How to Fix a Drone That Won’t Fly

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Last updatedLast updated: April 19, 2021

A drone that won’t fly? What a buzzkill! Sometimes that happens with new drones right out of the box, but usually after a crash or a long period of storage. Whatever the reason, you need to learn how to fix a drone that won’t fly or you will spend most of your time frustrated with it.

When your drone won’t fly, the first step is to diagnose the problem. You can usually tell what is wrong from the various symptoms it displays such as failing to turn on, propellers not spinning, or poor control.

Whether you’re flying a premium DJI or a toy quadcopter, there are some common drone problems you should be able to troubleshoot and fix all by yourself.

The Drone Doesn’t Turn On

When you power on your drone, you should see lights turn on and get a live camera feed and uplink signal. If you see none of these signs of life, the cause is usually simple to diagnose.

When your drone is new, chances are high that the battery is very low on charge. Be sure to charge it completely before attempting to fly for the first time to ensure that it has enough juice. The battery might also be damaged or worn, so it’s worth a shot trying with a known good battery.

You should also check the battery power connectors to ensure that none is loose, corroded, or damaged. If all that fails, it could be that the drone is damaged internally. There are lots of components that could get corroded or damaged electrically and physically. If you suspect this to be the problem, contact the manufacturer or a professional technician to look for internal damage.

If the problematic drone in question is a DJI Phantom 3, you can pick up this Lordone Phantom 3 Battery as a backup. This battery packs 4480mAh of juice worth 23 minutes of flying time and comes with all the standard charge protection circuitry. The real kicker, though, is that you get the same performance as the original and get to save over $40 on the sticker price.

How to Fix a Drone That Won't Fly

The Drone Won’t Take Off From the Ground

A more common problem is having a drone that turns on but simply won’t take off from the ground. There is a whole range of problems why this might be, some more serious than simply not turning on.

The reason why your drone won’t take off from the ground could be a software problem or hardware issue. You could start by running this drone troubleshooting checklist, but the issue isn’t always apparent. Instead, try to work back from the problem toward the cause and solution.

1. The Drone is Warming Up
If your drone displays an error message about the temperature, it might be too chilly outside to fly. This is a common problem with many high-end camera drones such as DJI’s, which need to warm up properly before they can fly.

If the temperature outside is too cold, warm up the bird in your car or house first before flying. Keep your batteries fully charged and relatively warm, and plan on shorter flights due to a higher rate of discharge.

In any case, giving your drone 5 minutes to warm up internally and a minute or two to hover should warm everything up sufficiently to be flying normally again.

2. Compass Calibration

If it’s the first time flying, the drone will need to have its compass calibrated before it can take off. Most drones also request a calibration before every flight, while some like the DJI Phantom and Spark only request one after a significant location change.

The compass could also be receiving interference from nearby metallic or magnetic objects, so moving the drone a few feet away or out in the open might fix this problem.

You should always calibrate your drone after unboxing it and whenever you notice any erratic behavior. That means calibrating the inertial measurement unit (IMU), gimbal, and remote control device. Here is a great video about calibrating a DJI drone and fixing other settings:

In short:

  • Place the drone onto a perfectly flat surface (check with a spirit level)
  • Remove the gimbal protection
  • Turn on the drone and its remote control device
  • For compass calibration, tap on Compass calibration. Turn the drone 3600 parallel to the ground, then perpendicular to it, then rotate the drone clockwise and anticlockwise as prompted. While calibrating, make sure to stay away from metal and magnetic objects and keep your hands steady.
  • To calibrate the IMU: Got to Advanced Settings > Sensors > Calibrate IMU. The app will have a wizard guide you through the process
  • To calibrate the gimbal, go to Settings > Gimbal Settings > Gimbal Autocalibration.
  • To calibrate the remote control, go to Remote Control Calibration > Calibrate > Start. A wizard will pop up on how to do this by moving the different controls.

While this process is specific to DJI drones, it is quite similar in the other drone models as well.

3. Geofencing

If you are trying to fly your drone in a restricted area such as a national heritage site, defense installation, power plant, airport, or during large or national security events, the drone likely won’t fly. The manufacturers restrict internal mapping and GPS from these areas automatically in keeping with federal laws, and you can figure out what these areas are on airmap.com.

4. Damage After a Crash

You’re bound to crash your done sooner or later, even if you’re an experienced pilot. When that happens, it could cause any number of internal problems which will prevent your drone from taking off in the first place.

Apart from external damage such as broken props, you could have a damaged battery, wireless transmission, no GPS locking, poor sensors, or a cracked circuit board.

5. Registration

The reason why your drone won’t take off could be simply because you haven’t registered it on the app. This is common with DJI drones, where you have to register your location, address, and other relevant details. Once you link to your account, it will update the drone’s firmware and allow it to fly.

The Drone is Going Sideways

A drone should have self-leveling capabilities by using the IMU, gyroscope, and GPS.

The biggest cause of drifting in a drone is miscalibration or external interference of the control signals. Thus, the first solution is to calibrate the quadcopter as described above.

Another reason for this drifting could be a weight imbalance, causing more weight on one axis than the others. Batteries are common culprits of this error, but you can account for it with the trim controls to compensate for the extra weight on one side or the other.

Most drones come with trim controls for easy adjustment, even these drones under $600. To fix the problem of your drone flying sideways, take it out to an open space with no wind and slightly adjust the trim controls for left/right motion until it can hover independently without any input from you.

The Drone Leans to One Side

If your drone seems to be leaning off to one side, that is a clear indication of imbalanced thrust. This can happen when one or more of the propellers is not fixed properly or are damaged. Sometimes, the propellers spin but you have no lift-off at all.

The first thing to check for is the propeller blades. You should have similar propellers on opposite-facing motors on a diagonal axis. In other words, if you’re flying a quadcopter, the two front propellers would be A and B, with complementary B and A props in the rear. If any of these is off, the pitch of the props will be wrong and they won’t achieve enough thrust to take off.

If you can’t pick out what the problematic blades are, try to lift the quad slightly with your hands and see which side it is leaning to, then adjust that particular side.

The other problem could be a damaged motor or propeller blade. This is very common after a crash, where you could have twisted blades or stuck motors. Replacing the blades is cheap and easy enough, but damaged motors might require professional repair.

The Drone Turns on but the Propeller Won’t Spin

If all the propellers won’t spin, that’s probably a software problem. DJI quadcopters have this problem where they switch the mode settings from Mode 2 to Mode 1 and vice versa. This means that you end up using the wrong control stick trying to fly the drone.

If this problem happens to you,

  • Connect to the DJI Go app
  • Go to the remote control settings
  • Select your remote control stick of choice
  • Select Apply.

If only one or two propellers won’t spin, the problem is probably mechanical. Here are a few things you can check.

  • Open the motor’s cover and check that the propeller gears haven’t gotten stuck or misaligned
  • Feel if the motor’s shaft can move freely. If not, the motor’s case or internal components could have shifted, which might require professional repair
  • Look for damaged circuitry and disconnected wires. If all else fails, you can replace the motor to get the drone flying again

How to Fix the Drone After a Crash

How to Fix a Drone That Won't Fly

Did you just crash your drone? Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be dead. More likely, you just have a few broken propeller blades that you can buy for a dime a dozen. From experience, we find that the HQProp Ethix S5 props for FPV quadcopters are a great choice. These propellers are highly durable and can resist deformation better than most. Plus, they look great!

Anyway, if you crashed your drone, chances are that someone else has crashed that particular model as well and made a detailed video or post on drone forums about what to do. Here are some general pointers:

  • Recover your drone as soon as possible, especially if it lands in water. If this is the case, disassemble the drone completely, clean it with acetone, and dry it completely before proceeding.
  • Check for any external damage including the propellers, battery, connections, camera, antenna, etc
  • Check the drone’s body for any cracks, chips, and loose screws
  • Check the battery health
  • Connect the drone to a computer or mobile device and do a full firmware update
  • Remove the propellers and proceed to power on the drone. The drone won’t fly, but the boot sequence will conduct internal checks and sensors. Simulate a full flight simulation to try and pick up any problems

This is actually the way to fix a Spyder X drone that won’t fly after crashing. If everything checks out after this, reattach the propellers and continue flying, always being cautious. It’s a good idea to enable flight logging to help with troubleshooting and recovery in case of subsequent crashes.

It is also a good idea to have crash protection installed, especially for professional drones such as roof inspection drones. If you have any problems for which you can’t pinpoint a solution, contact the manufacturer as soon as you can to get it fixed.

Final Thoughts

We wouldn’t believe it if you said that you have never had a problem with your drone. Crashes will always happen, as well as things beyond your control. What you can do is get your drone up in the air again when you encounter a problem.

Drones are designed to be pretty sturdy, so it is rare that you will encounter a catastrophic problem. They are also quite user-serviceable if you know your way around a soldier gun and a circuit board, so learning how to fix a drone that won’t fly won’t be so hard. The only challenge will be keeping it from crashing again once it’s back in the air.

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