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How to prevent a drone crash

Last updated on

September 6, 2018


    There are two things every drone pilot dreads, one is a flyaway, the other is a crash. In both cases, you can end up losing your drone and you could even end up with a hefty lawsuit if your drone happens to damage property in the process. When it comes to flyaways, unless it was due to pilot error, there is little you can do to prevent it.

    But most drone crashes are the result of poor maintenance, planning or a lack of flying skills. Once you are armed with the right knowledge, most of these things can be prevented. So in this post, we are going to look at the main reasons why drones crash and the things you can do to prevent them.

    Why do drones crash?

    The following is not an exhaustive list of reasons why your drone might crash, but in our experience, these represent the most popular reasons why you might lose control of your aircraft. Just being aware of these issues can prevent you from crashing your drone. So it’s a good idea to read through them all, even if you are an experienced pilot, because they may just save your drone along with your pride.

    Poor maintenance

    This is one of the main causes of drone crashes and it is 100 per cent preventable. If you operate a drone commercially you need to ensure it is properly maintained. You should have a drone maintenance schedule as part of your operations manual and you should carry out pre-flight checks to ensure your drone is fit to fly before every mission.

    One of the areas to pay special attention to is loose or damaged propellers. A prop failure can be catastrophic for your drone and replacement propellers are relatively inexpensive, so you should always have spare props as part of your repair kit and change them when necessary.

    The frame should also be checked for cracks and structural defects before every flight, along with ensuring all wiring and plugs are securely mounted. Finally, make sure your batteries are charged before taking off and perform a check of your transmitter. At Coptrz we also recommend getting your drone checked every six months by a technician.

    Poor orientation

    Flying a drone may seem simple at first, but some of the more complex manoeuvres can easily catch out a new pilot. One such manoeuvre is flying backwards. This can cause orientation problems for new pilots, who may not be sure which way the drone is pointing. This can lead to incorrect inputs causing the pilot to lose control.

    To avoid crashing you should practise such manoeuvres in clear open spaces where there are few obstacles. Omnidirectional collision avoidance systems can also prevent such crashes. These provide 360-degree protection which should protect your drone, even when flying backwards. The new Mavic 2 Zoom and M200 series both have comprehensive omnidirectional collision avoidance systems fitted as standard, but most consumer drones do not, so always check the specifications.

    Flying indoors

    When flying indoors, your drone doesn’t have access to the GPS signal which means it will be flying in ATTI mode. This can cause problems for inexperienced pilots, who incorrectly assume their drone will handle the same indoors as it does outside. When flying indoors, you should be extra careful and know how to control your drone in ATTI mode.

    Don’t forget, if your drone has obstacle avoidance sensors, these are set by default for sensing objects outside so they will be hypersensitive to objects indoors. This can cause multiple alarms to go off at the same time. You can change the settings in DJI Assistant but you should only do this if you are an experienced user – and don’t forget to change them back again when you’re ready.

    Braking distance

    Once you gain a little confidence in flying your drone, it’s easy to get carried away and forget about stopping distances. Don’t forget that braking distances increase exponentially with speed. The faster you go the longer it will take to stop.

    When considering stopping distances you should also think about wind speed and direction. A strong tailwind, for example, can significantly increase braking distances. Obviously, you should also keep your speed low when flying over heavily populated areas or when navigating obstacles such as power lines.

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    Ignoring warning messages

    Today’s drones are so advanced that they are pretty good at keeping themselves out of trouble. Safety features such as obstacle avoidance and return to home are standard on most drones these days. But ironically, this leads to some pilots becoming complacent about warning signals altogether.

    Don’t let this happen to you – sensors are there to avoid drone crashes, so it’s generally good practice to listen to what they’re telling you. Warning signals to pay particular attention to include: battery life warning signals, ground controller connection problems and weak GPS signals. If you see any of these, return your drone to its home point for safety.

    Flying in adverse weather

    The weather is another factor that can catch out new pilots. Like any aircraft, your drone’s behaviour will be affected by atmospheric conditions. Wind is the biggest threat to drones. This, however, is usually managed by the flight computer, so long as your drone is not flying in ATTI mode.

    However, strong winds aren’t the only thing to look out for, rain can also cause problems. Some drones such as the M200 series have systems designed to protect themselves from such conditions. This is why M series drones are popular for search and rescue operations. But most drones do not have such protection in place, so you should fly them with caution. And always remember the golden rule. If in doubt, don’t fly.

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    Improper use of the CSC command

    The combination stick command (CSC), is designed to power down the drone during an emergency. Not surprisingly, carrying this command out while your drone is in the air can cause it to crash. The DJI Phantom was notorious for this, with the CSC command also being used to power the device on. Thankfully, this issue has now been fixed through a firmware update. Nevertheless, you should still avoid using the CSC command, unless it is an emergency.

    These seven incidents are responsible for the vast majority of drone crashes. By following proper procedures and flying responsibly you can eliminate most of them. Remember, drone operating procedures are not designed to make your life difficult, they are designed to keep your drone flying safely. So follow the proper procedures and you should be able to fly your drone safely without incident.

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