Stuck Up a Tree: Tips for Getting Drones Down

Earlier this year, it was predicted that about a million drones would be sold over the holiday season. If you were one of the lucky ones to be gifted a drone, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), you’re probably already outside seeing what it can do. Just watch out for those trees!

Aerial Drone Stuck in Tree
Unmanned aerial drone stuck in a tree.
When a UAV touches even small leaves or twigs, one or more of the rotors slows down, resulting in loss of power and control. The UAV can quickly veer off course and become tangled in leaves and branches or, if the pilot is really unlucky, it may fall to the ground.

Over the past few years, Bartlett Tree Experts has had its share of drone rescues. While most pilots try to avoid trees, we’ve been experimenting with different ways to use drones near and in tree canopies to detect tree problems without having to climb the tree. We’re also looking at using them to drop climbing lines into tall trees to make our work more efficient. Given the nature of this work, you can imagine we’ve had a lot of experience retrieving stuck drones.

Before attempting retrieval, make sure you wiggle the controls a bit – you might get lucky and dislodge it or drop it to a lower branch. You can also shake lower branches gently to see if it frees easily. If it’s still trapped, you’ll need a new plan of attack.

Foreman Jon Loughlin rescues a drone.
Foreman Jon Loughlin rescues a drone.
For drones stuck fairly close to the ground, a long pole will usually do the trick. We’ve had success using a pole saw or pole pruner. These tools have ends that can catch a prop guard and carefully lift the drone out of the tree so that it’s less likely to drop to the ground.

If the UAV is higher, a person in an aerial lift can often reach it by hand or with a pole. If the site is not accessible to an aerial lift, a professional tree climber will need to ascend the tree, work their way out onto the offending branch and grab the drone. Climbing trees can be extremely dangerous work, especially for those without necessary experience, equipment and knowledge of safety protocols. This type of work should only be done by professionals. Many will tell you that it’s a lot easier than rescuing an angry cat!

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