Have a Plan for in Flight Multirotor Emergencies

What to do when your Quad-copter tries to stage a getaway on its own!



It is probably my attorney background, but I see potential problems and dangers in the sky far more than most pilots. Because of that I have had defense plans for my flying since I started in this hobby years ago. When I got my first quad-copter, I heard that some were flying away, so I developed a plan for what I would do in case of an emergency. Today I finally got to put my plan in action.

The picture on the front is not the quad-copter involved but it was one about that size.

Have An Emergency Flight Plan in Mind Before you Fly!

If you don't have a plan, an emergency can take you by surprise. I had read about Fly Aways but have never experienced one nor seen one until today. My plans have been: 1) Try to bring it back with proper stick movement. 2) If using GPS go to Return Home Function. 3) If that doesn't work, rotate her 180 degrees with the left stick so that she's flying back to you. If still no control 4) If there is still is no control, try bringing the throttle all the way down and if that doesn't work 5) Turn the transmitter off.

I fortunately have never had a need to try my emergency plan with one of my Quadcopters. My sequence of attempts may not be the best but at least I have a plan for an emergency. If I should lose it and head toward people but while still over unpopulated ground, my first action may be to hit return. If nothing happened, I would next kill the throttle. Nothing in my emergency plan might work, but I will know I gave it my best shot. I briefly review my plan in my mind before each flight session because I never know if it might be needed that day. I recommend every pilot be prepared for the unexpected.

This morning at the park I was flying my Blade 350 QX3 when someone showed up with a multirotor of about the same size as mine. I didn't know the person and he wasn't near me. It was a February morning and the park was pretty empty. I had just landed when he shouted out "#%#!" I looked up and saw his quad-copter flying north, away from him. I could see he was moving the right stick and getting no response. I shouted for him to try rotating with the left stick. He got a response in that, and it stared to rotate, but kept flying away. He was almost out of the park. I shouted for him to kill the throttle. He did, and it came down in a tree on the edge of the park.

When he saw his quad-copter start to fly away, his brain froze, and he only tried to operate the right stick. When that didn't work, he swore. He had no plan, but he at least was open to my suggestions. I consider that one of them worked pure luck, but without a plan, luck wouldn't have had a chance.


Prepare your own plan about what you will do if you have a Fly Away. If you do crash with a LiPo, put the Lipo on the ground and monitor it for 20 minutes. If hasn't gotten warm in that period you are probably safe from your battery.

The Rest of The Story

Since it is still winter there are no leaves on the trees, and finding it was pretty easy. He was in his twenties and small of frame, so I gave him a boost and he was able to climb up and eventually get his quad-copter. It was a Chinese model I have never seen before. The body was cracked in one place and two props were broken. If it flies again, I bet he will have a plan for emergencies.

FYI: I have lost a very small quadcopter. I was flying it a bit high and a very strong thermal came over the field and even after I turned off the throttle and the prop noise stopped; it was sucked up higher by the thermal and carried east out over a lake and never seen again. Mother Nature 1, Mike 0!

Last edited by Angela H; Feb 23, 2015 at 03:08 PM..
Thread Tools
Mar 02, 2015, 12:52 PM
Registered User
Excellent points. I've been that deer-in-headlights person when my Phantom 1 shot off horizontally. I have no idea what I tried, but in the end I got lucky - it missed a hard obstacle and ditched into some very "fluffy" pine trees. (I'm fairly certain the cause was that I bumped the WiFi button on the GoPro when fitting it into the gimbal, and the WiFi caused control signal interference.) My best guess is that because it was shooting off horizontally, I probably focused my flailing on the right stick (Mode 2 - US style) and didn't have enough time to consider the left stick (cutting throttle or yawing). Hopefully, if it happens again, I'll remember these suggestions and avert loosing the model.

Another thing you don't mention is switching to your system's "Manual" (aka "stabilize" and other terms) mode, if the system has it and if you've enabled it. I'm setting up a hex with a Pixhawk FC, so I'm much more aware of flight modes than I was with the Phantom (where I primarily set the mode to GPS and didn't touch it, even though I had enabled manual on a switch on the TX.) I hadn't practiced switching mid flight or much flying with the mode, so it never entered my mind during the event. Going from GPS to Manual in any system is tricky - the throttle will probably be way off one way or another, and in the midst of a fly away, you may have lost orientation to the front of the model, but it may be better to crash than totally lose the model (and gear like a camera).

Ideally, one would want to practice these techniques so that they are hard-wired in your mind and hands, and can be done without much thinking. I can't imagine how to practice yawing the model when its in fly away, though. That's where switching to manual and recovering altitude control and re-establishing orientation could be useful - you can repeatedly practice flipping that switch on the TX, reacting to the throttle difference, and re-gaining orientation.

Though when you mentioned you're an attorney, I was expecting a post on how to CYA in terms of civil/criminal/regulatory issues...
Mar 02, 2015, 12:55 PM
Dirty Side Down.......o~^o
Hiway's Avatar
From my observations, in the event of the worst happening the plan seems to have been to "Run Away"

Reminds me of an episode of Top Gear.
Mar 02, 2015, 02:11 PM
Surface, Air & Water Rc Toys..
When he saw his quad-copter start to fly away, his brain froze
When I started flying small helicopters I experience a situation where I had lost orientation and couldn't manage to bring it back, everything I was doing was making it worst until it flew out of range and dropped out of the sky.. F%@K

Totally destroyed possibly from being run over by a car since it landed in the street outside the park I was flying at. My brain DID NOT FREEZE.

What my brain was trying to do was everything and anything to FLY IT BACK and land safely since this was my hard earned $$$ and I wasn't about to let it go.... Of course the second something was wrong if only I would of just reduce throttle and have a hard landing inside the park possibly in soft grass I would of saved it BUT that didn't happen and I learned a valuable lesson......

Most of these so called "fly away" are mostly due to GPS or Compass error so your plan should be to put it in Manual mode if you have such a flight mode and reduce throttle...

Your plan should also include good preparation before flight.
Mar 05, 2015, 01:32 AM
I Crash Therefore I Buy
beladog's Avatar
+1 for manual and reduce throttle!
My second move -within a second of step 1 not working is now to Power Radio Off.

My first and only flyaway was due to a broken rx antennae. The small F330 was still getting intermittent UHf signals so the quad did not go into forced failsafe but rather took partial control signals which apparently were "Away" and "Fast"!
Had I had my wits, I would have turned radio off forcing an immediate signal loss and return to home sequence.
Luckily the giant Torrey Pine caught it before the freeway did.
Mar 10, 2015, 10:33 PM
Registered User
My "disaster plan" is to:

1. Get out of GPS mode. Get it back to manual and try to fly it home. GPS glitches can cause real problems.

2. Barring that, charge, turn on and install TrackIMO. It's on my pre-flight checklist.
Mar 21, 2015, 02:23 AM
Mayday Mayhem
Play2win70's Avatar
Unfortunately for me I had a fly away and ultimately it was my fault and some careful reflection on my part. Needless to say I could not regain control of the quad and it flew off never to be seen again. I did a firmware update on my NAZA lite flight controller to the NAZA M V2 software. I was so excited to fly it with the new software that I did not wait for the GPS to lock on to the satellites. Needless to say once things started to go wrong I panicked and then tried to use the RTH but obviously that didn't work. It was a very valuable and expensive lesson. I never saw my $1000 custom built quadcopter that I put countless hours into building again. The last time I saw it it was flying out to the intercoastal waterway here in Florida.

I should have had an emergency action plan in place and I can assure you I will for now on. Learn the lesson from my loss and take your time, do your pre-flight checks, Lock on to Satellites and as mentioned above have a plan in place for the unfortunate issue of losing control of your aircraft.

Thanks so much for sharing this input I for one will implement a plan for future flights.
Mar 21, 2015, 07:32 AM
Registered User
Thanks so much for sharing this input I for one will implement a plan for future flights.
Mar 21, 2015, 09:28 AM
Registered User
Lost an X5C-1 in the canal behind my house yesterday!!! I spent too long trying to save it before I cut the power. TOO high, and the wind caught it.
Chalk that up to a lesson learned! Oh, I did go right back into the house and ordered another one.
Mar 25, 2015, 08:03 PM
Happy Holidays
AnthonysQuad's Avatar
Lights really help with orientation.I thjnk they are a must even in daylight.i think around sunset is the best time to fly.
Mar 31, 2015, 09:57 AM
Registered User
Baboon3509's Avatar
I had a flyaway about a week ago on my ZMR250. First thing I realised something was going wrong was when it wouldn't respond to throttle cut and continued to climb. I thought my throttle hold had kicked in but this was turned off.

Next thing to do was kill the transmitter, but this did nothing. The 'darn thing', not the words I used a week ago, just kept climbing and climbing. Last thing I've seen of it was at about 1000ft and still going.

I can only assume it was a receiver/flight controller error?
Mar 31, 2015, 10:51 AM
Registered User
PatR's Avatar

Have a Plan for in Flight Multirotor Emergencies

I often wonder how many "flyaways" occur while the FC is in a GPS slaved mode. If a vast majority the issues might be traced to deficiencies within the GPS device or system installation. Combine a poorly designed GPS with user errors in set up and safeties programming and anything could happen.
Last edited by PatR; Mar 31, 2015 at 12:57 PM.
Apr 20, 2015, 07:06 PM
Registered User
I just experienced a fly away with my Cheerson CX-20. I lifted and went up thinking everything would be fine. Stupid me did not establish a RTH GPS for the quad. I had control until about 300 feet out then my quad just kept flying away at a good altitude. I tried switch to GPS/RTH mode and powered off the transmitter while I ran towards the quad trying to get the tranmitter to connect or something, but to no success. As I weeped watching the quad fly away I prayed that when it's battery dies it did not damage anyone or property. Lesson learned.
Apr 27, 2015, 08:31 PM
Registered User
First thing I did to plan for an emergency was to join the AMA. Nice to be insured for 2.5 million in case my craft decides to do something that will damage something or harm someone.
May 08, 2015, 11:53 PM
Registered User
Originally Posted by Gatorjak
Lost an X5C-1 in the canal behind my house yesterday!!! I spent too long trying to save it before I cut the power. TOO high, and the wind caught it.
Chalk that up to a lesson learned! Oh, I did go right back into the house and ordered another one.
Especialy for beginners . at the first sign that you are disoriented or confused cut the throttle all the way back. If the quad is falling to an area that is close to you, when it reaches an altitutude of about 20 feet throttle wide open to stop descent then ease of throttle to maintain hover while you try to regain orientation. If you can't ease off throttle more and come on down to the ground. If when you first got in trouble the quad was not going to fall in an area close to you cut the throttle and let it hit the ground. If it falls in a tree, at least you know where it is , and you have a chance of retrieving it. If when you first get in trouble and you continue to try to save it, the longer you try, usually the worse the problem gets. Now the question is am I going to buy the exact same quad or something different?

Quick Reply

Thread Tools