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3rd Structured Training Flight: Brink of Disaster!


Well-Known Member
Premium Pilot
Jun 9, 2021
Carson City, NV, USA
I had only two missions for this flight:

1) Determine how much visibility improves by setting my S20 brightness to max.
2) Fly out to the ridge on the other side of the canyon, at a low point, and look over to the other side.

Mostly successful.

Important note for canyon fliers at the end!

1) Turning the screen brightness up to the max, to the top of the red zone, definitely made a big difference. When I'm sitting in the shade with the sunshade on it, it works great. Even standing in the direct sun, it was still visible enough to be usable.

As a side-benefit, I saw the "Bind" button before takeoff, and pushed it. The binding completed quickly, so I had access to my "Flyaway" coverage, should the need arise.

2) I had forgotten to break the drone out of the 400 ft launch point jail, so it wouldn't let me go above 400 ft, which would have been necessary to cross the ridge. I didn't want to try to mess with changing that in-flight. And when I then also got to 700 ft out, my max range so far, I decided to call it good, and assault the ridge another time. I hit the RTH button, and the drone turned toward home, and started to come back.

I've had some issues predicting what RTH is going to do, and today I found that if I turn the camera to look straight down, then I know *exactly* where it is, visually. worked good!

Is it possible to set the home point while in the air, or must that be done on the ground?

I had plenty of time on the battery after the mission, so I decided to do something totally different, and go down the canyon instead of up. There are mostly pine trees around my house, but down in the canyon at this time of year there are a bunch of glorious deciduous trees in full bloom. I decide to go take a look.

As I have for most of my training, I approached it slowly and incrementally. I'd move forward a little, and then descend a little. When I got poised right over the bright green trees, I started a slow 360º photo circle, which went well...

Until a demonic pine tree reached out and grabbed my drone! I have it on tape!

A lot of things had happened at once, but my priority at that point was to find the drone. I live in Clear Creek Canyon at the south end of Carson City, Nevada. I had never actually seen the creek before, because it's a very rugged hike down there, and I'm a chubby out of shape old fart. Still, I was the rescue team, so I set off to get it done.

I punched the "Find my Drone" button, and to my relief, it gave me the last known GPS position, exactly like it's supposed to do. When I got in the car and started to drive toward it, it updated the display with my changing position. In descending order west of my house, there's the ridge line, then Hwy 50, then Old Clear Creek Road (where I live) and then the creek itself at the bottom.

By following the FMD GPS signal, I was able to locate the drone between the road and the creek, and after some jockeying around, I was able to park the car so the drone was directly between me and the creek...somewhere.

The canyon wall on this side is mostly soft loose dirt, and this particular area was quite steep from the road down. There was no path. I scramble down the slope, and found myself in a world reminiscent of my days in upstate NY (Yorktown Heights) as a kid. I was under a canopy of vegetation. It was like another world.

But how to find the drone?

I had tried to use the "Flash light and make a sound" feature, but apparently that needs to be activated before the drone goes belly-up. So I was stuck combining what I had seen on the drone camera, what I had seen visually from above while flying, what the GPS map said, and what I was seeing from the ground.

I walked very slowly through the dense undergrowth, until I saw a little rise, which I climbed in the hope of getting better visibility. I couldn't see the drone, but I got a better idea of the direction I needed to go. I was looking down the vast majority of the time I was walking, not just to watch for the drone, but to avoid the abundant spider nests, and whatever other wildlife was lurking in the little mini-forest.

And then, there it was! My little drone Dijanne, lying on her back on the forest floor, with no obvious damage.

I picked her up, and folded all the props in for the scrabble back up the side of the canyon to the road. After a couple of false starts, and catch-my-breath breaks, I made it up to the road, got in the car, turned the AC on, and just sat for a bit. Then I drove back up the road to my house.

I tried to fire up Dijanne, but the start-up sequence hung, first by saying there was a connection problem, and when I fixed that, the auto-preflight reported an ""inconsistent gimbal data"" error, which I couldn't fix. It turns out the fuselage is pretty badly cracked on one side.

She's dead Dijimm...

The pine tree didn't actually reach out and grad her, of course. During the confusion, I got an error message on the screen saying ""Navigation Data Lost"". I didn't know what to make of it at the time, and it didn't come to me until I was sitting comfortably in my recliner for a few minutes after the rescue.

Deep down in the canyon, I had lost the GPS signal! My entire flight safety plan was based on the fact that if I did nothing with the controls, the drone will just hover. Which is true, unless you lose your GPS signal. As best I can sort it out, the sequence was the lost GPS signal, followed by the position drift, and then the pine tree.

I have some related semi-confirmation of this theory. Frequently when I'm driving home from town, I'll lose the satellite radio signal in my car. The canyon is that narrow and steep. I'll post the video of this flight once I get it edited.

Which may happen pretty soon now, since I don't have a drone to fly at the moment.

Drone's not just a hobby, it's an adventure!


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