Jen Grantham Photography

I Crashed My New Drone

I recently acquired a Phantom 2 Quadcopter with a H3-3D gimbal and a GoPro Hero4 Black.  And it was amazing.

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After it arrived in the mail, I waited all week to bring it up to my parents’ house, because I didn’t want to fly it in the city.

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I flew it as long as my two batteries would allow on Saturday, and the same on Sunday.

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And then I crashed it into a tree.

A few people have asked me, “what were you doing flying it like that in the woods, IDIOT?”

Let me explain what happened, so perhaps the rest of you who got drones for Christmas can learn from my mistake.

Firstly, I wasn’t really in the woods.  I was standing in an open area like the picture below.

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The drone was a few feet in front of me, hovering about 5′ off the ground (not moving), facing straight down my parents’ driveway.  There was no tree cover directly above the Phantom, and there were no trees behind it.

Secondly, I wasn’t controlling it!  Here’s what happened:  I launched the drone in my parents’ driveway and flew it around for a couple of minutes.  Then I landed, shut down the motors, picked it up, and carried it to the top of the driveway.

On the road, I launched it again, and positioned it at the top of the driveway.  I could see that there were 2 blips left on the battery indicator (25 to 50%), and I decided to land just to be safe.  As it was descending, the drone suddenly shot forward, and then straight up, and then straight ahead at high speed into the tree.  That’s what you can see in the video.

Mid-crash!

Mid-crash!

Why did it to that?  When the drone loses signal or has a low battery, it tries to auto-land within 2 meters of where it launched.  Unfortunately, it tried to auto-land within 2 meters of the PREVIOUS launch location.  If it had shot up in the air, turned around, and flown back to where I had just launched it, it wouldn’t have hit anything.  Instead, it tried to get back to the house, through the trees.

GoPro's last view before landing in a snow bank.

GoPro’s last view before landing in a snow bank.

Mistakes I made:

    1. Getting too confident too soon.  Although I found it very easy to fly, obviously I should fly in open fields only until I am an expert at all the controls!
    2. Not turning off the battery when I landed to reset “home.”  If I had turned it off, and then turned it on again before my second launch, the drone should have gone to the right place.
    3. Not knowing how to stop auto-landing.  There is a way to regain control of the Phantom 2 once the fail safe is engaged.  I had read about it, but as a beginner I was overloaded with information and I didn’t remember how to do it in the moment. All I could do was helplessly watch it crash.
Nooooooooooooo!

Nooooooooooooo!

When it hit the tree, the battery flew out, the gimbal and camera snapped off, and 2 props became mangled.  The Phantom shell was bent where the arm hit the tree.

I was optimistic that those were the only damages.  They were easy to fix, with no soldering required.  However, when I opened up the case, I also found that one of the ESCs was broken, which would require soldering to repair.

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Although I have never soldered anything in my entire life, nor assembled or disassembled anything more difficult than IKEA furniture, I decided I would repair the drone myself.  I did a lot of research and I watched a million (boring, oh so boring) YouTube videos about soldering.

As punishment (and to pay my repair bills!), I turned the process into a stock photo.

Woman fixing drone by Jen Grantham

Woman fixing drone by Jen Grantham

I almost gave up a few times (especially with the soldering), but I pushed through and was eventually able to fix it.

Repair Bill

Replacement Phantom 2 Shell: $59
ESC: $19
Propellers x 2: $30
Motor: $18
Zenmuse H3-3D Upper Bracket: $15
TOTAL:  $141

Expensive mistake. But it could have been a lot worse!  I’m very lucky the gimbal – the part that holds the GoPro – survived with only $15 of damage (it’s a $400 part), and that the ceramic GPS unit didn’t break ($165 to replace).

And I’m very proud that I not only learned to solder, but that my repairs ACTUALLY WORKED.  I did a flight test today, and we’re back in business!

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And see? No trees!

Here’s to many new aerial videos and photos, and no more crashing.

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