… and found it 8 days later. I bought a drone a few months ago. I was avoiding them for the last few years but they have eventually reached a stage of maturity that makes them impossible to ignore anymore. So I am now the proud and careful owner of a Mavic Air 2. But it wasn’t always that way.
It surely is a serious bit of kit with features like 25 minute flight time, 4K/60fps Video, 8K hyperlapse time and movement, 48MP raw photo, HDR photo, panorama, intelligent tracking modes and loads more. Plus, it’s very easy to fly. I got a package that includes extra props, 3 batteries, 3 ND filters, cables and chargers. I also have it registered with the IAA.
So, back in September, I was down in the Doulough Valley. You’ll know it’s a favourite location of mine and I was looking forward to getting the drone up and around there. When I arrived it seems a bit windy so I put the drone up a few metres first to see how it coped. It appeared to handle it with ease and looked as steady as a rock. So, I took off and flew it further.
However, it got pretty windy at higher altitude. I didn’t realise it because of my inexperience with flying drones. The ease with which you could fly had lulled me into a false sense of security. I was thinking, “sure these things can fly themselves”. I was wrong.
The Go Fly app suddenly started reporting a low battery and was returning to home. This is an automated feature. I couldn’t see the drone in the sky and somehow thought that it was at a different position to its actual position. I took over manual control of the drone and guided it to what I thought was a position directly above me. It’s probable that the device was also being blown around by the strong wind. Between my input and the wind, it was carried away from the RTH (Return to home) location.
Then it reported that it was about to land as the battery was critical. It was not in my line of sight. Inexperience didn’t help – this is my first drone – I’d only had it for a week. So at this stage, my drone has landed somewhere.
There’s a feature in the Go Fly app called Find My Drone. But this was no good to me as the battery had fully depleted so it couldn’t report anything. The app also gives a specific location and lists the last recorded location coordinates.
I searched all around this area but couldn’t find it. By now, it was getting dark and the weather had turned pretty nasty. The area is boggy with uneven ground and covered in 1-2 foot high grass. The drone is grey coloured and this makes it hard to spot while in the air and while on the ground. Reluctantly, I headed home and promised myself I’d come back and search again tomorrow.
I did come back the next day and made a few more thorough searches. I came back the following day with a friend who also has a drone. He flew his drone over the location to see if we could spot it. No such luck.
Then I discovered Mavic Pilots Forums. I posted my story there in the hope that someone could offer some guidance. When requested from some members of the forum, I uploaded the flight log – essentially the black box records of the drone.
From all these technical details, the helpful people there were able to tell that I had launched the drone with the battery showing only 45% – not a good idea.
I then flew upwind. This would deplete the battery even more as the drone was using a lot of power to stabilise in the strong wind.
At around 5 minutes, with the drone 92 metres up and hovering with no joystick input, it was being blown around at 0-3 m/s by gusty winds.
I went higher, up to 118 metres and at 5:51 minutes into the flight, the drone automatically initiated RTH (Return To Home) when it was 221 metres from home.
At 6:31 minutes the drone reached a point above the homepoint and started descending. At this point, I should have trusted the technology and done nothing. It would have landed safely.
But at 6:35 minutes, in a fit of beginners panic, I cancelled the auto descent and unwisely took the drone up to 119 metres. Again, this was total user inexperience. My piloting had become confused and while I brought the drone down to 87 metres, I also flew it north (downwind) at speed.
At 7:36 minutes the battery reached critical low voltage and the drone automatically started descending. It was 81 metres up and 360 metres north of the home point – a quarter of a mile from where I was. I continued to fly it further away as it descended. At this time, I was actually looking in front of me expecting the drone to magically appear in the sky, when in fact it was over a quarter of a mile behind me.
The last data saw the drone 11 metres above the ground and the battery still at 10%. It was descending at about 1 metre/sec so should have reached the ground fairly soon after that.
However, additional data from 3 minutes later shows a point 567 metres further away. That’s now nearly a half a mile behind me. The wind was carrying it now. The GPS health of that last single record is 5/5 and the drone is near upright, so that location should be reliable. But for me at that time, the drone was lost.
Fast forward to Oct 7. It is now eight days since the drone went missing. With the help of a friend, I spent a couple of hours searching around site A and site B. We searched along the projected flight path on the downwind side of point B until we reached a river that couldn’t be crossed.
The location is quite difficult to traverse as the terrain is boggy and undulating – you need to exercise caution when walking out there. I’m confident that no other person would have found it and there would be no animals there because of the boggy ground. Just as we were about to give up and head back to our cars, I found it in the grass. I had passed 3-4 metres from it on two previous searches.
Although one of the front legs had folded in on impact, it appeared to be undamaged. At home, I removed the props, sd card and battery and left it in a dry cupboard with some bags of silica gel for a few days. When I took it out and got it into the air, all appeared to be well with it.
It’s now a few months since this escapade and the drone is fully working again. I take a lot more care and consideration with it when flying and keep a close eye on the weather using the app, UAV Forecast to let me know if it’s safe to fly or not.
I’ve also put a red skin on the drone and it does make it easier to keep in line of sight when flying. The big takeaway from all of this is, that while drones are incredibly easy to fly, you should really take the time to learn how to fly them properly.
Watch your altitude. Keep it in line of sight. Pay careful attention to the weather. Have a pre-flight checklist. Plan your flight. Don’t try to run before you can walk.