I am fortunate to have recovered my Air 2s. This is my story of how I saved my drone from being lost at sea.
I joined the Jersey Droners to fly at Calvert Vaux Park in Brooklyn near Coney Island early on a Saturday morning. It is one of the few places designated in NYC to fly a drone.
Everything was going well. I got some great clips of the sunrise, the Coney Island Parachute Tower, and the Verrazano Bridge. I was circling a catamaran when a large ship appeared in the distance about 11,000ft out.
My battery was at 75% so I decided to go for it. I flipped the drone into Sport Mode and headed out over the water. When I arrived at the ship, my battery was at 61% and I had only used 14% of my battery power to get there. This was why I got my Air 2s.
I spent a bit of time capturing the ship with the Verrazano Bridge in the background. Check out the video below. I was so happy to have got the shot.
At about 49% I got a wind warning. Specifically, it said:
Strong wind warning. Aircraft unable to return to home automatically. Lower altitude immediately and return to home manually.
I had received warnings like this in the past and did not think too much about it. I figured I had half my battery. At the same time, I didn’t want to chance it. So I finished up and was headed home with 47% battery power and 11,349ft to get back home. No worries.
But as I progressed I started to get anxious. At 6,554ft out my battery had declined to 30%. I had not even returned halfway back and my battery had lost more power than it took to get out. There was not much to do at this point other than keeping it coming home.
I had underestimated the strength of the wind. I checked UAV Forecast after I got home. At the time of this incident, the wind had been a steady 17mph at 200ft with gusts up to 27mph from the East. This explains why I got out so easily but had more difficulty coming home.
I continued to push forward until I was 1679ft away. At this time I got a Critical Battery Warning. It read:
Critical low battery. Aircraft automatically landing.
That was ok because I could still move the Air 2s forward. It was coming down but it would be good if I could maintain enough altitude until I reached the shore.
However, if you compare the speed after the Critical Battery Warning with the speed before the Critical Battery Warning, you will notice a decline. I had been returning at approximately 31mph. But now the drone’s speed had been reduced to 14mph. And it continued to decline. When the battery got to 6%, the speed was down to 7.9mph, still 1,164ft out.
A few moments later I was down to 5% and the speed had declined to 4.7mph. A new warning appeared:
Battery power limit will automatically reduce the aircraft’s mobility to ensure flight safety.
At this point, I was resigned that my drone was not going to make it back. I quickly scanned the area for my options.
There was a barge that I could maybe land on. There was also the catamaran I had been circling earlier. Without much time to think, I made the decision to put it down on the barge. And made a hard right turn.
But to my surprise, the drone began to fly faster. What I believe happened was that by turning right, I was no longer flying directly into the wind. This allowed the drone to increase its speed significantly. I got it up to 14.6mph.
Now I realized I had the opportunity to make it to the opposite shore which was a much better option than the barge. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw on the map that my drone was over land.
The only problem now was it was on an opposite shore. I knew I could land my drone safely. But would it still be there by the time I would get to retrieve it, or would someone see it and take off with it?
That meant I did not want to land it right on the beach. I decided I would land it back in the dunes. I pointed the camera down and found a place to set it down in the tall grass. It was not a perfect place to land, but it was what I had.
As soon as it was landed, I was off. Thank you to the Jersey Droners who kept an eye on my stuff as I left. I ran to my car and popped up the map on my iPhone to figure the quickest way to the other shore. It was 11 minutes. Maybe the longest 11 minutes of my life.
When I arrived on the other side, I parked and brought up the DJI app on my iPhone. I got to the beach and found the approximate place where my drone had landed. After about 45 seconds of searching, there it was. Time to celebrate. The drone of mine that was lost was now found.
I had to laugh as I looked up to see 3 or 4 Jersey Droner drones circling around me. I posed triumphantly with my drone! What a relief!
The first mistake was that I flew out such a long distance without a fresh battery. My battery was already down to 75% when I decided to head out. I should have either let the boat go or have landed to get a fresh battery. It was not far from my home point at the moment.
The second mistake was not being aware of the wind. I had noticed earlier that it was breezy. But the place we flew in a place sheltered from the wind. So I hardly gave the wind a passing thought.
The third mistake was that I did not descend to return home. The higher you are the more strong the wind will be. I am not sure if it would have made a difference, but I am sure it would have helped.
The fourth mistake was ignoring the Strong Wind Warning. I later realized that this was not the normal strong wind warning. It was a warning to return home. I didn’t wait long after the warning. But even 30 seconds would have made a big difference in this situation.
The fifth mistake I made was to push up when my drone started to land automatically. I realized that I had enough altitude at the time. But by pushing up it slowed the drone’s speed even more.
That is my story. It could have been much worse. As you have read this, what do you think I could have done differently? Feel free to share in the comments.