Avoid DJI Phantom problems such as:
1. Fly Away
3. Erratic Quadcopter behavior
5. Expensive Repairs
by following some the advice below. This article contains the best BASIC advice you’ll find on the DJI Phantom and DJI Phantom Vision drones. Whether you take our advice is, in the end, up to you. Our mission is to save you time, trouble and money…but we can’t help you unless you help yourself.
You might want to read one of our other articles…Reasons you should NOT Buy or Fly a Drone!
We have published two beginner books (ebook or paperback) on hobby quadcopters – if you are at the beginning of your journey, you may want to pick up one or both of them…more on the books at this link.
Let’s Start at the Very Beginning
Many thousands of you have received the Drone of your Dreams – the DJI Phantom – for a holiday or other gift. Still others have saved enough to finally buy this top-of-the-line consumer drone. We know you are in a hurry to get airborne – but this desire to fly quickly is probably the biggest enemy of your wallet…and your Phantom!
(Note – this article is added to and updated often)
Phantom 1 Series and FC40
As of this writing at the start of 2015, the Phantom 1 series (Phantom 1 and FC40) are most likely discontinued. These models are also less expensive and more rugged than the Phantom 2 Vision, so not all the same cautions apply. Phantom 1 series owners should read the following articles AND this one…although some parts of this will not pertain to their exact craft.
Phantom 1 and FC40 Getting Started
What to know before flying your Phantom the first time
Phantom 2 – Overview and Basic Understanding
The Phantom 2 series quadcopter are Flying Cameras. They are “tools”, not a sport or racing machine. Our first piece of advice goes something like this:
“These are very delicate machines and should not be used as your sole flying machine – that is, don’t practice with it, demo it and fly it around for your regular hobby. Rather, these are flying cameras which should only be used when you intend to actual take footage and still photos. Flying them for other reasons will likely cost you time and money”.
To expound on this:
1. If this is your first quadcopter – don’t fly it! Buy a couple toy quadcopters and then perhaps a low price (stripped) Phantom 1 or older Blade 350QX and get a number of hours of flight time. This may end up costing you $50-$500, but just one crash in your Phantom can easily cost $800+ or even result in a total loss of your $1300 investment.
2. Please don’t experiment with your Phantom 2 – it seems that many who take up this hobby like to push things to the limits…and then far beyond. If you want to keep your Phantom, think and act very conservatively. This will be spelled out below. If you desire speed, agility and destruction…well, there are other aspects of this hobby (and other machines) which are designed for that. Buy those…or build your own.
IF YOU REGULARLY FLY OVER RIVERS, LAKES AND OTHER LARGE BODIES OF WATER – YOU WILL PROBABLY LOSE YOUR PHANTOM TO NEPTUNE. The odds are against you, so try to not fly over water for long periods of time. If you must fly over water, do so only with a proven quadcopter (have quite a few flights under your belt) and with a full battery…leave the water when the battery nears 50% charge.
If you read no further – and take this advice to heart – you will end up much happier with your DJI Phantom purchase…or perhaps even decide a Phantom is not for you!
Adding to the list of what should be obvious – but is apparently not – here are some simple statements:
Crashing or losing your expensive aircraft is not covered under the DJI warranty…this is true of any and all hobby quadcopters. This is because:
These are NOT standard consumer electronics or goods – these are experimental hobbyist aircraft which are very complex and there are an almost infinite number of reasons you may crash or lose them.
Even if you follow most of this advice:
Hobbyist quadcopters are not designed to last for years – especially without great care, expense and maintenance. This is actually true of all aircraft…just that you aren’t the airline company or aircraft owner who usually sees and pays for all the inspections and maintenance.
Although these are “miracle machines”, many are likely to be disappointed that they are a quickly depreciating asset…this is especially true when you crash or lose your Phantom, as the value goes to almost zero in a few seconds.
Having the proper expectations are key to a good owner experience. One very happy Phantom Vision owner recently showed us a video summary of his entire year with the craft. He also gave us and other owners an important piece of advice:
“Figure on spending 2 to 3X the initial cost of your quadcopter over the first year”…
Sure, you may be careful and you may get lucky…but we figure it’s better for you to be prepared…especially if you haven’t yet purchased or haven’t yet flown your Phantom.
Opening up the Box – What to do First?
Are you an experienced R/C and quadcopter pilot? If so, you can rest a little easier. If not, follow along a little more closely.
Your Phantom 2 comes with a “Quick Start Guide”. To quote a well known Drone Industry Advocate “The Quick Start Guide is the most dangerous piece of equipment DJI included in the Phantom box”.
I have to agree. Unless you already have many hours experience with earlier Phantom models and/or GPS equipped quadcopters, don’t use this guide for anything other than unboxing and assembling your Phantom – and becoming familiar with the names of all the included parts. It will be handy to print it out or keep a copy on your phone or tablet so you can refer to it when you need to.
Those who actually want to keep their Phantoms in one piece will follow our own quick start guide. It goes something like this:
1. Understand the purpose and use of the Phantom 2 Vision+ (as described above in this article).
2. Become proficient in R/C piloting – especially quadcopters. Understand all facets of the hobby by both hand-on’s practice and reading online forums, etc.
3. Read and understand ALL DJI materials on your quadcopter – located at:
Also, check out some of DJI’s official videos on youtube and vimeo.
4. When you are ready for your first flights, take your Phantom to a large open area (field, etc.) – do not fly it in your backyard, street or small clearing. Fly for at least one hour (5+ flights) with your Phantom relatively close to the ground and over a soft surface. This will make sure any of your small mistakes or problems with the setup don’t turn into BIG mistakes.
Wow – that’s a lot of homework! But if we spare the rod, we spoil the child….or in this case, we separate you and your hard-earned money much quicker than needed.
We are going to assume your intelligence – while at the same time mentioning the folks we try to help with troubleshooting….like the guy who constantly tried to calibrate his compass, attain GPS and fly his Phantom inside his house…and then complained it didn’t work right! That’s not you, right??
Before You Hit the Field
DJI delivers the Phantom with many of the advanced features locked – fearing that new users won’t know how to use them, they attempted to keep you safe by only allowing GPS-based flight as the out-of-the-box default. The problem is – IMHO – that this can actually cause MORE problems than it solves – because many fly aways and losses are the result of GPS errors – combined with user ignorance. Again, we are going to assume your intelligence and ask you to read about the features you can unlock – and even consider unlocking them prior to your first flight(s)…or soon after. Here are the basics:
A. As delivered to you, the Phantom is in “Phantom mode” – which only allows for GPS or ATTI (altitude hold) flight. The two switches on your transmitter (S1 and S2, called X1 and X2 in some places) can serve many more functions when unlocked in the NAZA-M Assistant software – IN ANY CASE, KEEP BOTH SWITCHES IN THE UPPER OF THE THREE POSITIONS FOR YOUR FIRST FLIGHTS. The right switch in the upper position is GPS mode and in the center or bottom position is ATTI mode (in the delivered Phantom mode).
B. By hooking the Phantom to your computer (with included USB port), you can unlock the so-called “NAZA-M Mode” or native mode of the Flight Controller system. This is done by checking a box which in the NAZAM Assistant Software screen which allows Intelligent Orientation Control (IOC).
This may sound complicated to the newbie – but if you don’t understand these other modes of operation, you will not be able to properly fly and recover your Phantom! Here is an easy guide to the flight modes you will need to succeed….
GPS-ATTI mode is the Phantom mode – the quadcopter is 100% reliant on a good GPS signal and relies on that for proper flight – and, for your retrieval if you lose sight of it or orientation. Since GPS can be unreliable for MANY reasons, it pays to not have your precious investment 100% rely on these signals.
ATTI mode (right switch middle position) – still allows the Phantom to maintain a level Altitude, but does not use GPS to do so. Your Phantom will drift with the wind, but there is a better chance you will be able to take or maintain control of your craft in this mode…it is very unlikely to fly away or suddenly crash since GPS errors are now not fully taking over your Phantom.
HOME LOCK – this is a useful mode which allows the Phantom to forget that it has a front, back or side and fly according to what you do with the sticks! Here’s the scenario – the Phantom is 300 feet in the air and 800 feet away from you and you cannot tell which direction it’s headed in! You freak out and try to steer it back toward you, but you can’t tell which way it’s going! Switch into Home Lock and pull back on the right stick and the Phantom will head back towards you…when it gets close enough that you can again see the LED’s and know which way it is heading, you can flip back to ATTI or GPS mode and bring it to a landing.
Home lock is preferable to the built-in Return to Home mode for a couple of reasons – mostly because you have control over the quadcopter in terms of speed, angle, altitude, etc. instead of initiating an automatic function. It’s part of the “save my quadcopter” toolbox that every pilot needs to know about.
Unfortunately, Home Lock does depend somewhat on your Phantom having a proper GPS “home point” – which is where it is attempting to get back to. For this reason, when a quick decision needs to be made to save an out-of-control quadcopter, ATTI mode is the preferred method…taking the GPS out of the equation and stopping the quad from crashing or flying away quickly. What method to use depends on the actual circumstances. Often, just switching the right switch to the center position will allow you to manually recover control of your quadcopter.
Although we suggest your first flights be in a large open field, feel free to remove your Phantom propellers and take it outdoors clear of your house and run through the startup and shutdown procedures. This will familiarize you with arming the quadcopter, using the gimbal controls, etc. and also confirm that everything is working and connecting properly. You can also calibrate the compass by doing the “NAZA DANCE” as described in the instructions and/or many online videos. Speaking of the compass calibration – do not constantly redo the calibration! Once it is set, leave it alone unless the Phantom displays an error or you travel far with your machine.
The Final Basics
We could write books on this subject – in fact we did – however, this article lays out much of what you need to know to preserve your Phantom. Here are some other basics – please…they may be short, but each and every one is very important, so print them out or commit them to memory:
Other than that, these are some basics:
1. As stated in the manual, calibrate the compass before attempting flight the first time. Do not constantly calibrate it afterwards…once every couple of months should fine…or if the Phantom throws off an error. If you move to a new location over 10 miles from the original, that may also be a cause for recalibration – although we have been successful moving our own Phantom as much as 100 miles without a new calibration – and it worked fine.
2. Turn things on in the order stated – that is, FIRST the R/C control first before you turn on (or connect in the P1 series) the battery.
3. Fly in an open area and make sure you have all GPS signals before taking off.
4. Make certain both select switches are UP – that’s GPS mode and standard flying for the first couple of times. Become familiar, though, with more manual ATTI mode and unlock those capabilities as soon as you feel comfortable doing so.
5. Consider using prop guards – the Phantom does not take off and land perfectly – it’s quite normal for it to lean over in both cases, and without prop guards you may ruin a prop, etc.
6. Be prudent with your first few flights – understand flight times, the effects of wind, etc without letting it get too far.
9. Do not depend on or deploy RTH (Return to Home) unless there are no other options. DJI advises NOT to test RTH mode. It’s only for total emergencies…and even then may not retrieve your craft.
10. Understand NAZA-mode and activate it when you have a chance – test the Home Lock function and use it to retrieve your Phantom when you lose orientation.
11. BATTERIES CAN BE BAD….or wear out. PLEASE WATCH THIS VIDEO:
Leaving you with some Common Sense
Common sense apparently isn’t as common as it once was. Many Phantom pilots push the envelope, flying their Phantoms thousands of feet away using GPS mode – and then crying when the Return to Home function fails to bring it home. Let’s be real – and practical. The Phantoms are not made for taking pictures at great distances. In the USA, rules dictate that we keep our quads under 400 feet AGL (above ground level) and also within LOS (line of sight). In real terms, my Phantom becomes a dot in the sky at about 300 feet high. Also, why would I want to fly it 1,000 feet away from me when I can simply walk closer to that end of the park or field and have better orientation and control?
Ah, but many won’t take this advice…which will result in many additional sales from DJI…and perhaps some people giving up the hobby. Truth is, it’s not for everyone – we are still in the pioneer stages and those who expect a Phantom, or any quadcopter, to perform as flawlessly as their iphone or notebook computer are better off waiting a few years – or decades – to enter this pursuit.
Have you already destroyed your Phantom? Or do you want to go further in preventing loss?
Sorry! We know how it feels as we’ve lost many a quadcopter ourselves. However, there is some hope! There are now a couple independent shops which will repair the Phantoms, gimbals and cameras…often at 1/2 the cost (or less) of getting it done by DJI or a DJI dealer. The same shops can also do upgrades or checkups on your Phantom – for example, they can improve the GPS antenna and shielding and look for faults in your wiring and circuit boards which may cause problems later. Some Phantom pilots are even sending brand new units into these shops to have them checked and upgraded before they are flown. It very well could be a good investment as mass-produced items such as these are not given this kind of individual attention at the factory.