When the Yuneec Typhoon H showed up at CES 2016 it stood out from the horde of other flying machines at the gigantic electronics show (the Ehang 184 being a notable exception).
Its six-rotor design and sonar sensors in front for obstacle detection give it the look of a flying insect, while its removable 360-degree rotating gimbal camera and retractable landing gear are things you can only really find on the $2,000 DJI Inspire 1. But the ready-to-fly Typhoon H was just $1,300 when it shipped in April and is currently $1,000 (AU$2,100, £1,000).
To top it all off, the Typhoon H is available in a Pro version for $1,500 (£1,550, AU$3,000) which adds Intel's Realsense technology for advanced obstacle avoidance and downward-facing optical flow sensors to help you fly it if a GPS connection isn't available or is lost. (This Intel demo at CES shows just a bit of this system's capabilities.)
Naturally, I had high expectations for the Typhoon H. I mean, I really like the Inspire 1, but it's simply not practical for anyone but professionals and enthusiasts with deep pockets. The Typhoon H offers comparable features (so much so DJI filed a lawsuit for patent infringement) in a more compact body and for a whole lot less money. You're getting a lot more drone for the price of DJI's top consumer drone, the Phantom 4.
Up, up and aw-hey, come back!
For the first couple flights the Typhoon H performed really well. It handled wind with no issues and everything functioned as promised. There are two modes you can fly in, Angle and Smart. Angle moves the drone in the direction the control stick is pushed relative to the nose of the aircraft. Smart mode move it in the direction the right-hand control stick is pushed relative to the pilot and no matter which way the nose is pointed.
Its Android-based ST16 Ground Station controller is somewhat unwieldy, takes seemingly forever to boot up and is not the most thoughtfully laid out or labeled, but it's great to have a 7-inch touchscreen built right in so you don't have to worry about attaching a phone or tablet. All the controls are at your fingertips for both the drone and camera. Transmission range for both video and control is rated at up to 1.6 km or 1 mile.
Then it happened: While it was hovering in place (during a video shoot), it began to drift. When I went to correct it, the Typhoon H didn't respond to the controls, and sent itself into a tree. It didn't hit hard, but it was enough to snap one of its carbon-fiber arms in half and bust the camera mount, though the camera itself was fine.
Yuneec sent a second drone to test, but honestly, it took me awhile to attempt the retest because I was afraid of a repeat performance. Anyone who's experienced a flyaway knows how gut-wrenching it is to watch the drone uncontrollably crash or disappear into the distance.
The fact is, though, flyaways happen. It's not unique to Yuneec and, in fact, on my DJI reviews you'll probably find at least one commenter asking me to do a web search for "DJI flyaway." But my Typhoon H problem was not an isolated incident: Yahoo's David Pogue and Videomaker.com's review of the Typhoon H point to flyaway problems similar to what I experienced.
Out of the box, my second Typhoon performed well again with no issues whatsoever. That lasted two flights.