In this video tutorial, we’ll take a look at what can cause a drone flyaway, how you can prevent one, and recovery methods in the event that it happens.
What happens if you’re unable to fly your drone back to where you took off from? And, if you lose the signal connection, how do you even know where the drone is? You’ll face these questions if you ever experience a drone flyaway. Luckily, if you already know what to expect, you can drastically increase your chances of landing the drone safely and recovering it quickly.
What Is a Drone Flyaway?
A “drone flyaway” is essentially any time you’re in a situation when you’re unable to fly your drone back to where you originally took off. This may mean you’re forced to land at an unknown location, or you may completely lose contact with your drone, unaware of where it has gone (and has probably crash landed).
Most Common Causes for a Drone Flyaway
The weather will likely be the biggest cause for a drone flyaway, and the primary culprit will be the wind. If your drone is unfortunate enough to get caught in a wind channel, which can occur at any elevation due to changes in terrain, you’ll need to act quickly to increase your chances of recovery.
Another common cause for a drone flyaway is battery failure. This could be due to a faulty battery that loses power too quickly, or flying out too far without enough power to fly back.
A faulty firmware update on your drone or battery can cause a flyaway as well. In some cases, the drone may signal the battery is out of power, even though it’s charged. In that case, the drone may attempt to automatically land in an unexpected area.
Electromagnetic interference can cause a GPS error, so be mindful of various communication towers that may be nearby when you’re flying. I recommend calibrating the compass on your drone every time you begin flying at a new location.
What to Expect During a Drone Flyaway
Look for Identifiable Areas to Land
If the wind is carrying the drone away, but you can still move downward, look for an identifiable area to land. This’ll help later with your drone search. Again, this is only applicable if you have some flight control.
In a flyaway situation, you’ll probably be forced to land at a different location from where you started. However, the drone may still attempt to auto-return home, even if it lacks the power to make it back. This can cause the drone to land (or crash) in an area you don’t intend.
During the flyaway, I highly recommend taking screenshots of what you can see on your phone or mobile device. Also, switch to the full screen GPS view and get a screen shot of that, too. This will be a big help later when you’re looking for the drone. On most phones, if you hold the home button and the primary side button, it’ll save a screen shot.
Video Signal Loss
Finally, be prepared to lose the video signal as the drone gets close to landing. This can be caused by trees or buildings getting between you and the drone. You may just have to hover the drone above a landing location the best you can, and wait for the automatic landing function to kick on.
What to Do After You Lose Contact with Your Drone
Once you presume the drone has auto-landed, time will play a big factor in your recovery. You won’t want the drone to remain outside overnight, due to moisture and the elements.
Drive to Identified Area
Based on the screen shots you took with your phone, drive toward that location. This seems pretty obvious, but you want to do this fairly quickly. The idea here is to leave your drone controller on and, hopefully, at least get within range of the drone to get a signal connection again.
Regain Signal Connection
If you can regain signal connection with your drone, take another screen shot of the GPS map location of the drone and a screen shot of what the drone can see. Both of these images are important for the search. You can now cross-reference the GPS map image with something like Google Maps to help pinpoint your search location. And the picture from the drone camera might give you some idea as to the foliage or other surroundings of the drone.
Tips to Prepare Your Drone Before a Flyaway Happens
Locating your drone after a flyaway can still be difficult (especially in the wilderness), even if you know the general location.
You might want to consider adding some reflective tape to your drone. This can make your drone a lot easier to find if you have to search at dusk or at night. The reflection is highly visible if you’re using a flashlight in your search. The brightness is similar to a road sign. As an added bonus, it can also make your drone easier to spot in the air and more visible to other aircraft by reflecting sunlight.
Drone Leg Extensions
If you’re using a smaller drone, I highly recommend getting some leg extensions. PGYTECH makes several of these for DJI drones. These are lifesavers in the event of an unplanned landing and played a big part in my drone not getting damaged during a flyaway.
Interested in the tracks we used to make this video?
- “Summer Leaves” by Mattijs Muller
- “Storytelling Strings” by Evan McDonald
- “Staring at the Sun” By Gyom
Want more on drone photography? Check these out.
- Video Tutorial: Why You Need Lens Filters for Your Drone
- 7 Ways to Enhance Drone Shots in Post-Production
- Photographer SeongJoon Cho on Drone Photography in South Korea
- Video Tutorial: Increase Your Credibility as a Drone Pilot
- Drones vs. Helicopters: Which Is Better for Professional Aerial Footage?