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I May Have (Definitely) Crashed My Drone

Ask anyone who knows me, and they'll tell you that I'm reasonably careful with my things, treating them purposefully, and knowing that by doing so, they should last a long time.

I try to be the same way with my camera equipment, but for some reason, I continue to break stuff. This time, I may have (definitely) crashed my DJI Air 3 drone into the ground at 45 mph.

The same people who tell you that I'm generally careful with my things will also tell you that I am able to learn - albeit slowly - from my mistakes. As such, after running over my Canon 80D DSLR and picking up a Canon R6, I promptly purchased the Canon-provided insurance for it (even though I hate insurance).

One might then assume that when I picked up the drone, that I'd also grab the insurance for that. After all, what could possibly go wrong with a camera that flies in the air, above all sorts of weird terrain, with a terrible pilot?

But as I mentioned, I'm a slow learner, and I hate insurance, so I was really on the fence until someone much more experienced - and probably smarter, and definitely funnier - than me put me on the right track:

I forget what it's called, but it's essentially an insurance program where you can send in your crashed and mangled drone for replacement at little or no cost, within the first year or two.  I recommend this not because I think you'll destroy your drone, but because I want you to be able to fly it without being terrified of destroying it.

Buy the insurance, then fly it like it's insured.  You'll get better shots. 

Mike (@mk5)

Well, I don't know that I've gotten any better shots, but the joke's on Mike because even taking only mildly mediocre still shots - not even videos - I did destroy my drone!

All I Was Doing Was Landing

The story of the crash is everything you could expect from a drone pilot who can't get the hang of the controls. I'd just finished taking some epically mediocre photos of the Tacoma high in the Inyo Mountains, overlooking Owen's Valley and the Sierra, and it was time to land.

At least I got the gimbal pointed in the right direction.

Anyway, landing - as anyone who owns a DJI drone will attest - is really the easiest part of droning. You just press a button - "Return to Home" - and the drone does all the work, returning to the exact place where it launched before setting itself down in the exact orientation from which it took off. Any dummy can do it.

Or so DJI thought.

Actually, I did press the "return to home" button, but after about two seconds of the drone leisurely making its way back, I got impatient and turned off "return to home" and pushed the sticks to their max so the darn thing would fly faster, and I could get to more exploring.

Now flying at a sporadic 45mph rather than gracefully smooth 19mph, the drone definitely got back more quickly. I'd flown it around in an arc in front of the Tacoma so I could see it as I attempted to manually land it in the road, but of course now that it was facing me, I was in the situation where pushing the joystick to the left would send the drone to the right, and vice versa. And of course, there's still the other stick that controls up/down/around. Geeze, it's like it was made to torture those of us who never mastered modern-day video games.

Anyway, coming in hot, I realized that I needed to move a bit to one side in order to be over a flat spot in the road. So, I think I started - naturally - by using the wrong stick and sending the drone faster toward the ground. Caught off guard, I then tried to reverse direction on the up/down while simultaneously pushing the other stick in some - what turned out to be wrong - direction.


Hopping out of the truck and climbing the hill I'd crashed into, I disentangled the drone from the bush expecting all the propellers to be broken and hoping that the camera was alright. And, initially, I was surprised to find only the tip of a single propeller had broken off!

But then I noticed the real damage. I'd busted up two of the feet: the one on the front leg was cracked but still attached, and the one on the rear - well, it was hanging on by only a sensor wire. And, the camera lens looked unscratched, but the gimble had certainly smashed into a rock or something.

I don't think those are supposed to look like that.

Knowing that I had the insurance, I was only a little bit bummed. A broken drone would mean forfeiting some of the shots I might otherwise get, but I'm no stranger to jogging a few hundred yards up a scree field in order to get a good angle with the earth-bound camera, so I figured that I wouldn't be missing out on too much.

And then I realized I might be able to just push plastic pieces back together in order to get the drone back up in the air. So, that's what I did. Not well mind you. But, well enough that they didn't seem to rattle apart when the drone was hovering, which was a win in my book. In fact, the drone didn't seem to care at all that I'd murdered it, which is more than I can say for... no, nevermind.

DJI Care Refresh to the Rescue

At some point - I think I was in camp later that evening - I got cell reception and headed over to DJI's web site to see about cashing in on that insurance I hated to purchase. The DJI web site was great, recognizing that I'd paid for DJI Care Refresh and - because of that - offering an expedited replacement service, where DJI would send me a new drone even before I sent the old one back to them. Nice!

DJI Care Refresh feels a lot like AppleCare.

Less than 12 hours after crashing my drone, I got a UPS shipment confirmation; my new drone was set to arrive via 2nd Day Air! And, I also had an email with a pre-paid shipping to send the dead drone back to DJI.

Look what showed up in the mail.

The new drone seemed, well, new. I couldn't verify that it worked - I'd left the remote controller in the Tacoma back in Las Vegas - but I figured that it probably did and packed the old one up for the return trip to Texas, and ultimately wherever its final resting place may be.

All in all, I've got to say that the support from DJI on this seemed to be top notch. I paid $189 for two years (or four replacements, whichever comes first) of coverage. Each replacement costs $99, so the more times I crash this thing, the better deal it becomes. Sort of.

Hopefully, by the fourth crash, I'll finally be figuring out how to control this darn thing. Or maybe not - I'm a slow learner, and I seem to be hard on camera gear.




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Vendors | DJI(1 entries)



  1. Greg von Buchau
    Greg von Buchau July 4, 2024

    Shit happens
    I know a guy who drove over his Saxophone

    Always fun reading your story’s. You have a way with words. .

  2. David Fitzgerald
    David Fitzgerald July 4, 2024

    I wish I had bought the DJI insurance, it stresses me out flying an expensive drone! I also didn't realize there are left and right propellers I replaced the wrong one and it promptly flipped over and crashed.

    • turbodb
      turbodb July 4, 2024

      Ack! I hope the crash was quick enough with the incorrect propellers that it didn't do more than break a propeller or two! I've wondered what would happen if I got the propellers on the wrong leg, and always just hoped I got them right; seems like I have (so far!)

      As far as the insurance goes - at the end of the day, I don't know if it's really worth it - a new drone is only about 2x the cost of the insurance, but I suppose it does make me more relaxed when I'm flying it. At least, for the first couple of years. Problem is, at the rate I'm learning to pilot, I'll need the insurance for significantly longer than that, hahahaha!

  3. Bill Rambo
    Bill Rambo July 5, 2024

    I too have always had the insurance on my drones. Not yet had to cash in on it, but good to have.

    • turbodb
      turbodb July 5, 2024

      Do you renew the insurance when it runs out? (I think DJI only allows a single renewal) Perhaps post-DJI Care Refresh, I should look into some 3rd party insurance... or maybe at that point, a drone crash just means "new generation drone."

      In general, I despise insurance and believe that it should only be used to protect from catastrophic events. I look at it like this - an insurance company is betting that they will make money on their clients over the long term, for whatever the insurance premiums cost. As large, very profitable companies, they have proven themselves to be correct - much in the same way that the odds are stacked in favor of the house at a casino. Knowing this, it them makes sense to avoid insurance in most cases that are not catastrophic, as it almost always makes sense to not gamble "to make money."

      This, I recognize, is a very privileged view, in that I can afford to "self-insure" the non-catastrophic ones without too much trouble, but I do think it's an important aspect of insurance that everyone should keep in mind.

      What I've come to learn with some of my camping gear is that "normal, careful use," can still lead to destruction just because of how frequently I use it and the conditions under which it is used. So, I've begun to consider insurance for some of those items as well, simply as a way of prolonging their lifespan.

      • Bill Rambo
        Bill Rambo July 5, 2024

        I actually sold the Phantoms and Inspire before the renew ran out. The Mavic I think was a one time renew, but after three years with it, I was not asked by DJI to renew. It's good to have in the event of a fly away or accidently crashing, or something going wrong with the drone that only flight records can prove. Sometimes its just worth it.

  4. Skyhiker
    Skyhiker July 5, 2024

    Great write up; glad the insurance worked smoothly.

    I also usually decline insurance. Like you, it's based on the assumption that the seller makes money on this on average, so it's not a good deal for me unless my situation is not average. So, for example, something that's flat rate for all electronics based on price, regardless of if it's a TV or a drone, might be tilted in favor of me when insuring the higher risk item, and against me for the lower risk item.

    Alternatively, as your friend noted, there's the moral hazard (economically speaking) aspect. Insurance means you can take riskier shots, because the cost of an accident is reduced. That also tilts the odds in your favor.

    For cell phones, my solution to insurance is to try to have a working but somewhat obsolete spare, in case I need to fulfill a contract without penalty, if I do manage to kill a phone. Last year, I had the good fortune of my phone survive flying off my hood at 55mph. The case flew off as it tumbled down the highway, but the phone still works. Just need it to last another 5.5 months, and I'll have won that bet!

    JOHN MORAN July 5, 2024

    I don't think that pulling a Kamikaze is considered "landing." Just saying, LOL. A few years ago one of my GoPro cameras flew off my bike on a very fast descent, the vibration had broken the factory mount. GoPro sent me a new one within a couple of days and I didn't have to return anything. I did send them detailed photos of the damage but I think that was pretty good service and I didn't have the insurance. Sometime after that people tell me that they won't do that anymore, especially if you don't have their paid plan. I did stop using the factory mounts and now use all metal machined mounts which NEVER break!

  6. Patrick Watson
    Patrick Watson July 5, 2024

    Only 2 types of drone pilots:
    1) Those who’ve wrecked a drone
    2) Those who will wreck a drone
    Just a matter of time… 🙂

    • turbodb
      turbodb July 5, 2024


  7. Ryan Zwald
    Ryan Zwald July 5, 2024

    A buddy has a habit of crashing his drone into the same tree on his property of over 40 acres. 🤣🤣
    I keep telling him I can remove the tree and no more crashes.

    • turbodb
      turbodb July 5, 2024

      LOL, nice!

  8. Duane Campbell
    Duane Campbell July 5, 2024

    I bought a drone (DJI Mini Pro 4) to take pictures of a construction project we’ve got going. The first time I flew it was at night and I bumped it into a limb on a tree in front of our house and it crashed hard. I replaced the 1 propeller that was broken and it appeared to work fine. I continued using it but every so often it would just turn itself off during a flight and land gently on the ground. Once it was hard to find even though I knew within 50 feet of where it was (in my yard) and once it landed gently right next to me. I was worried about losing it because of this behavior so I bought a little beeper that you install on the drone in case of crashes. The first time with the beeper I flew it over the construction project and took some pictures. Then I flew it really high (close to the max) and was taking pictures of the mountains from above my yard. All of a sudden it disappeared from the controller just like the 2 other times. I started searching for it but I could hear the beeper going off like crazy. When I found it the drone was totally destroyed - wires sticking out everywhere! I also had the insurance. I was really impressed. The new one has never lost power so I’m assuming my first crash caused the issue.

    • turbodb
      turbodb July 5, 2024

      I mean, with two stories like ours, it's no wonder it sometimes seemed so hard to get things done in a timely manner at work. 😉

      That DJI Care Refresh is definitely neat. When I got the new one, it had updated firmware, etc. so felt like a totally new system. Of course, I could have updated the firmware on the first one, but I never did. Boy, that sounds like another work battle we were always fighting, hahaha!

      Hope you're doing well; sounds like you are!

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