How to get a drone down from a tree

It’s a fact of life, or at least a fact of life with a drone, that sooner or later you’re probably going to get it stuck in a tree. It might happen the first time you fly it outside like it did to us (see report here…) due to inexperience, or it might happen way on down the line due to over confidence. Or it might happen just by sheer bad luck – a gust of wind, a power failure or a breakdown in the remote control communication.

In any event, if (or rather when!) it happens the same sense of annoyance, frustration and thoughts of “how can I have been so stupid?” are likely to run through you head. Then, you’re going to want to start formulating a plan to get that drone down. In fact, there’s a good chance you’ve found this page because you’ve come on the Internet to find some advice on how get your drone down from a tree (in which case – hi!) So, without further ado, here is our guide to the steps you might take to get your drone back…

Ideas without any tools

1. Is it really stuck?

It sounds obvious, but you should first have a good go at trying to free the drone using its motors. Even if several are tangled in branches, you may be able to dislodge it a bit by waggling the controls and firing up the motors, or maybe make it fall to a lower branch. Once the batteries die in the unit you lose the chance to do this, so it should be your first action, even if it is perhaps unlikely to work…

2. Shake the tree

This will only work for certain trees and certain drone locations, and it will probably be fairly obvious if yours falls into that category, but if there is a branch you can reach (or reach by climbing safely – see below) that you can shake that can move the drone at all, give it a go – you might be surprised at the results. Again, this might only dislodge the drone, but could bring it within easier reach.

3. Climbing the tree

You’ve got to use your discretion here about whether this is A Good Idea or not. If the drone is in an easily climbable tree, and if you’re comfortable climbing trees, and it’s not too high and safe to do so, then maybe you can climb up and get it, or at least climb high enough to shake the tree as above. However – no drone is worth risking serious injury (or worse) to try to get back. If the drone is much more than 20 feet or so up, even in a tree that is technically climbable, then you should probably look for another method. And even if it is lower than that, be very careful before considering this option – remember, you’ve got to get down as well, potentially carrying the drone!

Ideas that need some equipment

If your drone is still stuck having tried (or discounted) the above techniques, then it’s likely you’re going to need to bring some tools in to get the job done. Read on for some suggestions…

4. Construct a long pole

This is the technique that we ultimately used to get our Syma X5C-1 down from a pretty tall tree – probably nearly 50ft up. The concept is simple – construct as long a pole as you need from garden canes, taped together in an overlapping fashion, then raise the pole up and use it to dislodge the drone. Sounds pretty easy right? The difficulty (which didn’t occur to us when we had the idea but quickly became apparent once we started) is that the longer the pole gets, the heavier it is and therefore the more it will begin to flex and bend. You might imagine putting up the pole like a snooker cue straight up to the drone and potting it down; in reality it’s more like waving a huge (and heavy) fishing rod above your head, with the tip ending up being bent over almost 90 degrees to horizontal. However, there are some techniques that can help. Firstly, it is good if you can start the pole with a decent length of something more rigid. We were able to borrow the pole from a long handled tree pruner (something like this) which gave about 16 feet of rigid metal on which to begin the garden cane pole. Secondly, you have to use the beaches of the tree to help you. In the snooker cue analogy above, these can act as a rest for your “cue” supporting some of its weight and helping to guide it towards its target. Given the inherent bend in the pole, it’s likely that you’ll have to start raising the pole some horizontal distance away from where the drone is located; it’s also highly likely that you’ll have to experiment multiple times to get the right angle! In our case, we climbed to the first bough of the tree, and were eventually able to feed the pole up via two helpful notches in other branches so that the tip was right by the drone, and then by jabbing the pole up and down “pot” the drone out of the tree. It landed on a lower branch, but then we only needed a short pole to reach it down which was, comparatively, child’s play.

5. Slingshot, fishing line and rope

This is a potentially more advanced, but also potentially more effective solution to the “very long pole” technique set out above. It also has the potential to dislodge a drone from a higher position, depending on how good your aim is with a slingshot. The basic technique is this – use a slingshot to fire a weight of some kind attached to some fishing line over a branch near to the drone. For the weight, a lead fishing weight with a hole in is ideal for the job, as it is easy to attach to the fishing line, and small and dense enough to fall through the tree canopy on its way back to earth. Pro tip – remember to tie down the end of the fishing line before you fire it over – otherwise you risk a perfect shot over the branch but nothing to show for it! Then, once the line is over the branch, use this to hoist some paracord- type rope over the branch. Once this is in place, you should, hopefully, be able to shake the branch using the rope in order to dislodge the drone.

One point worth bearing in mind is that once your drone is stuck, there is a bit of time pressure to get it down. If you’re flying the drone it’s likely that the weather is fairly good, but things can change, and most drones aren’t all that weatherproof. You might hope that wind will help to dislodge it, but with wind often comes rain… Also, unless the tree is very near your house, there is a good chance that if you have to leave the drone, someone else may come along and try to get it down for themselves. This is particularly a danger for the more expensive drones, or those carrying GoPro cameras which are eminently theft-worthy.

With that in mind, we’ve now put together a “drone rescue kit”, based on the slingshot method set out above. With these tools, hopefully we’ll always be ready to rescue our drone if (or when) it is next stuck!