Easy fixes if your drone propellers are spinning but not flying.

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There is nothing more frustrating than setting up your drone, getting ready to take off, and then having an issue such as your drone propellers spinning but not being able to fly. This issue can be frustrating since you are so close to getting on with your flight mission. This issue is relatively easy to troubleshoot as long as you follow the process in this article.

If your drone propellers are spinning, but you cannot take off, the drone is likely in a geofenced zone, the remote control is not connected or calibrated, or there are issues with the drone’s calibration.

When you first turn on a drone, it will likely spool up the motors to check the calibration and functionality. It will do this whether or not you are connected to the remote control or not. Just because the motors have spun once or twice doesn’t mean that the drone is ready to take off.

I have personally experienced this issue several times, and it is always the simplest of issues stopping me from taking off. The drone propellers were spinning in one instance, but I could not get the drone to take off. I was on Lord Howe Island in a geofenced zone where I needed to self unlock to fly.

Here is everything you need to consider if drone propellers have been spinning, but you cannot take off.

Propeller on the wrong motor

If your drone is spooling up, but you cannot get it to take off, you should check that the propellers are in the right locations.

Drone propeller direction

The importance of position is because some of the motors turn clockwise while others turn anticlockwise; this gives you the ability to move in the air and provide stability through the drone’s flight.

Many manufacturers have different markings on the propellers and the motor body to match up the appropriate motors with the correct propellers.

Checking and double-checking their position is important if you remove the propellers for transport or storage.

If you take off with the propeller on the wrong motor, the drone will likely spin clockwise or anticlockwise upon takeoff. Landing quickly and reassessing the propeller positions is the only thing you can do to stop the drone from rotating during the flight.

Propeller is not sat in the cradle properly

Propeller position within the cradle is important for ensuring that the propeller sits at the right angle of attack and is securely fastened into the motor.

When the propeller is placed into the motor, I recommend giving it a small duple from side to side whilst holding the brushless motor to check for a stable insertion.

Regularly removing and replacing your propellers during storage and transit can slowly wear down the small plastic tabs which hold the propeller in place.

Should you see the rounding of any edges in the connection tabs, it is time to replace your propellers. If you want to know more about when you should consider changing your drones propellers check out my YouTube video below.

In a geofenced zone

This issue is the issue that plagued me the most during my time travelling around Australia. Even my backyard is a do not flow zone because of my proximity to the local airport.

Geo-fencing uses GPS and navigational satellite signals to automatically prevent drones from flying over sensitive areas such as government buildings, nuclear power plants, airports, high profile events and more.

Geofencing means that a drone will not be able to take off in restricted geofence zones. Geofencing is typically implemented by DJI’s fly safe system, which has a tiered system of regulatory requirements.

Sometimes, like in Lord Howe Island, you can self unlock the area. In other circumstances, you cannot take off unless you have gone through the appropriate regulatory steps like submitting your flight plan and achieving a certain license.

The types of zones in the DJI fly safe system include:

  • restricted zones – In these Zones, which appear red on the DJI GO app, users will be prompted with a warning and flight is prevented. If you believe you have the authorisation to operate in a Restricted Zone, please contact [email protected] or Online Unlocking.
  • Altitude zones – Altitude zones will appear in grey on the map. Users receive warnings in DJI GO or DJI GO 4, and flight altitude is limited.
  • Authorisation zones – In these Zones, which appear blue in the DJI GO map, users will be prompted with a warning and flight is limited by default. Authorisation Zones may be unlocked by authorised users using a DJI verified account.
  • Warning zones – In these Zones, which may not necessarily appear on the DJI GO map, users will be prompted with a warning message. Example Warning Zone: Class E airspace
  • enhanced warning zones – In these Zones, you will be prompted by GEO at the time of flight to unlock the zone using the same steps as in an Authorization Zone, but you do not require a verified account or an internet connection at the time of your flight.
  • Regulatory restricted zones – Due to local regulations and policies, flights are prohibited within the scope of some special areas such as prisons.
  • Recommended flight zone – This area is shown in green on the map. It is recommended that you choose these areas for flight arrangements.

There are several different ways to turn off Geo fencing and bio drone without these restrictions. Turning off your Geo fencing restrictions or buying a drone without them comes with some risks. How to get around Geo fencing and the risks associated with it are discussed in my other article – the best drones without Geo fencing – click here to be taken to the article.

Best drones without geofencing [Hacks, unlocking and more]

If you suspect that your drone is suffering from Geolock, you can self unlock very easily

Self unlocking authorisation zones

You can self-unlock in authorisation zones by using your DJI verified account.

I have personally done this for my trip to Lord Howe Island and found the process very simple – even without mobile phone reception.

The steps of self unlocking a DJI drone are:

  • Go to the DJI self unlock webpage
  • Select the model of drone from the drop-down menu
  • use the search bar within the map to enter the flight location
  • Click on the blue pin covers the zone that you want to unlock – this is something that I found particularly frustrating when I was unlocking my drone – make sure that you click on the dark blue pin closest to your location rather than your actual location.
  • Enter your flight controller serial number.
  • Choose the date for your flight and click submit.
  • You then need to use a phone number associated with your DJI account to verify your identity. You receive this via text or a call to a phone.
  • Enter this code into the box, and a successful pop-up will indicate that your verification has been completed and then you can proceed to the next step.
  • You then need to transfer your license from your phone to the drone. By going into the general settings and selecting the unlock list, you can transfer the license from the phone to the drone, which will enable the drone to take off.

This unlocked zone will stay in place for the next 72 hours.

One of the motors is malfunctioning

When a drone is first switched on, it will run through a series of checks. Most of the time, these checks pick up on motor issues, but, on rare occasions, they do not.

If your drone has a motor that cannot get up to speed, the drone will not take off. You may see the drone spooling up the motors unevenly if this is the case.

Quite often, in my experience, the sound of the motors will be the one giveaway if this is the issue.

Drones play an intricate balance between each of the motors to keep the drone in a stable flight. If it cannot spool up one of the motors, it will not spool up others as it knows that the drone will quickly become hard to control.

If you have a self-built drone, you can replace one of the motors. If, on the other hand, you have a commercially available camera drone from a reputable manufacturer, you should reach out to support and customer service to troubleshoot the exact problem with them.

One of the connections is loose

If you have purchased the components and built your drone, one of the connections to one of the motors may be loose or degraded.

Degradation can happen very easily if you fly your drone in a humid environment. The water can easily penetrate the small electronic metallic connectors and cause rust and, therefore, a bad connection.

Triple check your connection to every motor to alleviate this problem.

Remote control not connected

Some drones will spool up the motors irrespective of whether or not they are connected to the remote control.

Check the connection of your remote control to the drone and check that the remote control is powered up and has plenty of battery for the duration of your flight.

Remote not calibrated

Remote controls are the only connection to the drone a pilot has while flying. A simple miscalibration can easily cause a drone to lift on one side.

The remote control for a drone relies on it being able to detect the joysticks’ position accurately.

Sometimes, the position of the joysticks is misrepresented by the software, and a simple recalibration is all you need to solve the problem.

The first time you turn on the remote and connect to the drone, you may get a continuous beep that could indicate that the left or right joystick is out of alignment or is not detected in the middle of the joystick’s movement.

The best way to resolve this issue is to go to the app’s joystick calibration section, go through all the prompts, and follow the on-screen instructions until the joysticks are calibrated.

A video that goes through the entire remote control calibration process for the DJI Phantom four and professional can be seen in the YouTube video below.

You can also adjust your EXP settings on your drone, which determines how sensitive the drone’s movement is relative to the position of the joystick. It is best to move away from linear responsiveness.

Adjusting your exp settings, we case-sensitive your sticks are to the movement of the joysticks. This change can help you fine-tune the movement, resulting in a smoother or more aggressive movement when your drone is flying.

Access them: Main Controller Settings> Advanced Settings> EXP

In the settings, you will see three graphs with exponential curves. You can change the value below each graph to change the shape. You can also use your fingers to manually change the shape of the graph by moving the curve.

Try changing the setting to a lower value, such as 0.15, to see how to change the joystick response.

Joysticks not working

Your drone may not be taking off even though the propellers are spinning due to the joysticks.

Within each remote control, there are hardware sensors that monitor the position of the joysticks through your flight. The joysticks can be calibrated, and the calibration can drift over time.

The remote control is your only connection to the drone throughout your flight, and it is, quite often, the most overlooked component of the drone flying experience.

Head over to your drone app and look for the calibration software for the remote control and the position of the joysticks.

Troubleshoot this issue by connecting your drone to another remote control if you are unsure if yours is working correctly. There are many places where you can meet up with other drone enthusiasts – they will likely have a controller for your drone for you to check.

Check for damage

Damage to the internal components of the drone may not be obvious. Damage can include cracks and breakages of internal electronic circuit boards due to hard landing and water damage.

The external shell of the drone is typically plastic or a plastic composite and is relatively easy to break because it is manufactured to be as light as possible. It does not provide the best protection from impact.

Look for obvious damage to the outside of your drone (cracked frame or fractures in the arm and body of the drone). If you see the damage, there is a high likelihood that the internal components of the drone are also affected.

Sending your drone for repair and professional assessment of the damage will be the only thing you can do to recover your drone if it is a commercially available camera drone. Alternatively, if your drone is a first-person view racing drone, you may swap out the components yourself.

The final word – Drone propellers spinning but not flying

This article has gone over everything you need to know if your drone propellers are spinning, but your drone cannot take off.

Firstly use an app to see if you can fly in your current location. Checking the propellers and the condition of the motor

Sending your drone back to the manufacturer and having the motors checked is one of the best ways to be certain that the drone is safe to fly.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton is a Drone pilot, Writer and YouTuber with a PhD in science. His drone footage has been featured on TV (ABC Documentary) and he has written and/or produced videos for Science Alert, COSMOS magazine, and Australia's Science Channel among others. He has been a drone pilot for many years and has flown many types of drones.