violation of FAA Part 107 drone flight rules, and you’d be surprised just how quickly your drone can become a spec in the sky that’s extremely hard to see. Only the most seasoned drone pilots can fly beyond their field of view, and even then, they don’t like to do it for obvious reasons. Your drone may also have a electric fence capability, that will prevent the drone from flying too far.
5. Over reliance on automated flight modes, such as RTH (Return-to-Home), ActiveTrack, QuickShots, or automatic takeoff and landing. Automatic flight modes come in handy, but they make the drone pilot lazy and can be over relied upon. And sometimes, they simply don’t work. I love my DJI Phantom 2 Vision when it lost GPS lock and the software told me that my drone was 180 degrees out from where I saw it flying away. I’m still looking for it. And if you fly out of range, then pressing your return to home button won’t help. The drone may figure it out on it’s own if it doesn’t lose GPS, but if it does, all bets are off.
6. Use Sport mode (since it stops obstacle avoidance and makes your drone faster). Sport mode is for racing, and as such, it disables all obstacle avoidance systems and overrides any speed limitations. That can make your drone really squirrelly to control, and if you’re not experienced, it’s a guaranteed way to auger in. But there are times when Sport mode will save you from crashing. Like in rough, windy conditions when you need as much control as possible.
7. Pushing your battery life. Remember, even the best drones only have a limited flight time of maybe 20-30 minutes. But even then, the drone is programmed to want to land when battery life reaches 30%. You can ignore this, but when you hit 15%, the drone is going to land, no matter where it is. And if you aren’t nearby, well, you’re going to spend some time looking for it. So maybe take the rated drone battery life and cut it in half. Fly it back by then, just to be cautious.
8. Flying in high winds or bad weather. The higher the winds, the more your drone will have to fight to maintain it’s position. That also means the more battery it uses to do so. It also means that as a drone pilot, you can easily lose control of your drone with a sudden gust of wind. Getting a weather report from a local airport is a good idea, and it will even advise you of wind speeds at higher altitudes. You are going to stay below 400 feet right? That is the FAA requirement. But even then, you could have gusting winds, especially in the afternoons and early evenings when winds pick up the most.
Also, your terrain can also affect wind speed. Fling around tall buildings can create a Venturi effect that channels the wind making it stronger. Nearby cliffs and mounts can do the same thing, and even flying over water can greatly affect wind speed. If you can’t fight the wind then it’s best not to fly. Period. If you find yourself in a wind that’s difficult, get as low as you can and fly home.
9. Flying with a weak signal. Sometimes this is beyond your control as a weak signal can pop up when you least expect it due to interference. This can happen from signal congestion brought on by radar, overlapping wifi signals, or even the metropolitan area of buildings and bridges acting as a kind of outdoor Faraday cage. Even your smartphone or smart watch can cause wifi signal interference that can screw up your drone signal.
The important thing here is to know your terrain, and keep your drone out of areas that can lose a signal. And if you start losing the signal, hit the return home button (unless it’s windy). It’ll then come back the way it came.
10. Lastly, there’s panic. The notion that you don’t know what to do. This can lead to freezing up, or making jerking motions that can cause your drone to stall or crash into an obstacle. Don’t panic. Keep calm and fly on. And if in doubt, just land. You can take off again when you catch your breath. Flying where you’re not supposed to will also have you on edge, which could cause you to crash, or at least get into legal trouble.
And don’t fly your drone outside of your capabilities. Whether it’s weather conditions, locations, or grabbing a tough cinematic shot. If you’ve never done it before, chances are higher you’re going to crash.
BTW if you want to learn a thing or two about crashing your drone, search youtube for drone crash videos like the one below. It’ll sober you right up.