A little notification popped up on my screen – “weak transmission signal.” My drone wasn’t that far away from me and was in perfect line of sight. The live feed from the camera flickered a bit as I recorded a video. I had just taken off and gained a little altitude when I noticed the anomaly. I stopped and rotated my remote to see if anything was amiss – and it was. The two bunny ear antennas were still folded against the remote. Flipping them out got my transmission signal right back in line. Thankfully, even if I were to fly outside of signal range or lose the signal altogether, the Phantom 4 has a fail safe to return the drone to its home point to land.  So what’s the big deal if having the antennas folded is not inherently problematic?  The issue is that I was using a mental checklist to get up and flying, and mental checklists are prone to oversights.  When I fly airplanes, I use a formal paper checklist, so why wouldn’t I adopt the same discipline with my drone? Well now I do, so I thought I’d share my checklist for you to use and adapt for your own purposes. This checklist is for my DJI Phantom 4, so be sure to adapt it to your own drone and/or supplement the manufacturer’s checklist, if provided.  You’ll have the opportunity to download my actual checklist in a printable format – for free – at the end of this blog.  For each section below, I’ll walk you through the checklist to give you an explanation of the checklist elements before listing them out.


Before Start

This is the first part of setting up – before anything is turned on. Using an app like B4UFly, verify you are in clear airspace and/or have contacted the appropriate people. Verify you are legal to fly by checking that your registration number is printed on the drone (mine is inside the battery compartment – it must be accessed without requiring tools). Give a general inspection of the battery, airframe and motors for any signs of damage or malfunction. Pop off any guards on your camera gimbal and ensure the lens is clean. Finally, install the propellers, running your finger across the edges to ensure there are no nicks or bends.

Location – Safe To Fly
Registration – Displayed
Battery – Inspect/Charged
Airframe – Inspect
Motors – Inspect
Camera Lens – Clean
Gimbal Guards – Remove
Propellers – Inspect/Install

A combine harvesting soybeans in South Georgia taken with my Phantom 4.

A combine harvesting soybeans in South Georgia taken with my Phantom 4.


Engine Start

Getting now to the phase where everything is powered on, run through this check after you have connected your phone/tablet and plugged it in. Use this list as a run through just before powering on, which will save you precious battery time. Make sure your antennas are out, device firmly secured and plugged in, and then power on the remote. Verify that the charge level is acceptable and then launch the flight app.

Antennas – Position
Phone/Tablet – Secure
Device Cable – Plugged In
Power (Remote) – On
Remote Charge – Verify
Power (Phone/Tablet) – On
DJI Go App – Launch

The Putnam County Courthouse in Eatonton, Georgia taken with my Phantom 4.

The Putnam County Courthouse in Eatonton, Georgia taken with my Phantom 4.



Ready to fly? We’re almost there. Power on the drone and verify that the remote has a positive link to it. Follow the compass calibration process away from any metallic/magnetic sources and check that the LED lights on the drone are working appropriately. Once the required number of satellites have been obtained, verify the GPS status as well as the flight mode (The P, S or A switch, as appropriate). The home point will likely be automatically set, but verify that it is to your liking while scoping out any obstacles near you and setting the Return To Home altitude high enough to clear them. Ensure the area is clear of people or other hazards before starting up the rotors. After they start, look and listen to ensure they are singing the same song they always sing. Any funny noises or abnormal movement warrants a shut down. Everything checks out?  Let’s fly!

Power (Drone) – On
Remote Link – Verify
Compass – Calibrate
LED Lights – Verify
GPS Link – Verify
Flight Mode – Select/Verify
Home Point – Set/Verify
RTH Altitude – Set/Verify
Area – Clear
Rotors – Start
Rotors – Verify Normal
Takeoff – Initiate

The historic downtown of Madison, Georgia shot with my Phantom 4.

The historic downtown of Madison, Georgia shot with my Phantom 4.


After Landing

After having an awesome flight and setting your drone down in a nice clear area, power off the rotors, followed by the drone, and finally the remote. As you disassemble the propellers, check for any nicks, bends or damage and replace them if necessary. Clean them off with a soft cloth from any bugs or dust they chewed up. Secure the camera with the gimbal guard and then give the airframe itself a good inspection and wipe down.

Rotors – Shut Down
Power (Drone) – Off
Power (Remote) – Off
Propellers – Inspect/Clean
Propellers – Remove
Gimbal Guards – Install
Airframe – Inspect/Clean


My drone is an aircraft, and just because I’m not on board to fly it doesn’t mean I’m flying it any less. Could you get by without using a checklist like this one? Sure you could.  Most flights would probably be made without problems. Most flights would be made without forgetting anything. But there’s that one flight where you forgot to set the Return To Home altitude high enough and it flies into some trees. Or the one flight where you click on that propeller that you didn’t notice had a nick on it and it breaks apart in flight. Being a professional pilot means adopting a professional mentality in any aircraft on every flight. Printing out and using or adapting this checklist to your drone might only save you a headache.  Or it might just save the day.


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