Penned by Joshua McGowan
Freelance writer and self-appointed philosopher
My drone got far enough up and away that even that ‘Angry Birds’ propeller sound
simply diminished with distance. I shot my drone back over my head towards the north
and took more captures facing the Catalina Mountain range.
Finally satisfied with my first real, unfettered freedom flight replete with pics and videos,
I decided to try out what is ostensibly a very useful feature: The Home Button! The
Home Button or feature is designed to bring the Drone back down to the point of takeoff
The Home Button is triggered one of two ways: The drone operator can either request it,
or the other way is that it’s activated when the drone understands that its battery is too
close to being drained and is compelled to take over control of itself and attempts to set
down on the operator’s behalf. It’s a very handy feature, particularly if you lose visual
contact with it.
The last thing you want is for your new Starship Enterprise to drop out of the sky and
plummet towards earth simply because you weren’t paying attention to the power
It’s important to note that the operator can override the Home Button feature by simply
pushing the toggle forward and wresting control from the independent minded DJI
Inspire 1 Pro. I wish I had known that before what I’m about to share with you.
So, done with my drone in flight, I tap the Home Button feature to see what happens.
My drone turns around in the sky and begins to make its descent back to its point of
origin. The following few details are important to remember. If you recall, I said I was 20
to 25 ft. feet from the chain-link fence, and I launched my drone into open space from
that spot. Yet, when I summoned my drone from the reverse angle using the Home
Button feature, it was aiming in from the opposite side with trees and… that’s right, the
chain link fence. Had I been 50 or 100 ft. deeper into the ball field when I lofted it, I
wouldn’t be sharing this story.
Now descends my drone, nearly shaving the tops of trees, slowly and seemingly in the
right direction. As it continues to lower itself, I realize with a certain degree of hair-
raising alarm that my drone doesn’t seem to be making much of an effort to avoid the
top of the chain-link fence. Remember, it’s a homing device, not a crash avoidance
feature (such as the one found in the new DJI Phantom 4).
If I knew what I was doing rather than swallowing my Adam’s apple in sheer terror, I
could have simply sent my precious baby back up into the sky with an override push of
the control toggle. But no…
Picture slow motion here, something akin to watching an execution. I was witness to my
drone grabbing atop of the chain-link fence, flipping and writhing upon the indifferent
metal – the sound and sight of all my propellers snipping and clipping away, my craft
twisting this way and that until it finally landed on the asphalt upside down, coughing
itself quietly to wounded sleep.
Lesson: Two simple measures could have avoided this fiasco and changed the destiny
of my immediate existence:
1. Toggle override to lift the drone and retrieve control of it. ALWAYS go up when in
2. Launch the drone in an area clear of immediate surrounding obstruction – or as
in don’t be standing next to a metal fence, you putz.
Sadly, I laid my crippled DJI Inspire 1 drone on the hood of my car, and it became rather
evident that the feet of the landing gear were no longer aligned. Alas.
Three weeks and four hundred dollars later, Drones Plus of Las Vegas brought my
troublesome little bird back to life – broken limbs mended and ready to go once again.
You’d think a Drone neophyte would have learned his or her lesson by now, extolling
the virtues of caution, practice, acquired erudition, vigilance and a sworn oath to be
more careful in the future.
You’d think that, right? I’m thinkin’ not so much.
Three weeks later when my DJI Inspire 1 Pro with my damn precious n’ lovely Zenmuse
X5 lens arrived from Las Vegas, I was guardedly happy, albeit a bit gun shit.. er shy.
My fourth flight was out of a Western Tucson arroyo with my friend and mentor, Robert
Luscumb with Desert Sky Photography. We flew our DJI Inspire 1 Pros in tandem up down and around in the waning afternoon light.
Time was up, and I brought my Drone down a wee bit too quickly on the bike path
before I gave the landing gear enough time to properly extend itself. Such is the bane of
the anxious and the fumbled-thumbed.
No damage, thankfully.
The following afternoon, I find myself at the exact same spot where I crashed my DJI
Inspire 1 Pro at the baseball diamond but not so close to the chain-link fence this time.
I have another “smashingly successful” flight, but this time I end up taking my eye off
battery gauge and dronie no likey. She pops straight up drone like a rocket to about
50’, then takes a vertiginous plummet back to grass of the baseball diamond. And
again, rather than toggling an upwards “override” and in a full on panic, I’m bringing my
drone back down at such haste of speed that I’m not allowing the landing gear position
itself into place.
It was once again in the “Home” mode.
My beloved and inordinately expensive Zenmuse X5 begins to bounce off the grass like
a drunk on a trampoline.
And then my drone settled, murmuring and whizzing, only this time on the grass (a
luxury item here in Tucson). Damage control assessment again - and followed by the
immediate impulse thought, “why can’t a stupid sucker get an even break ‘round here?”.
The following day, it’s established that the gimble has a mind of its own and is doing the
herky-jerky. For the most part, my drone flies fine, it’s now my gimble and lens are the
items protesting and requesting asylum from their owner.
Not long thereafter, and upon a very delicate dissection of the lens utilizing eye-glass
screws, it becomes quickly clear that nothing is clear at all.
For the second time within the same month, off to Drones Plus in Las Vegas we go.
Whatever the problem actually was, it took Drones Plus 3 weeks to determine that
whatever problem I had was beyond their scope of reparation. To their credit, they’re
more drone craft and less lens and gimble. They tried. Oh well.
The dénouement of this story is that my entire DJI Inspire 1 Pro avec Zenmuse X5 is
now in the hands of DJI North America located in Southern California.
Their reputation for accessibility and personal touch is distinctly in question. They
market a superior product – they know you’ve already purchased their boutique product,
so their eagerness to alibi learning-curve drone pilots is weak at best.
However, if you keep pressing as I did, they can eventually break through their
fortifications and get something accomplished.
As of this writing, my DJI Inspire 1 Pro with my ass kickin’ Zenmuse X5, is in the nimble
fingers of the Tyrell Corporation of Drones. I hope she returns in one proper piece.
I would hate to have to do that “double thumb” to the eye sockets thing like Roy the
Stayed tuned to find out what happens next…
... This is what happened next.
Post Script 1:
It was politely pointed out to me by Alan Perlman of UAV Coach that I
mistakenly referred to my lens as a "Zunmuse" rather than Zenmuse several times (as
of now corrected). That, in and of itself, is something of a misdemeanor. No wonder my
drone has been giving me the "hairy eyeball" from the outset. I cant even call its nasty bits by their proper names. Serves me right for my dubious fortune.
Post Script 2:
Based on what I know, DJI America has gotten a wee bit of bad press regarding both
the accessibility and customer service angles. I imagine that some of these
observations werent entirely unfounded in the beginning. This is what happens when
you have a nation of quiescent nerdskis toiling away in a well-appointed basement of
foosball tables and latte machines.
But in their defense, I can tell you that I was very well treated. I sent them my
defunct Zenmuse X5. The turnaround was exactly two weeks. They sent me back a
brand new one.
All things being equal, I didn't deserve a new lens and gimble. I bounced that lil' bad boy
like an infant off my knee. And nor am I saying that those of you who follow me into the
gates of droning hell will get this fortunate. I'm just saying, DJI treated me well and with
professionalism. Be cautious, but not too scared.