Nearly Lost My Drone Today

So far, I’ve flown 42 times for over 7 hours. In all this time, I had never had a challenging situation. I usually ended up landing with about 35% battery left and had learned not to panic when I see a “strong wind warning”. In every other case, dropping 50 feet or so would make the warnings go away and I had never seen the drone drift significantly off of it’s course.

Today the “UAV Forecast” app told me “Not Good to Fly”. It said the winds were really strong even down at low altitude. But when I stopped working and stepped outside it was very calm. Now I don’t know the technology behind the app, but I figured it was probably a “prediction” not really a report of current conditions. So with all this confidence I launched from my back porch. I popped up to 150 feet and hovered for a while to see if it had any issues and it did not. So I got over a nearby greenbelt and flew to both ends of it with no issue, maybe a half-mile to the North and a half-mile to the South. To maintain my radio signal I even went up to about 300 feet. At around 40% battery life I decided to start heading home, and everything was going fine until I got just a couple of blocks away.

I started getting strong wind warnings and drifting to the South. I dropped down to 100 feet and was pushing full throttle against the wind and still losing ground. I dropped down to 50 feet, still losing ground, and now the battery was going down fast. My hands were shaking, I couldn’t think clearly, the fence was locked, I ran through the house and out the front door, I was flying as low as I thought I safely could not really knowing where I was. I pointed the camera down, and before I could make a decision about the street I saw it was gone. I saw a line of trees go by and then saw what looked like grass. At this point, I was losing my radio connection and the battery was critical so I didn’t have much choice but to let it do it’s emergency landing.

I was full of adrenaline and running down the street. I was afraid it would land and be impossible to find, or land in someone’s yard that I wouldn’t be able to recover, or worse, it could have landed in a tree or on a building or even hurt someone or damage something. According to the app, it was in the greenbelt, that was a relief but I was still concerned about it sitting unattended in a field. So, here I am, in shorts, running through bushes and 4-foot high grasses, negotiating around a not-quite dry stream. I get through the tree-line and into the field and can calm down a little bit as I try to use the app to help me find the thing. The compass on my phone absolutely sucks and I’m walking in circles in the field and the app offers to “make the drone flash and beep”. I was like 5 feet from the thing and still couldn’t see it because the grass was about a foot tall.

Thank you Lord, that could’ve been so much worse. I’ve been known to fly from my back yard with no shoes on, that would have been bad. There was a line of trees and houses on either side of this greenbelt, either would have been very bad. And while looking for it, I could have easily stepped on it or found a snake instead. All in all, I feel very lucky. It was a pretty gentle lesson to pay more attention to the wind warnings and battery level.

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