Introduction:

Whilst performing a routine operation with your drone, you may notice that something isn't quite right. The drone may be behaving abnormally, for example, flying with a slight tilt, or perhaps your remote controller has an unusually weak signal. 

Whatever the issue, it's often difficult to pinpoint exactly where the problem is coming from.

What's more, many pilots and technicians do not have a solid process in place for drone troubleshooting and waste much of their time trying to figure out exactly what component is causing the problem.

That's why we've made this checklist template, designed to run you through an extensive troubleshooting routine to isolate those problematic components and have your drone performing as good as new.

Completing this checklist will give you everything you need to get started with a repair job yourself, or you can pass it on to your maintenance or repair technician to give them a jump-start in resolving any problems.

You're well on your way to identifying any problems with your drone system, so let's get started.

Preparation:

Record basic details

First of all, use the form fields to record drone and pilot details. 

By noting down information about the technician performing the troubleshooting, the specific drone unit, and the repair technician email address, you'll save yourself time later on when you need to reference those details or forward the results of the checklist to anyone else.

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

Describe problems with drone

Troubleshooting is problem-solving. 

Therefore, you need to know what problems are present with the drone before you can solve them.

Before you can start troubleshooting, you might want to consider running this drone testing checklist to identify problems with the drone.

Use the form field below to outline what is wrong with the unit. This will help to inform the rest of the troubleshooting process.

Equipment check:

Inspect all components for visible damage

Now, on to the actual troubleshooting. 

Before testing the parts mechanically, check each component for visible damage. That way, obviously faulty components can be isolated and you'll save time in the long run by dealing with them immediately.

Use the sub-checklist below to mark each component after you've inspected it, and then declare whether or not any of the components need repairs.

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

Replace or repair damaged components

Now that you've identified some faulty or damaged components, it's time to let your maintenance technician know so that they can perform any repairs.

Make note of exactly what needs to be repaired in the form field below.

  • 1
    Chassis
  • 2
    Propellers
  • 3
    Motors
  • 4
    Gimbal
  • 5
    Indicator lights
  • 6
    Screws
  • 7
    Global Positioning System (GPS)
  • 8
    Landing gear
  • 9
    Batteries
  • 10
    Electronic Speed Controller (ESC)
  • 11
    Compass
  • 12
    Wiring
  • 13
    Camera

Once you've specified repair work to be done, you will be all set to export or print this checklist and send it over to your technician for repairs and service work.

Ensure all components are properly fitted

As well as checking for damage, you should make sure each component is properly and securely fixed into place on the unit. 

Even perfectly healthy parts can cause problems if they aren't fitted the way they're supposed to be.

Check each item on the sub-checklist below.

  • 1
    Camera
  • 2
    Motors
  • 3
    Gimbal
  • 4
    LEDs
  • 5
    Screws
  • 6
    Global Positioning System (GPS)
  • 7
    Landing frame
  • 8
    Batteries
  • 9
    Electronic Speed Controller (ESC)
  • 10
    Compass
  • 11
    Wiring
  • 12
    Propellers

Ensure all batteries are charged

Check each battery for the drone, controller and additional components, including all spares. The sub-checklist below will run you through exactly what you'll need to do.

Maintain battery charge levels between the range of 30 - 90%. Anything outside of this range runs the risk of excessively loading the battery and reducing its lifespan.

  • 1
    Check and charge drone batteries to 75%
  • 2
    Check and charge controller batteries to 75%
  • 3
    Check and charge additional component batteries to 75%
  • 4
    Check and charge spare batteries to 75%

System reset:

Power off drone

Every troubleshooting process should start with this step. Often, problems with electronic devices can be solved by simply turning them off an on again - and the same goes for drones. 

Power down the drone and wait for propellers to run down completely.

Power off control station

Once the drone is powered down, it's time to follow suit with the remote controller, as well as any additional control units, such as smartphones, tablets, or portable computers running control software.

Power down all remaining devices in your control station setup.

Remove batteries

Once all systems are powered down and propellers are completely run-down, you can remove all battery packs from both controller and drone systems.

You'll need to let the batteries cool before charging them for next use, so follow the subtask checklist below before moving on.

  • 1
    Remove all batteries
  • 2
    Allow all batteries to cool
  • 3
    Charge drone batteries to 75%
  • 4
    Charge controller batteries to 75%

Re-insert batteries

Re-insert either the newly charged batteries or an equally charged set of spares. What's important is that they have enough charge to last the troubleshooting operation and that they are in good condition.

Often, errors and system failures can be caused by faulty or insufficiently charged batteries. 

Power on drone

Switch the drone back on again and wait for all indicator lights to show.

  • 1
    Power on drone
  • 2
    Check indicator lights are showing

Power on control station

Finally, power on all components of the control station in sequence. Once switched on, you may have to launch control software separately, so make sure you do that as well.

  • 1
    Power on smartphone or tablet
  • 2
    Power on portable laptop computer (if applicable)
  • 3
    Launch control software
  • 4
    Check if issue is still present

Calibration:

Check for local interference

Local interference can take the form of metal objects jamming signal strength, alternate signal sources confusing sensor readings and even other air vehicles.

Be sure the local space, both air, and ground, is clear of the following potential obstructions by completing the sub-checklist.

  • 1
    Air vehicles (manned and unmanned, within 5 miles)
  • 2
    Metal objects (within 10 metres)
  • 3
    Local signal interference
  • 4
    Check if issue is still present

Check Global Positioning System (GPS) signal

Before we do any mechanical troubleshooting, it's a good idea to check to see if the GPS coordinates are correct. This step requires an active internet connection (wired or wireless) so be sure that you are connected before you start.

Follow the subtask checklist below to check your GPS readings, and reset them if necessary.

  • 1
    Place drone on level horizontal surface
  • 2
    Check GPS signal
  • 3
    Check secondary GPS reading
  • 4
    Reset drone GPS (if necessary)
  • 5
    Check if issue is still present

Calibrate Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU)

The Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) is a system which uses a combination of accelerometers and gyroscopes, sometimes also magnetometers, to calculate angular velocity and linear acceleration.

Refer to your model-specific manual for the exact steps required for IMU calibration - but it will most likely be a simple configuration within the control application settings.

Complete the calibration by following the sub-checklist below.

  • 1
    Place drone on a level horizontal surface
  • 2
    Refer to manual for calibration instructions
  • 3
    Ensure battery has sufficient charge
  • 4
    Perform IMU calibration
  • 5
    Check if issue is still present
DJI Phantom 3 IMU Calibration

Calibrate compass

Before troubleshooting, your compass should be calibrated correctly. This instrument could easily be the root of a navigational problem, such as improper GPS navigation and remote control during flight.

Calibrating your compass is often as easy as accessing an in-app command and waiting for the software to do its job. Make sure you consult your model-specific manual and follow the sub-checklist below for the calibration process.

  • 1
    Place drone on a level horizontal surface
  • 2
    Refer to manual for calibration instructions
  • 3
    Ensure battery has sufficient charge
  • 4
    Perform compass calibration
  • 5
    Check if issue is still present

Calibrate gimbal

The gimbal controls the perspective of the camera and will cause problems if not installed and calibrated correctly.

Calibration is a multi-step process, with both the horizontal and vertical axis requiring separate calibration. Your model-specific manual will include instructions for how exactly to begin the calibration of each axis; nonetheless, there are certain steps which must be adhered.

Perform gimbal calibration as per the subtask checklist below.

  • 1
    Place drone on a level horizontal surface
  • 2
    Refer to manual for calibration instructions
  • 3
    Ensure batteries have sufficient charge
  • 4
    Perform gimbal calibration
  • 5
    Check if issue is still present
Gimbal calibratrion on DJI's Mavic Pro.

Upgrade/downgrade drone firmware

Sometimes, errors can be caused by firmware versions. Older firmware can sometimes contain bugs which surface under specific conditions - and the same goes when a system is updated to a newer version. 

Check your current version, and experiment with both updating and (if possible) downgrading via the subtask checklist below.

Some manufacturers make downgrading difficult, if not impossible, in an effort to force users to stay up-to-date with the most current version. If your system does not actively provide you with an option to downgrade your firmware version, then the safest bet is to make sure your software is updated to the most current version.

  • 1
    Check current firmware version
  • 2
    (If possible) downgrade to previous firmware version
  • 3
    Check if issue is still present
  • 4
    Upgrade to most current version
  • 5
    Check if issue is still present

Motor troubleshooting:

Check propellers are installed correctly

Make sure each propeller is installed the right-way-up and is spinning in the designated direction. Some models will have a directionally specific design which could be problematic if rotating the wrong way.

The subtask checklist below will run you through the process for checking that your propellers are installed properly.

  • 1
    Check propellers are not upside-down
  • 2
    Check propellers are rotating in correct direction
  • 3
    Check propellers are securely fixed in place
  • 4
    Check if issue is still present

Check motors are spinning in correct direction

Motors will also have a designated direction. Even if a propeller is installed correctly, an improperly set motor will cause the propeller to misbehave.

Check everything is in order with the following subtask checklist.

  • 1
    Check all motors are installed correctly
  • 2
    Check all motors are spinning in correct direction
  • 3
    Check if issue is still present

Signal troubleshooting:

Check antennae are positioned correctly

Antennae position will determine drone signal strength between local control station devices and potentially longer-range radio-waves. 

Check each antenna is optimally positioned and then check the strength of your signal, to try and reach the best configuration.

  • 1
    Position antennae
  • 2
    Check signal strength
  • 3
    Repeat until optimal configuration
  • 4
    Check if issue is still present

Ensure radio amplifiers are installed correctly

If you have radio amplifiers installed for long-range remote controller communication, then there may be issues with signal at shorter distances.

If the issue you are having is only present whilst the drone is close to the control station, and you also have radio amplifiers installed, try removing the amplifiers to see if the drone behaves normally within a shorter range.

  • 1
    Ensure amplifiers are correctly installed
  • 2
    Check if issue is still present
  • 3
    Remove amplifiers
  • 4
    Check if issue is still present

Finishing up:

Send troubleshooting report to technician

This finished checklist will be a useful reference for the next repair job, so you should print or export it and send it to your repair technician, or just keep a printed version handy for yourself.

Sources:

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