How to not crash or lose your drone

Drone crashes and flyaways are scarily common. These tips will help you become a safer drone operator.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

Become a member of any drone forum or Facebook group, and you'll quickly notice a pattern. Someone posts that they've bought a drone, and a few days later, that same someone is posting that they've crashed or lost their drone.

I see this pretty much daily.

And it's quite saddening, partly because the main reason for this is operator error. It could more than likely be avoided by following a few simple tips.

I've flown many hundreds of miles with a range of drones (both large and tiny) over the years, and so far (knock on wood), I've not had a crash or flyaway with a drone. I put this down partly to having -- and following -- a comprehensive pre-flight checklist.

This checklist can help prevent problems that get drone operators into trouble:

  • Check the weather, especially for high winds and gusts (your manual should tell you the maximum windspeed that is safe for your drone)
  • If you're new to drone flying, familiarize yourself with the drone and controls before takeoff, and take some short practice flights to get used to takeoff and landings
  • Check the drone for damage before each flight, especially the propellers (replace any showing any signs of damage) and batteries (check for bulging)
  • If you've replaced propellers, double-check that you've fitted the correct ones (different corners of the drone will take different propellers)
  • Charge everything before a flight
  • Remove any gimbal or propeller guards
  • Switch the remote control on before turning the drone on (this is far safer than turning the drone on first)
  • Let the drone get a GPS lock before taking off (check your manual on how to check for this, and note that some drones won't allow takeoff to happen unless the drone has a good GPS lock)
  • Take off in a clear area, away from trees and building the drone could fly into (drones can be somewhat erratic on initial takeoff, so give them space)
  • Let the drone hover at about 2 to 3 meters (6 to 10 feet) for 30 seconds to stabilize, to warm up the battery if the weather is cold, and to get a fix on its launch position in case it needs to do an emergency return to home (DJI drones will inform you that "the home point has been updated")

Also: DJI Mavic 3: The very best drone for 2022

  • Keep the drone within visual line of sight (VLOS), or in other words, make sure you can see the drone at all times
  • It's always a good idea to fly out to a destination into the wind; this way, the wind will aid the return of the drone (do it the other way, and the drone can run out of battery before getting back home)
  • Be mindful of small objects, such as tree branches and cables, that the drone's obstacle avoidance system might not be able to detect
  • If the drone says it needs to return home for whatever reason, bring the drone back immediately
  • When landing, make sure the landing area is clear and that there's enough space around the landing area in case the drone becomes erratic close to the ground
  • After landing, turn the drone off first, followed by the controller
  • Check the drone for damage
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