Beginner Mode Can Catch You Out

If you’re lucky enough to have bought a DJI Phantom 3 you’ll be as keen as anything to get it out of the box and up in the air before the delivery driver has even got back into the van. It’s just as well that you’ve got the time while your batteries are charging and your phone or tablet is checking for software updates, to read the instructions and find out how to do things properly.

Quite a few calls we receive here at Heliguy are from people who’ve somehow managed to rush ahead and then come unstuck on their first flights. Mainly the problem is that they can’t fly as far or a high as they expected. Some of them don’t even get their shiny new Phantom outdoors before they come across a problem with the motors not spinning, even though Phantom 3s are capable of flying indoors  thanks to their vision positioning system.

Phantom 3 Pro and controller

The DJI Phantom 3 Professional

According to our Tech Team more often than not these problems are down to the DJI GO app’s Beginner Mode. It’s designed to be a friendly and sensible way to introduce people who are new to radio controlled flying to the skills that are needed for flying the Phantom, even though it’s a very sophisticated and intelligent piece of technology. Now you could have a go on the built in flight simulator but, human nature being what it is, most new pilots will probably want to do real flying first and save the simulator for bad weather days.

So as you go through the set up procedure in the DJI GO app you have the option to switch off the default Beginner Mode if you feel confident. This is the stage that two things can happen. Either you choose to stay in Beginner Mode to start with but don’t really know how it affects your craft or you just whizz through the set-up without realising Beginner Mode is still selected.

Beginner Mode not displayed

No sign here that Beginner Mode is selected. No GPS because we’re indoors.

I imagine most people setting off on their flight in Beginner Mode will be hoping that everything will be made nice and easy for them, a bit like the difficulty levels on a computer game. But what happens, more often than not is that the Phantom behaves normally and then will come to a grinding halt a relatively short distance away or climb to a reasonable height and not go any higher. If you knew you were in Beginner Mode it’s still going to be disconcerting and that’s usually the point at which newbie pilots give our technicians a call. If you didn’t know you were in Beginner Mode then you’ll be even more perplexed.

Beginner Mode Geofence

DJI Beginner Mode’s Geofence

What Beginner Mode does is put a Geofence around the Phantom’s takeoff point. It limits the maximum distance you can fly to 30 metres (98.4 feet) as well as restricting the height to 30 metres too. It basically creates a cylinder in which you can fly safely, provided there are no obstacles inside. So when you’re flying along and you suddenly hit an invisible wall it’s the Beginner Mode kicking in and not a fault with your equipment.

Beginner Mode selected

Beginner Mode selected on DJI GO with distance and height settings displayed

When you try to test fly indoors Beginner Mode gets in the way too. For safety reasons it won’t let you fly without a good set of satellite signals and that’s something you won’t get inside. The visual positioning system on the underside of the Phantom won’t always do the job as well as a big constellation of GPS satellites so DJI have decided that it’s safer for new pilots to have their first taste of freedom outdoors.

Like most things, it’s easy when you know how but quite alarming if it catches you unawares.

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