In-flight Drone Failure; How does a Pilot Recover Control

There is something to be said about a person who is willing to play by the rules and learn to safely operate their drone whether it be for recreational or commercial use. Here in Canada there are several tests a person can take through Transport Canada that allows you to participate in safely operating your drone within these rules and regulations.

Operating a drone in the general public, there are hundreds of rules to obey by and follow as an amateur drone pilot with a basic or advanced license to fly. These rules are set in place to keep you (drone pilot) and the general public (human or property) to remain in a safe cohabitating existence.

There are three levels of drone operation. Both recreational and basic drone pilots are supposed to fly their drones with Line of Sight (LOS) and are only to fly First Person View (FPV) in a closed restricted area. These are drones like the DJI Tello, DEERC D20 Mini, or Holy Stone HS120. Advanced pilots can fly larger and heavier drones like Holy Stone HS700E 4K, DJI Mavic Air 2, or DJI Phantom 3 Advanced, in restricted air spaces and near people.

  1. Recreational drone pilot
    1. Operating a drone up to 299-grams
    2. Flying with only Line of Sight (LOS)
    3. Restricted flight operation locations
    4. Cannot fly near people, events or restricted air space
  2. Basic drone pilot
    1. Operating a drone between 300-grams and 25-kilograms
    2. Flying with only Line of Sight (LOS)
    3. Restricted flight operation locations
    4. Cannot fly near people, events or restricted air space
  3. Advanced drone pilot
    1. Operating a drone up to 25-kilograms
    2. Flying with Line of Sight (LOS) or First Person View (FPV)
    3. Permits required for operation near people, events, restricted air space

Let’s say after reading all of this you have decided to obtain your basic drone operating certificate through Transport Canada. You have studied for the test and taken the 35-question exam just passing it with a 75% but you are all jazzed up as you have successfully passed.

Now you’ve planned and determined where you are going to be flying the drone as you are super excited about your new found freedom to fly your DJI drone through the air space and take photos or videos from a new perspective.

But like all things that are operated by humans there is always a chance of an accident, or incident and a drone pilot has to be ready for this event to happen. And when it does happen, as it will happen, how does the drone pilot retrieve their drone?

8-Scenarios of drone failure whilst in-flight;

  1. Pilot fails to create a new home-point
  2. Drone disconnects from signal during flight
  3. Drone has interference during flight
  4. Drone disconnects from signal and connects to new signal
  5. Drone is flying over a restricted area
  6. Drone battery decreases during flight and begins emergency landing
  7. Drone loses charge and begins to descend
  8. Pilot does not have line of sight (LOS) and crashes into an object

DJI Spark requires a Basic Operating License Required

Now what are the procedures a Drone Pilot should do when a drone is in the middle of a flight and becomes unresponsive or has an interference issue or begins to descend as the battery is to low?

Any good pilot will tell you not to panic and to stay calm through the next several minutes because every action has a direct reaction on how your drone will respond.

Here is a tried and true method of procedures to complete if you find yourself in one of the 8-scenarios above.

  • STOP
    • controlling the drone
  • REMOVE
    • your hands from the controller
  • OBSERVE
    • if the drone is hovering or flying
  • WHAT
    • path has the drone started flying?
  • DETERMINE
    • your next actions

Now that you have calmed yourself as the operator of the drone, you must determine what your next actions will be which is directly related to how your drone is acting. If your drone has not started hovering then you must adjust your antennas and begin moving yourself physically towards the last known position of the drone to try and re-establish a connection.

Your one goal from here on out is to get the drone to safety. Whether you have to land it somewhere other than the home point for you to retrieve it, or if you can get it within visual line of sight (VLOS) and safely land your drone.

Here are some things the drone pilot should be thinking about whilst they are observing their drone and trying to reconnect with it to bring it safely back to the ground.

Whose In Control?

  • Drone
    • Is it flying away from you?
      • then its an interference issue
    • towards the home point?
      • then let the AI inside the drone take over and come to the home-point for landing
    • landing?
      • then determine its position and relationship to you
      • then try to recover the signal by adjusting your antennas
      • if both of these fails to recover the signal then walk towards the drone until you reconnect with the drone
  • Pilot
    • hovering?
      • then you will want to adjust your antennas and reestablish the connection
      • then press the return to home button

When connection failure occurs, the drone pilot’s best outcome is landing the drone as safely as possible within the batteries remaining charge.

Transport Canada

When the drone pilot has safely retrieved their drone whether it be a Holy Stone HS700E 4K or a DJI Mavic 3, it is best practice to complete a thorough review of the drone prior to a second flight. Check the under carriage, the shell, the limbs, rotors and propellers for any damage. If there are signs of damage do not fly again today.

If there is no signs of damage, then change out the battery and complete a very short and deliberate flight routine within a 20m (60ft) circle of your current location. Check how the drone reacts with each movement of your controller.

This test is to ensure your drone is operating as its designed and intended. Check if the drone will complete the appropriate return-to-home landing and other in-flight safety features.

If the drone checks out then continue with your flight plans. If the drone does not then pack up and return home as further diagnosis of the drone is required before it is flown again.

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