How to get back my drone from a tree?

A fellow drone flyer just mentioned that when he finally got his long desired drone by mail, after more than a month of waiting for it, he found himself in one of the worst situations drone pilots ever face… a drone stuck in a tree.

If you fly drones and have been in this situation, you know how horrible it is. And if you are not into drones (yet) but plan to get started, there is a lesson here you want to learn before being in this situation.

Getting your drone back from a tree is a difficult thing, especially if the tree is very tall. 

In most cases, solutions require patience, strength, and even inventiveness. They can be as simple as using a stick to try to release it or as creative as using another drone with an adapted hook to get the first drone back (hoping the second won’t get stuck too).

Most newbies won’t like this, but there is no easy answer or shortcut for this. 

Before offering any ideas to solve this problem, I’d like to help you avoid this horrific situation in the future.

How?

Keep reading.

A drone trapped in a tree… in retrospective

I’ve been in that situation before, and what I learned is I did things in the wrong way. Let me explain.

There are very good questions, logical in fact, that we can ask ourselves right now.

Let’s start with this.

Why did my drone land on a nearby tree? Wasn’t I able to do anything to prevent this from happening?

In my case (and chances are in yours too), my drone stuck on a tree because I flew a bit close to one. Then a bit of wind took my drone to a side and it was game over.

Going a step back, the wind took over my drone and landed it on the tree, because I didn’t know exactly how to control the drone to avoid this. In fact, it is probable that I accidentally pushed the drone in the wrong direction, in my despair to avoid hitting it.

Stepping back a bit more, why was there a tree where I was flying in the first place? Why didn’t I simply fly the drone in a tree-free zone?

Now that I think about it, I picked that spot. And I did it because I was going to just do some initial and quick take offs and landings, as I had never done this before. 

But soon the open space seemed more than enough and I started going higher and higher, and farther and farther. 

That is when this happened.

If I think about it, this was the result of a series of bad decisions, and in my defense I must say, in a very short period of time.

What is the lesson learned from this situation?

There are many, and I’ll use this section of the post to explain them in detail.

The first thing I want to say, is that a drone stuck in a tree is something that can happen to every drone pilot, regardless of their flight skills, yet… There are a few things most seasoned pilots know and that is why they don’t experience these situations that often.

Let’s discuss the most important.

Flight Zone and flight location

From my last round of QnA you probably guessed this. One of the main mistakes I made that time was the location I picked to fly. 

Most newbies don’t think too much about this but the place you use to fly is uber important. Not only should it be free of trees and other obstacles, but also needs to be a place where you won’t put other people at risk.

There are plenty of parks and flight fields that are perfect for this. 

I’m not saying you can only fly at these places, because that depends more on the local regulations and laws of your community, but the truth is you want to be sure flying is safe for you and others.

This recommendation goes beyond avoiding your drone getting into a tree, but I like to use every opportunity I have to remind others about the importance of safe flights. 

Drone Type

Most people will pick a drone based on the marketing it has, their budget, or even the look of the drone.

The problem is most people never consider if their drone is the right type for them to get started or not.

For instance, if you are starting out, then buying a big drone is not a great idea, since you’ll have to fly outdoors to avoid safety issues. 

The problem with flying outside for the first time, is that most people, like me, feel tempted to hit the throttle and push more and more.

Without training or basic knowledge, this is a bad idea. What is funny is that some tutorials out there actually recommend it, because theoretically the more space you have the less chances to crash.

However, I’ve seen most people tend to speed up very fast.

On the other hand, if you force yourself to fly indoors, the natural restrictions of the environment will prevent you from doing risky things.

This is why picking an indoor drone to start practicing is generally a better idea.

Skill Level

Your skill level has a lot to do as well. If you have never flown a drone, and don’t know what to expect or how drones behave at certain altitudes or distances, it is better to not push very hard.

Of course it is fun to fly a drone, and the higher, farther, and faster it goes, the more exciting it becomes.

Yet sooner or later, the time to land comes and that is when most people have issues, because from all the single movements you can make with a drone, none of them requires more skill than landing.

Now, in my case, I wasn’t trying to land, but to avoid a tree, which may seem different, yet in nature, it is the same, because in reality all I was doing was trying not to crash my drone, be it against the floor or a tree.

Lack of a learning plan

This is actually a summary of the past three. I think if you are starting out, the best thing you can do to avoid crashing not only with a tree, but with almost anything, is to have a learning plan.

This should include not only the steps you’ll take to improve your skills as a pilot, but also the thought process and decisions you should make to build your criteria as an expert pilot.

Ok I get it… But then how do I get back my drone from the tree? 

However, if you are already in this tough situation, I have a few suggestions I’ve seen get the job done.

I’ll start with the simplests ideas and move to the most complex ones.

1. Shake the branches 

If you are able to reach a branch of the tree, it may be a good idea to shake it to see if that helps your drone get loose. 

Even if the branch you reach is not the one holding your drone, the motion may get from there to the one holding it and help to get your drone back.

This may not always be the case, but it is the simplest thing you can try.

2. Use a ladder

Depending on how high the drone is, a ladder may help you get it back. Just be careful all the time as the objective is to get the drone back and not for you to hurt your back.

3. Use a telescopic adjustable extension pole (yes the one for paint rollers)

What I did in the past was to use a telescopic pole extension that I had at home. The good thing about these is they adjust their length, and that can come very handy when managing a situation like this.

It took almost an hour and lots of patience, but finally I got my drone back.

4. Try climbing the tree (and use an extension pole)

There may be situations where a ladder may help only to climb the tree, so you can safely position yourself on a spot that allows you to shake the branches or even use the extension pole to try to move the drone. 

5. Use a slingshot

Another good idea that has worked in the past is to use a slingshot, be it a commercial or a home-made one.

The idea is to throw a weight attached to a rope to the closest branch to your drone. If you do it right, the rope should hang from the branch so you can use it to shake it and get your drone free.

It may take a while to fine tune your shot, but this is a fun way to get your drone back as well. 

Definitely don’t do this if you want to get your drone out of a tree

1. Don’t throw heavy objects to your drone

Generally speaking, throwing rocks or any other heavy object to your drone is not a good idea. First of all, it may actually damage your drone, and second, you or someone else may get hurt.

2. Don’t use another drone to get it back

I’ve seen other blogs recommending this as a “do with caution” and as a “definitely not”. In my opinion, this is a big no no.

Let me explain. In order for this to work, not only your piloting skills should be great but also you would need a heavy lift drone, in other words, a drone that is much more expensive (~ $4K USD) than the one you crashed on the tree.

Just from there it sounds obvious that you as a beginner won’t have that drone, but let’s imagine you manage to persuade someone with the skill and the drone required (which is unrealistic since these guys may have criteria that will tell them not to do this).

The idea is to attach a hook to this drone2 that will somehow grab the drone1 and with its powerful motors release it from the tree.

But… What if your 300 dollars drone is really jammed on the tree?

To me this only has two outcomes, and here is where the real risk is.

  1. The monster drone pulls your drone so hard and so strong that it breaks something on it. 

Or… 

  1. Your drone is not released by the tree and now you have a bigger problem, a small drone jammed on a tree and a professional-grade one attached to it by a hook and a rope or cable.

What now?

That is the problem with this idea, that chances are things end up worse than at the beginning.

Of course there is a possibility that you get your drone sane and safe without any damage, yet that is the least probable. 

I wouldn’t advise using a drone to rescue another. It is best to stick with one of the previously mentioned methods.

3. Don’t throw water to your drone

Believe it or not, some people consider using a hose to flood the drone and thus release it from the tree. 

The problem with this is most drones are not water resistant, and internal electronic components will get damaged.

Again, the idea here is to rescue the drone, not sacrifice it to recover it.

What other method have you used to get back your drone from a tree?

I’ve seen there is nothing like asking out to the public and seeing what great ideas people have to solve common, everyday-life problems.

This for sure is one of them.

What would you recommend to somebody going through this situation?

I’ll be happy to read your comments and answer your questions if any.

Happy flying.

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