My First FPV Crash
How & Why it Happened & How to Avoid it.

DJI F550 FPV CrashFPV Crash

I just had my first FPV crash several days ago and thought I would share my experience. I want to explain how and why it happened in the first place, and then how I was able to find the FPV aircraft afterwards in the dark, dense forest & brush.

Hopefully this article will help you avoid making the same FPV beginner mistakes. Even if something completely different happens causing you to crash, you might get a few ideas here of how to locate and retrieve your aircraft afterwards.


It Had The Makings For A Very Enjoyable & Memorable FPV Flight

You know, one of those perfect evenings... No wind, no bugs, pleasant temperature, and a beautiful sunset.

To top it off, a good buddy of mine came over because he wanted to learn about FPV flying so it seemed a perfect opportunity to show him first hand.

His acreage is about 1 Km away; so I figured I would let him experience a flight over to his house and acreage so he could get the birds eye view of the place. Then we would go for a short scenic flight along the creek, and then on the way back to my place, treat him to some loops and rolls.

Up to this point, I was following the FPV RC rule book to the letter. I had my flight planed, I did all the pre-flight checks on my DJI F550 hex rotor, battery charged & secured, motors & props tight, all connections good, camera working, GPS lock established, failsafe return to home GPS coordinates recorded, radio range check a-okay, video feed good & clear, and aviation radio turned on to monitor any air traffic in the area. It was going to be a great flight and we were both pretty excited.

To make this an even better experience for him, I decided to let him use the FPV video goggles so he could really enjoy & get a taste of the fully immersive flight experience that goggles provide.

7

I would pilot the aircraft using my little 7" monitor mounted on the tripod which I had done before (but with tame flying).

This decision to let him use the goggles while I used the monitor was the main reason for the FPV crash and I will explain exactly why that decision brought down the aircraft shortly.

The flight was going great. He loved wearing the goggles and every time I looked over at him, I couldn't help but chuckle a bit. When I banked the aircraft, his head would tilt, if I pitched up or down, his head would tilt back or forward. Now I realized how silly I likely look when I fly with the goggles on; but really who cares when you are having this much fun! The ear to ear grin on his face said it all. He enjoyed seeing his house from 500 feet up as we spent a few minutes flying around the perimeter of his acreage.

As planed, we then followed the creek back north for 1 km or so, and then turned back west to come back to my place. The sun had just dipped down behind a mountain and the sky was a blaze of colors - this is why I fly FPV! It's at times like this I just wish time could stand still, but of course that timer on the radio is counting down the seconds so homeward bound I continued. I basically figured the fight was over at this point as we were only about 500 meters from my place and I had started my decent.


Auto Blue Screens Suck!

Now is where things start going very wrong.

Remember, the plan was to throw some aerobatics in toward the end of the flight, so I flipped the Naza from GPS mode to manual mode and it was go-time. Could I induce a little "virtual air sickness" as I tossed the DJI F550 around up there like a rag doll? Well, we never did find out.

Half way though the first loop when a little bit of video break-up occurred (which usually happens when the FPV antenna is partially shielded by the DJI F550's body plates), I lost the entire image on the monitor display screen as the "dreaded blue screen" took over!

Auto Blue Screen Monitor - Not a Good Choice For FPVMonitor in "NO SIGNAL" Blue Screen Mode

I then remembered something very critical that I had completely forgotten about - I cheaped out when I got the monitor not thinking it would be a big deal if the dreaded blue screen ever popped to life with partial video signal break-up. This is the monitor I should have ordered.

After all, I would be wearing the video goggles and the spectator would have to simply "ride out" the blue screen until the signal returned to full strength - no big deal.

Problem was, Steve was wearing the goggles. So the spectator could now see the horizon spinning wildly out of control as the ground was getting closer, but the dumb-ass piloting the aircraft could not! In short I had no hope of regaining control if I could not see what I was doing.

Things happened fast after that. I remember frantically asking him "can you see what's going on"! All Steve said, is "everything is spinning around"! I immediately switched back to GPS mode and gave full throttle in hopes it would recover, level out, and gain altitude.

I should point out at 500 meters or so away, it was still too far away to see it in the sky nor could we hear it, so I really had no idea what was going on. After I switched to GPS mode and had full throttle on, I asked him "what are you seeing now". He said "just static". He handed me the goggles and that lump in my stomach slowly started getting bigger and bigger. Yep, just an image in the goggles of static, no video feed coming from the aircraft at all (camera image or OSD telemetry data).

At this point I really had no option but to turn the radio off, thinking maybe, just maybe it's still up there and perhaps during the violent free-fall, something happened to the video transmitter or antenna and it simply stopped transmitting the video signal. If it was still up there, by turning off the radio, it would go into return to home failsafe mode and come back home.

So we waited and listened. As each silent minute passed, I was starting to accept the fact that I had likely just lost $1K worth of FPV multi rotor aircraft. Man that rock in the gut was getting heavy! Steve felt bad, but it certainly wasn't his fault - I was 100% to blame for this FPV crash. After standing there for about 5 minutes with our heads fixated at the darkening sky, and hearing nothing but a few aspen leaves rustling, we both knew it was game over.


Downed FPV Aircraft Search Begins

So, it's getting pretty dark out now, we lost it over an area of fairly dense forest likely 500m2 so finding a half meter size multi-rotor in all that was going to be the biggest stroke of luck. In fact, I even talked about just going in for a beer at this point and not worry about it till the morning. I then realized the battery would still be working (unless it got all smashed up) and maybe one of us could see a glow from the LED lighting on it if we were lucky to get near enough to the spot it crashed.

With all the dumb things I had done up to this point that caused this FPV crash, here is one of the smartest things I did. Before going in search of the downed DJI F550, I remembered to take the video goggles along. You will soon find out why that was such a good call.

So I hiked through this darkening trail towards the area where we lost the video image. I kept pulling the goggles over my eyes to see if there was anything starting to show up. If you have seen my FPV transmitter page, you know I use 5.8 GHz for my video TX/RX and that 5.8 GHz has very poor penetration through trees or other solid objects. However, if it was still transmitting a video signal and I got close enough, I figured there was a good chance of getting a signal. Sure enough, a faint and dirty image of grass, leaves, and twigs started fading in and out. I was getting close! Question is what direction was it.

Now is where having a simple, yet fundamental knowledge of how 5.8 GHz RF works paid big dividends. I simply cupped the back of the FPV receiver antenna on my goggles so the antenna could only "listen for" the video transmitter out in front. My paw on the back side was basically shielding the RF.

Shielding The Back of The FPV Antenna Making It DirectionalFPV Antenna Shielding

In other words, by doing this, I turned my omni directional receiver antenna into a directional antenna. I then just pivoted my body in a 360 degree circle and took note of the direction I was facing when the video image faded in and when it faded out.

This worked so surprisingly well at giving a directional heading. So simple, so basic, and so accurate. If I had not taken the time when getting into FPV to understand the basic pros and cons of the various frequencies that FPV can be transmitted on, I would not have had the knowledge to figure this simple "directional antenna" trick out. Thanks Alex Greve, you just likely saved me $1K and infinitely more important - saved me from trying to explain it to the wife. Again, if you are thinking of getting into FPV, I highly encourage you to go over my FPV RC section of my site and watch Alex's video's I have up.

So, I'm doing some good old bushwhacking in the direction of strongest video image as it continued to get clearer and clearer.

FPV Crash SiteDJI F550 Found!

At about 75 meters in, I noticed a glow emanating from the forest behind a stand of trees. I couldn't believe it! Sure enough as I got closer and closer, I knew I had found it - phew!


How Much FPV Crash Damage

Finding it was of course a huge relief, but now I started to wonder just how badly damaged it was. I figured it was likely going to be in many pieces and cost more to repair than getting another new kit. I was thinking it not only fell out sky at a ridiculous rate of speed, but that it also hit a half dozen or so lodge-pole pines on its way in.

Upon arrival however, instead of seeing a smoking crater in the forest floor with a huge debris field, I was pleasantly greeted to a fully intact DJI F550. Barely a scratch other than two of the 4 spindly landing legs had broken.

Very Little FPV Crash DamageVery Little Damage

Not even one propeller was broken or scratched and it still flew perfectly once I got back home to test it all out. I probably should have gone out and bought a lottery ticket that night. Talk about horseshoes. With all the trees around, it landed in this small clearing in the woods maybe a couple meters in diameter at most.

I honestly don't know how it landed so softly. All I can think is I did switch it into GPS mode and power it to full throttle just in time for it to level out and slow its decent before hitting the ground. Perhaps another hypothesis is as it went down, radio communication was also lost and it went into fail safe mode moments before impact? Maybe it had enough time to at least level out and slow its decent before it ran out of sky? No matter what the reason and how it more or less survived totally intact, it sure gave me an appreciation for the DJI Naza M V2 system and the technology. I really liked my DJI F550 hex rotor before, but now I truly love it!

F550 Phoenix Rises From The FPV CrashDJI F550 Lives With New Landing Gear Installed

What Did We Learn From This FPV Crash?

  • Never pilot your FPV aircraft from a monitor that has the dreaded "blue screen". Only use that type of monitor for spectators to watch. If you fly with a monitor, make sure you get one that states "No Blue / Black Screen"
  • Plan your flight and know where you are in relation to the ground below at all times (situational awareness). If it were not for the fact I knew the approximate location where the F550 went down (or at least where the video signal was lost), I would have had no hope of finding it since I had to be pretty close to it on the ground in all that thick brush, for the video signal to penetrate through it.
  • If you have GPS and your OSD transmits the GPS coordinates (mine doesn't); consider recording every FPV flight so you can look back in the recording to see the coordinates before the crash took place to hopefully narrow down the position. Recording every flight may also help narrow down the location even without knowing exact coordinates - something I may consider doing from here on in. If I would have recorded this FPV crash flight - I would also have the video to share on this page.
  • If you are going to do FPV aerobatic flight where there is a higher risk of control and/or video signal loss, do it fairly close to your location.
  • If you do crash - don't panic. Stay calm and use your head to determine the best course of action to take if you have to go on a search & rescue mission. What roads or trails are near by to access the general area? Is it in a private field or do you need permission to enter the area? These are actually questions you should be considering before even going on your flight. If for example you know you can't access an area because someone will likely pull a shot gun out or the terrain is too extreme to gain access - perhaps you better not fly over said area in the first place.
  • Know how your FPV system works. Only because I understood the basic fundamentals of 5.8 GHz, was I able to use that technology to first realize I was getting close to the aircraft, and then also use it as a directional locator.
  • Consider investing in a good quality RC Aircraft Locator Device.
  • Having bright LED lights on your FPV aircraft is not only cool to see up in the night sky, they actually have an equally useful purpose on the ground to help you find a downed aircraft. Moreover, if your LED's are controlled by an auxiliary channel on your radio and you can set failsafe positions for that channel; ensure you set it so the LED's come on when in failsafe, so even if you're flying with them turned off, they will turn on automatically when in failsafe.
  • Never fly FPV over houses, busy roads, infrastructure, or people. I know I go over that on my FPV RC page, but it's worth repeating. Just as I experienced here, any time you are up flying, their is potential of crashing (what goes up - always comes down).
  • Having GPS and return to home autopilot systems are not a sure fire cure to prevent all crashes. There is after all still a monkey at the controls and systems can fail. 
  • Last but not least... Sometime you just get dealt a lucky deck.

I hope this FPV Crash experience of mine helps out and lets be FPV RC safe out there. Using good judgment and common sense so we can all enjoy this fun aspect of RC for many years to come :-)

Wishing Everyone Happy "Helidays" ;-)

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