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    Newbies, Beginners, 1st Flights - Phantom 2 Vision


    Here's a bit of what I've gleaned from researching, and now, owning a Phantom 2 Vision (P2V). I'll introduce some acronyms as I go. If you do any reading on this technology you will likely encounter many of these .... without explanation. There's also some confusion in the use of the terms controller (two meanings) and transmitter. In the traditional remote control (RC) world the box you use to control your craft is called the transmitter as it transmits control signals to a receiver in the craft. In the Phantom world this term is seldom used, this box is referred to as the control or controller. Unfortunately the magic electronic box in the craft is also called the controller (a NAZA-M V2 device in the P2V's case), as it actually decodes the signals received from the transmitter and on-board sensors and operates (i.e., controls) the motors. So the controller (in your hand) sends a signal to the controller (in the craft) to operate it. I have no idea why they don't use the term transmitter. Moving on ...

    The DJI Phantom is a line of quadcopters (four props, rotors, rotoprellers - take your pick, something else to debate). Quad-, hex-, and octo- copters have been around for about ten years but up until recently were really only available to hobbyists who could round up the parts, assemble them, and had the skills to fly them. Recent advancements in electronics have made them relatively easy to fly. The original Phantom came only with a mount for a GoPro, no camera included. The P2V comes with a (detachable) camera whose operation is integrated with that of the aircraft. The Phantom 2 non-Vision (P2) does not come with a camera but does have a gimbal for a GoPro camera. As with any hobby, all manner of OEM and third party accessories are coming available. Folks who had the original Phantom and tried using it with the WiFi on their new GoPros ran into major problems because the original Phantom's control radio operated at 2.4 GHz, same as the GoPro's WiFi.

    The Phantom 2 Vision was the first quad to come as a total, integrated package (others are following close behind). It's a ridiculously expensive "toy", though it's being put to non-toy applications. Its main claims to fame are that it's pretty easy to fly (on-board GPS, compass, gyro, etc.), one can see what the camera sees in real time on a smartphone, and it has a Return To Home (RTH) feature that's activated when it loses the control link.

    Regards piloting ... the craft is far easier to fly than the fixed wing planes and helicopters I've flown in the past, but it still requires developing some skill to put it where you want it. The main difference is that those older craft required one to be piloting ALL the time (especially challenging with any wind) but, with the Phantoms, once they're properly pre-flighted and off the ground, the pilot can let go of the controls and the craft will pretty much stay within a small radius of where it was left. It'll probably handle winds up to 15MPH (or more), but it is going to be bouncing around a bit at that speed, gusts being more of a problem than steady wind - it can't react until it senses movement. And there are additional control aids (such as Intelligent Orientation Control - IOC - more later) to help with piloting. The claimed range is 300 meters (Euro mode, the default) and 500 meters in the U.S. (switching to U.S. mode simply requires turning a potentiometer in the transmitter). Flight time for the P2V is about 25 minutes.

    The smartphone, and some tablets, viewing feature means that it's capable of First Person View (FPV) flying. Hobbyists have been adding various FPV schemes to their aircraft for some time. FPV flying is somewhat risky because the pilot has very limited peripheral vision (and, when flying, up and down are as important as left and right). I seriously doubt I'll ever fly other than by Line Of Sight (LOS), i.e., where I can see the P2V. However the FPV works really well for lining up still shots and video. A caution is that the smartphone app only works with the newest phones. The P2V controller has a clip mount arrangement for holding a smartphone within easy view. Beyond seeing what the camera sees, the smartphone app allows the pilot to control the camera, e.g., start/stop video, take still shots, operate the gimbal up/down, adjust camera settings, etc. One's smartphone actually links to a repeater mounted on the controller, and the repeater links to the camera over 2.4 GHz WiFi. This gives an operating range beyond what a smartphone alone could achieve.

    The craft is controlled from a typical RC type transmitter with two joysticks ... right stick controls forward - backward and left - right, left stick controls throttle (up - down) and yaw (pivot left - right). The controller communicates with the craft via a 5.8 GHz signal. Assuming one has done the pre-flight correctly (waited for GPS lock and compass operation confirmation - indicated by specific craft light color/pattern), if the craft loses the link to the controller it will go into failsafe mode (RTH) and fly back to where it took off. If flying at less than 66 feet when this happens, it will ascend to 66 feet, fly DIRECTLY back to the take off location, and then land. If one has flown over or around trees, buildings, etc. taller than 66 feet, it's going to crash into them on the way "home". If it's flying at more than 66 feet, it will maintain altitude until it gets over the home position, and then land. Before descending it will pause for about 15 seconds so the pilot can attempt to regain control (by toggling a switch on the transmitter). The control signal is more or less line of sight though it extends far beyond where one could actually see the Phantom. And, of course, the signal does get through "open" objects (like winter trees) and bends (somewhat) around solid objects.

    Having mentioned the radio signals this is a good point for the warning that using the P2V in an area with lots of potential interference is risky. There are many devices that operate in the 5.8GHz (and 2.4 GHz for that matter) range. Heavy industrial areas, along power lines, next to a cell tower, TV transmitter, etc. are not good choices for flying sites. Of course it's very hard to prove such produced a problem and there really aren't any crashes or fly-aways that have been documented as being interference driven. But in the aftermath of an unexplained "incident", if such things are in the area, they are pointed at as prime suspects. The forums that deal in these craft generally say stay away from such if you can, but then provide all manner of anecdotal evidence which suggests it's not a big problem. This issue is worth mention as it may impact where you'd be willing to use this device, or at least make you aware of the potential for problems in such areas and watchful for any unexpected behavior.

    Every new technology must have a boogey-man, and for the Phantoms it's "fly-aways". The classic fly-away is described as follows, "I did everything right, and was having a great flight. Then it started acting hinky and I couldn't get it to respond. I tried everything I could think of, and finally switched off the transmitter to activate RTH ... but it just flew off to who knows where". There is much discussion on the cause of fly-aways and there's a multitude who blame design faults. There are probably also as many folks who don't buy the design flaw theory and suspect pilot error of some kind, generally in the set up or pre-flight routine. DJI has tweaked the firmware to mitigate some types of interference issues, but the problem is there's been no real study of the failed craft (most are not recovered) so no one really KNOWS what the cause(s) may be. The best (only useful?) advice to date is to make sure you have loaded the latest firmware (transmitter and Phantom), follow the pre-flight routine religously, avoid flying in areas with potential electromagnetic interference, let the Phantom hover a few feet off the ground for several minutes at the beginning of each flight, and watch closely for the loss of GPS lock or any unexpected behavior (e.g., doing its own thing or not doing what it's told). In the case of any unexpected behavior, get 'er down now and start over.

    DJI is a Chinese company (Nanshan District, Shenzhen, Guangdong, China). Unlike the "copy" companies China is famous for, the Phantom is their design, and it's really quite amazing. Of course, as with any high tech, new technology there have been problems ... or supposed problems. Every time something goes awry with a Phantom the immediate reaction is to blame the device. There is a massive amount of processing going on inside this little package, and none of it can be seen, so it gets the blame. There are a few reports of problems due to mechanical issues (a loose connector, a bad motor bearing, etc.). Being of Chinese origin, the documentation is marginal at best, made worse in the case of the P2V because the P2V operates in a simplified mode (switchable) of DJI's NAZA controller, and the P2V documentation is not linked to the NAZA documentation. NAZA controllers are used in a lot of hobbyists' aircraft and it has some really awesome capabilities. So the bulk of what one can readily learn about the P2V comes from on-line forums. There are a number of knowledgeable and helpful folks on the related boards.

    Related to the documentation issue, there is drama (why does there always have to be drama?). The CEO of DJI U.S., a guy named Colin Guinn, and DJI parted ways in January, 2014 (evidently not his choice). The bulk of DJI's official (english) Phantom operating instructions were Colin's videos on YouTube. When Colin went away, so did the videos. Now some of them seem to have reappeared (re-posted?). Hard to say whether they'll be there from day to day. Still, there are lots of videos made by Phantom owners that are on-line, some are just not as good (and maybe not as accurate). The latest development is that Colin has filed suit aganist DJI. Stay tuned. On the forums, DJI customer service is routinely bashed. Some say this was the reason for Colin's demise though there's no proof. In any event, DJI recently opened a U.S. customer service center in LA, so time will tell how that works out.

    I mentioned NAZA and IOC earlier. The P2V comes set in Vision 2 mode. There are two 3 position toggle switches on the transmitter. In Vision mode only the right hand switch (S1) does anything. Toggling it on-off multiple times puts the Phantom in compass callibration mode which you need to do before your first flight in a given part of the world (aka, the compass dance - involves rotating the Phantom on two different axes). Some say do it at every flying location, most say you only need to redo it if you move the Phantom hundreds of miles. DJI is in the latter camp. Part of setting up the Phantom requires downloading two apps to a PC (Windows is covered, Apple support has been known to lag somewhat). One of these apps is used to configure the Phantom, the other to configure the controller. The Vision configuration app (Vision Assistant) is where one can switch from Vision 2 mode to NAZA mode.

    In NAZA mode the right hand switch (S1) allows you to select Vision 2/GPS mode, Attitude mode, and initiate RTH or select Manual mode, the latter choice being made in configuration. Manual mode is generally reserved for those who have excellent skills or a (Phantom) death wish. Attitude mode essentially disconnects the GPS feature - the craft will roughly hold it's "attitude" based on compass and altimeter sensors, but it will drift with the wind. Initiating RTH means invoking the return home feature without having actually lost the control signal ... basically the pilot is telling the Phantom to fly itself directly home. In manual mode one is essentially flying a quadcopter with the technological assistance of several years ago, i.e., a bit of gyroscopic stabilization, but little else.

    In NAZA mode the left hand switch (S2) allows the pilot to choose between IOC off, IOC Home Lock (HL), and IOC Course Lock (CL). With IOC off, the craft is directionally operated like any other RC craft, forward is the direction the "nose" is pointed, back is the direction the "tail" is pointed, left is to its left, right is to its right. An issue with traditional RC flight is once the craft gets far enough away (or flys into the sun) its VERY easy to lose track of how it's oriented ... is it facing toward me, or away from me? Once you lose orientation your only recourse is to give a command and see how it reacts - could mean disaster. The other issue with traditional RC flight is reversing your control. When the craft if flying away from you, all's right with the world. If you want to go to your right, you push the right stick right ... BUT when the craft is coming toward you and you want to go to your right, you push the right stick left because your right is now its left. This can get very confusing and dangerous, especially when you're about to crash, are in personal panic mode, and are trying to recover. Enter home and course lock. In home lock, it doesn't matter which way the craft is oriented (pointing). Back is always back to the home point (where it took off, usually where the pilot is), forward is always away from the home point, right is always 90 to the right of a line from the home point to the craft, and left is always 90 to the left of a line from the home point to the craft. Think of the craft as being on the end of a string which is the radius of a circle - shorten, it comes back; lengthen, it goes away; twirl (left or right), it goes in a circle around the home point. Similarly, in course lock, it doesn't matter which way the craft is oriented (pointing). But now forward is whatever direction the craft was pointed before it took off. It's like flying on an invisible, fixed grid. If it took off with the nose pointing north, forward will always send it north, back will always send it south, left will always send it west, and right will always send it east. Two caveats for home and course lock to work, 1) the pre-flight must've been completed (the Phantom got a home point and direction fix), and 2) the Phantom must be flying at least 10 meters (66 feet) away from the home point. It is possible to change the home point and course lock direction after take off and while in flight, but that's for another post.

    There's been much conjecture about why the P2V is defaulted to the Vision mode as that's one of the choices in NAZA mode. As best anyone can figure, it's to prevent a newbie from inadvertantly (or inadvisedly) flipping the wrong switch at the wrong time and precipitating a disaster. There's also a suggestion that one should be consistent in choosing the mode they fly in ... in a critical flight moment one's reactions will be (must be?) intuitive. If one is not in the mode they're used to, bad things could happen.

    One of the questions folks almost always ask me is about "spying" (on the neighbors, whoever). I have two responses. First, the P2V is fitted with a fixed, relatively wide angle lens. That means viewing any significant amount of detail requires positioning the P2V fairly close to a subject of interest, and that will not be accomplished very covertly - it will be pretty obvious (both visually and audibly) to anyone close by. Second, how is taking pics/vids with this device different than someone in a helicopter or plane taking pics/vids as they fly over the neighborhood - the difference is mostly cost. In fact, "spying" in that way could easily produce more detailed images. For that matter, using a high powered lens from an advantageous position on the ground or in a building would likely produce a better result. Of course any of the above MAY be illegal from an invasion of privacy or trespass perspective.

    So just what are the regulations governing use of these Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)? In the US, for hobbyists, there are presently none. Have at it, boys & girls. Commercial use is supposedly forbidden (but no one can find any actual laws supporting this), but the FAA is supposed to be working on regulations for commercial use (there's a law that says they must). Of course there are FAA rules regards airspace around airports and other specific areas that could come in to play. As these things proliferate, I imagine we'll see some regulation. In that regard, the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA - which has been around since 1936) has recently inked a deal with the FAA to work with them on guidelines that will preserve the hobbyists ability to participate in this activity. The "deal" recognizes the AMA as a "nationwide community-based organization", and Public Law 112-95 (Section 336) precludes the FAA from making regulations regards craft operated within the safety guidelines of such an organization (among four other requirements). The AMA already has safety guidelines which members voluntarily agree to abide by, in exchange for secondary, flying liability insurance. These will likely be updated given their newfound significance.

    There are many hard core photogs who bash the Vision camera on the forums, saying it's not as good as a GoPro, and for serious work one should get a P2 (non-vision), an upgraded gimbal to eliminate vibration (they can cost as much as the aircraft), and the latest GoPro or "camera company" camera. There are other photogs who say that's hogwash, that the incremental improvement (if any) isn't worth the cost and hassle of piecing it all together. To each his own. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Phantom vids on YouTube. Do some googling and you'll find many examples from awesome to awful, just pay attention to the tech details they list for what they used. I expect you can find many still pics as well.

    The P2V is touted as ready to fly out of the box. That's a little misleading. At a minimum one needs to download the computer and smartphone apps, make sure the Phantom, controller, and camera have the latest firmware upgrades (via the computer apps), read the manuals, and spend some time reading / viewing "how to's" posted on the 'net. I'd suggest adding prop guards as well - about the same cost as a set of props and will likely save one the cost of a couple of sets of props. Can anyone fly it? I'd say yes, anyone with reasonable eye-hand coordination and spatial relations skills can ... but if one's never flown RC before, they aren't gonna just hit the buttons and go zooming around under great control. Despite all the electronic flight assistance, friction with air is not like friction with ground - "rock solid" is not really in the airborne dictionary (well, maybe on calm days). A first flight within hours of unpacking is certainly doable, but acquiring any proficiency still has a learning curve and requires practice. Reminds me of a quote, "To best study a subject, understand it thoroughly before you begin". It's not really that difficult, but there are a lot of facets to doing it well.

    The P2V is a very complex machine, mostly made simple to operate ... but it is loaded with capabilities (especially in NAZA mode) not touched on here - because I haven't tried them, don't really understand them, or haven't even heard of them. So don't leave thinking I've covered every option there is in every mode. Many of us are still learning. If you get a Phantom, read the manuals, peruse the forums, learn as much as you can before pulling back & in on the sticks (you'll have to "learn" some to know what that means).


    Many XXXcopter and RC forums are a tremendous help in putting together the pieces to understand the P2V. But it isn't necessarily easy to do - the valuable bits are sprinkled throughout innumerable topics that may (or may not) remain focused. New pilots routinely pop up and want to know what to look for, tips for flying, etc. These are always hard to answer because there's no way to know how much or little they already understand ... but here are some basic thoughts that may be of value in a pilot's first flights. These are based on the Phantom 2 Vision, but many will apply to all Phantoms.


    Download the assistants and make sure you've the latest firmware in the Phantom and the controller (see Firmware - Phantom 2 Vision thread at

    Read the manuals (available on line).

    View the DJI and Colin Guinn (if you can find them) YouTube tutorials.

    Spend as much time as you can looking through RC/Quad forums' topics that are related to flying.


    Make your first flights in the biggest space you can find, and do some checking to see what rules might apply there. There are many opinions about what laws may apply in the air (follow them if you find any you believe apply), but what's allowed on the ground (i.e., where you take off & land) is almost always under the control of the land owner. For additional info (relative in the US) see the AMA document on Model Fliers and Neighbors (

    BEFORE YOU TURN THINGS ON (Things = Transmitter, Repeater, Phantom, Smartphone/Tablet App in that order)

    Make sure you're in GPS mode. This is automatic if your P2V is in Vision 2 mode (the default). If you've set your P2V to NAZA mode (possibly risky business for new fliers), make sure the S1 and S2 switches are both set to the top position.

    There are many who have come this way before who recommend that you stick with Vision mode until you've a feel for flying. Should you have a flight where your little electronic helpers desert you, those unassisted flight skills might well save your Phantom from an untoward end. New pilots invariably hear about IOC (Intelligent Orientation Control): CL (Course Lock) and HL (Home Lock); and often struggle to figure out how they work and how to activate them. They are only available in NAZA mode, which probably shouldn't be part of your first flying steps.


    After you've turned everything on but before starting the motors, give the Phantom plenty of time after powering on to do its pre-flight checks and get GPS and home lock (learn the light pattern to look for - depends on the mode you're in, Vision 2 vs. NAZA). If it's your first flight in a new geographic area, be sure to calibrate the compass, aka, the compass dance.


    As soon as you lift off, stop at 6 to 8 feet, and just let the Phantom sit there for a minute or so until you're convinced it's got its act together. Get a feel for how well it holds position (depends on wind, number of GPS satellites it "sees"). If it doesn't stay within about 6 feet of where you "parked" it (no control inputs), land it and redo the pre-flight (either something didn't complete or it's just too windy).

    Make your control inputs slow and small at first so you see what a given input results in. The exception is at take off ... don't try to "ease it off the ground" as you may tip it and damage the rotors. You can safely give it almost full power until it actually lifts off, then immediately cut back. You want to get it at least a couple of feet of off the ground so "ground effects" aren't in play.

    Don't go zooming far or high until you feel comfortable with it. Remember that the farther away it is, the harder it will be to see what its doing.

    If you're up high, don't attempt to quickly descend straight down. The Vision (like any 'copter) can get caught in its own prop wash and bad things can happen. If you must descend very quickly, add some lateral movement so it stays in fresh air.

    When the battery drops to 30% of full charge, you should get an audible warning from your smartphone/tablet. That is the signal to get the Phantom back in close proximity, if not landed. At 15% capacity, the Phantom will land itself, wherever it might be. You may be able to keep it aloft by applying full throttle, but at that point you are flying on borrowed time - you can't really know how quickly the battery will die. If the Phantom happens to be fighting the wind, it could be much quicker than you think. And when the battery is exhausted, the Phantom will drop like a rock.


    Back on the ground, take proper care of your battery. For storage of more than a few days, leave them at 50% charge. For more detail, search the 'net for LiPo (Lithium Polymer) battery care. Two Brothers Hobby has an informative video (maybe TMI for some) at RC LiPo Battery Storage - YouTube. Additionally, except when preparing for flight and (obviously) when flying, do not keep the battery in the Phantom. The spring loaded data contacts will retain their resilience longer if not always compressed.

    Occasionally (every 10 flights?) you should check/clean the electrical contacts on both your battery and the mating parts on your Vision. There are two sets, the big blade power contacts and the smaller data pin contacts. As evidenced by DJI's change in the data pin design, there have been flight problems attributed to poor connections. A pencil eraser and contact cleaning solution (used sparingly) should do the trick. If you're into mods, the redesigned power block can be purchased and installed.
    Last edited by Visioneer; 04-17-14 at 11:54 AM. Reason: Sticky / Abbrv title to fit / Contact Mtc

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