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Flyaway, over water, crash and... warranty replacement!


Sep 12, 2017
I thought I’d share my first flyaway experience. Having flown everything from tiny training aircraft through to AscTec Falcon 8’s and heavy lift Octa’s both personally and commercially for about 7 years in 15 countries, I’m very lucky to have only had 1 major crash, my fault, lost orientation whilst doing tricks, 1 water landing, my fault, flying towards a bridge to do a fly under and misjudged so dumped it into the water rather than smashing into the bricks, it took off again, somewhere I have the footage, it’s awesome, 1 flight where I flew an indoor UAV outside and the wind was too strong again my fault, had to collect it from another field and finally about 3 weeks ago, a full fly away. Completely uncontrollable other than height, or so I thought, flying in circles before the battery failed over a lake, aircraft error and a free warranty replacement.

I’ve read so many horror stories on here, and just want to shake people and say, learn to fly, properly. Learn to do prechecks. Learn what you can and can’t do with do both legally and what the aircraft is actually capable of. Having been training by a commercial company, under the watchful eyes of an ex-military drone operator and typhoon instructor, our rules were stritct, plus being an actual light aircraft pilot in my own right, preflight checks are vital so to have issues is rare because the aircraft should be air worthy and you the pilot should be mentally prepared. Hence my ‘luck’ over the years.

Anyway, let me share this funny, upsetting and finally happy story.

It’s a beautifully sunny day over 12 mile lake near Algonquin. The sun is setting and I’m getting ready for some fast low pass shots across the still water towards the sun.

Calibrate compass, as I’ve moved location, I always calibrate, doesn’t calibrate first time, ok, that happens. Move location try again. Calibrates perfect. Other preflight are complete. Take off hover about 3m away over the water for a minute checking all inputs, something not right it’s not hovering but yawing. Ok land after 2 mins.

Recalibrate, power down, power up, check everything again, take off, hover recheck. There’s a small yaw, but nothing I’m worried about. Do a couple of test runs about 50m away. Nope it’s not right. Bring it back land. Check everything again, error messages, nothing, props are good, battery is good. Recalibrate. This time it’s working fine. Do a 5 min flight because I’ve wasted most of the battery on calibration and playing about. Land with 25% battery but decide it still wasn’t perfect so I’ll do a full IMU calibration even is done one the day before. Everything passes. Power down, change battery and setup my tripod for a time lapse.

Last time I ever flew this drone, take off. A couple of small compass errors, hover, check everything, all errors stop. Ok perfect.

I start my flights. Out over the water about 4ft off the deck, out and back, out and back, last one, out and up to max altitude. High wind, ok no worries. I’m done anyway. The sun is setting I got the shots I wanted, bring it down and back in a perfectly straight line... then... it flies full speed sideways, I have both sticks down, nothing else, ok I’ll give it some left stick to bring it back straight, wow I’m thinking that must be strong wind. I’m really fighting this, but still it’s flying to the right. So I stop all inputs and then realise it’s stopped loving me and wants to fly the nest, it wants to be free, flying in circles, yawing and turning... then it flies at full speed in a full circle and my spotter losses sight as it’s doing 23mph away from us towards trees at dusk.

At this point it stops. So I try to bring it home, return to home, my controller is saying it’s pointing at me so full stuck forward, and off it goes in a circle again. Now I’ve got compass error, IMU error, GPS errors popping up every second. High wind warning but it’s dead calm. So I’m pointing home, or so I think so, sport mode, let’s beat the wind, full stick forward. Doesn’t update on the map, doesn’t update on the controller, zero info. I have a video feed though. However trees next to water all looks the same no matter what direction you point and I’m too far from any discernible object!

Ok I can’t control it so let’s try to hand catch it. I run to a neighbour hop in his speedboat, I’ve wasted 18 minutes so far. We’re out on his boat within 2 minutes. 3 mins to landing, auto landing initiated, disable, auto landing no, turn off, full stick up, let’s get some height and buy some time.

We circle under where the aircraft is, it’s 20ft above us, no sign, where is it? We’re getting desperate now 2 minutes until the battery dies. 1 minute, 30 seconds, the boat is under the UAV. Except the astute of you will realise, with a failed compass, IMU and GPS I have no idea where it is!

3... 2...... 1......... it’s landed, on the water. Video disconnects and my heart sinks with the aircraft.

Fast forward to 3 days ago and my warranty replacement arrived. They looked over the log files and agreed that it had a massive systems failure and there was nothing I could have done. I even went scuba diving to try and recover it as I wanted the footage more than anything, plus, having read the horror stories excepted DJI to tell me to go jump. But they didn’t. I’m seriously impressed. Polar pro are even warranty replacing the cinematic filter I lost.

I guess the moral is, no matter how many preflight checks you do, things will go wrong, and remember insurance and/or a warranty are no substitute for good airmanship, preflight checks and thorough knowledge of your aircrafts capabilities.

The images, which hopefully uploaded in order, show me running to the neighbour and getting out under it. However the final image shows what was downloaded from the logfile. The drone was supposedly 2km away at the far end of the lake. Although we couldn’t find it at a depth of 9m after nearly 2 hours of grid search diving.

Happy flying everyone.


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Reactions: badgenes
I’ve had my Mavic for a year now and have never cal’d the compass. On one preflight - the unit said the compass needed calibrated so I just moved the takeoff position, stopped getting that message, and then flew.

I don’t know if that’s how I’ve avoided crashing or a fly-away but given the stories I’ve read here about the result of compass errors I think that’s a reasonable hypothesis.
^^ wondered same. Never calibrated mine and never had an issue. Knock on wood. But who knows, strange things happen.
Lycus Tech Mavic Air 3 Case

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