All I wanted was one last flight. I knew my time with the estimable DJI Mini 3 Pro was limited and I hoped to experience its easy controls, smooth flight, and excellent camera one more time. And I almost lost it to a gust of wind.
In my defense, the weather looked perfect for a drone flight. Clear blue skies dotted with some high, puffy clouds. I was further encouraged by the DJI Mini 3 Pro and the new DJI RC remote's incredible ease of use to run outside and give it a go.
After unfolding the drone and setting it gently on a small glass table in my backyard, I powered up the remote and drone (they auto-pair) and hit the on-screen launch button.
The drone automatically lifts off to roughly three meters off the ground. Pressing the right joystick forward, I sent it jetting straight up into the sky until it hit 300ft.
Everything was going swimmingly as I pushed the right joystick to the left, sending the DJI Mini 3 Pro whizzing off to the south.
The wind hit me on the ground first. It was a gust, really, and I thought, but only for a moment, "Oh, I wonder if it's windier up there?" The drone was now just a dot over the horizon and I was relying on the camera and feed on the remote to navigate.
With the gust passed, I relaxed, just as a stronger and more sustained burst of wind rolled through my yard. Suddenly, the once 3-axis-stabilized camera went jarringly sideways. The remote emitted a wind warning and I realized that I was losing control of the Mini 3 Pro.
To my horror, I could see that the wind had started carrying the 249-gram drone away. It was careening sideways and heading off to, I feared, a place of no return.
If I had to guess, I'd say the gust that was quickly turning into sustained winds, was about 20 miles per hour. However, at that elevation, it might have been more powerful.
I remember flying DJI's Spark. It was another tiny (300 grams) drone, but could barely handle a breeze. In my earlier DJI Mini 3 Pro flights, I found it so stable that I assumed it could handle a little wind. Granted, this might've been more than "a little" wind.
I watched helplessly as the tiny dot that was my drone bounced around the brilliant blue sky. Then I looked down at the DJI RC screen, which was showing the video feed from the drone's camera. The image was bouncing around like the drone was stuck in the fist of an over-excited toddler. I tried not to panic but found that using the controls to bring the DJI Mini 3 Pro back was impossible. I just couldn't counter the wind.
Unsure what to do, I decided to let the drone's own robotic intelligence take over.
I hit the "Home" button on the remote.
This action seemed to immediately stabilize the drone. It flew up to 400 feet and was soon fighting its way back through the wind and to me.
As the drone flew back home, I knew its obstacle detection would prevent it from crashing into anything, but I was still worried about another gust taking over and blowing the drone into a neighbor's house. Once I could see the drone nearly overhead, I took over the controls and started guiding it back to me. This time, the drone responded.
Soon the DJI Mini 3 Pro was right overhead and I guided it straight down. I continued to pull back on the right joystick while holding out my other hand. The drone's sensors saw my palm and executed a perfect landing sequence right into my open hand.
Let my mistake be a lesson to you. The DJI Mini 3 Pro is a fantastic prosumer drone that can fly super fast and stay aloft for over 30 minutes. It captures amazing photos and videos (even vertical ones), but it's still a tiny drone and strong winds are simply not its friend. If the weather calls for gusts or it's just after a powerful storm, hold off on that flight.
As for me, that was my last flight with the DJI Mini 3 Pro, which is now safely on its way back to DJI.