Let’s set the scene: you take a glance outside and instantly plan an entire shoot in your head. You rush to get started but, to your dismay, your drone just won’t take off.
Believe it or not, every drone pilot has to inevitably deal with such a scenario (or at least some version of it). And honestly, it can get pretty frustrating.
But don’t worry, fixing a drone not taking off is fairly easy. Here are the fundamentals.
You can fix a drone that won’t take off by analyzing the most probable causes, which include hardware damage, technical bugs, and battery issues. You can then apply an appropriate fix, like calibration or updating the software. This works as long as the drone isn’t entirely defective.
I’ve done the research to put together the best fixes, but it can still be a bit puzzling to point a finger at the most suitable one.
In this post, I’ll be helping you do just that - with some essential tips along the way.
Before we dive in deep, let me give a bit of context. Here’s how a drone actually takes off - in simple terms.
A quadcopter gets its lift primarily from the motor design and the propellers. The latter act as wings and push down on the air. In turn, a reactive force is generated and the air pushes the quadcopter drone upwards. The created lift grows more as the propellers rotate faster.
It’s also important to note that the propellers aren’t designed to rotate in the same direction. So, their orientation matters as well.
You’ll find this concept playing a role in some of the upcoming causes of your main problem.
So, we know that the propellers are largely responsible for lifting a drone. There is, however, a bit more to it.
Several other concepts work in tandem to make it happen. And if something does go wrong, the drone may not take off at all.
Your drone may not be lifting off because of technical issues or calibration errors. You might also be in a restricted location. In some cases, the drone doesn’t turn on at all. This is generally the result of battery issues, internal damage, or a manufacturing defect.
Let’s look at these reasons in a bit more detail to see which one(s) might apply to you.
This is one of the only causes that even apply to drones straight out of the box.
If you’ve powered on your drone and are instantly trying to get it up in the air, it simply might not be ready. This is because drones need to warm up before they’re fit for operation.
You might’ve already come across this requirement if you own a modern drone. The DJI Phantom, for example, notifies the pilot if it’s still getting ready for flight.
This process isn’t particularly noticeable, but it’s best to give your drone a few minutes before you get to your mission - especially if it’s cold outside.
While it may not sound likely, the drone’s software can single-handedly prevent the propellers from spinning.
This is particularly common with DJI drones and generally happens due to inconsistencies within the remote control settings.
Don’t get me wrong though, you may have to deal with software problems with a non-DJI drone as well.
Drones with outdated software can be riddled with technical bugs. These lead to a disruption in the connection between the drone and the transmitter, as communication signals fail to transfer accurately.
In general, compass calibration might come off as more of a recommendation than a requirement. In your case, however, it’s something that’s especially important not to overlook.
When a drone is entirely unfamiliar with a location, it can prevent takeoff to avoid the risk of accidents. In such a case, you may be notified to initialize the calibration process.
But that’s not all.
It’s just as important to make sure the calibration is done right. This includes going through the steps diligently and away from sources of interference.
In some cases, the drone may not be responding at all. This is generally to do with the power supply.
It’s possible that the drone is simply low on charge. This may sound a bit too obvious, but new owners often rely on their expectation of receiving a fully charged drone. Check out my complete guide on reasons why your drone won't charge its battery.
Similarly, a battery can also get damaged over time. This can particularly be the case if you got your drone wet or stored the battery in damp conditions.
The cause may be the components themselves, especially if you’ve tried your hand at adjusting them before.
As I’ve already mentioned, the propellers need to be mounted in the correct position and direction. So, if you ended up switching them around at some point, the drone might not be generating the kind of airflow needed.
It could also be because the controller isn't properly connected to your drone and it doesn't receive its inputs.
This part also applies to those who might have damaged their drone through a crash.
Accidents are fairly common, and they result in a new set of problems every time. Components, like the motors, propellers, or circuit board, might be too damaged for normal operation
This one isn’t really a common problem. But if your drone looks in tip-top condition, you really shouldn’t rule it out.
Most manufacturers integrate flying restrictions into the drone’s software to ensure FAA drone laws are followed. This means your drone won’t be able to take off in a prohibited location, regardless of the instruction you give it.
Geofenced areas include military bases, power plants, schools, and airports. This is, however, a pretty vague list. You can always try using AirMap if you really want to confirm your suspicions.
If you’ve determined the root of the problem, the fix might have been self-explanatory. In most cases though, you’ll have to follow a series of sequential steps to get your drone up and running.
You can get your drone off the ground by fixing the problems it encounters during takeoff. Possible solutions include drone calibration, updating firmware, readjusting the antenna, and switching out the battery. However, some problems, like accidental damage, may require the help of an expert.
Needless to say, it’s just as important to actually know how to take off a drone. If your skills are a bit rusty, this YouTube video might help.
With that out of the way, here are what the steps look like for each solution.
This part mainly refers to calibrating the drone compass, but I recommend calibrating the drone completely to leave no room for error. This includes calibrating the IMU and the remote controller as well.
Compass calibration involves rotating the drone horizontally and vertically. Similarly, IMU calibration consists of placing the drone on different sides.
This may sound a bit overwhelming, but you can initialize both processes through the drone’s app. This makes calibration super straightforward.
If you have a DJI drone, the YouTube video might make things even simpler.
Remote control calibration differs from drone to drone, so it’s best to skim through the user manual to figure out which buttons to press.
We discussed earlier how technical bugs can end up obstructing basic functions. A simple way to counteract that is to check for firmware updates.
Since drone technology is always evolving, updates are released pretty regularly. You can generally find the latest one by connecting your drone to your device. The video shows what the process might look like.
On the odd occasion, you may start facing issues after the update. This means the manufacturer may have rolled out a new version without complete testing.
In that case, you can try restoring the drone’s firmware to a previous version. This process is a little different but just as simple.
We already know the battery is the drone’s power supply. It makes sense to ensure it is, at the very least, in functioning condition.
The battery’s health status might tell you everything you need to know if it’s critically low. Still, I recommend checking for signs of damage as well.
You may have to place an order for a new one if it looks worn out. And as a side note, trying to cut costs by buying an unauthorized battery generally isn’t a good idea.
But that’s not all: you should also inspect the compartment itself. Make sure the battery connectors aren’t corroded or damaged.
This one applies to those who can’t seem to connect their drone to their device in the first place. If there are no signs of a communication signal, the drone’s antenna might be damaged.
An easy fix is to get it looked at by an expert or buy a new one.
This can get somewhat expensive though. If you’re relatively experienced, you might want to try your own hand at fixing it. This involves cutting off the antenna at a specific length, as shown in the YouTube tutorial.
If the drone barely shows any signs of life and nothing seems to work, it might be defective or internally damaged.
Now, what does this mean for you?
To put it bluntly, this is where you’ve hit a dead end. You’ll have to send the drone off to a professional for a repair.
This is often the only solution for a drone that is tested with a severe crash, as it may require replacements for the motors, the sensors, and the battery latch.
And in other (rare) cases, you might have been supplied with a faulty unit. You should, however, be able to get the entire drone replaced through the manufacturer.
This part refers to a situation where the drone successfully turns on and connects. Everything seems to be in order but the propeller(s) just won’t spin.
It’s easy to see how this could get annoying pretty quickly, but the fix is incredibly simple.
You can fix your drone propeller not spinning by launching the drone's app and accessing the remote control settings. You then select the stick mode you prefer and apply the changes. If this doesn’t work, the issue is mechanical and you’ll need to check the drone’s hardware.
The software problem is particularly common with DJI drones, as they tend to automatically switch settings. On the other hand, the issue is generally mechanical if the propellers aren’t functioning as a unit (some spin, others don’t).
You can try checking under the hood for an obstructed motor or loose wires. If one of the motors can’t spin freely, you’ll have to clean it. This video tutorial might help.
I’ve brought up software problems quite a few times in this post. If your drone seems to be plagued with them and nothing else seems to work, resetting it may be a viable solution.
You can generally reset a drone by connecting it to a computer via a USB cable. DJI drones, for example, make use of the DJI Assistant program to facilitate a factory reset. However, some drones don’t require any additional software and can simply be reset through the hardware buttons.
Here’s one thing to keep in mind: not all DJI drones work with the same version of DJI Assistant. So, make sure the program you’re using is compatible with your drone.
Once you’ve launched the program, all you have to do is select your drone and access its firmware settings - where you’ll find a “restore factory defaults” button.
For other drones, you’ll most likely be using the power button and the feedback from the LEDs for guidance. Specific instructions should be stated in the user manual.
Your drone might not be taking off because you’ve attached more weight than it can carry. At the same time, you don’t want to sacrifice additional functionality.
Well, you don’t have to! As long as you manage to improve your drone’s lift capacity, that is.
You can improve your drone lift by modifying the drone. This refers to installing more powerful motors, adding more efficient propellers, and removing additional weight from the drone itself. If the drone has already reached its absolute peak, however, you may have to upgrade to a different model.
If you don’t want to take the DIY route, your best bet may be to make the drone lighter. You can do this by removing propeller guards and detaching accessories that won’t be in use.
It’s important to ensure safety by reading up on the performance of your drone model, so you don’t end up pushing it too far.
I’ve done a separate article on the payload capacity of drones, which you might want to check out.
There may be a few hiccups on your journey, but drones are rarely a complete let-down. You should be able to pinpoint a fix by using the right methods.
As a general rule, you should start troubleshooting by figuring out why exactly your drone won’t fly. The main causes are power issues, mechanical issues, and bad software. Once the root of the problem is identified, you can try applying a suitable fix, which may include disassembling the drone.
You should be able to land on the right fix through trial and error.
But don’t get me wrong: reaching out to a team of professionals is still the easiest way out, as they’ll know how to service your particular model.