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DJI Innovations Phantom RTF - Review

Chris Mulcahy gets his first taste of aerial video, with the Phantom from DJI Innovations.

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Introduction


Arm Span:390mm
Height:7.5"
Take Off Weight:<1000g
Motors:DJI 2212/920KV
ESC:DJI 18A
Flight Controller:DJI Naza M w/GPS
Transmitter:DJI 2.4GHz
Receiver:DJI 2.4GHz
Battery:2200mah 3S Lipo
Typical Flight Duration w/payload:8 - 10 Min
Typical Flight Duration wo/payload:12+ Min
Manufacturer:DJI Innovations
Available From:Hobby Retailers
Price:$679

It is a very exciting time for multi rotor hobby, as more companies start to push the envelope on the products that they release. With the recent boom in multi rotor aircraft, the options can be a little overwhelming when first starting out; which airframe? What motors to use? Which flight controller? ESCs?.. to name only a few. DJI, who were already making great strides in the multi rotor world, recognized this, and developed the Phantom. A true ready to fly quad rotor, loaded with high tech goodness; that will get both the beginner and advanced pilot in the air and having fun in a very short period of time. Complete with transmitter, the Phantom boasts a plethora of gadgets to help guide your Phantom through the air, including a GPS, Magnetic Compass, Barometer, Accelerometer, and 3 axis gyro, all of which are already assembled, programmed, and ready for you to fly. As an extra bonus, the Phantom also includes its own GoPro camera mount, which opens the door to a whole other aspect of R/C flying – aerial video!

I got my first glance at the Phantom during the 2012 Orlando Heli Blowout, it was on static display and looked like a very unassuming little quad – it’s looks betraying the capability it held inside. After the event I went online to learn more about it, and was very impressed by the technology used, and I became extremely curious to try one out.

In The Box



The first thought that I had when I received the Phantom, was that if Apple were to make a quad, it would probably look like this! The box is very elegant in design, and features a carrying handle, so that you could use it to tote your Phantom around. However, this wouldn’t be too practical, as you would have to remove the landing gear each time you wanted to put it back in the box. Therefore, I assume the handle is there to make carrying your Phantom home a little easier. The packaging itself is very minimalistic, and 90% recyclable. Plastic poly bags were kept to a minimum, and everything had its place in the formed interior carton.



The box contains the Phantom, with its landing gear, props, and GoPro camera mount. There is also the balance charger, a 2200mah flight battery, USB extension cord, and some European adapters for the charger. There is the proprietary transmitter, a couple of decal sheets, and a small bag containing a prop wrench, some tape, and a piece of string.





Let me mention the string real quick, as I was a little unsure of its purpose. According to DJI, the string is used for attaching the battery plug in the Phantom to the battery door, to make it easier to pull the battery plug out of the compartment. Mystery solved!



The props come in bags of two, one counter clockwise and one clockwise prop. There are three sets of props included with the Phantom, which means you get a spare set. One thing I noticed right away, was that there were no instruction manuals included in the box. Not to worry though, as with all DJI products, the manuals and software are easily accessible via their website, so the first thing I did was download these files in preparation. The only thing you will need to get your Phantom in the air, is a Phillips head screwdriver, and four “AA” batteries for the transmitter.

Phantom Features

I think I need to take a minute to explain some of the features of the Phantom. At minimum, it is a fun quadcopter to fly around. At the other extreme, it is a self stabilizing aerial video platform that can achieve amazing results right out of the box.

The Phantom is powered by DJI’s Naza M flight controller. The Naza M in itself is a remarkable piece of hardware. This flight controller has already been available from DJI since before the Phantom, though the version in the Phantom has been tuned specifically for it. First and foremost, it features a three axis gyro (similar to what we use on flybarless helicopters). This is the absolute minimum to get your quad in the air. The Phantom also features an accelerometer, which helps it determine when it is moving so it can give feedback to the motors. On top of that is a barometer, which lets the Phantom know if it is climbing or descending. There is also a magnetic compass, to help it navigate during a failsafe condition (more on that later). Finally, it features a GPS module mounted under the hood of the Phantom, allowing it to hold its position without any pilot input, as well as aid in navigation.

The Phantom has a pretty sophisticated failsafe feature. Best case scenario is that you've started out with a 6+ satellite link for at least 8 seconds before take off. This lets the Phantom record its home position. In a nutshell, If the Phantom enters failsafe mode it will literally fly back to where it started, and land. If you don't have a good satellite fix (less than 6 indicated) then the Phantom will simply descend where it is and attempt to land. It will do this regardless of which flight mode you were in when it entered failsafe. How cool is that?

If that wasn’t enough, the Phantom also has an exterior “status” LED, which communicates to the pilot, using different colors and flashes, the current condition of the Phantom. Speaking of LED’s, the Phantom features an array of LED’s under the arms of the Phantom, allowing the pilot to fly at night. These navigation lights also provide a reference for orientation during the day.

With all of this technology onboard, the Phantom offers the pilot several flight modes.

GPS Atti.
In this mode, the Phantom utilizes all of its onboard tech to aid the pilot in flying. As the Phantom initializes and warms up, the GPS module scans for satellites and sets its home position where it is sitting. This requires more than six satellites to be located by the Phantom, and it communicates the number it can see through the status LED. This mode requires very little input from the pilot, once you take off you can let go of the sticks and the Phantom will lock its position, awaiting your command. The throttle stick has to be centered for it hold its position, otherwise it will continue to climb or descend as commanded. If you are travelling in a direction, and simply let go of the right stick, the Phantom will self stabilize and hold its position.

Atti.
In this mode, the Phantom will do all of the above, except it will not use the GPS. This means it will still keep itself level, but if you let go of the right stick it will continue to drift in the direction it was going, under momentum. The advantage to this mode is that you can achieve a smoother flight (when filming) as the Phantom isn’t constantly adjusting the motors the way it does in GPS mode. The failsafe action in this mode is to simply descend and land.

Manual
Out of the box, the Phantom does not have a manual mode. However, using the Naza Assistant software, you can assign manual mode to one of the two Atti. Switches on the transmitter. This will shut off most of the Phantoms automation, allowing it to be flown more aggressively by more experienced R/C pilots.

Intelligent Orientation Control (IOC)
There are two different IOC modes on the Phantom, course lock and home lock. To use either of these modes you must have a good satellite fix with six or more satellites, and be in GPS Atti. mode. This is a great feature for new pilots, but was difficult for me to master as an experienced R/C pilot. In home lock, regardless of which way the nose is pointed, when you push the right stick forward the Phantom will move away from you, and vice versa when pulling the stick back. If you hold the stick left or right, the Phantom will circle around you in that direction.

In course lock mode, the forward direction is recorded as the direction the Phantom is pointed in when course lock is engaged. You can then rotate (or yaw) the Phantom left and right, while still keeping the Phantom on it's original trajectory using forward on the right stick. Left and right will send the Phantom left and rigth in relation to the recorded forward direction.

Colin Guinn, CEO of DJI North America, has put out some great videos explaining all of these flight modes which can be found at DJI’s website. That’s pretty awesome, when was the last time you saw the CEO of any company making this kind of video about their product?

Assembly

The Phantom goes together very quickly. Armed with a Phillips head screwdriver, I had everything bolted together and ready to go in about twenty minutes. Starting with the Phantom itself, the landing gear needs to be bolted in place, being careful to route both the receiver antenna and the compass cable through the holes in the landing gear. Four screws hold each side of the landing gear in place, threading into pressed in metal threads – not just into the plastic. Whenever you use a metal screw with a metal thread, you must use threadlock to stop the screw from vibrating out. Fortunately, DJI have supplied screws with threadlock already applied.




The compass is already attached to one of the landing gear legs, and you simply have to plug the connector from the ribbon cable into it. The included tape is then used to secure the cable, and the receiver antenna, to the landing gear legs.




The props needed to be balanced out of the box. While not necessary for the Phantom to fly, it is necessary to avoid the dreaded “jello” effect of rolling shutter when using a GoPro to take video. I used the same standard Dubro prop balancer that I use for all my props, and made sure that all of the props were perfectly balanced. If you are unsure about how to do this, there are many good videos online if you run a quick search of Youtube. The props are keyed to the motors, so one side of the aluminum cones from the balancer has to be flipped around so that the flat side of the cone sits against the prop. The props are also marked as to which arm they should be mounted to on the Phantom. There is a symbol that tells you which way the prop should rotate, and should be matched to the symbol embossed on the arm of the Phantom. This is extremely important, as the Phantom will not fly if they are not installed correctly.




Finally, I added the GoPro camera mount. The included mount fits the GoPro camera without its waterproof housing. However, if you wish to use the waterproof housing you can attach it in place of the included camera mount. I have used both mounts, and found little difference in the flight characteristics of the Phantom. This tells me that the Naza M does a great job of compensating for the change in weight.




Transmitter

The transmitter is a unique looking six channel transmitter, which has two toggle switches for the various flight modes. It is powered by four “AA” batteries, which slip neatly into the back of the transmitter. You can also use rechargeable "AA" batteries as well. There is an audio warning when the voltage drops below 4v, so you will know when to change the batteries. The transmitter features an LED on the front as well as speaker on the back, to let you know it’s current status (such as high throttle alert). The transmitter can be recalibrated by the user, and I ran through the procedure. You activate calibration mode with the flick of a few switches, before you move the sticks around their extremes several times. This is not necessary right out of the box, only if the transmitter has been sitting unused for a long time.



Upon further inspection, I noticed two adjustable pots on the back of the transmitter. This suggests that DJI may have something further in mind for the transmitter, I guess we will have to wait and see what the future brings!



By opening up the transmitter, you can switch between mode 1 and mode 2, as well as adjust the throttle stick tension. I prefer a smooth throttle stick, and adjusted my transmitter accordingly. You can see in the photos the adjustable pots mentioned, again suggesting more than just a six channel transmitter. The gimbals ride on bearings, making it a smooth feeling transmitter.




Charger

The Phantom comes with its own balance charger for the Lipo flight battery. There are also some additional adapters in the box for use in other countries. The charger itself is pretty versatile, and can balance charge 1 to 4 cell packs, is selectable between Lipo and Life, and can charge at 1, 2, or 3 amps. The status LED is red while charging, and turns green when charging is complete. The individual cell lights blink when that cell is being balanced. It is a good idea to put your battery on charge before assembling your Phantom, as it could take up to an hour to fully charge depending on the pack voltage.




The Phantom uses a 2200mah 3S Lipo, with an XT60 connector. I already had a few 3S 2200mah packs, but with the EC3 connector. To my surprise, the EC3 connector worked very well with the XT60 connector, so I didn’t have to make any adapters. The included battery is rated at 20C, and the extra batteries that I have used are rated at 35C. I also have a 65C battery, but the pack was too thick to use in the Phantom’s battery compartment.




Naza M Assistant

Available from DJI’s website, the Naza M Assistant software can be used to program the Naza M flight controller onboard the Phantom. Tucked away in the battery compartment is also a USB cable, and using the included extension cord you can hook the Phantom up to your computer. Using the Assistant software, you can update the firmware on the Naza M controller as it becomes available. The Naza M is already configured for the Phantom, so no changes are necessary; however more advanced users can tweak these settings to get the type of performance that they want. The software is used to set basic aircraft type, gyro gains, and to assign switches. There is also a monitor so you can see which switches do what.



You can use the software to assign a manual flight mode to one of the Atti. switches on the transmitter. Manual mode is definitely not for beginners, so only try this if you know what you are doing! The Naza M has a secret feature hidden in it (well, not really a secret), that being a two axis gimbal output. The more industrious pilots can retrofit a camera gimbal to their Phantom, and use the Naza M as its controller. I’ve already seen some interesting custom designs with varying degrees of success! You can check out the screen shots below to view all of the features available in the Assistant software.













Flying

Before flying the Phantom, I watched through all of the aforementioned instructional videos that Colin Guinn had made. These videos are available directly on DJI’s website, and are a great first step to getting to know your Phantom. It was too dark for me to do much testing after I had finished assembly, but I did do a quick check flight in my driveway, in the dark. The navigation lights make it extremely easy to fly at night, and are just one more of the features that the Phantom offers.



I started out by turning on the transmitter, and then plugging the flight battery into the Phantom. Even though the Phantom didn’t indicate it was required, I ran through the compass calibration procedure. It completed without any problems, and I sat the Phantom down and waited for it to warm up. We were about to get a snow storm, so temperatures were pretty cool, and it took the Phantom about two minutes to warm up. I knew it was ready as the rapidly flashing yellow LED stopped once it was up to temperature. Using the LED status light, I could also see that the Phantom had locked on to more than six satellites, and was in GPS Atti. mode.

Using the throttle stick, I raised the Phantom up to about chest height and put it into a hover. I was initially surprised at the lack of corrections I had to make. In fact, there were no corrections needed at all. I found the Phantom able to just hold its position, with no input from me at all. For an experienced R/C pilot, it is a very easy aircraft to fly, and for someone new to R/C it is definitely a confidence builder. Flying the Phantom in a basic pattern showed it to be very stable, with no bad tendencies, and it wasn’t long before I was sending it skyward to see how the lights looked from a distance. I didn’t have any problem with orientation, and continued to fly around. After about eight minutes, the initial low voltage alarm started flashing on the status LED, so I landed the Phantom and called it a night. I knew the storm was coming, so I planned to be out at sunrise to hopefully catch some interesting video.

I want to point out that the Status LED will start flashing red when the battery reaches its first level of protection, which is about 45% with stock settings. I noticed that most times this 1st level of protection would start flashing under load, i.e. when I increased power to the motors. If you ignore level 1, eventually level 2 protection will kick in and the Phantom will descend and attempt to land, regardless of where you set the throttle stick.



I awoke the next morning to a winter wonderland, and jumped at the chance to get the Phantom in the air while the scenery was still unspoiled by daily activities. I had a couple of extra batteries, and headed out as the sun was starting to rise, with six flight packs in total. There wasn’t a single wisp of wind, and I flew my first few flights exclusively in GPS Atti. mode. I realized pretty quickly that the Phantom was well suited to the GoPro. Instead of worrying about flying the actual model, I could concentrate more on where the camera was pointed. It was so ridiculously stable and locked in, that it required very little effort to fly it. The self leveling ability of the Phantom helped me get over my initial fear of sending it up too high, where it would be difficult to see if it was tilting one way or another. I liken it more to a “point and click” type experience; if I wanted the Phantom over there – I put it there and didn’t worry so much about keeping it there. The results of that first outing are in the first video below. I found that in calm conditions, GPS Atti. mode is great for getting smooth video, but with a little wind it was better to use Atti. mode without GPS. This is because in GPS mode the Phantom is constantly making corrections as it is buffeted around, making for shaky video.



Bringing the Phantom out to my local flying club, I tried out both IOC and manual modes. I’ll be honest, IOC completely freaked me out! I think because I have learned over many years to fly R/C in a particular way, it was like trying to undo all of that instinct and learn to fly all over again. I know the principles of IOC, but in practice I just couldn’t get a handle on it. In general when I fly R/C, I don’t actually “think” about how to fly, I just do it. I find that the moment I start thinking too much about it, I start to get into trouble! So knowing that it didn’t matter which way the nose was pointed in IOC mode didn’t make a bit of difference when it came to my natural reactions to the Phantoms orientation. I tried IOC several times, and kept getting myself into trouble! The cool thing though, was that because of the Phantoms stability, all I had to do was to let go of the controls and it would stabilize itself. Also pointed out to me, was that if the Phantom got so far away that you were unsure as to which direction it was facing, you could simply turn on home lock mode and bring it right back to you! I can see how IOC can be helpful to a beginner initially, and even advanced pilots, but I would still recommend learning to fly the Phantom in the more conventional way as well.



Manual mode is definitely not for the inexperienced. Switching to manual mode was like letting a dog off its leash. The Phantom became a whole other animal. It suddenly became much more agile, quicker to respond to stick inputs, and a fast mover. It was a lot of fun to zip around! I've recently been told that the Phantom will do flips with ease, and I'm eager to try it out myself! I've been a little gentle with it so far, but now that I know it's capable, I'm sure I'll be posting some video of it in the future. Hmm.. if YOU try it, make sure you’re a few mistakes high! All auto stability is switched off, so be aware if you have never flown R/C before, it can get away from you quickly.

While I was at the flying club, with its wide open spaces, I tried out the failsafe return home function. I made sure I had good satellite links, and was in the correct GPS Atti. mode, and sent the Phantom off down the field and put it into a hover. Much to everyone’s astonishment, I then turned off the transmitter and put it down on the ground. The Phantom waited for a few seconds, and then climbed a little. It then slowly made its way to roughly the point that it had taken off, and paused again. Slowly, it started descending, landing almost exactly where it had started, greeted by a round of applause from onlookers.



I’ve since taken the Phantom with me on several outings, and am learning more about it each time I take it out. Unbalanced props and motors are the big killer of smooth video on the Phantom, so it is important to take your time to make sure they are balanced correctly. You will get better video on calmer days than windier days. Gentle inputs on the transmitter also get better results. If I could, I would put as much expo into the transmitter as I could to keep things smooth. I think the videos speak for themselves, and really illustrate the sort of results you can get from the Phantom.

Video

Beyond a quick test flight the night before, this was my first trip out with the Phantom. I knew we had some snowy weather coming through, so I made sure I was out at sunrise, and visited a couple of different places around my town. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect, and I was blown away by the results.

Vimeo Link

I had the chance to visit a flying buddy of mine out at his private airstrip, so I grabbed the Phantom for the journey. This video was the result of a little playing around.

Vimeo Link

I wanted to demonstrate just how well the GPS hold feature works, and came up with this idea. I flew the Phantom out to a good position to look back on the runway, put down the transmitter, and then flew my helicopter. Once the heli flight was completed, I flew the Phantom back in again. The Phantom stayed in its position for the entire flight!

Youtube Link

Finally, a video of the actual Phantom flying around. These clips were taken on a particularly windy day, and the Phantom handled it extremely well.

Youtube Link

Additional Photos




























Conclusion

The Phantom is everything it claims to be and more. One thing that I hadn’t contemplated was just how hooked I have now become with aerial video. The Phantom is a one stop shop for getting new and experienced pilots in the air, shooting video in very little time. The amount of technology under the hood of the Phantom is staggering, and this coming from an experienced R/C heli pilot who is no stranger to 3 axis gyros. The ease with which the Phantom flies allows the subject you are filming to become the priority, knowing that the Phantom can take care of itself if you let go of the sticks. This is a major confidence booster for new pilots, and a creative release for more experienced pilots. With its small size, the Phantom is easy to take almost anywhere, and I’m looking forward to taking it on the road with me this year!

Pros:Cons:
Hands Off StabilityNo Manuals In The Box
Incredible Technology
User Updatable Firmware
Ready To Fly Video Platform
New Pilot Friendly

Last edited by CSpaced; Feb 02, 2013 at 09:38 AM..

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Old Feb 05, 2013, 06:48 AM
Registered User
United Kingdom, Glos
Joined Feb 2009
572 Posts
Good review, looks like I will need to rais the piggy bank
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Old Feb 05, 2013, 07:33 AM
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Joined Jan 2013
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Great and very thorough review, well done. Now off to switch my phantom into manual mode!
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Old Feb 05, 2013, 08:48 AM
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Matt Gunn's Avatar
United States, OH, Parma
Joined Jul 2009
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Love it Chris! Nice work as usual and very thorough. She seems to be dialed in very well with no vibes either. Were you shooting in 720p or 1080p on the GoPro?
Matt
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Old Feb 05, 2013, 08:49 AM
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Thanks guys.

Matt - all the video was shot at 720p.
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Old Feb 05, 2013, 08:49 AM
Fly allot, Crash allot, next?
United States, CA, Corona
Joined Feb 2006
7,242 Posts
Mine flew perfect out of the box. Then, after many flights, and many battery recharges, it just decided to fly away. Guess what, $1,000 just flew away, it took my GOPRO HERO SILVER with it. It did not come back to land and it didn't land itself upon loosing signal. It is somewhere in, or around, Lake Havasu City, Arizona. No loud bangs, no fires, no police sirens, phew. I stayed around for an hour looking, but no good, it's lost. When it's found, that GOPRO video will tell the tale, the camera was ON.

This is the second NAZA that failed. Previously, I bought a turn key FlightWheel 550 Hex with the NAZA M and GPS. the NAZA M was defective out of the box, spent a week of valuable time trying to make it work..

Now I fly with the Arduflyer 2.5 controller installed on my Flightwheel 550. It flies perfect, but I'm chicken to try the return to land function.

My advice: Fly in an open space and be prepared for the unexpected.

Like they say "You pay your bucks and take your chances"
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Old Feb 05, 2013, 09:38 AM
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The Netherlands, GE, Culemborg
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Excellent review!
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Old Feb 05, 2013, 10:32 AM
Videographer/Product Reviews
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SCALEFAN View Post
Mine flew perfect out of the box. Then, after many flights, and many battery recharges, it just decided to fly away. Guess what, $1,000 just flew away, it took my GOPRO HERO SILVER with it. It did not come back to land and it didn't land itself upon loosing signal. It is somewhere in, or around, Lake Havasu City, Arizona. No loud bangs, no fires, no police sirens, phew. I stayed around for an hour looking, but no good, it's lost. When it's found, that GOPRO video will tell the tale, the camera was ON.

This is the second NAZA that failed. Previously, I bought a turn key FlightWheel 550 Hex with the NAZA M and GPS. the NAZA M was defective out of the box, spent a week of valuable time trying to make it work..

Now I fly with the Arduflyer 2.5 controller installed on my Flightwheel 550. It flies perfect, but I'm chicken to try the return to land function.

My advice: Fly in an open space and be prepared for the unexpected.

Like they say "You pay your bucks and take your chances"
Was it in GPS mode when this happened?

If it was, my guess that there may be issues with the external compass configuration on the Phantom.

It is a guess, but I thought I mention it.

BTW, nice review though.
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Old Feb 05, 2013, 11:13 AM
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United States, NC, Greensboro
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Chris,

Can I borrow that to film the Osiris!.. LOL!!

Very Nice review and AWESOME video!!!
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Old Feb 05, 2013, 11:41 AM
Fly allot, Crash allot, next?
United States, CA, Corona
Joined Feb 2006
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Yes GPS mode, I was taking video of the outside of our house, and it had the sats. Freak event, but it is possible. Sometime these electronic brains have a mind of their own.

Just have to be prepared for the unexpected, I thought the Phantom was bullet proof.



Quote:
Originally Posted by daskim View Post
Was it in GPS mode when this happened?

If it was, my guess that there may be issues with the external compass configuration on the Phantom.

It is a guess, but I thought I mention it.

BTW, nice review though.
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Old Feb 05, 2013, 11:55 AM
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did you calibrate the compass? Without doing so, it could easily fly a different direction if RTH was enabled.
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Old Feb 05, 2013, 11:58 AM
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Lake Zurich, IL
Joined Jan 2008
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If GPS signal is weak during the flight and acting up, I flip the switch to Atti mode. I wonder the area you are flying; did you lose both of them near the same area? Yeah, it is one of those things. I have been flying Naza since Oct 2011. I'd wish this happened to me because I don't pay for mine.

Chris, nice article, and wonderful videos.
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Old Feb 05, 2013, 02:08 PM
5mars
Joined Feb 2013
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Very nice review thanks!! I discover this website by reading your article.
I just received my Phantom today bud sadly it seems i can't charge the battery!
I read the documentation and I followed the connections instuctions, I set the balance charger on LiPo and 2A. But: the red "1s" flashes alternately with the "Charge Status" one (both in red). After 1 or 2 hours nothing happens..

It's my first experience of this kind of equipment and i am searching informations about charger and battery, without finding solutions. Perhaps it's a battery problem?

Thanks if someone could help me.. I'm frustrated at not being able to use this beautiful object!
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Old Feb 05, 2013, 02:42 PM
Fly allot, Crash allot, next?
United States, CA, Corona
Joined Feb 2006
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Chris, the review was good and it was honest. The Phantom does work out of the box, but the negative is, that it is an expensive toy for the novice.

Just wanted to point out to the readers....Save the box and packing material, plan for the unexpected, fly in open areas, don't get cocky, get renters or homeowners insurance and make sure it covers this kind of liability, then have fun with a clear mind. I have insurance, but I still was shaking in my boots, what if ?????

Remember, if you can't tell what the Phantom is thinking, you can't fix it. So, don't be naive like me, plan for the unexpected.

One minute, perfect, the next ?
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Old Feb 05, 2013, 02:49 PM
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Scalefan, did you calibrate your compass before 1st flight?
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