Advice: How to search for a model lost in the field

by Airwolf | August 9, 2012 | (14) Posted in Tips

In this article I would like to give you some tips how to search for the model you crashed in the high grass, cornfield, bushes etc.

Unless you are flying in the desert area - sooner or later you will probably lost your model this way.

Ideas below are backed by my recent, personal experience - a month ago I lost my Easy Glider clone in the cornfield. I tried to search for it using some common sense and logic, but I failed at that. Searches took me two days and over 6 hours. I finally found it, but only thanks to coincidence. If I would use the methods described below - I would have my model back in less than 30 minutes. Hopefully thanks to these tips you won't have to repeat my mistakes...

Tip 1:
When you know your plane is down, but you can't see it immediately on the ground:
- Mark the exact place where you were standing when you lost your model. It's very important as it will be your reference point.
- Before leaving this place - try to remember where you last seen your model from  - mark the direction and notice some characteristic, static objects in the background (it may be a tree... a building... a radio tower... ). How they were positioned in respect to your model just before you lost it from your sight? This way you can narrow down the search area. You can help yourself with a smart phone and Google Maps for that. You can take some photos too for further reference...
Don't narrow the area too much though - sometimes it pretty hard to tell if your model was 100 or 150 m away from you.
- If there is someone with you - consult them, and ask them how it was looking from their point of view. It's always a good idea to have a spotter with you.

What I did: I was flying alone. I knew I shouldn't go looking for the model immediately. I tried to notice where it fell down and I started my search near this location. But I didn't marked or remembered where I stood and where I exactly seen my model in respect to the background - on the second day I got this "bright" idea of looking for it somewhere else because I thought it was the correct place and I was looking in the wrong place on the first day...

Tip 2:
Install some sort of loud beeping alarm in your model. It can be a lipo alarm (it won't beep until your lipo voltage is below some predefined threshold though, so it may take a while), dedicated "lost model" alarm (most of these alarms beep when there is no signal to the servos - your Tx is off (these buzzers won't work if you have a fail-safe in your Rx!). Other alarms beep when there is a signal on the specific channel (use them if your Rx has a fail-safe and program the fail-safe accordingly). GPS position from telemetry or OSD will be very helpful (if you fly FPV - it's always a good idea to record the video feed for the reference). If you don't have any of those - you can at least try moving your Tx sticks around, trying to hear the servos and the motor...

What I did: I didn't had any alarm in my model. I thought I will hear the servos but I didn't. In fact I would hear the servos but because of some mysterious reason - Rx lost power. Even the telemetry wasn't working. Battery wasn't unplugged when I found the model and I still wonder what happened).

Tip 3:
Place a visible, waterproof sticker on/in your model with your name and phone number. Inform your flying mates or guys on the forums you have lost your model.. If you fail finding your model - it's possible somebody else will find it some day and return it to you.

Tip 4:
No need for a hurry. It's better to plan the search and even wait a few hours to look for the model with your friends than lose this time searching alone without a good plan...

What I did: After looking for the model for almost two hours on the first day I decided to search for it the next day and ask for a help in the meantime... Nobody wanted to help me anyway, but I could plan the search better in my home looking at the Google Earth and maps...

Tip 5:
If you know some guys who use to fly the FPV models (or you fly them yourself) - use it for your advantage. If you lost your model in the grass - there is a big chance it will be visible from the air. Don't bother if you lost it in the cornfield though. You won't be able to find the model which is down between the tall plants.

Tip 6:
Before the search - change your clothes for something more suitable. Wear a long trousers, long sleeves and trekking boots. If there is some chance for a rain or it was raining a few hours before - wear a waterproof jacket and take a change of dry clothes with you.

What I did: On the first day I was looking for the model in the t-shirt, short trousers and a standard shoes - result - itchy rash on the hands and legs (insect bites? pesticides? I don't know but it lasted for over a week!) and scratches on the legs (a lot of thistles grow in this field). The second day I used the trekking boots, long military trousers and a waterproof jacket. I also had a dry change of clothes waiting for me in the car (It was a rainy day).

Tip 7:
OK, you don't have a "lost model" alarm, and you can't hear the servos or the motor moving... Telemetry signal is lost or you don't have telemetry as well. It wasn't FPV flight too... And what's worse - model is lost in the cornfield where you won't be able to see it from the air... It's time for the thorough search. Narrow down the search area. Never look for the model wandering randomly - most likely you will only waste your time. Instead you should go from one end of the area to the other end, then move a few meters to the left or right and change the direction going in parallel to your previous track. The denser the crop/grass is - the smaller distance between your tracks should be (for example in the very dense, tall grass it should be around 2 meters, while in the cornfield it can be up to 5 meters). If it's possible use some GPS tracking device (a smart phone and Google Tracks is great for that) so you can track your progress. If you don't have one - you can use some poles or rocks as a marks - mark your entry and exit points and move them everytime you turn back.

What I did: On the first day I was wandering randomly near the place where I thought I lost the model, and where I finally found it - with no results (and I'm pretty sure that several times I was like 10 meter away from it). On the second day I was searching for it using the proper pattern - It would work but I gave up.

Tip 8:
Don't give up. It's very likely you will find your model especially if you seen it going down (gliders escaping in thermals, and FPV flights where you lost your video feedback mid-air are the other sort of thing).

What I did: After 4 hours of search I still had at least an hour of search ahead of me. I gave up. I found the model few meters from the place where I made this decision. But I found it only because I thought I would give it one more shot (take a look at the picture below). It was a pure coincidence or luck as I was about to leave.


TeamEZephyr on August 11, 2012
For our newest video we were flying in corn and what you Just wrote is exactly what we die we lost control of 1 of the easytars. Sincerely TeamEZephyr
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House Of Noob on August 10, 2012
Brilliant read. Thanks.
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Flash1940 on August 13, 2012
Here is the alarm I have...
In your tip # 2, you indicated that the alarm would NOT work with Failsafe activated. I'm not sure this is true of the HK lost signal alarm. A Failsafe is not "No signal" it is a fixed pulse width signal on a specific channel or group of channels. The alarm goes off when it senses No change of pulse width. Goes off in one minute. You can put the alarm on your gear channel and test it.
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Airwolf on August 14, 2012
It won't. If plane is down between plants - you would have to stand really close to it and basically look at it... Acoustic alarms or GPS position (from telemetry) are the way to go.
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Airwolf on August 13, 2012
You may be right... But on the other hand - before I created this article I consulted this topic with some guys who use such alarms - they were positive that with fail-safe activated alarm won't work, but on the other hand - they didn't refered to any specific product so it may be a case with some alarms and other alarms may work just well. I guess it's best to check the specific receiver/alarm combo before flight.
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Lagonda on August 13, 2012
How about installing a flashing LED and coming back at dusk?
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c.sitas on September 25, 2013
I wonder how far into the ground a model could go a t say, 60mph , before that thing would tell it that it is in trouble.I think I'll take the buzzer. I'll post back cause right now I'm faced with this delema.As far as the fail safe I agree with what is written,fail safe working no buzzer.
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angus on February 9, 2014
Try to create a "transit line". When the model goes down, do not move, look directly ahead of where the model went down and hopefully there is a tree or some other thing that you can use as your 1st reference point. Next, look directly behind you and look for another reference point. If there is nothing there, you could place something where you are standing so you do not lose reference of your position. The plane should be somewhere on or near the line between these two points. As you walk towards the first reference point, periodically look behind you to make sure that you are in line with the two points.
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Advice: How to search for a model lost in the fiel...