Introduction:

Drone systems, especially those deployed as part of a larger fleet are subject to the wear and tear of constant use, and thus require a systematic repair process to ensure everything is in working order.

This checklist is designed to guide you through drone repair and can be applied as frequently as necessary, but it is most efficient to perform maintenance on a per-flight basis, rather than a set timeframe. That way, scheduling more accurately reflects the likelihood of the drone requiring service.

Whatever the case, you will likely already have your own processes in place to decide how and when to perform maintenance. Run this checklist to ensure all systems are in working order and that any repairs or replacements can be carried out before the next flight.

Preparation:

Record basic details

Before you begin with the hands-on repairs, you'll need to record information about this specific job. This is for the sake of contingency and to ensure consistent data is collected across all jobs completed.

Start by recording drone and technician specifics in the form fields below.

If there is anything else worth noting about the unit in question, record that information below.

Declare repairs needed

As part of the recorded data for this job, declare exactly what repairs the unit will receive.

If you don't yet have a proper process in place for determining what repairs are needed, you can use our drone troubleshooting checklist.

  • 1
    Chassis
  • 2
    Propellers
  • 3
    Motors
  • 4
    Gimbal
  • 5
    Indicator lights
  • 6
    Screws
  • 7
    GPS
  • 8
    Landing frame
  • 9
    Batteries
  • 10
    ESC
  • 11
    Compass
  • 12
    Wiring
  • 13
    Camera

Gather tools

Make sure you have everything you need to fully repair the drone unit and any additional systems (such as the controller).

Tick off each tool in the sub-checklist below once you're sure.

Firstly, the basics. A good selection of screwdrivers and pliers is essential for any repair job.

Disclaimer: with any repair job, it's advisable to have a variety of sizes and specifications for each of your tools.

  • 1
    Nut driver
  • 2
    Phillips screwdriver
  • 3
    Slotted screwdriver
  • 4
    Star-bit screwdriver
  • 5
    Precision screwdriver
  • 6
    Pliers

If you're expecting to be working with electronic wiring, a full soldering kit and tools to work with wiring will all be necessary prerequisites.

  • 1
    Soldering iron
  • 2
    Soldering iron stand
  • 3
    Solder tube
  • 4
    Heat sink
  • 5
    Solder wire
  • 6
    Desoldering vacuum pump
  • 7
    Desoldering wick
  • 8
    Wire cutters
  • 9
    Wire stripper
  • 10
    Wire crimper

Check spare components

Spares, if not on-hand or common to your spares box, will need to be ordered depending on the nature of the repairs.

It's worth checking to see if simple components, such as screws or damaged wires, can be found before ordering. 

Either way, make sure you have all spare components that you need to perform the repairs.

Safety:

Review safety procedure

Proper safety precautions must always be followed. Before proceeding, be certain that you're fully aware of the safety procedure for working with electronics and drone systems.

It may be that you have your own internal safety guidelines, but be sure to review the sub-checklist below for a quick rundown of some basic precautions.

If you don't yet have a proper drone safety process in place, you can use our drone safety checklist.

  • 1
    Remove all battery packs before handling motors
  • 2
    Allow battery packs to sufficiently cool before close inspection
  • 3
    Wear anti-static wristband (or sufficiently ground yourself) before handling electronics
  • 4
    Have access to a basic first-aid kit
  • 5
    Ensure electronics are not connected to mains power whilst repairing them

Repair:

Service chassis

The shell or chassis is often the largest single drone component (depending on exactly what model you're running) and can be complicated to replace. In order to fully remove it, you'll need to be sure everything is properly and safely disconnected.

By following the sub-checklist below, you'll be able to fully disassemble your chassis and install a new shell.

  • 1
    Remove drone battery
  • 2
    Remove all propellers
  • 3
    Detach non-fixed components from the frame
  • 4
    Remove all screws from the frame
  • 5
    Check the underside of the frame for additional components
  • 6
    Detach non-soldered wires from inside frame
  • 7
    Transfer components from old frame to new (if absent)
  • 8
    Route wires through new frame

To re-assemble with the new frame, you'll want to follow the sub-task checklist in reverse. Be sure to refer to your manual for proper wiring guides and advice on how to route cables inside of the shell.

Best practice video depicting how to safely remove the top part of the DJI Phantom 3 shell.

Service propellers

Propeller lifespan will vary depending on use-cases and quality of manufacture, with some lasting months and even years. Often units will come with extra propellers, and it's important to replace them properly.

Firstly, be sure that the system is completely shut down and the motors are not connected to any power source.

  • 1
    Power off the drone unit
  • 2
    Disconnect the battery
  • 3
    Be sure all motors are run-down completely
  • 4
    Remove propellers

Now you're ready to handle the propellers. You'll need to determine how the propellers are fixed (either with screws or secured with in-built fastenings) and then follow the subtask checklist below to replace the damaged components.

Propeller orientation is important. Observe which way up the old propellers were positioned before removing them, so you can be sure the new components will be installed correctly. Often, this information will be marked on the propeller.

  • 1
    Remove damaged propellers
  • 2
    Observe propeller orientation
  • 3
    Retrieve matching replacement
  • 4
    Install new propeller

Service motors

Drone motor replacement sounds daunting, but it is a relatively straightforward task. Motor replacement on units with larger bodies is easier than compared to those with smaller, more compacted frames, simply because there is less space to work with.

Always be considerate of the direction the motors are spinning. Multi-propeller flight depends on the propellers turning in the right direction.

Complete the sub-checklist below to replace the faulty motors.

  • 1
    Power off the drone unit
  • 2
    Disconnect the battery
  • 3
    Be sure all motors are run-down completely
  • 4
    Remove propellers

At this point, you may need to disassemble the unit further to access the motors. If that's the case, then you should refer to your model-specific manual for proper disassembly instructions.

Generally, you will need to unscrew the frame of the unit and make sure all wires are properly disconnected. Many components will have clip fastenings for easy connecting and re-connecting, but some will need to be de-soldered and re-soldered upon reassembly. 

  • 1
    Disassemble frame
  • 2
    Disconnect component wires
  • 3
    Identify faulty motors
  • 4
    Make note of which direction each motor is spinning
  • 5
    Install new motor

To re-assemble the unit, follow the subtask checklists in reverse order, being sure to consult your manual as you go.

Service gimbal

Make sure you have the controller and application on hand, but they should be off, to begin with.

Follow the sub-checklists below, which begin with powering down the drone system.

  • 1
    Power off the drone unit
  • 2
    Disconnect the battery
  • 3
    Be sure all motors are run-down completely
  • 4
    Remove propellers
  • 5
    Unscrew gimbal frame
  • 6
    Remove camera and additional connections
  • 7
    Remove defective gimbal
  • 8
    Align new gimbal
  • 9
    Screw gimbal onto the frame
  • 10
    Reconnect additional components

Next, fire up the drone application and remote controller.  You will need to re-insert battery packs to the drone and turn it on as well, but leave the propellers off so that the drone remains grounded.

  • 1
    Turn on remote controller
  • 2
    Turn on controller application
  • 3
    Ensure drone propellers have been removed
  • 4
    Re-insert drone batteries
  • 5
    Power on drone

Once the new gimbal is fitted, test it to see if everything is working correctly.

  • 1
    Test spin the yaw arm motor
  • 2
    Test spin the roll arm motor
  • 3
    Make sure axis is straight
  • 4
    Test in-app image is stable

Service indicator lights

Each unit will have different indicator light configurations, but simple principles remain the same when replacing damaged components. 

Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) are generally soldered directly to the frame or part of a circuit board cased internally, so will likely require the disassembly of the main case.

Follow the sub-checklists below to safely replace the damaged LEDs.

  • 1
    Power off the drone unit
  • 2
    Disconnect the battery
  • 3
    Be sure all motors are run-down completely
  • 4
    Remove propellers

Now that the unit is powered down, access the internal circuitry by disassembling the main casing.

  • 1
    Turn drone upside-down
  • 2
    Place drone on firm, flat surface
  • 3
    Remove main casing screws
  • 4
    Carefully disconnect internal wiring
  • 5
    Open drone frame

Now you should have access to the damaged LEDs. Follow the wires from the externally-facing LEDs to locate exactly where they were connected on the control board.

  • 1
    Locate LED connection point
  • 2
    Consult manual as to wire function
  • 3
    Scrape off any glue from LED wires
  • 4
    De/solder LED wires
  • 5
    Replace faulty LED
  • 6
    Follow these subtask checklists in reverse order

Service screws

When screws become worn or loose, they aren't doing their job, which is to secure the frame and components of the drone in place at all times.

Follow the sub-checklists below to replace damaged screws.

  • 1
    Power off the drone unit
  • 2
    Disconnect the battery
  • 3
    Be sure all motors are run-down completely
  • 4
    Remove propellers

Now it's safe to access the main body and remove the problem screws. Before starting this step, check your manual for diagrams depicting screw locations. Your manual should also have information about what types of screws you will need to obtain for replacements.

  • 1
    Check all screw are firmly installed
  • 2
    Check all screws are in good condition
  • 3
    Remove problem screws
  • 4
    Locate identical replacement
  • 5
    Install new screws

Service landing frame

Your drone's landing frame may have additional connections that require dismantling before it can be replaced. Make sure you refer to your manual so that you know how to properly reassemble each component.

First, take proper precaution by fully powering down the drone system.

  • 1
    Power off the drone unit
  • 2
    Disconnect the battery
  • 3
    Be sure all motors are run-down completely
  • 4
    Remove propellers
  • 5
    Turn the drone upside-down
  • 6
    Place drone on firm, flat surface
  • 7
    Remove screws securing landing gear to drone surface
  • 8
    Remove rubber supports
  • 9
    Carefully detach/reattach wiring
  • 10
    (If applicable) transfer components from old frame
  • 11
    Align new landing frame
  • 12
    Screw new landing frame in place

Service batteries

Batteries are relatively simple to replace. Their installation is generally very straightforward and often will not even require additional tools.

Follow the sub-checklist below and you'll have your batteries replaced in no time.

  • 1
    Power off the drone unit
  • 2
    Be sure all motors are run-down completely
  • 3
    Remove propellers
  • 4
    Disconnect the battery
  • 5
    Check new battery for damage
  • 6
    Connect new battery

Service compass

Replacing the compass on most drone systems is a relatively simple task. The compass consists of a circuit board and a cable connecting to the main board.

Follow the sub-checklists below, starting by making sure the unit is fully powered down.

  • 1
    Power off the drone unit
  • 2
    Disconnect the battery
  • 3
    Be sure all motors are run-down completely
  • 4
    Remove propellers

Now that the unit is powered down, access the internal circuitry by disassembling the main casing.

  • 1
    Turn drone upside-down
  • 2
    Place drone on firm, flat surface
  • 3
    Remove main casing screws
  • 4
    Carefully disconnect internal wiring
  • 5
    Open drone frame

The most difficult part is over. Replacing the actual compass module is simple - just follow the steps outlined in the subtask checklist below.

  • 1
    Un-clip the old compass module
  • 2
    Pry old compass board away from frame
  • 3
    Clear old adhesive from previous board fixture
  • 4
    Firmly place the new board into the designated location
  • 5
    Add adhesive to secure new board
  • 6
    Re-clip new wires to main board

To properly install the new component, follow these subtask checklists in reverse order.

Service Global Positioning System (GPS)

GPS, or Global Positioning System, is the component which allows your drone to access satellite-relayed geographical coordinates, which in turn inform the flight and navigational systems your drone uses to perform all of its functions.

To replace a defective GPS, the chassis will have to be dismantled. Removing the GPS will also require that all wired connections are disconnected first.

Follow the sub-checklists below, starting by making sure the unit is fully powered down.

  • 1
    Power off the drone unit
  • 2
    Disconnect the battery
  • 3
    Be sure all motors are run-down completely
  • 4
    Remove propellers

Now that the unit is powered down, access the internal circuitry by disassembling the main casing.

  • 1
    Turn drone upside-down
  • 2
    Place drone on firm, flat surface
  • 3
    Remove main casing screws
  • 4
    Carefully disconnect internal wiring
  • 5
    Open drone frame

Now you're ready to replace the old GPS module with a new, working component.

  • 1
    Detach cables from old GPS module
  • 2
    Remove any screws securing old GPS module in place
  • 3
    Remove old GPS board
  • 4
    Replace with new GPS module

To properly install the new component, follow these subtask checklists in reverse order.

Service Electronic Speed Controller (ESC)

The Electronic Speed Controller (ESC) is the component which translates the pilot's commands into instructions that the motors can understand and use to control movement.

The ESC is connected to the main board, from which it receives power and signal information. In most drone systems, there is one ESC for each motor.

For this task, you will require a screwdriver and soldering equipment.

Follow the sub-checklists below, starting by making sure the unit is fully powered down.

  • 1
    Power off the drone unit
  • 2
    Disconnect the battery
  • 3
    Be sure all motors are run-down completely
  • 4
    Remove propellers

Now that the unit is powered down, access the internal circuitry by disassembling the main casing.

  • 1
    Turn drone upside-down
  • 2
    Place drone on firm, flat surface
  • 3
    Remove main casing screws
  • 4
    Carefully disconnect internal wiring
  • 5
    Open drone frame

You can now proceed to service the ESC unit. First of all, desolder the motor connections from the old ESP board and continue with the subtask checklist below.

Be careful not to melt the plastic of the chassis when soldering wires.

  • 1
    Make note of which motor connections are wired to the old ESC board
  • 2
    Desolder all motor wires from old ESC board
  • 3
    Unscrew motors
  • 4
    Remove motors
  • 5
    Desolder ground and voltage wires of old ESC board
  • 6
    Unscrew old ESC board from main board
  • 7
    Disconnect old ESC board from main board
  • 8
    Install new ESC module

To properly install the new component, follow these subtask checklists in reverse order.

Guide video to replacing the ESC on a DJI Phantom Quad Copter.

Service wiring

Wiring can become frayed or disconnected over time with the trauma of persistent use or rough handling. If you need to replace wiring, you'll certainly need to open the drone's chassis.

Before you start, don't forget to power down the system in order to handle the unit safely.

  • 1
    Power off the drone unit
  • 2
    Disconnect the battery
  • 3
    Be sure all motors are run-down completely
  • 4
    Remove propellers

If a wire connection has been broken, that will need to be reconnected by either stripping and soldering the old segment or replacing a segment altogether.

If you know exactly where the damaged wiring sits within the system, it makes the next part of the task easier. However, it's always worth going over and checking all wiring whilst you've got the unit opened up.

  • 1
    Turn drone upside-down
  • 2
    Place drone on firm, flat surface
  • 3
    Remove main casing screws
  • 4
    Carefully disconnect internal wiring
  • 5
    Open drone frame

The case should be open and the main wiring exposed. Look over all connection points and perform soldering or wire replacement where necessary by following the sub-checklist below.

  • 1
    Check each connection point
  • 2
    Locate loose connections
  • 3
    Refer to manual for loose connections
  • 4
    Strip the ends of loose wires
  • 5
    Solder loose wires
  • 6
    Replace unsuitable wires

Service camera

Camera compatibility is an important factor to be aware of. Especially with DJI's models, cameras can be difficult to replace and replacement components are highly inflexible. Be sure to consult the model-specific manual for camera specifications, and investigate whether camera replacement is within the scope of your current warranty.

For some camera installations, including mounted GoPro cameras, the installation is relatively straightforward. Follow the sub-checklists below.

  • 1
    Unscrew gimbal frame
  • 2
    Remove gimbal panels
  • 3
    Remove faulty camera

Once the new camera is installed, the yaw and roll will need to be configured with the controller application.

  • 1
    Align new GoPro camera with the gimbal fixtures
  • 2
    Firmly press the GoPro into the gimbal frame
  • 3
    Calibrate gimbal yaw and roll in-app

Sources:

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