Why We Pulled The DJI Phantom Post

Why We Pulled The DJI Phantom Post

A couple days ago we took a DJI Phantom 2 and flew it straight up into the air over Charleston, SC to test its "range". The video, although interesting, was not fully thought out and we decided to pull the video.

Many of the commenters who disliked our "test" were quick to point out that we shouldn't be flying our chopper "in public areas." Personally I feel like this argument isn't legitimate as 95% of interesting drone footage comes from populated areas. Nobody is buying these things to film fly-overs of woods.

Of course the chopper could malfunction and fall out of the sky but I could make the same argument about flying real helicopters or planes over public places as well. Ours would cause far less damage if it malfunctioned.  Here's a shot that a Phantom captured today in NYC in a massively populated area.

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We've created a few videos with the Phantom and every single one of them had been in a public, populated place and nobody has been upset. It seemed like the only difference in this situation was how high we went. After doing a bit of research, I am estimating that the Phantom went about 1000 feet into the sky. If the Phantom fell from this height I'm sure it could cause some serious damage but I doubt it would cause more damage than if it fell from a more normal 200 feet.

One commenter made a fantastic point about the dangers of our Phantom and low flying aircrafts like the Medivac helicopter on the top of one of our hospitals downtown. This was a very good point and I could see how our little drone could be a huge problem for an aircraft like that. Most aircraft must stay above 500 feet and our helicopter did go into their airspace.

We love the DJI Phantom and we would never want to set a bad/dangerous example of how to use them. We also would never want to do anything that could limit the use of personal drones later on. We decided to delete the post and the video and in the near future we may attempt the same test again in a safer area with less potential air traffic.


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steve carrillo's picture

That being said, it was shot, it was done. and thankfully no one was hurt. but why pull the video down?

Patrick Hall's picture

We didn't want to contribute to any laws that might be formed and have this video part of that process. Plus it was reckless so we pulled it

Lee Morris's picture

We just didn't want to set a bad example.

one thing you're not mentioning in your argument about larger aircraft is that people have licenses to fly those... they clock in many many hours to acquire those licenses. Many people flying the phantoms may not have such experience, and I don't know of any licensing programs for flying them.

Brandon is correct. Flying a full-size helicopter and a drone are two different things. The biggest difference is the fully licensed, insured and trained pilot at the controls. Those pilots go through hundreds, if not thousands of hours of training. And if they're operating an aerial video/photo aircraft, their training is even higher and more specialized.

I bet no one on the ground was upset because they either a.) didn't see it that high or b.) assumed the operator was licensed and trained to fly. That's what makes these so dangerous. No training, no regulation, no mandated insurance or recertification needed to fly these.

And why do the test over a public area? If you want to do a test to see how high the aircraft will go before it falls out of the sky, fly it over an empty field. If that fell out of the sky, it would do some serious damage to someone if it hit them; potential kill them. Do they test the speed of cars on a crowded highway? No, they take them to a private test track.

This test was conjured up with a lot of ignorance if you ask me.

Lee Morris's picture

That's a fair point, but is there such a thing as a drone license? If so, nobody I know has that and it's not the law.

sure, no one has one, there's no such thing. the FAA is still trying to figure out rules and regulations for them. Its an industry in it's infancy, but we've already seen a lot of boneheads doing stupid stuff with them.

Here's a good example: http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/story?id=9270668

Hi, I am not sure what the law is in the US but here you don't need a license to fly a drone for personal use, but the moment you cross into any commercial use you must have a pilots license. Obviously the pubic liability risk is potentially huge. No pilots licence - no insurance. There was a recent example of an operator who fly his own drone into himself and was killed. Imagine if, as a photographer, you crashed drone into playground full of kids. You might want to check the fine print of your public liability insurance! Lots of fun but be very careful if using for commercial gain.

Not to diminish your overall point, but that RC copter operator who accidentally killed himself in Brooklyn was operating a high-performance gas-powered helicopter much different than these much lighter, slower, easier to operate, and less potentially damaging RC quadcopters discussed in these articles.

Leigh Miller's picture

There is no such thing as a drone license...but there should be a "common sense" license. Precisely the kind of behavior authorities are concerned about.... All it takes is one time and a big screw-up.

Glad you realized it and took the steps you did after the fact though. I'm a fan now!

I've been flying my Phantom for almost a year now and have since completed a lot of independent research on the industry itself. The best source I have found for legit certification programs is offered by UXV University. http://www.uxvuniversity.com/

Another thing I quickly learned was about the negative connotation the term 'drone' possesses. Instead, the industry prefers Unmanned Aerial System or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.

Deleting the post was the responsible thing to do here, rather than trying to save face.


Not to mention that a full size airplane / helicopter is licensed and excessively tested as well and not just a "toy" that does not go through any official certification or anything like that. A drone can crash and we all saw the videos of phantoms and other drones not returning to their predefined landing points but therefor crashing somewhere else.

The Wright brothers were not licensed either, everything has to start somewhere. Certainly in the next few decades hundreds of rules will be put in place, as for now,...it is perfectly legal for non commercial use. until it changes,..what we think is irrelevant.

Don't you need a licence to fly those things since it has a quite powerfull radio signal on this?

Our schools rocketery team needs a licence just to operate the radio that receives the tracing signal from the rocket (for recovery)...

Lee Morris's picture

No you don't it's a common signal

Surprising range for a common signal! Maybe regulation is different in the States but I would have thought that canadians were looser than the Us on those licences!

You don't have any restrictions on communications within the wifi frequency range used in the DJI or any other commercial or personal electronic device that uses 2.4G and 5G spectrum. That's the reason wifi in your home works; It's an open chunk of frequencies. Also, the range is dependent on line of sight. Its the same with your home wifi. If you had no walls or interfering materials, the range would be greatly increased. This works for Canada too

I didn't know these toys used wifi! Thanks!

"It seemed like the only difference in this situation was how high we went."

I don't think it was the mere flying over a populated area, but the fact that, by virtue of your own title, you were conducting something akin to a fault tolerance test, and in adverse conditions, according to your description of the wind.

There's a huge difference between flying an RC copter above people, mindful to stay within known limits, and flying it for the express purpose of "seeing how far it can go," and until it's a speck in the distance invisible to the naked eye.

And when you say "If the Phantom fell from this height I’m sure it could cause some
serious damage but I doubt it would cause more damage than if it fell
from a more normal 200 feet," you're illustrating how cavalier you were. Did you do try to do any calculation to verify this?

I made a quick check and, when comparing a DJI phantom dropping from 200 feet versus 1000 feet, speed at impact is 2X and energy at impact is 5X.

I haven't verified that the above numbers are correct, or what the damage potential is, but I'm not planning on flying an RC copter to a distance so far that I'm no longer visually capable of piloting it.

I mean...it took me 2 minutes to run those numbers and it's surprising that you didn't apparently take the initiative to do so yourself. I don't know how to really calculate the force of impact, but I'm pretty sure a DJI Phanton dropping on someone's head from 1,000' would be a bigger deal than one dropping from 200' and, frankly, dropping from 200' is probably a really big deal if it's your noggin that the copter is crashing on.


Lee Morris's picture

I've used the helicopter a lot and we have tested the self landing feature. I have seen the helicopter land itself over and over again. We have also tested the helicopter in high winds and it performed great as well. If we had actually believed that was a serious possibility we wouldn't have done this "test" in a public area.

I'd imagine you didn't do it totally recklessly. But if you flew it further than you've ever flown it before, it's actually a test, not a "test."

Look, it's not a big deal in the end, because the copter didn't crash and nobody was hurt. But part of the utility of your desire to not be a bad example, which is a good impulse on your part, is to detail the potential risks and to talk about how to mitigate or eliminate them. In your case, that would require admitting there were risks you did not consider fully and mitigation tactics that you did not elect to adopt.

The threshold for pushing known boundaries should be much lower than "serious possibility" of failure. To some extent, I think one should be flying it with the assumption that it could fail at any time, even if due to no fault of one's own. It seems that you flew it with the assumption that nothing unforseen would happen and if everyone does that, something bad is going to happen at some point.

Can't wait for the day you are doing one of these "Tests" and the battery fails. Which they are prone to doing! I just hope its over water or in a wide open "Empty" area. Drops in voltage and a sudden loss of power is not uncommon. I would rather if that was going to happen it didn't have the potential for hitting someones child or a vehicle getting in the way of a crash. The vehicle would win hands down but what if the driver got spooked and then crashed into a coffee shop killing the clientele? It doesn't matter how good the DJI is if the battery fails your screwed and you have got a paper weight making the most of gravity.

All a bit dramatic yes but thats why accidents or called accidents. Shit happens! Hope you have a good lawyer. Plus don't do stupid crap and spoil it for the rest of us who fly safely.

Andy McRory's picture

Won't somebody think of the children?

I can't imagine how angry you'll be when amazon starts sending drones to your house to drop off a cake pan or a strobe. 1000 of potential aerial bombs to be dropped on unsuspecting heads to reduce shipping costs. BTW, the planed drones are to be flown autonomously with no direct line of sight.

If/when Amazon or other companies use drones for delivery, they'll only do so after extensive testing and continual refinement by an engineering team, in order to minimize wastage and liability from accidents. They'll also almost certainly be subject to governmental regulation that forces them to adhere to certain standards/practices to minimize accidents. And if/when there are still accidents, they will be insured and/or have the financial wherewithal to compensate victims.

So the scenario you bring up is way more acceptable than hobbyists subjecting other people to risk when they test the limits of their toys without thinking things through as thoroughly as they should and without the means to compensate victims if there were an accident causing significant damage.

If multi-rotor copters end up making RC aircraft much more popular than previous types, there's going to be accidents that cause damage that can't be just laughed off. This is probably inevitable if RC multi-rotors really take off (nyuck-nyuck), but folks ought to at least try to diligently practice and promote safest operation practices to extend the pre-regulation honeymoon phase before widespread controversy.

On the model airplane side of things, there's significant self-regulation by the AMA in addition to whatever is enforced governmentally. And they try very hard to be very comprehensive and methodical in order to maintain operational freedom...


Phil Bautista's picture

Maybe you don't realize this but hobbyist can now plot a course which the drone follows. I'm sure that commercial flyers will be implementing a similar system rather than flying FPV. As far as the "aerial bombs" argument goes, there are millions of rolling coffin fillers in our streets today and those things have been proven to cause more damage than these drones. Shit happens. Sue them when it does. Or we can just outlaw all vehicles, guns, drugs, alcohol, and the list goes on.

"I made a quick check and, when comparing a DJI phantom dropping from 200
feet versus 1000 feet, speed at impact is 2X and energy at impact is
5X. "
I'm pretty sure you know the weight of DJ, right? Because, its like, if you drop A4 paper sheet from 1000 meters or 200 meters, its definitely will be with 5x more energy. But your professional comment seems, you really know what you are talking about.

Is the A4 paper crumpled or a flat sheet? The A4 paper will have less terminal velocity than the DJI, and therefore less energy at impact. Your argument is moot.


And when you say "If the Phantom fell from this height I’m sure it could cause some
serious damage but I doubt it would cause more damage than if it fell
from a more normal 200 feet," you're illustrating how cavalier you were. Did you do try to do any calculation to verify this?

Vt = rt(2mg/pACd). You're ignoring Cd, and the drag coefficient on 1,000 vs. 200 makes for an amazingly small difference between the two, given normal winds and a setup in which we're not in a broken rudder spin. That's still not accounting for self-landing and the DJIs return features.

I put in my "calculations" as an illustration of what I came up with in a few minutes as part of my criticism that Lee hadn't really thought out what he was doing in a serious way. To the extent that he publicly advertised operating to ~1,000 feet when that's most likely violating FAA regulations. My main point is that he didn't do basic homework.

I never even took physics in high school so I don't understand this stuff, but it makes sense that drag would be a significant mitigating factor...and maybe that greatly reduces or even renders irrelevant the difference in falling energy between falls of 200' and 1000'.

Do you have any kind of estimation or approximation of force of impact from a falling DJI Phantom, presuming total loss of power? What would that be like? Would there be any considerable difference between 200' and 1000'? I really wonder what the capacity for damage to people is. Just a bruise, or cut, or gash, or fractured bone...? I've just been presuming that it could do enough damage to a person that I wouldn't fly over other people blithely. But it'd be interesting to get an informed opinion.

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