Drones are designed to automatically return home if they lose signal, but that doesn’t mean they always will. These top five DJI drone handling tips stack the odds in your favour, minimising the chances of you having to wave goodbye to your drone forever.
Drones are cool and they’re bucket-loads of fun. I mean, who doesn’t want to put on an FPV (first person view) headset and soar through the sky like a bird, or look down from up high and get a different perspective of our rather humdrum, flat-footed world? So it makes sense if you’re tempted to rush outdoors and take your fab new toy for a spin the moment you’ve finished with your own ceremonial unboxing at home. After all, we all know drones take care of themselves automatically and are easy to fly, right?
Well, not exactly. First up, if you’re not completely familiar with the controls, you’ll probably end up smacking into a wall (and replacing broken rotor blades), or having to climb a big tree (then replace broken rotor blades) in seconds flat – trust me, they prang that fast. And secondly, if you don’t configure the controller (or your smartphone) correctly before you head out, you could end up with a “flyaway” – that’s when your expensive new drone disappears over the horizon as free as a bird, never to be seen again. And you stand there forlorn (if not spitting mad), waving goodbye to a serious chunk of cash.
Sure, all DJI drones are designed to automatically Return to Home (RTH) whenever they lose signal from the controller or your smartphone – so when flyaways do occur it can be tempting to blame the tech rather than our innate human ability to stuff up (although components do occasionally fail). But according to users’ flight data analysed by DJI in-house technicians, the vast majority of flyaways are caused by several common pilot errors.
That said, here are five simple steps you can take to prevent your drone from developing a mind of its own and disappearing on you forever:
1. Make sure a home point has been set
If you want your drone to automatically return to you, make sure the home point is set for where you’re standing before you take off! You’ll need at least 4 GPS signal bars. Once a Home Point is set, you’ll see a prompt in the app, and a green Home Point icon will appear on your map.
2. Watch out for compass interference
A GPS signal is necessary, but not sufficient for your drone to return to home safely. Your drone’s compass also needs to be relatively free from interference. GPS only determines the drone’s location; the compass determines its orientation. If you initiate RTH, your aircraft will turn its head and fly back to the Home Point. However, if it doesn’t know which way to turn there’s a good chance ends up flying somewhere else.
The DJI GO app (for tips using DJI GO App check here) will warn you if compass interference is too great. You can also see the amount of interference in your area in MC Settings – General – Compass. The Mavic and newer DJI drones have redundant compasses, but if one or both of them are in the red, it’s a good idea to recalibrate – or move to an area with less interference.
3. Keep your drone in line of sight
Apart from it being the law, keeping your drone in sight at all times makes sense. That’s because it’s much less likely to crash or get lost if you can see it with your own eyes. Monitoring your drone solely through your live video feed is never a good idea. If you do this, you won’t be able to see what’s behind or to either side of your drone. Sometimes “flyaways” are just accidents resulting from the drone not being visible to the pilot. Our advice: Fly within line of sight, stay safe and keep your drone!
4. Reset your home point if you’re moving
As long as you have sufficient GPS signal, your Home Point will be set automatically when you take off. However, it won’t reset automatically if you move around. So if you’re driving in a car, or moving in a boat, you’ll need to reset your Home Point periodically if you want your drone to find your current location on its own. This gif shows you one way to reset your Home Point:
5. Set an appropriate RTH altitude
Even though DJI’s newer drones have vision systems that allow them to fly over or around obstacles during RTH, it’s still always a good idea to set an RTH Altitude. For one, the obstacle sensors won’t work in low-light situations, and pure glass surfaces and water may not be detected. Plus the obstacle avoidance sensors may not detect thin objects such as tree branches or power lines.