Published December 27, 2016

Over the past decade, many drone hobbyists have learned how to take care of their vehicles through trial and error. When an “error” can mean a drop from hundreds of feet in the air — and a dead drone — this can be a tough lesson. Fortunately, years of experience from owners around the world have provided today’s new users with plenty of information to keeping their UAVs running smoothly.

Regularly inspecting a drone can be time consuming, but it is necessary. With the proper tools, a drone can remain airworthy for many years. Consider creating an inspection checklist that you can check before take-off. Before every flight, users should inspect their UAVs with several considerations in mind:

Regularly Inspect for Damage

  • Are there any missing or loose parts?

    • Check for missing/loose screws or wires. You can check for loose parts by applying a small amount of pressure on the arms of the drone. You can also test the UAV by hovering it at a low altitude (less than 5 feet) for a half-minute. Increase the throttle slightly and listen closely for unusual sounds — loose parts will vibrate. Missing parts can cause erratic behavior.
    • Check that the batteries are properly seated and charged. When most UAVs run out of battery charge, they automatically descend. If the batteries become dislodged, they descend rather quickly. If the vehicle runs out of juice while hovering over water or at a great height, serious damage can occur to the drone.
  • Is there any structural damage?

    • Are there any signs of damage on wires, connectors, or propellers? Replace these parts as necessary. Any damaged wires should be immediately replaced. Ensure that the props are smooth; defects on the blades or warps can be a problem. Cracks can cause propellers to break during flight.
    • Check that the motors and mounting remain securely attached to the airframe. An improperly connected motor can cause a drone to drift without control input. With multirotor aircraft, all motors need to be turning in the correct direction.
    • Check if the landing gear is functional. Inspect for any signs of damage. If the landing gear is unable to properly deploy, a rough landing can result in damage. Sometimes a simple loose screw can prevent landing gear from operating correctly, so it is important to be thorough when inspecting.

There are also steps that owners can take to maintain their drones, so that they continue to work as intended. These steps will prevent future damage to UAVs:

Prevent Future Damage

  • Keep the drone clean

    • A common mistake that new drone owners make is failing to properly clean the vehicle after use. Most cleaning can be completed with a microfiber cloth and isopropyl alcohol. For a casual cleaning, these should suffice. Do not use random household cleaners to clean a drone; some cleaners can break down the plastic used in airframes. Propellers should be cleaned after every use. A variety of cleaning tools can be found here.
    • For complete cleanings, users should disassemble the drone and clean every nook and cranny. Compressed air can help. Some owners use cotton swabs or fine paint brushes to clean hard-to-reach areas.
    • Not only does regularly cleaning prevent a UAV from falling into disrepair, but owners can also discover maintenance problems that they do not anticipate during cleaning. Dirt and dust can cover cracks and loose connections that may otherwise go unnoticed. This small investment of time can save users from a lot of heartache (and wasted money) in the future.
  • Protect the batteries

    • There is a wide variety of batteries that different manufacturers use. Be sure that a selected charger is compatible with the drone before plugging in. Using the wrong type of charger can be ineffectual, damaging, and a serious fire hazard.
    • There are several concerns to keep in mind when caring for a UAV battery. When “breaking in” a new battery, users should deplete it to roughly half capacity for the first few uses. This will prolong the life of the battery. When a notable improvement in performance occurs, the pack can be used normally.
    • During use, monitor battery charge levels through a battery monitor. When the charge is reduced to a certain level, a battery monitor will emit an audible alarm. This will alert the user to land the vehicle as soon as possible.
  • Other considerations

    • Whenever a UAV is not in use, keep it in a carrying case.
      Cases will prevent vehicles from being accidentally damaged. They also prevent dust or debris from building up, which could interfere with performance in the future.
    • Some motors require lubrication (for example: Hitec servos). Check with the drone manufacturer to determine if and how often a motor needs lubrication. Brushless motors, for instance, usually do not require lubrication at all.

New drone owners often lose their enthusiasm when a major crash turns their vehicle into scrap. Crashes often occur due to negligence, as new drone owners often fail to take care of their investment. By taking precautions, most damage can be avoided. Following these tips, owners can enjoy their UAV for years to come.

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