The connection between an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV or drone) and its human operator can seem downright magical at first glance. The connection between a functional controller and the drone is somewhat less so, but just as vital.
It’s worth noting that presently, many significant changes are taking place in the consumer and professional drone world – a great deal of it having to do with the legalities of flying these gizmos, public safety (always), and, recently, accountability (Remote ID).
The object that controls a drone (the controller) and the drone itself form an important relationship, making these new accountability models feasible (who flew what, when, where and how).
Knowing how to properly pair and unpair (link and unlink) your Mavic 3 drone, for instance, will be an essential skill set even though you may rarely do it more than once.
Let’s take a look at what the connection between the Mavic 3 and its controller consists of.
For clarity’s sake, know that 3 different controllers will work with the Mavic 3 at present:
- Stock RC-N1
- DJI RC-Pro
- DJI Smart Controller
This step-by-step guide can be used for whichever of the 3 controllers you’d like to use.
The DJI controllers also fly with more than just the Mavic 3, and many are expecting DJI to announce further compatibility with these controllers and other drones.
Given this, you can actually use the same controller to fly different Mavic series drones.
Remember, you will have to relink the controller to the drone each time you want to fly a different drone with the same controller.
We need to also make the distinction that we are speaking of the linking between the controller and the drone – not to be confused with a communication failure, let’s say during a flight when the drone and the software (e.g. DJI Fly) lose track of each other.
This happens when an obstacle comes between the drone and the controller/device or perhaps an electromagnetic interference interrupts communication between the DJI Fly and the drone.
While there are many possible culprits for this type of communication loss, these last two are by far the most common.
I digress as we should be talking about the static relationship between the drone and controller.
For DJI and most other UAV manufacturers, we’ll frequently see the term “link, linked, or pair, pairing” as a way of speaking about the static relationship between the controller you are using and the drone you are flying it with.
Drones and their controller devices are almost always proprietary. That is – they are dedicated to each other.
You cannot use a DJI Mavic 3 controller on a DJI Phantom 4 drone.
DJI has recently introduced some professional-level controllers that can be linked to a number of different Mavic drones.
These new PRO or SMART controllers have built-in dedicated displays boasting high lumens output and increased visibility in trying outdoor conditions.
Later on in this article, for those who plan on using the vanilla stock controllers, I’ll provide a list of DJI’s recommended phones/tablets to work with the DJI Fly app and the Mavic 3 drone.
Let’s understand that 6 key players are involved in linking and then flying a drone like the Mavic 3 (and almost all other drones like this):
- The drone
- The controller
- The user device/platform (iPhone, iPad, Android tablet, etc.)
- The software App **
- The communication protocol
- The group of communication satellites
** The software app is not an absolute necessity for flying the drone, but it is certainly required to make the software link between the controller and drone.
Generally, this is a static connection. That is to say, it doesn’t usually change once established.
If it does, the process given in this article can be reused to RE-LINK the drone and the controller – once safely on the ground, of course.
For some, it comes as a surprise, but it’s good to know that you may not need to have a functioning piece of software to fly a drone – it will respond to control inputs to a properly linked controller.
It should go without saying that this is not a fun, safe, or desirable way to operate, truth be told.
I merely point this out because it’s not unusual for a beginning pilot’s first reaction to a crashed flight app in the middle of a flight, like DJI Fly, for instance, to be absolute panic.
Can you say “major pucker factor”?
Remember that the drone and controller can still communicate (without FPV or camera views and/or telemetry provided by the app) and fly somewhat safely in most cases.
Be aware that flying tasks will all be manual at that point, however.
You will be at the complete mercy of visual sight of your drone and hopefully have some idea of situational awareness near the time the connection failed.
This certainly defeats the purpose of a camera drone, though.
Also of note, and although somewhat rare, there WILL assuredly be a time or two when you’ll begin your setup to go flying, only to have your DJI Fly app (or whatever app you are using on your device) inform you that your drone and your controller are no longer linked.
If your drone and your controller become unlinked, you will likely need to go through this process of (re)linking before you can resume flying.
- Power on the Mavic 3. Don’t forget to remove the gimbal guard before powering up.
- Power on the remote controller.
- If using the RC-N1, connect your local device (iPad, iPhone, or Android phone or tablet) to the remote controller using the appropriate cable.
If you are using an Apple product, you can use the lighting connector > USB-C cable.
If you are using Android products, especially if you are using new Samsung phones or tablets, you will have a USB – C to USB C cable most likely.
There will also be a micro USB – B to USB – C cable (supplied, as are all the other cables mentioned above) to connect older android devices (both phones and tablets) for connecting your older device to the new Mavic 3 controller(s).
- Once connected, start the DJI Fly app.
- If your drone is linking for the first time, you will get a prompt for the “connection guide” in the lower right-hand corner of your screen.
This reminder is there to remind us that linking between the controller and Mavic 3 needs to be done before you can actually start flying your Mavic 3.
- Tap the “connection guide” on the screen and follow the instructions provided. The instructions will “pair” (this term is used instead of “link”) the controller and the Mavic 3.
- Next, the remote controller will give an audible beep, and the controller’s battery LEDs will start to blink in sequence (left to right).
This indicates that both the Mavic 3 and the controller are finally ready to do the work of linking (pairing if you so wish).
- Next, press and hold the aircraft power button for approximately 4 seconds. At this time, you should hear a single loud beep followed by two short beeps.
- Now the aircraft battery LEDs will begin blinking in sequence while the remote controller continues to beep.
Note: When both devices show their battery LED blinking in sequence (the Mavic 3 controller will continue to beep), this confirms that the process of pairing or linking is taking place!
- When the LEDs of both devices stop blinking, they will become solid, and the Mavic 3 camera view will appear on the device screen.
- Linking (or pairing) was successful! YAHOO!!!
One final point I think is worth considering – a lot of DJI flyers have been willing to pay the extra money for the controllers with built-in screens, it seems.
These hardier controllers take some of the physical connectivity complications (bad cables, etc.) out of the usual task list while providing a superior viewing experience in harsh outdoor conditions (like very low light or very bright light).
I personally cannot make the statement that they are more reliable than using a smartphone or tablet with the DJI RC-N1 controller as the data sample is still quite small in the greater scheme of things.
We will have to wait for the market to mature in the upcoming months.
If there are any drawbacks to using the controllers with screens, note that 3rd party software cannot be installed on these controllers, or at best, it’s extremely difficult to do so with no support model in the event you could jailbreak the Android systems on those controllers.
Litchi users are especially disappointed by this as they believe the Litchi app for DJI drones is a superior piece of software as compared to the current native DJI Fly app (or just prefer to fly the former rather than the latter).
Predictably, at some point in the not-so-distant future, we will see Android platform software developers hack the DJI Android implementation and achieve ROOT status on the DJI controllers’ flavor of Android xx, allowing other software to be installed.
Until that time, we get from DJI what we get. Hopefully, DJI will continue to update and publish the DJI SDK (software developer kit), which enables 3rd party software developers to extend or enhance the functionality of DJI’s core suite of flight software.
Mavic 3 and DJI Fly compatibility list
|DJI Fly Apple Compatible|
Requires iOS 11.0 or above.
|DJI Go 4 Android Compatible|
Requires Android 6.0 or above.
|iPhone 13 Pro Max|
iPhone 13 Pro
iPhone 13 mini
iPhone 12 Pro Max
iPhone 12 Pro
iPhone 12 mini
iPhone 11 Pro Max
iPhone 11 Pro
iPhone XS Max
iPhone 8 Plus
iPad Pro 2018 (11-inch）
iPad Pro (12.9-inch)
iPad Pro (10.5-inch)
|Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra|
Samsung Galaxy S22
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
Samsung Galaxy S21+
Samsung Galaxy S21
Samsung Galaxy S20
Samsung Galaxy S10+
Samsung Galaxy S10
Samsung Galaxy Note20
Samsung Galaxy Note10+
Samsung Galaxy Note9
HUAWEI Mate40 Pro
HUAWEI Mate30 Pro
HUAWEI P40 Pro
HUAWEI P30 Pro
Honor 50 Pro
10Mi MIX 4 Redmi
Note 10OPPO Find X
vivo NEX 3
OnePlus 9 Pro
Pixel 3 XL