You Can’t Have Just One…

Whoever said “You can’t have just one drone” wasn’t kidding.

By my estimation you need at least three.

Of those three, that were all working fine yesterday, today you crashed the first one into the sea, or a lake, or tree, or maybe on landing you just plain crashed it.

The second one has developed a technical problem which, given the difficulties in communicating with China, will take a month or three to resolve.

The third one is working just fine, and you hope it will continue to do so until the first one has been replaced, and the second one has been repaired.

Sadly, I only have one, and it’s now in state #2. Technical problems that for sure will take a while to resolve. So, I’m grounded.

And, I don’t think it matters what make you have, although, for sure, repairs and replacements will be faster if there is a distributor in your country of residence. For me, with my Xiaomi Mi 4k – better known as “Mimi” – which by the way is made by a company called Fimi not Xiaomi – I’m stuck with the China connection.

Here’s the thing…

About ten days ago I was flying and wanted to ascend from about 30 meters. It didn’t matter how hard I pushed the freakin’-go-up-will-ya stick it wouldn’t freakin’ go up. So I landed. Checked everything. Found no problems. And continued flying for a short while. I mention this because when I look back I’m wondering if this was the first indication of problems.

With everything recharged, I flew again about two days ago. All was good for about fifteen minutes and the battery level was down to 40%. It’s a good idea to land at 30% so as not to damage the battery, and I was preparing to do just that, when the iPad announced “Possible battery failure. Land immediately.” Or similar words that caused mental images of drones falling out of the sky. The screen now showed 0%.

How did we go from 40% to 0% in three seconds?

Now, this was the second time I’d driven for ninety minutes to make some video at a rather special place, so amused I was not. I did put in a second battery and flew for a while, but to be honest I didn’t feel confident. I wanted to get everything back on the bench, check for problems, and then fly again in my big test field that is close to home and has few obstacles. (Except for the stand of trees where I lost my first Cheerson CX-23!)

And problems I did have.

When I turned on the remote, it beeped constantly. That – if you don’t stop soon I’ll throw you out of the window – kind of beep. I managed to stop it before I threw it.

Then the drone battery wouldn’t charge. It seductively flashed its four LED lights at me, but ignored the charger. After much fruitless mega-googling, I eventually found one video showing me how to reset the battery. I might have had a fighting chance of understanding the Bahasa Malaysia commentary if the video maker hadn’t added foreground music to his background commentary. But I got the basics. Force off the front cover. Take out four screws to remove the front plate. Remove a four-pin jumper that’s covered in sticky goo. Connect the charger for a few seconds and then reverse the whole process. That allowed me to charge the battery, which was a total waste of time, as the battery is apparently toast.

If I fire everything up, the Xiaomi app shows “Undervoltage times: 1”. See…

The battery has four cells and if one is just 0.2v lower than another that counts as undervoltage, and the battery becomes an expensive white brick. How expensive? US$100 expensive. Except a brick would be more useful. I can’t even throw away the battery. LiPos are damned dangerous. So, I guess it will become another souvenir along with various bits and pieces from my last five drones.

Wait. I know your lunch is ready, but there’s more…

Yesterday I went back to TheBigField to test with my one remaining battery. After about three minutes the app suddenly announced that the battery was dangerously low. I landed. This was getting silly.

With everything back on the bench, the remote was beeping at me again. I think it’s trying to communicate. But what? Well, this time the app said “Calibrate R/C.” Okay, go to Settings, select “Calibrate R/C”, do various things like wiggling the sticks, and wait for “Calibration completed successfully.” No more beeping.

So, maybe that’s solved the problems, I thought. Ha! Charge battery. Back to TheBigField. Same routine. Fly for three minutes and then listen to “Battery is dangerously low. Overcharge will damage the battery.” It dropped from 97% to 0% in a few seconds. Do I now have two white bricks?

Houston we have a problem. Houston doesn’t care, and so far, neither does Fimi’s support department. But any e-mail to China seems to be carried by a pigeon across the South China Sea, so I must wait.

Impatiently.

But, I have a theory that might explain all of the problems. One or more motors could be on its last legs. Seizing up. Burning out. Or something that causes it to use way more battery power than normal. For sure they don’t all spin at the same rate if I flick the propellers, but I read somewhere that that is normal. But what if it isn’t?

Given that four new motors cost less than one new battery, and that getting them here from China might just be faster than getting an answer from Fimi, I’m seriously considering placing an order. I probably don’t need four, but as always with drones, it’s good to have spares of everything – including drones.

Okay, now you can eat your lunch.

Paul

... is fascinated by flying, having worked in the airline industry for many years, and having flown almost two million kilometers. Flying and learning about drones is a natural extension of this interest.

If drones fascinate you too, and you don't know where to start, then come along for the ride, because Paul doesn't know what he's doing either!

Making top quality videos is the ultimate objective, but that will take a while.

In the meantime, mistakes will be made and written about. Drones will crash. Drones will be lost. Foul language will ensue. But eventually everything will work out fine.

If you're also interested in travel, you may like to read Paul's other blog - Twitterings.


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1 thought on “You Can’t Have Just One…

  1. I’m a private pilot in England (although I passed my class one medical, and teh GAPAN apitude testing I never managed to finance or acquire my CP training) and when flying had turned from a desire into an endless frustration (the “30 years of trying” point did it for me) I decided taht I would do all my flying and engineering on a smaller more affrodable scale.

    4 years later, I now have moderate flying skills more than ten homebuilt copters, and ONE (off teh shelf toy) which I ahev foudn relaible enough to actually fly. (twice a day, every day, urban flying from my back garden, which was doable only after contacting the CAA, most of my neighbours and the local airfield to try an obatain a little co-operation with regards to their extended centre line, so that I can at least fly high enough to comply with the requirement to fly high enough so that one cannot emulate the southpark episode the “magic bush”.

    The point of this screed being to suggest that I might have anough real world experience to be qualified to suggest that if you are going to swap out the motors, spin all the ones that you have to see which ones have the smoothest bearings, (I.E. spins quietest and smoothest, it ain’t rocket science) and grade them from worst to best, before making them with their grade and then swapping the entire FOUR out for new ones. That gives you the best chance of getting a “fresh start”, and if you get an early life failure, (It can happen, these are cheap and mass produced items, lacking green “serviceable” tickets) you can then fetch a serviceable motor out of “quarantine”..

    When and if you swap out motors, it’s very much worth holding secriing the quad and powering up it’s motors, slowly and carefully whilst watching for “stuttering” or “cogging”, which can indicate a faulty esc I am told. (I have a CX-20/quanum nova) which I bought as a customer return, and when I finally sorted out it’s calibration and stuff and got it flying, I noticed that one engine would stutter at certain settings. I swapped out all four motors and whilst the problem diminished (or changed) slightly, it’s still there. (waiting for me to change the esc).

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