How to fix a drone that won’t take off

Nothing puts a dampener on the day quicker than a drone that won’t take off. I have been out in some of the most beautiful places in the world and my drone simply won’t take off. For example, one time I was on Lord Howe Island and the Geo fencing simply stopped me from taking off. Another time, my visual positioning system needed calibration – all of them are equally frustrating.

Fixing a drone that won’t take off includes checking the batteries, propellers, allowing the drone to warm up, dealing with any on-screen warnings, and making sure that you are not in a geo-fenced area. Checking for damage and calibrating all the sensors will also help solve any issues.

This article will go over everything you need to double-check and how to fix a drone that won’t take off. You’ll be surprised at how simple some of these checks are – but sometimes, in my experience, it is the simplest issues that hold you back.

Let’s start with the simple but easy things to check.

Simple things to check

Sometimes, taking a step back and simply checking all of the fundamental components of a drone solves the issue of a drone that won’t take off. It can be as simple as not charging the battery, not double-checking the connection to the drone, an app update or firmware update that requires your attention, or quite simply that you are in a geo-fenced area.

Battery

Without battery power, the drone will literally go nowhere.

I have certainly been caught out when my batteries have been left for a few days and I don’t have the amount of power that I expect to have at the beginning of my flight. That is because many of the smart batteries that power modern drones slowly deplete energy in order to protect the lithium polymer composite during storage.

A lithium polymer battery needs to be stored at about 50% capacity in order to protect sensitive energy storage materials.

If you want to check your DJI battery health you can simply open up the GO4 app and check the batteries when connected to the drone. If you want a full rundown on how to check your DJI battery health go check out my other article – click here for the full rundown.

How do I check my DJI battery health?

Propellers and motors

When most drones first start-up they do a variety of checks. My DJI Mavic air rotates the propellers slowly in steps in order to check their movement and response as soon as it starts up.

If there is any obstruction to the propellers turning during this initial check the drone will protect itself by not taking off.

Likewise, if you have any obstruction that has worked its way into the motor such as sand, dirt, grass, or long strands of hair this can also cause the drone to register an error and protect itself by not taking off.

Also, I highly recommend that before turning on your drone that you check for any cracks and chips in the propellers which could cause a structural failure. You can do this by simply running the pads of your thumb and finger over the entire blade and also by using your fingernail to check for chips in the leading edge of the blade.

Drone warming up

When you first turn on some types of drone they will tell you that they are warming up.

Drone pilots tend to be a relatively inpatient bunch since we know we don’t want to waste the precious minutes of flying time by simply draining the battery on the ground.

Drones that are warming up will often have a warning or notification on the app. During this time they are going through some very important safety checks and calibration stages which will keep your drone flying safely throughout your flight – it’s probably best to wait until the drone tells you it is happy to take off.

Remote control charge

All of our focus when flying a drone tends to be on the actual drone itself. There is another component that is just as important but often gets overlooked – the drone remote control.

The drone remote control is the only connection the pilot has two the drone while it is in flight. Quite often these drone remote controls come with rechargeable batteries that last approximately six or seven flights. Because you do not have to charge them as often as the drone batteries it can sometimes be very easy to forget.

If you have to plug your phone into the remote control for a heads up display some remote controls will draw power from the phone – this limits your phone battery life significantly as well.

As an insurance policy I often carry my external and portable charger to deal with any potential remote control charge issues.

App error

Software that operates on a ton of different devices can often go rogue.

Drone apps have been designed and created to operate on a variety of different devices. The primary devices they often work on are android and Apple operating systems. However, within each of these ecosystems, there are firmware updates and security patches which are rolled out on a constant basis. There are also a range of different versions of the software and, quite simply, the drone manufacturers are always playing a game of catch up with the latest release.

You may have recently updated the firmware on your smart device or the app has been updated without your knowledge and doesn’t play well with your old firmware.

This simple miscommunication between the very important control features on the app and the smart device you’re using can sometimes cause the drone to not take off.

Geofenced area

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.

This means that a drone will simply not be able to take off in restricted geofence zones. This is typically implemented by DJI’s fly safe system which has a tiered system of regulatory requirements. Sometimes, like in Lord Howe Island, you are able to self unlock the area and in other circumstances, you cannot take off unless you have gone through the appropriate regulatory steps like submission of your flight plan and achieved a certain license.

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

  • restricted zones – In these Zones, which appear red the DJI GO app, users will be prompted with a warning and flight is prevented. If you believe you have the authorization to operate in a Restricted Zone, please contact [email protected] or Online Unlocking.
  • altitude zones – Altitude zones will appear in gray 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. Authorization Zones may be unlocked by authorized 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 a 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 a number of different ways that you can turn off Geo fencing and bio drone that does not have these restrictions. Turning off your Geo fencing restrictions or buying a drone that does not have 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 article.

Best drones without geofencing [Hacks, unlocking and more]

On screen warnings

Drones are very complicated beasts and the way they communicate with us is through their on-screen warnings. Sometimes a drone will not take off because of one of these warnings.

Typically, the user interface is obvious and displays these in bright red warnings. For example, my DJI Mavic air will simply not take off if it needs its compass calibrated. It will show me a warning and also give me a cannot take off indicator in the top bar.

Pay attention to all of the different on-screen warnings to deal with each and every issue which is stopping you from taking off.

After you’ve looked at these basic reasons for a drone that won’t take off you next need to turn to the next level of complicated fix.

Next things to check

The next things that you should check include calibration of important components. On most commercial drones you are able to do this from the manufacturers app without having to plug the drone into a computer. However, for some things you do need to connect the drone via a USB cable to a laptop or computer.

Calibration

You should calibrate your drone as often as required to keep it flying safely. Calibrating a drone isn’t just for when it won’t take off, you should do it if you notice a range of different symptoms. This includes, significant drifting, problems with GPS location, a significant time in transit or storage, and after every significant hard landing or impact.

Here are the important aspects that you should consider calibrating if your drone is refusing to take off.

Accelerometers

Accelerometers are present in every drone and they play a very important part in determining the stability of the drone’s flight.

Accelerometers measure the rate of change of movement. So, if you hold the drone still the sensor will not pick up any changes of movement no matter where the drone is situated.

Each drone is calibrated slightly differently due to the software differences as well as the hardware that each drone contains but all of them follow the simple basic steps whilst calibrating the accelerometer.

  1. Make sure the drone is held in the same orientation as indicated by the software that you are using to calibrate the accelerometer.
  2. Place the drone on a flat and stable surface and it is not moving.
  3. Initiate the software calibration procedure for your drone.
  4. Some require the drone to be powered off and on again. Follow all instructions on the software.

Here are some common drone models with a link to the best calibration methods that I have found.

Drone ModelLink to the calibration method
DJI Mavic MiniYoutube Link
DJI Mavic AirYoutube Link
Parrot AnafiYoutube Link
Official Documentation
Syma X20 Mini DroneOfficial YouTube
DJI Phantom 4 Pro+Official Youtube
Youtube link

There are also many scientific research groups which are looking at making drone accelerometer calibration more accurate. One such study published in 2018, shows that they are able to increase the accuracy of the accelerometer simply by running the calibration data through a different series of mathematical filters. So, this fills me with hope that accelerometer calibration will get easier and faster and more accurate in the near future.

Compass

The compass is a component that is very important for your drone. It is the one thing that regularly stops me from taking off when I want to and I talked about it in my YouTube video, below.

The compass is the failsafe field drone returning to home if something goes wrong during the flight. If your compass is Miss calibrated your drone can very easily go off in the wrong direction and you may have your first flyaway.

There are many things and objects that can affect a drones compass calibration. You can actually see the interference in the DJI app by going to settings> advanced> compass and look at the interference indicator.

In my experience there are some things that can cause a significant amount of compass interference. My arch nemesis is reinforced concrete. The concrete looks like a really safe and stable place to launch your drone but the internal metallic reinforcement can cause havoc with the compass.

IMU

The inertial measurement unit is a device that is built into your drone and contains a load of different sensors to keep the drone running properly. Specifically, it measures the force, altitude, and angular velocity of the drone during its flight. These are measured through a series of different sensors that combine for a very powerful unit.

The sensors that it includes are the accelerometer, gyroscope, barometer, and thermometer.

The gyroscope is a sensor that will detect the drones movements relative to the horizon level and it will be responsible for retaining the stability so that you can get some awesomely smooth shots that will not come out blurry. The barometer is used for detecting the changes in the height of the drone. And I think everyone knows what a thermometer is – it measures the temperature of the drone to make sure that the batteries do not overheat and start a fire.

Drone manufacturers are making the inertial measurement unit incredibly easy to calibrate. It should only take you about five minutes to do a complete calibration. All you need is an area that is sitting level and is stationary while you are calibrating the IMU.

Take a look at your manufacturers handbook and manual for your specific drone model to find out how to calibrate all of these components.

Others

Because each drone has a variety of different components that can include a range of different sensors and backups you need to get familiar with the sorts of calibrations in order to get your drone to take off safely.

If, you have got to this stage of the article and implemented all of the checks in your drone is still yet to take off here are some last-ditch attempts that may enable you to take off quickly.

Other things to check

If the simple checks did not work and going through all of the calibrations you could possibly go through do not work here are the final things to check.

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 is as well as 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.

If there is obvious damage to the outside of your drone in terms of a cracked frame or fractures in the arm and body of the drone 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 be at a swap out the components yourself.

Check propeller locations

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

Drone propeller direction

In order to keep the drone stable in the air the propellers have specific alms that they need to be installed on. Often the drones have markers which line up with the motors as a guide. Some make sure that the drones are in the proper propeller locations.

Summary

In this article we have gone over how to fix a drone that won’t take off. Sometimes it is just the very simple and silly things that can get in the way of taking off and flying your drone.

Making sure that your drone is fully calibrated and that you have addressed every single warning that popped up in the app will allow you to fly quickly. However, there are just some things that cannot be overcome such as damage from a hard landing or fall as well as water damage.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton is a writer and YouTuber with a PhD in science. He has written and/or produced videos for Science Alert, COSMOS magazine, and Australia's Science Channel among others. Andy started droneflyingpro.com to share his love and the research of all things drone! He has been a drone pilot for many years and has flown many types of drone. His favorite is still the DJI Mavic Air for the portability and functionality packed into a small and portable drone!