Any novice and even expert drone pilot will tell you that one of their biggest fears when operating their model, besides crashing, is the dreaded “fly away”.
It is a situation which happens more and more rarely due to an evolution in drone technology, but is still a very likely possibility if you’re not careful.
What exactly is a drone fly away?
Imagine for a second you’re out, operating your model, when suddenly, the controls don’t work at all, and you see in horror as your bird just flies away from you, without any reasoning, and you never see it again.
In my most cases, if such a thing happens, it usually leads to one of two scenarios:
1) The bird just goes as far as it can, then just lands when the battery runs out. And that could be on uneven surfaces or even water if you’re not careful.
2) As the bird is moving away from you, it hits an obstacle and crashes. In fact, I experienced something like this recently, even though everything appeared to be fine with my drone. It wasn’t that far from me, I had a clear connection to it, and yet the fly away did occur, but I was able to fix it while it was going on. Here’s what happened.
But it doesn’t really matter which of these 2 scenarios occurs, it absolutely sucks and there’s a good chance you will have to search for the drone and/or possibly never be able to find it, and that’s considering it didn’t crash into something.
Why do these things happen?
In the past and presently, these issues occur/ed for one of two reasons:
1) Software issues, glitch and basically bugs in the drone system.
This is an issue that has actually become less and less frequent due to an improvement in drone technology but it can still happen from time to time and it usually will happen to cheaper models.
If you own a pretty low quality model or something like the Phantom 2 and below (DJI), you may still find that such a situation MAY occur.
More newer models, such as the Phantom 3 and 4, the Mavic series and basically higher end models like the Yuneec have much better software in place to prevent this issue from happening, so basically, as technology in this field grew, the likelihood of your bird going missing has decreased substantially (but it’s still possible).
However, even with there being less issues from the technological end, there is still one remaining factor that no amount of technology will possibly ever correct:
2) Piloting error.
This is especially prevalent with newer pilots who do not know about obvious safety steps they need to take before operating their bird.
Here’s the most common piloting error that leads to fly aways:
Many drone models today come with an option to come back to you if a signal is lost or there’s an issue where the battery runs low and the bird decides to come back to avoid a possible landing elsewhere.
However, the models which do come with this feature are often misused by pilots in that they don’t turn it on OR let the bird use it. They will turn it on and just have it take off.
This is a mistake since when it starts, there is an option to MARK the starting location of the bird so it knows where to go if you want it to return “home”. This is actually set automatically within a minute or two of you starting the bird, but it is also something that you can manually set.
In short, this feature is one of the MAJOR safety features every pilot needs to use. Otherwise, this is what MAY happen:
If you start your bird and do NOT mark down it’s starting location and a fly away happens, the bird will actually attempt to go back to it’s last known starting location.
Imagine for a second you’re in a field (Location A), the starting location gets marked there. You finish using your bird, then take it to another, distant location (B), which is several miles away and DON’T set the new starting location to B. What will happen is, if the bird starts to lose connection and/or you tell it to come home, it’ll go home to location A!
Don’t let this happen, be patient and set a starting location each time you take off.
Other piloting issues involve them starting up the bird and just making it take off right away. This is a mistake because the GPS needs a little bit of time to load and this will help the bird identify it’s location better as well as mark it’s starting point to come back to should the signal be lost.
Connection issues with your bird may happen frequently depending on what type of drone you use and WHERE you use it. Certainly there are ways to maintain a strong connection, but signal errors can happen anywhere and anytime, so if you set that starting point from where you took it off from, you will be able to have assurance that it will come back there.
Another feature you can use (it’s available on good models) is you can have the drone use YOUR controller as it’s home point. I usually do not do this because if I move around while my model is in the air, and I am underneath things like trees and such and an issue occurs, it will try to land over my while potentially hitting those trees, so if you set the home point to be an open area, it’ll come back to the open area.
And here’s an example of this disaster happening:
I’m fairly certain the guy in that video made one of the 5 mistakes I’ll be talking about in a moment that basically didn’t “insure” his flight, but it was avoidable and here’s…
5 tips to avoid fly aways:
1. Ensure you’re in an area with strong connection (here’s tips for this). Stronger connections reduce the risk of losing a connection and having the model have to come back on autopilot.
2. Make sure to have your bird (or you) mark it’s starting location before taking off. And make sure to remark a new location with each new flight in each new area! Here are other safety recommendations.
3. Ensure you have a high level model as the likelihood of this accident happening deceases. If you don’t have an expensive model, a better option is to keep the drone close to you (in sight). And always keep your firmware, software updated.
4. Let the bird load before taking flight, so it marks the GPS and location.
5. It is better to have the bird set a starting location in an open field vs having it come back to where the remote controller is (aka with you), as you may be in a different, more obstacle ridden location.