Some DJI Phantom Users are Experiencing Flyaways Resulting in Lost/Damaged Units and Cameras

DJI Phantom

The DJI Phantom is a very cool device. It’s a quadcopter that can carry small GoPro cameras, which can result in some awesome shots. However, it’s not a great experience for all users.

The Phantom ships as a ready-to-fly kit that includes the quadcopter, remote control, battery and charger. It offers 10-15 minutes of flight time out of the box, and offers up to 300 meters of effective control distance.

We’ve also seen what the DJI Phantom can do in recent coverage of protest in Egypt, in which one was shot down by police.

The DJI Phantom is capable of delivering some stunning footage of locations that just can’t be reached by any other sub-$1000 device, like the below video from YouTube user questpact captured at Niagara Falls.

By most accounts, the DJI Phantom is incredibly easy to operate – even for novice users. The Phantom has several advanced features that act as safeguards to prevent users from “losing” their unit. For instance, “when the communication between the Main Controller and the transmitter is disconnected, the outputs of all command sticks from controller will go to the center position. If the GPS signal is good enough, the system will automatically trigger Return To Home and will land safely.”

When you enable the “Go Home” function on the remote, the Phantom is supposed to return home automatically without further control input. A proper “Go Home” operation can be seen in the below video.

Even with all of these safeguards, several experienced users have found out that the DJI Phantom can still flyaway on its own and completely fail to respond to control inputs. Photography Bay reader Darren Kelly recently sent me the below video describing the flyaway problem that resulted in the loss of one DJI Phantom and GoPro into a lake. He purchased a second DJI Phantom to replace the one he lost and experienced the same flyaway issue, although this time he steered clear of bodies of water during his trial run with the new unit.

I reached out to DJI regarding this issue and received the following troubleshooting response, which suggests that DJI believes there is no “flyaway problem.”

Before the flight of Phantom, Please kindly make sure the Phantom receive the signal from more than six satellites and the Phantom record the home position successfully. Also, finish the GPS and IMU calibration and also the calibration of the transmitter and make sure the battery in the transmitter are not empty or nearly empty.

In Phantom loss control from the transmitter, you can close and reopen the transmitter, put A,E,R sticks at center and T at the lowest level, then switch into Atti. Mode to reconnect to the Phantom. If reconnect cannot succeed, the Phantom will return to the home position if no obstacles on its way back.

Clearly, this is not what Darren experienced in either of his two flyaway incidents. Several others have had similar experiences to Darren. A couple of enthusiast forum threads at PhantomPilots.com and RCGroups.com continue to document the issue and question the cause of these flyaways. Additionally, an attorney has posted an open letter concerning the flyaway problems. A search on Google for “DJI Phantom flyaways” reveals numerous other accounts of users with similar complaints.

Several users believe the problems are associated with the 2.4GHz frequency (the same as most WiFi routers), and that moving to a 5.8GHz frequency would be a safer bet due to the fewer number of devices operating at 5.8GHz.

Darren said he sent a plea to DJI for assistance on this problem; however, he has yet to hear a response. Speaking with a DJI dealer, however, he was told that their belief was the problem lies with the cheap transmitter and receiver units that fail to cancel out interference that can be anything from someone’s wireless router, to a microwave oven with a faulty door.

While the vast majority of users experience no issues with the DJI Phantoms, there does seem to be a trend among some users who experience flyaways that are not attributable to user error.

Have you experienced a flyaway with your Phantom or other quadcopter? Feel free to describe your experience below and if you have any thoughts on what the cause of the flyaway was.

[UPDATE 1/14/14: When asked about this post and user comments here on Photography Bay, DJI provides a response to flyaway issue. See more here.]

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Comments

  1. Cameron says

    Yes, we had this happen today. Copter went into a hard forward attitude and I completely lost control. We lost both the copter and the Hero. We had another partial flyaway/loss of control yesterday, but we were able to recover the copter after it went into failsafe mode.

  2. Tom says

    Mine flew away yesterday. Since my three position switch on my 7s had GPS, ATTI and fail safe, I had no manual to recover it, and fail safe, lets just say it FAILED.

    Anyway, lost the entire platform, go included.

  3. Bas Laarberg says

    After a few months of fun with the DJI Phantom I lost my Phantom last saturday. I upgraded the firmware, made the calibrations and it went for his first flight. After 2 minutes I went up by itselfs and went full speed forward. There wasn´t any control anymore and fails safe didn´t work. After a few minutes we couldn´t see the DJI anymore and it was gone included my Hero 3 black edition camera.

      • Bas says

        I am not sure wich version it was. I made the upgrade in the first week of august. I just made the first flight a weeks after.

    • Carlo says

      This sounds exactly like my story. EXACTLY. I made no calibrations, but my software is also up to date. 2 minutes flight, up, forward, fail safe didn’t work and Hero 3 Black Edition gone. Haha… Man, I swear I could’ve written that above.

  4. Jim says

    First flight went well, hooked up the arris cm2000 gimbal and flew a little heavy. Once I got it above the treetops, flew away on its own. Chased it as far as I could until I could no longer see it. All in $1350. Waiting to hear from neighbors as I put flyers though the whole neighborhood. Hoping someone will watch the video to see where it took off from. Wondering if it was worth it.

  5. J says

    i just got my phantom after spending a bunch of time leaning on a syma training copter – probably 15 hours or so. i’m no expert, but i have the hang of it.

    first session, second battery with phantom in a park with people and dogs walking around and i was having a great time. then, out of nowhere, full throttle and full right attitude at about 10′ off the ground. it got hauling (really scary). switched off gps mode on the transmitter, tried everything with the sticks, nothing. fortunately, it piledrived itself into the ground a few times and the battery compartment opened and the battery shot out and disconnected (it was still full throttle when it inverted).

    no one was hurt, but i was terrified by the experience. took it out again today and had no issues using 3 full batteries. have it on camera, so i’ll upload it

    it was near an apartment complex and people, so i can imagine 2.4 interference as a possible issue (what i’ve seen speculation about). what’s odd is given all of the intelligence on the controller and that somehow interference could put it into full throttle/attitude and lock it there and still be throttled when inverted – especially after a crash.

    the accelerometer could easily be used to detect a crash and power it down. i’d really like to understand how this is possible and plan to reach out to dji

  6. Gerry says

    I was on my second day of flying the Phantom, I was enjoying it very much. Then it happen. I took off and started to climb, soon I realize that the phantom was not responding to my control inputs. It seem to respond only to up and down, but it was drifting away from me . I was in the Jungle , so it drifted and then descended into the trees in the distance . I lose my gopro black and my Video transmitter . We search and search but never found it. .

  7. Jim Bonito RC Obsessions says

    Hello Fellows
    never thought it would happen to me but it did on sept 11 2013 , took my eye off it for less than 15 sec and she was gone … lucky (I,m Hoping ) I did sharpie my cell phone number all over the props ( please call if Found) all I can do is hope someone comes across it and calls …. it really upsets you to not only lose
    $1200 dollars but also , how much I enjoyed going to beaches etc and filming then return home to look at my videos …. I will buy another eventually had a gimbal on its way to me and some props , so I guess I will build the gimbal and balance the props in the mean time … it a horrible feeling to lose the phantom and the cash …. take care fellas Jim Bonito

  8. Aldo Giovannoni says

    Last two flights with Phanton was a disaster. Starts of well then a minute or two into flight it banks right and there is no input from radio. Crashed x2 with GoPro mounted. Broke the body and motor. Ordered new shell today. Will I regret this ?? Maybe I should look at another brand. I believe it has something to do with the low quality receiver (4 AA Batteries ) and no way of knowing how much charge you have left.

  9. Andrew Graham says

    Same thing happenned to me. updated to the latest firmware a few weeks ago. I put tiger motors and carbon props on it.

  10. Dave Andrews says

    Lost mine last night on initial test flight. It started to lose control, so I was bringing it back, then it just seemed to change its mind and just shot off away from me. Very first flight. Thank God I decided to test it before hooking up my new Hero Black edition.

  11. sergio sanabria says

    two days ago my dji phantom flow a way was in gps mode yellow lights was indicating the satellites were ok i was in open space , i was carefully but the dji was not responding to the control now y lost the gopro hero black and the others up grades , guys im too sad, i just hope dji company fix this problem and maybe i will buy another one ….

    • Andrew Graham says

      Yellow lights are bad if you selected gps mode, there may have been a problem with the compass sergio and you shouldn’t have been flying it. you want all green to have gps mode right.

  12. says

    Today i was in a Mexican street (MADERO D.F) with lot of wi-fi signals…then i started the phantom in gps mode with one red light from the sats and when pull up the stick to start flying the phantom was drifting to the left so i tried to pull it to the right and bring it down but at this point the controller was without signal so i ran behind him until i lost eye contact. I’m very sad because there was also my iPhone. :(

  13. Jim Bonito RC Obsessions says

    Guillermo they say you can not and should have anything with wi-fi next to the phantom as this will cause problem …. sorry for your loss

    • Dave Andrews says

      Lol, well that makes the Phantom pretty much worthless, doesn’t it? Unless you live in the boonies, it’s tough to get completely out of range of all wifi. Ever tried?

  14. Jim Bonito RC Obsessions says

    sorry meant to say can not and Should NOT no WI-FI they say do not have your wi-fi of the go pro on either I,m sure it is the same for iPhone NO Wi-FI

    • Mike Freudenberg says

      Im interested… All you guys and girls who have lost a Phantom… Did you have your mobile Phones on you… and if yes did you have them with WI-FI connect? May interfere with your remote if its in your pocket…. Just a thought…

      • Dave Andrews says

        In my case, I probably did. I was also no more than 30 feet from my wifi unit and there were at least 6 in range.

  15. Petr Naus says

    So yesterday (26.9.2013) I drowned after a bad flight when the engine dropped a Quadrocopter DJI Phantom camera with GoPro Hero3 Black … where? – In Lake Bohinj in Slovenia, microSD card were super shots from Vogel. with views of Triglav – what anymore …. Santa must save the new toys…

    I upgraded the firmware, made the calibrations and fifth flight O.K. When replacing the battery for another, after 7 minutes into the flight, when it started blinking red, I wanted to go to the landing and suddenly alongside fall directly into the water

    • james says

      How many flights did you do in a row, remember the IMU needs to cool down so you should do more than 2 flights without letting it cool

  16. Jim Bonito RC Obsessions says

    Wi-Fi You dont want GPS sats you do want … no wi fi right on the phantom like go pro with the wifi on iphone same thats what I meant Dave

  17. Jim Bonito RC Obsessions says

    “DJI Claims if you use Wi-Fi while flying the Phantom , be perpared to buy a new Phantom “

  18. didier Stauffer says

    So yesterday September 28 ,weather was gorgeous I decided to use my phantom with the new accessories I bought, the rubber mount for the camera, all the previous flight I never had any problem the phantom came back 3 feet away from where it had take off, every thing was smooth and fun and then you can download amazing pics. But yesterday after having done all the traditional calibration , warm up and satellite acquisition I launched the phantom hovered for a while at about 12 feet high and then suddenly with no explanation it started climbing veered of and took off like if there was a huge magnet attracting it tried everything but got out of sight very quickly, I jumped in the car to try to follow it,I know from some people I saw that it was heading South but of course never found it . We called of the search after 3 hours put flyers but will probably never find it . So I lost a phantom with the camera and now I’m stuck with the emitter and the battery charger and a spare battery. Yes as advertised this quad copter is very easy to fly you can take amazing pics it’s a lot of fun but no it will NOT come back to its origin even if you follow of the procedure then you find out that you lost a phantom a camera and for some people gimbal etc.You then debate if you should by another one because it’s addictive, you start looking on the web and you find out that if you buy another one it’s not IF but WHEN it will happen again , and because apparently DJI claim there is no problem they will not fix anything ! IN conclusion Never ever buy a phantom because like me you’re gonna be so sorry when you loose it to have believed all the crap they tell you that don’t worry it will come back.It’s sad that the company does not stand beyond its product. After what happened to me I called my 2 friends who introduced me to the phantom and guess , one had the same problem than me and the phantom hit a building so at least he has some parts he just have to fix it and the other one lost it like me !!!!

  19. Justin says

    Mine starting acting up a few days after the new firmware update. It jut shot vertically really high, almost lost site of it. Did every tring in the book. Finally just push throttle down and eventually it responded. I am going back to the older firmware.

  20. Corban says

    I was flying over a lake when my phantom started to fly out of control full speed left and right i had only been in the air for 2 minutes…. i was able to crash land it on shore somehow. Since then it has happened two more times and both times i just drop it down and crash land….. not sure what is causing this to happen. Bad batteries?

  21. Justin says

    Just stay away from firmware updates. Seems like everyone that has done a firmware update ran into fly away problems.

    • Dave Andrews says

      Great! That’s the first thing I did. The second was to lose it when it completely stopped responding to my commands and shoot off into the wild blue yonder…

      • Andrew Graham says

        the guys that make turboace copters sent me this in an email. makes sense – we need more probably need powerful radios.

        In a urban environment where the signals interference you need a long distance transmitter (up to about a mile range in the countryside and about half mile down to about quarter mile in urban/suburban) which will be more reliable in busy areas (use Spektrum DX8 or Futaba 14SG & not DJI transmitter). Spektrum DX8 & 14SG are broad spectrum hopping technology so the transmitter/receiver will always look for the frequency with the least amount of traffic. There is also signal path diversity so the receiver is actually comparing and choosing between 2 sets of signals. In case of signal lost, the DX8 & 14SG is able to recover that signal within a fraction of a second versus 3-4 seconds in average transmitters so you won’t have to rely on the failsafe-return-to-home function.

  22. says

    Ok Guys. My name is Gerry and I had a flyaway. I looked for days but never found it. I bought another one. I have something to say to everyone and please take what I say as only my personal view.

    I am a professional aircraft pilot for 35 years. And I treated this Phantom like a toy. I flew it like a toy. Handled it like a toy. But in fact its a very sophisticated machine that need extremely careful and detail handling. I guess what I am saying is that the persons flying and controlling these phantoms need to be professional and careful. Ensure you follow the procedures. Make a check list. Follow it. Before flight. During flight and after flight. During flight the handling needs to be careful. Small movments. Gentle movments. Always stay focus.

    The checks are important. Compass checks
    GPS checks
    Battery power on drone
    Battery power on controller

    Orientation. Always focus on Orientation.

    Do not allow it to get away from you. Small and gentle movements always.
    Focus on the lights.
    Bring it home if it start blinking red.
    Keep an eye on the time. Fly for no more that 7 mins. Use the rest of power to come home and land safely.

  23. Jim Bonito RC Obsessions says

    I agree with Gerry , most people who have had fly-a-way blame DJI but in fact it probably is something that we are doing , as Gerry says not being focused … I know that what happen to me it was my fault I lost it … maybe not for everyone , I was to lax … … i have another one and I m very intune now to what im doing

  24. Dave Andrews says

    Sorry guys, but that’s just NOT the case with any of these. When it loses connection, it’s supposed to come to the site of origin if it’s in GPS mode. If it can’t do that, it’s supposed to go straight down and land in place. under NO circumstances is it the user’s fault if the thing shoots off in some random direction and never stops.

    Regardless of anything the user does or doesn’t do, it’s not supposed to do that.

    • j allard says

      i’m with dave on this. i’ve had 3 flyaways now across about 2 months of flying. i’ve had my share of pilot error mishaps, but the flyaways have happened at different altitudes and different circumstances and always goes full throttle and full attitude with no recovery until crash. there is definitely some kind of a bug in the firmware that confuses it. it’s scary. i’ve had them happen at 4 feet (in a public space), 40 feet and 200 feet. none ended well.

      • Justin says

        I think we are possibly getting TX interference. I have check my Naza visually and on my laptop. Check flight characteristic with the motor on and held the craft in my hand while playing with the controls. She responds well. At first I though my accelerator was stuck to cause it to just climb , I am really lost on this. Scare to even fly her. Going to take her to desert just to triple check. 2.4mhz way too many users.

        • Andrew Graham says

          it is from interference, mine happenned in a dense wifi area. checkout my post above. we need to replace the radios in these things if we are in urban areas with something more powerful.

  25. Justin says

    I can’t figure out why I had my first fly away. Possible interference perhaps. It was on GPS mode. I am very thorough when it comes to calibrations and settings. It scared me though. Lots of sweet equipment on my Phantom. Plus. These baby’s can get away very far and I don’t want to accidentally hurt any one.

  26. Denus says

    I just bought a Phantom, and got version 1.1, with two RX antennas on it.
    According to some, the receiver will select the stronger of the two automatically, also know as diversity.

    My guess is that this must be an update responding to the many fly away issues, too bad DJI does not admit the problem.

  27. says

    Why not just add the dual battery brackets on each side, and use the battery cargo bay to hold a light GPS tracker? that way if the phantom flies away it can be tracked with a smart phone and quickly found using Google Maps.