When drone flights go bad...

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Over the past few years of owning drones, I had one client shoot where I crashed one of our P4P+'s, and then while getting footage for a product review on a Gulf Coast beach here in Florida, I had a bird strike that took out and drowned one of our drones last week.

Aside from owning a small media company in Orlando, I'm getting ready to work on an article that highlights some of the worst-case scenarios some of us in the drone community might have encountered with our drones- whether bird strikes, weather phenomena, hardware/software failure, angry bystanders (Karens and Kevins), etc.

I am wondering if anyone would care to share their stories/experiences in this regard, for me to include in the article. Full credit will of course go to anyone whose experience is used. If you'd rather not do it here, feel free to PM me :)

I also plan to outline the hazardous attitudes the FAA has identified in the Part 107 course, as well as a discussion on how to file warranty claims with Autel and DJI.

I appreciate any and all insights and fully appreciate the communities of Mavic, Phantom, Autel, Inspire, and Commercialpilots.com (those so far I have been privileged to be a part of). THANKS ALL!
 
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Great idea! I've been fortunate so far and have nothing to share other than to say that studying for and passing the part 107 exam significantly enhanced my ability to avoid mishaps in the first place.

Please do share the final report with us. Thanks.
 
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Great idea! I've been fortunate so far and have nothing to share other than to say that studying for and passing the part 107 exam significantly enhanced my ability to avoid mishaps in the first place.

Please do share the final report with us. Thanks.
I 100% agree with this. That 1st crash I had was TOTALLY my fault. Paying to much attention to the scene and backed up just 10ft too far behind me, 45ft up. Tree and then ground. lol

Studying for the 107 greatly improves operating awareness along with identifying the pilot attitudes that lead to crashes. I'll be sure to drop a PM for those interested in the article when done. :)
 

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Be aware of your surroundings in Quikshots. My first attempt had my wife and I happily waving at the drone as it flew backwards right into a tree. We watched in horror as my new drone fell through the branches only to see it recover unaided and I was able to regain control. Lesson learned.
My attempt at adding cheap aftermarket pontoons didn’t end so well.. but not from water, lack of control made it decide the garage door was a good place to go. Oh well, just glad I’m good at repairs.
PS, both were with a Mavic Mini 1. Sold it.
 
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Back before gps and fpv, I lost 3 drones in the first 2 months of flying. (I didn't know how short of a range the transmitter had) Got them all back because my name and phone number was on them. My Phantom 4 Pro v2 fell out of the sky one day. Took me a week to find it in unfamiliar woods. Because of cheap replacement props, one fell off!
 
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I was impatient about getting a GPS fix before flying as I was going to do a very short over the water flight. As I launched the DJI Phantom 3 it took off out of my control. I thought I dumped it. I remembered to look at the iPhone and saw that it was over the water somewhere. Then I recalled that I had a return to home utility. So I used it. Amazingly the drone reappeared nearby overhead and I landed it. Lesson learned. I will alway get a GPS fix before flying and recalibrate the compass when the drone signals of it. I was lucky not to injure anyone or loose it.
 
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I've only had two really unpleasant altercations in nearly five years of flying. One was a guy with his partner whom I accidentally flew over at about 10 metres / 10 km/hr. I thought I had the place to myself, but he stepped out of the trees and climbed on to a boulder just as I happened to fly overhead. Subsequently, I flew in the area (a pile of large boulders on a mountain top) for about five minutes. You'd have to see the carry-on to believe it: The invasion of privacy, the disturbance from the buzzing. You'd think I'd ruined his day, or possibly his entire week. I thought he was going to hit me. The second altercation was with a farmer. I launched from public land across the road from one of his paddocks. The farm house was a good 300 metres away. My drone briefly crossed the paddock, which was empty, after which I proceeded to fly up a forested ridge-line into hills above the valley where the farm was located. One of his neighbours drove past and informed the farmer who approached me aggressively on his tractor, blocking me in. At that point he would have neither seen nor heard my drone. He complained that some guy had previously been buzzing his horses with a drone. There were no horses in sight. I told him that my drone was up in the hills and no-where near his animals. That explanation wasn't good enough for him. He said that I was invading his privacy (the privacy of his grass?!). I told him that I was legally allowed to fly over his property (although 99% of my flight had not been over his property). He threatened to shoot down my drone, a drone which at that point was hovering up in the hills, 2 km distant.

The paranoia that some people have about drones is extraordinary. Even just last week I was approached by a woman whose house I had flown over. I was in a rural area at a lookout on the edge of a mountain, a place where people have good reason to be flying drones. My drone was about 900 metres away when I pressed RTH. In the course of the drone returning, it flew over a house at 30 metres. I'd started packing up my gear and, confident that the drone was safely on its way home, had not been looking at my screen. The house was some 200 metres from my launch site, the only house in the vicinity of the lookout. This was an error on my part - something I would normally try to avoid. The woman had been outside when the drone passed over. She wasn't rude, but was very concerned for her privacy. I apologised unreservedly - I explained what happened; that I hadn't checked the course that the drone would follow on its return, that the overflight wasn't deliberate. Nevertheless, I was grilled as to my intentions. She required convincing that I'd driven 600 km (I was on a road-trip) to look at the view - not spy on her and her house.
 
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OK, I’ll share one that’s a little long and involved but brought with it a lot of new lessons learned and old lessons reminded. This is going back to about 2019

I do a lot of waypoint missions in my work, both in mapping and “progress” videos showing progress on sites where I’ll fly the same route many times over months or longer and edit the footage into a time lapse.

I had just bought the original DJI Smart Controller as I was looking for something that was a little brighter in the Australian sun and was testing Litchi on it and trying to decide whether the Amazon method was best or the method where you side load google services and use the regular google playstore version of Litchi was better.

So I made up a nice long waypoint mission, never more than about 3000ft away from take off point so as to be able to work LOS but about 7km start to finish with lots of changes of camera angles, height etc. You know, a good workout. As I often do when testing I plotted the mission along and off the coast a little so as to minimise risk to the public.

On the day I grabbed the smart controller and the Mavic 2 Zoom I had elected to test with (my lucky drone lol) went to the location, started the smart controller, loaded Litchi and the mission and sent her on her way. About 5 minutes in and at about 1km distance I had a loss of connection, I still don’t know why. Although there was a large 50KW shore based radar array near by I’d flown there before without issue but R.F. Interference is as good a guess as any I suppose.

I wasn’t panicked, it was on the coast with flat terrain so nothing to run into and I knew that all being equal at the worst the drone would complete the mission and RTH shortly but I was of course perturbed as no one likes to lose the link right? So I commenced all the usual measures, realigned the antennas, made sure I was facing the right direction, climbed on the back of the ute (pickup for my U.S. cousins) for extra height … nope still no go, so I restarted the controller and app once again to no avail. By this time the bird had still not returned home and I was 15 minutes or more into the flight and was starting to contemplate my first drone loss.

Finally I restarted the Smart Controller yet again and this time opened up the standard GO4 app simply because I had tried everything else and after a few minutes *bingo* I had a connection. The video link was marginal but the control link was there. The drone was 875m away and at almost 900ft AGL 😳, I thought this strange as the maximum height of the waypoint mission was 350ft but I do set my maximum height to 1000ft because I do a lot of flight in mountainous terrain where I may be 7 or 800ft above take off point at times but only 100ft above terrain so it was possible it had climbed to that height, I’ll get to why in a minute.

So, I regained connection just in time to hear “battery critically low, drone landing” or similar. When I looked the aircraft was showing 8%. Being an Australian I started working through various vernacular for excrement in a loud voice. The problem here was not only was I 875m away but also 600m out to sea. I jammed the cyclic stick hard up to prevent the drone descending and headed for shore post haste. After a few moments I started to wash off height so as not to have too far to drop once I got over land as I knew every minute flight time would count.

I crossed the shore at about 100ft and by this time was showing 0% and I was no longer able to maintain height even with full stick up and it was coming down at the full rate. I got her across the trees lining the shore and the power lines and lined her up with the only open space being the yard of a beach side holiday home. The drone flared when the downward sensors detected the ground and the last view I had was of the kindly but startled face of an elderly lady peering out from her backdoor some distance from where I put down about 475m from where I was standing then it went blank.

With some help from the last recorded position and an hours driving around I was able to sheepishly recover the aircraft. The elderly lady was quite gracious about it all, not so much her daughter who gave me “the rounds of the kitchen” for frightening her old mother lol. I visited again the next day with flowers and chocolates for both and was invited to stay for lunch so I guess public relations were ok at the end.

So, on to the pointy end. First what I learned/relearned and secondly what I found had actually happened after looking at the logs.

I learned

1. The original smart controller with only 4gb of RAM and quite a modest processor is a bit marginal when you start side loading other services and apps. You only have to see “out of memory error” 30 or 40 times in the log to realise you’re stretching the friendship. It’s not that it’s terrible, it just has is limits.

2. Just because you don’t get interference with one controller device doesn’t mean it will hold true for another.

3. Some of your settings are stored on the drone, some are set in the software and loaded on each flight. If you change controller devices, best check *all* settings. It seems simple in hind sight but I missed it at the time and I’ve been flying in one way or another since 1990 or so.

I relearned (I say relearned because I already knew this and had taken it into account, or at least so I thought)

1. “Smart return to home” in the settings is not smart enough to realise that the aircraft uses more battery outward bound into a headwind than homeward bound with a tailwind and may abort a flight that you actually have plenty of battery for. You should probably disable this for waypoint missions where you are sure of the validity of your flight plan.

2. Obstacle avoidance is prone to false trigger in particular light conditions especially where the sun is lower and you are flying over water. Again, disable it during waypoint missions if you are sure you have a safe flight plan.

What actually happened.

This was my first waypoint mission with Litchi and the Smart Controller. Although I had gone through the Litchi settings I hadn’t looked closely enough to realise that “smart return to home” and “obstacle avoidance” which I habitually leave “off” had defaulted back to “on” with the change of controller device.

The drone was sent off on the mission and as specified before for reason unknown for sure lost connection. At some time during the flight while I was doing the “reset controller and app dance” and while flying into the wind the logs show that smart return to home had decided there was insufficient battery at the current rate of consumption and initiated RTH in a straight line as it does which meant over water and not hugging the coast which would have avoided what happened next.

Once over water due to the sun being lowish and reflecting off the water surface obstacle avoidance triggered causing the drone to half briefly, climb until the perceived obstacle disappeared and then continue a few meters before false triggering again…. and again and… well, logs show this happened over 20 times the net result being that by the time I regained connection the drone had climbed 500 feet but only travelled towards home about 80m and burned off about 15 minutes battery life in the process.

So, there is my closest call. I know I learned from it. If you feel it has value for others feel free to use it.

Congratulations to those who read my short novel.

Regards
Ari
 
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I was impatient about getting a GPS fix before flying as I was going to do a very short over the water flight. As I launched the DJI Phantom 3 it took off out of my control. I thought I dumped it. I remembered to look at the iPhone and saw that it was over the water somewhere. Then I recalled that I had a return to home utility. So I used it. Amazingly the drone reappeared nearby overhead and I landed it. Lesson learned. I will alway get a GPS fix before flying and recalibrate the compass when the drone signals of it. I was lucky not to injure anyone or loose it.
I think a LOT of us, no matter how seasoned have been a bit impatient with the GPS, especially at a job. lol. For some reason, the GPS on our Evo Lite+ takes FOREVER to find a fix. I use that time to go through my client shot list, lol. Thanks for sharing!
 
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.....

Congratulations to those who read my short novel.

Regards
Ari
Man, THAT was an incredible story, packed full of learning and information. A great read and will of course be among the many experiences others have mentioned, in my article. Thank you for penning your years of experience and taking the time to type this up. Awesome.
 
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OK, I’ll share one that’s a little long and involved but brought with it a lot of new lessons learned and old lessons reminded. This is going back to about 2019

I do a lot of waypoint missions in my work, both in mapping and “progress” videos showing progress on sites where I’ll fly the same route many times over months or longer and edit the footage into a time lapse.

I had just bought the original DJI Smart Controller as I was looking for something that was a little brighter in the Australian sun and was testing Litchi on it and trying to decide whether the Amazon method was best or the method where you side load google services and use the regular google playstore version of Litchi was better.

So I made up a nice long waypoint mission, never more than about 3000ft away from take off point so as to be able to work LOS but about 7km start to finish with lots of changes of camera angles, height etc. You know, a good workout. As I often do when testing I plotted the mission along and off the coast a little so as to minimise risk to the public.

On the day I grabbed the smart controller and the Mavic 2 Zoom I had elected to test with (my lucky drone lol) went to the location, started the smart controller, loaded Litchi and the mission and sent her on her way. About 5 minutes in and at about 1km distance I had a loss of connection, I still don’t know why. Although there was a large 50KW shore based radar array near by I’d flown there before without issue but R.F. Interference is as good a guess as any I suppose.

I wasn’t panicked, it was on the coast with flat terrain so nothing to run into and I knew that all being equal at the worst the drone would complete the mission and RTH shortly but I was of course perturbed as no one likes to lose the link right? So I commenced all the usual measures, realigned the antennas, made sure I was facing the right direction, climbed on the back of the ute (pickup for my U.S. cousins) for extra height … nope still no go, so I restarted the controller and app once again to no avail. By this time the bird had still not returned home and I was 15 minutes or more into the flight and was starting to contemplate my first drone loss.

Finally I restarted the Smart Controller yet again and this time opened up the standard GO4 app simply because I had tried everything else and after a few minutes *bingo* I had a connection. The video link was marginal but the control link was there. The drone was 875m away and at almost 900ft AGL 😳, I thought this strange as the maximum height of the waypoint mission was 350ft but I do set my maximum height to 1000ft because I do a lot of flight in mountainous terrain where I may be 7 or 800ft above take off point at times but only 100ft above terrain so it was possible it had climbed to that height, I’ll get to why in a minute.

So, I regained connection just in time to hear “battery critically low, drone landing” or similar. When I looked the aircraft was showing 8%. Being an Australian I started working through various vernacular for excrement in a loud voice. The problem here was not only was I 875m away but also 600m out to sea. I jammed the cyclic stick hard up to prevent the drone descending and headed for shore post haste. After a few moments I started to wash off height so as not to have too far to drop once I got over land as I knew every minute flight time would count.

I crossed the shore at about 100ft and by this time was showing 0% and I was no longer able to maintain height even with full stick up and it was coming down at the full rate. I got her across the trees lining the shore and the power lines and lined her up with the only open space being the yard of a beach side holiday home. The drone flared when the downward sensors detected the ground and the last view I had was of the kindly but startled face of an elderly lady peering out from her backdoor some distance from where I put down about 475m from where I was standing then it went blank.

With some help from the last recorded position and an hours driving around I was able to sheepishly recover the aircraft. The elderly lady was quite gracious about it all, not so much her daughter who gave me “the rounds of the kitchen” for frightening her old mother lol. I visited again the next day with flowers and chocolates for both and was invited to stay for lunch so I guess public relations were ok at the end.

So, on to the pointy end. First what I learned/relearned and secondly what I found had actually happened after looking at the logs.

I learned

1. The original smart controller with only 4gb of RAM and quite a modest processor is a bit marginal when you start side loading other services and apps. You only have to see “out of memory error” 30 or 40 times in the log to realise you’re stretching the friendship. It’s not that it’s terrible, it just has is limits.

2. Just because you don’t get interference with one controller device doesn’t mean it will hold true for another.

3. Some of your settings are stored on the drone, some are set in the software and loaded on each flight. If you change controller devices, best check *all* settings. It seems simple in hind sight but I missed it at the time and I’ve been flying in one way or another since 1990 or so.

I relearned (I say relearned because I already knew this and had taken it into account, or at least so I thought)

1. “Smart return to home” in the settings is not smart enough to realise that the aircraft uses more battery outward bound into a headwind than homeward bound with a tailwind and may abort a flight that you actually have plenty of battery for. You should probably disable this for waypoint missions where you are sure of the validity of your flight plan.

2. Obstacle avoidance is prone to false trigger in particular light conditions especially where the sun is lower and you are flying over water. Again, disable it during waypoint missions if you are sure you have a safe flight plan.

What actually happened.

This was my first waypoint mission with Litchi and the Smart Controller. Although I had gone through the Litchi settings I hadn’t looked closely enough to realise that “smart return to home” and “obstacle avoidance” which I habitually leave “off” had defaulted back to “on” with the change of controller device.

The drone was sent off on the mission and as specified before for reason unknown for sure lost connection. At some time during the flight while I was doing the “reset controller and app dance” and while flying into the wind the logs show that smart return to home had decided there was insufficient battery at the current rate of consumption and initiated RTH in a straight line as it does which meant over water and not hugging the coast which would have avoided what happened next.

Once over water due to the sun being lowish and reflecting off the water surface obstacle avoidance triggered causing the drone to half briefly, climb until the perceived obstacle disappeared and then continue a few meters before false triggering again…. and again and… well, logs show this happened over 20 times the net result being that by the time I regained connection the drone had climbed 500 feet but only travelled towards home about 80m and burned off about 15 minutes battery life in the process.

So, there is my closest call. I know I learned from it. If you feel it has value for others feel free to use it.

Congratulations to those who read my short novel.

Regards
Ari
G'day good to hear the experiences from some fellow Aussies

Cheers Ari for sharing his epic soon to be Netflix mini series! 😜🤣

I too had issues with drop outs with the smart controller to later learn that it's radio equipment is weaker then the stock controller.
 
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Cheers Ari for sharing his epic soon to be Netflix mini series! 😜🤣
I’m applying for a job as a script writer for next game of thrones spin off series 😝
 
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