Drone fly aways: Causes and how to prevent them

By V Kadamatt | Guides

Nov 18
Drone fly aways

A drone fly away is the worst thing that can happen to you in your drone flying career other than crashing your drone. Drone fly aways are one thing but something more painful will be if your drone goes away to some place else and wrecks into someone or creates a fire (LiPo batteries are to be taken care of very seriously, btw).

Now personally, I have never had a drone fly away thanks to one of my friends (though I have crashed drones many times) . The gal had her $500 drone fly away before I got a chance to screw up, so I ended up researching and putting my attention into avoiding it as much as I can.

Most new drones that come out today (the prosumer level ones and above) have safety mechanisms built in to them that will prevent fly aways in most instances. But even then, you never really know! In this article, we’ll cover some of the most common ways that you can cause a drone fly away. We’ll also cover how you can find a lost drone if you do. Still, I suggest that you pay attention to avoiding ways you can cause a drone fly away more than anything, in this article. Prevention is certainly better than cure!


What causes drone fly aways and how common is a drone fly away?

drone fly aways

With better technology in the latest drones, drone fly aways are becoming less and less common. Still, it is certainly not a hundred percent zero. So what causes a drone fly a way then? How do you prevent them?

Here are some reasons:

  • Relying on the FPV completely and flying as far as you can with a drone: Flying far away, beyond visual line of sight is one of the most common reasons for a drone fly away and/or losing a drone. In most countries, this is illegal but if it isn’t in your country and you want to have a long distance FPV experience, make sure you know what you are doing or at least, do it on a craft you are willing to lose. Make sure you do not harm others doing so though!

  • Not setting up the home point correctly: Most drones today will set the home point automatically for the return to home function. However, you should make sure that the particular model that you own has this feature. If not, make sure you set it up correctly. If you are going to be on the move while flying your drone (being on a boat, for example), make sure you have dynamic home point setup.

  • Poorly calibrated compass: Most of us have little patience with anything in our lives. Calibrating your drone compass is likely going to be one of them. This is the #1 sin made by people who travel often with their drone. Sure, you can get away with not calibrating your compass once or twice but if you are travelling often, your drone compass is going to get unaligned with the electromagnetic field of different areas.

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    Atti mode: Flying far away and switching to Atti mode (GPS turned off) is almost a sure-fire way to watch your drone fly away from you for every unless you absolutely know what you are doing. However, we see no reason why you should be doing this anyways.

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    Hardware failure (GPS, receiver etc.): This is something you have little control over while your drone is up in the air. The only thing you can do on a regular basis to avoid a fly away from problems like these is to check if everything is working properly at a low altitude, near you before letting your drone fly away at a distance from you.

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    Flight controller misconfiguration (if you are building your own drone): If you are building your own drone or you are assembling one from a DIY kit, make sure your flight controller is configured properly. If not, you can expect a drone fly away (among many other things that may go wrong).
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    Electromagnetic interference: Flying near power lines and cell phone towers can have a huge electromagnetic interference effect on your drone. It is extremely likely to cause a drone fly away and to lose your drone if you do this.

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    Flying too low and close to objects: Flying too low can have your drone’s connection with the controller interfered. Losing a drone like this is extremely likely if you are flying at a long distance away from you. Remember – flying too high isn’t the only mistake you can make. Flying low and far away from you is an even bigger blunder.

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    Setting up the RTH altitude too low: Make sure you set the RTH (Return to home) altitude for your drone at a decent altitude, well above any potential obstructions from obstacles like trees, buildings and hills on the way back. Fail to do this and your drone might crash into an obstacle on its’ way back, especially if it doesn’t have a full obstacle avoidance system.

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    Not taking care of your LiPo batteries and pushing it beyond its limits: This is common sense. I already linked to an article you must read about taking care of your batteries at the beginning of this article. Here it is again.

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    Being plain stupid and not paying attention to the drone while flying: Again, common sense. When you are flying don’t do the following – paying attention to a hot gal/guy that is walking by, chatting with someone, being drunk etc. It amazes me how many times I’ve heard of people crashing or losing their drone from lack of applying common sense.

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    Not being skilled enough and used to flying a drone: This is a combination of all of the above, plus more. Please, if you think you are unskilled, don’t fly a drone out in the wild yet. This is a sure-fire way to cause a drone fly away. Learn to fly a drone with a toy quadcopter first, in a safe environment (ideally even indoors) first. 


Finding a lost drone

Tactics to preventing a drone loss: First we’ll discuss some tactics to preventing a drone loss. Though it is not “finding” a lost drone, it is still relevant enough to discuss as a precursor to that.

Here are some things you should remember all the time, as a drone pilot, to minimize the chance of losing a drone completely from the time you start losing the signal (do this every time you start losing signal): 

  • When you have an indication that you are losing signal/control of your drone, make sure that you do not turn off that controller and hit the return to home key. Most drones today will have an auto RTH, but doing this regardless might be helpful if it is nonfunctional, just in case. Your controller will always be trying to establish a connection with your drone so when you venture out searching for it, make sure it is turned on and pay attention to the telemetry data on the controller.

  • Another thing you can do when you have an indication that you are losing control of your drone, especially if your FPV video is starting to fade away, is to make a screen capture of the area your drone is in, immediately. Even better, if you can take two different screen captures, one with the camera directly facing downwards. If you have this in your arsenal, you now know where to look for your lost drone. 

Tips to finding a lost drone: Now that we have the prevention tactics out of the way, lets discuss some clever ways to actually find your drone: 

  • If your controller keeps telemetry data about the last known location of your drone, this is a good place to start. Usually, with drones like the ones from DJI, the controller that comes with it will tell you the rough direction and distance from you where the drone was last seen. The another awesome thing about drones like the DJI is that it keeps track of the course of the flight on the map. With this, you can see the last known location of the drone on the map! 

  • When you hone in on the rough location of the drone, look for pay attention to lights. Most drones that come out these days have a feature in-built in them that if they crash and get into an obstructive position (like in between a tree branch), will still make them flash red lights if they still have battery life. 

  • Another thing to do when you hone in on the rough location of the drone is to gently throttle up the motors of the drone with the controller. If your controller establishes a connection with the drone, and you are able to hear the sound of the props/motors around, you now have a better understanding of where to look for your drone and hone in on the exact location! Make sure that you only throttle up GENTLY enough to hear it. DO not go overboard because if your drone happens to be in a dangerous position, it can not only crash and burn, it can also be potentially dangerous to others.


How to track a drone? The best drone tracker you can get

Tracking a drone is one of the best ways to mitigate potential problems with drone fly aways. There are three types of trackers out there that you can get:

  • Bluetooth tracker: This is the simplest type of tracker on the market. They are the least expensive but at the same time, the least accurate. You have to be within a certain distance near your drone to detect it with these and the distance between you and your drone has to be quite close. If you want to hold back on spending, you may get one of these, but we if you are serious about preventing a scenario of you losing your drone, we highly recommend something else.

  • Cellular tracker: This type of tracker uses the cellular network to track your drone which increases the accuracy and reliability. These have associated monthly/yearly cost to them and have a sim card in it that will constantly broadcast the location information of your drone. You can also put your own sim card in with pay as you go plans. They are sightly pricier than Bluetooth trackers. If you have poor cell phone coverage in your area, then I recommend you go for the next type of tracker.

  • Dedicated tracker: These are the most expensive trackers on the market and are also the most accurate (like the Marco Polo tracker). They fit on your drone and come with a dedicated hand held device with a screen that will show you the direction of the location of the drone with extremely high accuracy in a large search area radius. They also don’t come with a monthly/yearly charge even though they are more expensive relative to the cellular tracker.


Conclusion

When it comes to a drone fly away or even losing your drone by having it crash land in an unknown area, we recommend you take every precaution possible to avoid losing your drone. Even the cheapest DJI drones are around $500 today and it is certainly not worth losing them!

So please, take every little precaution you can. Avoid the 12 blunders I have listed above, follow the precautionary tips and get a drone tracker. This will make sure that the chances of you losing your drone is next to none.

Drone fly aways: Causes and how to prevent them was last modified: November 18th, 2017 by V Kadamatt

About the Author

Artificial Intelligence , UAV and RC enthusiast. Software professional, part time philosopher and star gazer. Also loves physics, mathematics, economics, psychology, fantasy, Sci-Fi and futurology.

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