Oh, **** – I lost my drone: The Blade 350 QX review that will never be

“This isn’t happening! This can’t be happening. Oh s**t. F**k. S**t s**t s**t!”

These are the words of panic uttered, in some form or another, by every poor, unlucky sap in every town around the world, when a worst-case-scenario rears its ugly head. Going back to the beginning of time. And they are the words that came spewing out my own mouth last week as the most fun gadget I’ve ever had literally flew out of my life, never to be seen again.

Dammit, I lost my drone.


A week earlier, the frantic mess of CES 2014 fading in the rearview, I finally had the time and wherewithal to open the box of goodies graciously sent to me by Horizon Hobby. Inside, I found the impressive Blade 350 QX quadcopter, its red and grey propellers just itching to spin. Also included in the box was a press kit, a Blade 350 QX t-shirt, a beefy Spektrum DX5e controller, extra propellers, a couple of battery chargers and – what’s this? – a freakin’ GoPro Hero3 with a remote and other assorted goodies!

Sweet Mother of God.

I couldn’t believe that I’d let this fantastic contraption just sit in my house, unused and unloved, for weeks before finally busting it out. In a rush, I slapped the provided 2,200 mAh battery onto the charger, and put together the Blade’s handy anti-vibration GoPro mount, which is slightly tedious work, but absolutely necessary for the total blast I knew I was about to have.

Unlike some small personal drones, the Blade 350 QX requires very little assembly, and only enough DIY know-how to fit a few tiny screws into some holes to mount the aforementioned anti-vibration GoPro plate. By the time the battery had reached its full charge, I was ready to soar.

As far as attaching the GoPro is concerned, you have two options: Attach the camera using the provided case – a rather flimsy box of plastic that gets the job done – or use the waterproof GoPro housing that came with the camera kit. For my first flight, I slapped the GoPro in the Blade’s camera mount, and headed outside.

Luckily for me, I live on a hay farm with acres upon acres of rolling grass fields. Across the street is virtually nothing but corn fields (without corn, this time of year), and even more hay fields. And while a relatively busy country road runs in front of my house, there are only three houses, including my own, within roughly a half-mile radius of my farm, and only a smattering of trees. In other words, I live on the perfect spot to test small drones like the Blade 350 QX. And, for reasons we’ll get into later, I highly recommend that anyone planning to get into drones find a similar setting to start flying.


The Blade 350 QX has three flight modes, which you can switch between using a toggle switch on the GX5e controller: Smart Mode, Stability Mode, and Agility Mode.

The Blade fired up like a well-tuned German fighter jet, and, with the flick of the elevator stick, it was in the sky.

Smart Mode is for relative beginners, as it uses the drone’s built-in GPS to establish a 30-foot diameter “SAFE Circle” around the pilot, so you don’t take out an eye with the high-speed propellers. It also limits the amount of pitch and roll the drone will take when flying, as well as “stick relativity,” which means the drone always goes right when you hit right on the control stick, no matter which direction the drone is facing. These features help keep things from getting out of control. And, if they do, you can simply flip a switch on the controller to activate the “return-home” feature, which automatically causes the Blade 350 QX to autonomously fly back to the spot from which it took off.

Stability Mode is all about aerial photography. It allows for more advanced flight, but does so with photographers in mind by keeping the pitch and roll angles more stable and allowing the Blade to fly above the 45-meter altitude limit that’s enabled in Smart Mode.

And finally, you have Agility Mode, which is recommended for advanced pilots and allows you to do dips, flips, and all sorts of acrobatic flight maneuvers. While I have a good bit of RC helicopter experience, and have flown other drones, I didn’t dare get into Agility Mode until I had a good number of flying hours under my belt. In the end, I never did. 

Soaring high

If flying the Blade 350 QX is fun – and, holy crap, is it fun – then recording high-definition video from 150-feet in the air is downright orgasmic. I am no photographer, nor have I ever been much into shooting videos just for fun. But the Blade-GoPro combo changed all that. I couldn’t get enough. Every chance I had, my dog and I would head outside to get just one more shot. I was – am – addicted.

Here’s a quick taste of the kind of footage you can grab with the Blade 350 QX outfitted with a GoPro:

Awesome, right? Damn right.

As I switched between Safe Mode and Stability Mode, tested out the controls, and got really comfortable with the Blade’s handling, I shot countless gigabytes of video. Which is to say, if you’re considering getting the Blade – and you should, it’s awesome – you definitely need to pick up a GoPro as well. It’s just not the same without it, in my experience. Of course, that will add another $300 or so on top of the $470 for the “ready-to-fly” version of the Blade 350 QX, but it’s totally worth it.

Up, up, and away

After days of testing out the Blade 350 QX (and, let’s be honest, having a great time doing it), I decided to take it out for one last test of the return-home feature, and to shoot some photos for this article you’re reading.

To respect the only close neighbors I have, I took the Blade to the far side of a barn on my property, at the edge of a giant field. A light snow had started, and I knew I had to make this quick to avoid getting any nasty moisture into the drone.

In that instant of misfortune, I completely lost sight of the Blade. That’s when I freaked out.

As always, the Blade fired up like a well-tuned German fighter jet, and, with the flick of the elevator stick, it was in the sky. For this test, I wanted to see just how well return-home worked from a relatively high altitude – not to the 45-meter limit, but close. 

With barely any wind, I sent the Blade higher and higher into the sky. Soon, however, it began to drift farther and farther away from me. I hit the elevator stick down, but the Blade wasn’t descending fast enough. Suddenly, it seemed, this once-magnificent gizmo reduced to a tiny white dot in the sky. I tried to maneuver it closer, but it seemed stuck in a draft of wind that I couldn’t feel back on the ground. To my horror, I realized that I was no longer in control.

Panicked, I hit the “trainer” switch on the GX5e controller to initiate the blessed return-home feature. But by some fluke, some hideous trick of the gods, the damn switch broke off. Literally, it snapped off in my fingers and fell into the grass right at the exact moment that I needed it to work.

In that instant of misfortune, I completely lost sight of the Blade. That’s when I freaked out. I hit the elevator stick to bring it down, but I have no idea if it worked. Suddenly, true fear set it. “What if this thing is flying wildly out of control? What if it hits a house? Dear god, what it if it hits a car? S**t, is that a school bus that just passed me? This is bad. This is really bad. This is really, really bad – F**K!!!”

350 QX blade drone remote

Thoroughly freaked out and in no shape to drive, I jumped in my trusty Honda Civic and began blasting around the neighborhood in search of the Blade. Saggio, my German Shepherd, sat in the back seat, nervously whining just audibly enough to send a man into an asylum. After three hours of driving my neighborhood’s two streets, tromping through every field I could without too much trespassing, and feeling like a complete and total fool, I called it quits. The Blade 350 QX, the GoPro Hero3, and that damn trainer switch – all were lost. In their place: Regret.

Hindsight is 20-20

Flyaways, as they’re called in the RC aircraft world, are not uncommon. It’s one of the first things you’ll come across if you start researching personal drones. But the Blade 350 QX is not known for flyaways. Steve Petrotto, Horizon Hobby’s brand manager, tells me it only happens to “about 1 percent” of each of the company’s RC vehicles.

So, is that what happened to me? Did my trusty Blade 350 QX abandon me? Did its robot brain get fried from high-altitude air?

The answer is, we’ll never really know – not unless I still manage to find the thing. Which I am trying to do. (I even got up in the middle of writing this to go look for it one last time.) What can happen, according to Petrotto, is that the GPS loses connection, or the compass gets out of sync. Properly maintaining these crucial components is key to staying in possession of your Blade.

In the end, Petrotto confirmed what I suspected: I am simply not a good enough RC pilot to be flying these contraptions high in the sky. Yes, the return-home button snapped off at a particularly inopportune moment. But, were I more experienced, I would have never put the Blade in that situation in the first place. Yes, accidents happen. And this was an accident. But it was also just a stupid mistake.

So, here’s to you Blade 350 QX. You were a fantastic gadget friend for the time I knew you. You gave me some of the most thrilling fun I’ve ever had outdoors. Thank you for not killing a bus-load of school children. You will be forever missed.

Goodbye, sweet drone. Goodbye.

Product Review

Yuneec’s Mantis Q will make you wish you bought a DJI drone

Yuneec’s high-end drones are arguably the ones to beat in terms of flight control, design, and their photographic capabilities. But the company has struggled to make a low-end drone that’s worth buying, and the Mantis Q is proof of that…
Emerging Tech

Wish you could fly? You totally can with these top-of-the-line drones

In just the past few years, drones have transformed from a geeky hobbyist affair to a full-on cultural phenomenon. Here's a no-nonsense rundown of the best drones you can buy right now, no matter what kind of flying you plan to do.
Emerging Tech

The 10 most expensive drones that you (a civilian) can buy

OK, these drones may be a bit beyond your budget: Check out the most expensive drones in the world, from industrial giants to highest-end filming tools.

Take to the virtual skies with these free flight simulators

You don't have to spend the entirety of your paycheck to become a virtual ace, at least when it comes to flight simulation. Our list of the best free flight simulators will let you unleash your inner Maverick.
Emerging Tech

Descending at an angle could be key to landing heavier craft on Mars

Landing on Mars is a challenge: The heavier the craft, the more difficult a safe landing becomes. Scientists propose using retropropulsion engines and angling the craft to create a pressure differential to land heavier crafts in the future.
Emerging Tech

Ant-inspired walking robot navigates without GPS by using polarized light

What do you get if you cross Boston Dynamics and Ant-Man? You get Antbot, a robot from the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) which uses ant-like navigation to move around without the aid of GPS.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Grow veggies indoors and shower more efficiently

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

InSight’s heat probe will dig 16 feet beneath the surface of Mars

New images from NASA's InSight mission to Mars have confirmed that the lander succeeded in setting the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package instrument onto the surface, from where a self-hammering spike will burrow downwards.
Emerging Tech

White spots on Ceres are evidence of ancient ice volcanoes erupting

Scientists are pouring over data collected by NASA's Dawn mission to learn about the dwarf planet Ceres and the bright white spots observed at the bottom of impact craters. They believe that these spots are evidence of ice volcanoes.
Emerging Tech

NASA to launch SPHEREx mission to investigate the origins of our universe

NASA is launching an ambitious mission to map the entire sky to understand the origins of the universe. The Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization and Ices Explorer (SPHEREx) mission will launch in 2023.
Emerging Tech

Probes exploring Earth’s hazardous radiation belts enter final phase of life

The Van Allen probes have been exploring the radiation belts around Earth for seven years. Now the probes are moving into the final phase of their exploration, coming closer to Earth to gather more data before burning up in the atmosphere.
Emerging Tech

How can digital art created on obsolete platforms be preserved?

As the lines between art and technology continue to blur, digital art experiences become more commonplace. But these developments are raising an important question for art conservationists: How should digital artworks be preserved?
Emerging Tech

Statistician raises red flag about reliability of machine learning techniques

Machine learning is everywhere in science and technology. But how reliable are these techniques really? A statistician argues that questions of accuracy and reproducibility of machine learning have not been fully addressed.
Emerging Tech

Chandra X-ray telescope uncovers evidence of the universe’s missing matter

Where is all of the matter in the universe? NASA's Chandra telescope has uncovered evidence of hot gas strands in the vicinity of a quasar which could explain the missing third of matter which has puzzled astronomers for years.