How to Not Crash Your New Drone
Modern drones are easier to fly than ever before, but there’s still a lot that can go wrong. Flyaways, loss of orientation, or hardware failure can leave your pricey aerial investment in pieces. We’ve spent hundreds of hours flying, and have discovered some simple tips to prevent crashes and protect your aircraft.
Setup is key for successful, safe drone operation. If you forget a step, or mess up the order, it can cause big problems in the air. Write up a pre-flight checklist, and use it each time to ensure you’ve got it right. While the exact steps will vary by model, make sure to verify the charge of the battery and acquire a strong GPS signal prior to takeoff.
2. Calibrate Your Compass
The first time you set up your drone, or travel more than 100 miles, you’ll need to recalibrate the compass. If the compass data is wrong, the GPS will not function properly. For DJI products, this involves rotating the drone around in a circle while in compass calibration mode.
3. Avoid Low Voltage
You’re more likely to encounter problems when voltage is low. The drone may show 20% battery life remaining, but batteries can lose the ability to accurately report their remaining power over time. Aggressive flying is particularly ill advised with low voltage. Try to land with 30% battery remaining, and use an alarm to make sure you bring the aircraft back in time.
4. Avoid Interference
Drones use 2.4ghz frequencies to communicate with their transmitters. This is the same band as local wifi networks, and apartment complexes are particularly challenging due to the large number of routers. It’s a good idea to check your phone for wifi networks prior to takeoff, and avoid congested areas. You should also stay away from power lines and radio towers as much as possible.
5. Maintain Line-of-Sight!
Never fly a drone beyond your visual range–relying on GPS or the live feed is a recipe for trouble. GPS can save you in a pinch, but these systems are simply not reliable enough to count on. It’s only a matter of time before a return-to-home command crashes your drone into a tall tree, or the battery runs out before it can return to the takeoff point.
6. Start With a Practice Drone
Before risking your new $1000 aircraft, practice with a small, cheaper quadcopter–such as the Blade Nano QX. It flies great, is nearly indestructible, and has prop guards to protect your walls. If you do manage to damage it, the parts are cheap and repair is simple.
7. Store Your Batteries Properly
Lipo batteries are sensitive–don’t leave them out in the sun, or in a hot car. Cold temperatures can also reduce their lifespan. Discharge to 25-50% for long-term storage. These batteries can be a fire hazard, so store and charge in a metal container or fireproof lipo bag.
8. Beware of New Firmware
Companies such as DJI routinely release new firmware for their aircraft. Generally, this is good–they fix bugs and add new features. Unfortunately, they often accidentally create new bugs which can cause issues during flight. Wait at least a few weeks after the release of a new firmware to install it, and keep an eye on the forums for any common complaints.
Following these tips will minimize your risk, but there is no way to completely eliminate the possibility of hardware problems. Battery, ESC, prop, or motor failure can occur at any time, regardless of the preparedness or skill of the operator. For this reason, it is imperative that you do not fly your drone above crowds of people.
The Nano QX and lipo bags can be purchased at Phil’s Hobby Shop–shop local! If you’ve got any questions, fire away in the comments!