In this study, we will try and help you on how to find a lost drone. Almost every drone pilot knows the situation when you have flown a little too far or too close to an object to get a particularly great shot. Suddenly the connection to the drone breaks off, and it disappears from the display.
In the first moment, you quickly panic and start running to search for the drone and, if possible, rescue what can be rescued. If the drone has actually crashed, there is not much you can do anyway, except to collect the parts and think about the repair. A little hint: If the drone is caught in a tree, we have many tips in our article on how to get a drone out of a tree as unharmed as possible.
Also, in the article on avoiding drone crashes you can read how to avoid the most common causes of drone crashes and thus prevent a crash during your flights. This will save you money and your nerves because a collision always takes a lot of time to search and repair.
Back to our topic: If your drone breaks the connection and you don’t know where it is anymore, you should stay calm. The connection does not always fail because of a crash. There can also be a disturbance in the connection or simply too much distance between you and the drone. This leads us directly to the first point, the termination of the radio connection to the drone.
How To Find A Lost Drone
Disconnection of the drone
There are several possible reasons for disconnection. As a pilot, you should definitely find out how the disconnection occurred. This will help you to prevent the problem in the future and avoid the loss of the drone or even the endangerment of uninvolved persons.
Many pilots fly their drones with First Person View (FPV) glasses. These offer the great advantage that the drone can be controlled very intuitively and precisely.
The camera’s image is transmitted to the pilot’s glasses, allowing him to see exactly where the drone is heading. However, controlling the drone via the glasses often leads to the drone moving further away from the pilot’s location and forgetting the distance covered.
Depending on the model of the drone and the remote control, however, the ranges are limited. If you move outside the permitted range, the connection becomes weaker and eventually breaks down completely.
However, this maximum range can be limited by various factors. One of the most common problems is interfering with radio frequencies, which can considerably reduce the range. These frequencies are mostly caused near residential areas by WLAN routers or radio towers, but also antennas of mobile phone providers, radar systems for weather observation or the detection of airplanes and power poles with their very high voltages and currents lead to an impairment of the signal quality and thus a reduction of the range.
Therefore, it is advisable to stay away from such areas and structures to prevent a loss of connection. However, most pilots should have no problems with interfering frequencies when flying outside large cities and at some distance from power poles. They should be able to fly undisturbed with the drone.
However, if the connection should be lost, there is no need to panic. Most manufacturers have built a safety function in their drones. As soon as the drone does not receive a signal for more than three seconds, it switches to Return to Home (RTH) mode. In doing so, it climbs to a height, usually several meters above the treetops, and flies back to its starting point (in this case, its “home” point). As a pilot, you only have to wait until the drone returns on its own and lands on its own.
The situation is similar to a low battery level. As a pilot, you may not have the battery constantly in view and quickly overlook that the stored energy is not enough to return to the pilot. Most manufacturers of high-quality drones, such as those listed in our article with drones for beginners, have automatic monitoring of the battery level. As soon as it falls below a certain level, the drone will rise independently and fly back to the pilot. However, if there is a malfunction, it is possible that the drone crashes and breaks the connection to the pilot.
Locating via manufacturer app
Sometimes, however, the drone crashes without disturbing frequencies or other technical problems. The most common cause of such events is pilot error. The pilot has flown too close to objects or has overlooked individual obstacles due to the camera’s limited visibility. The drone then crashes, and the pilot has to search for the drone.
Providers of high-quality drones also offer support in this area. For example, with the DJI Mavic 2 Pro/Zoom, you can search for the drone in the app using its built-in GPS module. Of course, this assumes that the drone is still functioning and communicating with the receiver. This function is called “Find my Drone” and can be found in the menu icon in the upper right corner with DJI. Depending on the version of the app and the drone’s model, the function may be located at a different place.
The app then activates the GPS module and receives the drone’s location. As a pilot, you can then follow the path, and ideally, you will find the drone at the end.
Depending on the manufacturer, the tracking system even works when the drone no longer communicates with the receiver. This can be the case if the drone has crashed and been severely damaged. It may not be able to communicate correctly with the pilot, and a location report is then not possible.
Nevertheless, some manufacturers offer help in finding the drone. The app checks the last location of the drone and gives it to the pilot as a clue. The pilot can then move to the last known location of his drone and normally find it within a radius. Since the drone crashed immediately afterward and lost the connection, it should not have gotten far.
Locating via third-party devices
Not all drones have proven onboard equipment for detection in the event of a crash. This may be the case with high-quality consumer equipment, but these functions are usually not built-in or programmed with special drones or DIY drones.
In this case, it is advisable to fall back on third-party solutions. The simplest way is the procurement of a GPS module as it is offered for locating various objects. This module is attached to the drone and can then be located using a corresponding app. Thus theoretically, every drone can be equipped with a tracking module.
Another possibility is the so-called loc8tor for about $100. This device shows how strong the signal to the drone is and, therefore, how far away you are from the drone. If you approach the drone, the signal gets stronger, and you will find it relatively quickly.
Regardless of which device and which technology you choose, you should be aware that each additional device increases the drone’s weight and thus reduces flight time. Therefore, one should refrain from using too heavy equipment and opt for small, lightweight devices.
Rescue from the water
Rescuing the drone from the land is already difficult at times. But if the drone falls into the water, the situation becomes even more threatening. Underwater, the drone is hard to find since the water’s crash site can hardly be remembered from the surface.
The situation becomes particularly critical when the drone falls into the sea or into a river. The current transports it further underwater, and finding the drone is almost impossible.
This is where a system called GetterBack comes in. The rescue system was actually developed for fishing rods but is also very suitable for drones. A capsule is activated by the water pressure and lets a small buoy with a fixed fishing line rise to the surface. According to the manufacturer, drones can be recovered up to a depth of 30 meters. The system triggers a depth of 25cm and is, therefore, suitable for most lakes, rivers, harbors, and sea use. Under the following link, you can have a closer look at the system: GetterBack rescue system.
Running the course
Another possibility of finding the drone is running the track if other options are eliminated or the drone cannot be found. Maybe the drone was in RTH mode and got stuck during its return flight or simply crashed.
As a pilot, you should, therefore, memorize the last location of the drone to have the direction to search. It is helpful to remember the drone’s last pictures to find out where it was probably located.
But before you start walking blind, you should mark your starting point. If you don’t find the drone in the first run, you can return to the starting point and start the search again. You should also wait a short time before you start running because the drone might be on its way back, and you might miss each other.
You should also search for the drone a bit further to the right and left of the track. Due to the wind, it is quite possible that the drone has drifted off and is no longer on its actual course. It is best to search for it together with friends because then you can form a line and search for a wider area along the route.
Parachute system for protection
Another, somewhat bizarre, possibility is to secure the drone with a parachute. This way, you can prevent the drone from crashing and make it easier to find. The parachute is clearly visible, and you can see from a distance where the parachute is and where the drone is.
However, the system is not very light and, therefore, unsuitable for most private drones. But for professional drones, it can be very helpful and prevent a mostly very expensive crash. For professional drones, the parachute’s weight also plays a less critical role. These drones are usually heavier anyway and, therefore, better motorized.