The new DJI Phantom 3 has instantly become the best-selling quadcopter (drone) in history. However, with tens of thousands of new pilots entering the hobby each month, the inevitable crashes and losses are likely to happen. The good news is that the Phantom 3 is, statistically speaking, less likely to misbehave or crash due to EITHER pilot error or hardware/software malfunction. Still, statistics don’t mean anything to the pilot who loses their bird prematurely. Read on for the the hints and tips which pertain to this exciting new flying camera.
These Tips and Hints are in the order of importance
#1 -Pilot Education
The #1 reason, by far, for losses of the DJI Phantom 3, is lack of pilot education and training. There is a lot to learn about these machines – make sure you start with reading and understanding every word of the manual. If you don’t understand certain terms and/or concepts, look them up on the net or join our (or other) forums and ask others. Quadcopter and drones are NOT consumer electronics like a stereo…they are real aircraft and require a real pilot (you). The P3 is a technical aircraft – you must delve into some facets of flight, weather, software, etc. in order to be a long term and successful pilot.
Here is our thread on continuing education (hints and tips).
#2 – Fly only when Needed
The Phantom 3 is a delicate flying tripod and stabilized camera. Flying it for sport and just to “see what it can do” will likely shorten your ownership experience. It is a tool made specifically for photography and video. If need be, purchase some additional toy or hobby grade quadcopters for when you just want to “bomb around”, and save your Phantom 3 for actual aerial photography.
#3 – Flying Grounds
Built-up urban areas can cause many errors including poor compass calibration (too much metal), blocking or jamming of wireless signals and poor GPS reception.
The DJI Manual also cautions against flying over water and in areas where there are a lot of trees. Obviously most of us are not going to completely avoid these areas – in fact, many pilots intentionally fly above rivers, lakes and the sea. However, the point is that you do so at your own risk. A normal error, such as a weak battery, may not be a big deal over land, but over the water it often results in the total loss of your craft.
A quick summary is that newer pilots should start in large open fields and not become over confident – something which is easy to do with a smart drone like the Phantom 3. Avoid any temptation to take off from your small backyard and fly around your crowded neighborhood. This hint should be combined with #2 above- fly when you are going to actually use the footage or pictures!
#3 – Confirm your Home Point and RTH Setting
Always make certain you have the accurate map of your flying area in the DJI Go App and that your Home Point is accurate. Make certain to set your Home Point in an area free of trees and buildings and that the RTH height is adequate for your flying area. There is usually no harm done to set it higher – say 50 meters or more!
Also check the levels at which auto-RTH (low battery) kicks in and what you want the bird to do at those levels (land or RTH).
#4 – Understand Flight Modes, R/C Control and ATTI
The mode switch on the upper left hand side of the Remote does not function unless you enable it in the DJI Go App. This is one of the first things any pilot should do – enable “Multiple Flight Modes” in the Advanced settings of the DJI Go App. This allows the Phantom to be switched into ATTI mode (the middle setting) in the event of a GPS failure. ATTI mode will often allow you to save your Phantom from a GPS related error and steer it home.
Also, the DJI Go App can sometimes freeze or go blank – especially on lower end Android devices. Use IOS for the best reliability. If your app freezes and you lose camera view and other telemetry, don’t panic! You will retain R/C control of your craft and you should be able to bring it back home and land. Those with more confidence can restart their device and app while the Phantom hovers and regain control
The RTH button on the Remote should also continue to work in such situations. However, bringing the Phantom home under your manual control is the most reliable method to assure retrieval.
#5 – React to Warnings and Errors
If the DJI Go App is giving error warnings (usually on the red banner along the top center of the app), pay heed to them! This is especially true when the errors mention the compass or other sensors and instruments. Do not be tempted to fly when you are seeing these errors!
Often times these errors can be fixed by:
1. Restarting your device and the Go App
2. Restarting the Phantom and your Remote
3. IMU calibration (in the DJI Go App)
4. Compass Calibration in an open area away from metal (many concrete surfaces contain metal rebar underneath).
Other Hints and Tips to Assure Phantom Longevity
A couple pilots have already mentioned that they failed to seat the battery fully into the P3 – resulting in errors while aloft. Luckily, most were able to land their machine before it crashed. When it comes to the battery, keep the following in mind.
1. Make certain it is fully seated in the Phantom before flight.
2. Use a conductive or cleaning agent on the gold contact on occassion – something like De-Oxit Gold applied on all the exposed gold contact on the Phantom and battery every 10 flights should do the job.
3. Understand the Return to Home and Failsafe settings in the battery screen – as well as the buttons on the Remote and Pilot App which initiate or terminate RTH sequences. Beginners should not run the batteries down below about 35-40% as the Failsafe modes can confuse them.
4. Check the batteries for “battery life” after about 25 flights and then every 10 flights afterwards. See Chart and Instructions below. You’ll probably want to get new batteries when yours fall much below 70% life.
5. Some P3 owners suggest not storing the batteries in the Phantom as it may compress the small springs that push the data pins against the battery. This is probably overkill, but does have some merits in terms of engineering (i.e. the springs are probably tested for thousands of cycles so will not likely fail)
Flying Distances and FPV
The camera view that P3 pilots enjoy is for framing your pictures and videos. It should not be used for actual flying and positioning of your aircraft. Rules, codes and guidelines require hobby pilots to fly LOS (line of sight), meaning that you can see your Phantom at all times. LOS can be combined with the camera view to allow you to know which direction your craft is facing or heading – for example, if you lose orientation this may allow you to see a landmark and know that your P3 is headed back toward you or in another direction.
LOS (line of sight) is not a stated distance – rather it refers to the operator having the aircraft in sight and control. In most situations over open ground this would mean a maximum distance of about 500-600 meters (2000 feet) and max. height of 400 feet.
New Software and Firmware
DJI comes out with software updates quite regularly – if your existing setup is working well, it may benefit you to wait a couple weeks after these releases before upgradings. New software can introduce errors into the system….so check with other pilots (forums, etc.) to see if the new firmware, app, etc. are solid before upgrading.
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