With commercial off-the-shelf drones, there isn’t a lot of maintenance that you can perform. I certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable cracking into the shell to “inspect” the motors, electronics, or much of anything about the drone. As a practitioner, if something goes wrong, I send it back to the manufacturer to fix it. However, there is one bit of maintenance that is often overlooked…Propellers. A common misconception is that propellers last forever, and you only replace them after a crash. So, let's dive into the seven signs that signal it's time for a prop change.
1. Clock Those Flight Hours
Think of it as the oil change for your airborne baby. While you should definitely consult your manufacturer's guidelines, the general rule of thumb is to switch out those propellers after 200 to 300 flight hours. Most modern drones track this for you, making it a breeze to monitor. Alternatively, mark it in your calendar as part of your semi-annual—or annual—maintenance routine.
2. Post-Major Crash Protocol
This one's a no-brainer. If your drone has been in a significant accident, just go ahead and replace all the propellers. They might look fine but looks can be deceiving. Micro-cracking could be happening beneath the surface. At around $10 a set, new propellers are a minor expense in the grand scheme of things.
3. The Bumps and Bruises: Minor Collisions
Let's say your drone had a close encounter with a pesky carpenter bee or perhaps a tree branch. While it might not warrant an immediate prop change, it should fast-track your replacement timeline. The damage might not always be visible, but that doesn't mean it's not there.
4. Eyeing the Obvious: Visible Damage
If you spot any physical deformities—chips, cuts, or jagged edges—it's an immediate red flag. Ground your drone and replace the damaged propellers.
5. Sun-Bleached: Discoloration Woes
Our friend the sun, provider of wonderful aerial lighting, can be harsh on plastic propellers. Prolonged exposure to UV rays can lead to discoloration, turning them white or yellow. If you notice this, it's a clear sign you should invest in a new set.
6. Change in The Air: The Sound of Flight
As you rack up flight hours, you'll grow accustomed to the unique symphony your drone produces. This is mostly the handiwork of the propellers slicing through the air. Any deviation in that sound could mean it's time for new propellers. Trust your ears; they know what they're talking about.
7. Swivel Check: Are They Sticking or Slipping?
Not all propellers are made the same. While some models, like the Phantom series, feature fixed propellers, others, like those on the Mavic line, come with hinged designs. Take a moment to flex those hinges and ensure they're moving smoothly. A sticky residue that's dried up could inhibit their full range of motion. Conversely, you might discover the hinge is too loose, which might feel fine in hand but could spell disaster when subject to the centrifugal forces of flight. Trust your instincts; consistency is key here. If one propeller doesn't behave like its mates, swap it out.
When in doubt, go with your gut. A minor investment in new propellers can save you from the catastrophic costs of a crash. Most drone packages come with at least one extra set, making this an easy—and wise—maintenance decision.