Fly-aways happen every single day.
Barely a day goes by without a post on Facebook, Twitter or on a forum about a multicopter owner seeing his multicopter, gimbal and GoPro disappear over the horizon never to be seen again. For the sake of this article, we’re talking about proper fly-aways as opposed to someone losing orientation, crashing and then calling it a fly-away, that’s simply a crash, plain and simple.
With autonomous way-point flying, including features like “follow me” becoming more widespread the problem of fly-away kit will be likely to increase. An example in point is shown in the YouTube video above. You can fly hundreds of flights without encountering a fly-away or can be unlucky and encounter one in your first half dozen flights.
GPS navigation is nowhere near as reliable as people believe it to be, every time an autonomous mission is started or failsafe is activated you’re gambling with with your gear, in the following years as technology advances maybe fly-aways will become a thing of the past, but right now they’re real.
Fly-aways whilst primarily associated with GPS/compass navigation can also occur from vibration from the frame, this risk varies between flight controllers, some such as the Naza have in-built vibration dampening so are less susceptible to this cause.
There are other causes of a legitimate fly-away such as a complete flight controller lock up.
Blame the users.
There’s a lot of money being made selling multicopters as it’s a growing industry, so don’t be surprised that there’s reluctance to discuss or admit fly-aways exist, also expect claims of “99% pilot error” and such like to be made, which are totally unfounded as there’s barely anyone keeping any true log of fly-aways that take place.
The marketing of multicopters uses the words “ready to fly” – “easy” – “stable” – “failsafe” and a myriad of other words that suggest you simply charge the batteries and go, it’s little wonder users trust GPS, trust geo-fence and the failsafe, yet everyone in the multicopter scene knows the technology isn’t as robust as it’s sold to be.
The irony is, the industry is creating a rod for its own back, the marketing push suggesting the technology is wholly robust merely causes a bigger customer backlash aimed at the dealers, manufactures and the customer service staff that have to deal with the complaints when multicopters fall short of the hype.
Touch wood mentality.
Naza users have been brainwashed into thinking if they compass dance every time and wait for the flashing home lock then they’ll never have a fly-away, whilst you definitely need a calibrated compass and a home lock don’t believe good practice alone will prevent a fly-away.
Paranoid? Hell yes!
We won’t fly our copters without a GPS tracker, we know GPS navigation isn’t wholly reliable, we know we could switch to altitude hold or manual mode to recover in the event of a problem but even still we’d rather have a level of practical reassurance.
If you can’t afford to lose your multicopter we recommend you buy a tracker such as a Fi-Li-Fi or a TK102B which are pre-pay SIM enabled tracking devices which you fasten to your multicopter, so even if it flies miles off course you can still locate it.
Keep on flying.
Don’t let the risks put you off flying, merely educate yourself to be able to at least fly without GPS, in altitude hold mode, if your multicopter is really expensive then get a GPS tracker. Many people say go to manual in the event of a problem, but that can be equally as problematic especially in a panic, with a heavier camera laden rig even moreso.
A few tips we’d suggest:
- Don’t ignore any pre-arm checks that your manufacture recommends.
- Don’t fly further away than your piloting skills are capable of dealing with in case you lose orientation or encounter a problem.
- Never use a GPS enabled RTH failsafe until you’ve tried to recover in a mode without GPS first.