Do you remember when you first learned about drones?
I don’t remember the name, but I do remember running into a guy who wanted everyone at our party to check out his very primitive, yet extremely cool drone. He was pretty good at controlling it and it looked like a blast. I was immediately drawn in.
Since then, I’ve made it my mission to learn as much as I can about the different types of drones. If you live and breathe drones like I do, read on.
Multirotor drones, also known as UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), can be used for many applications requiring a drone to stay in one aerial position for an extended, albeit short, amount of time. These drones are aptly named due to the multiple rotors located on the body.
Multirotor drones provide excellent aerial stability for control; especially important for recording aerial information, such as still photography.
These types of drones can be broken down and further categorized by number of rotors used for lift off, power and control.
- Tricopter (3 rotors)
- Quadcopter (4 rotors)
- Hexacopter (6 rotors)
- Octocopter (8 rotors)
Due to the balanced number of rotors on each corner of the body, along with excellent control ability, quadcopters are one of the most popular types of drones among hobbyists and professionals.
- Multirotor drones are popular with drone enthusiasts primarily for aerial photography or capturing photos for social media or vlogging purposes.
- Professionals use multirotor drones for aerial photography, surveying and surveillance.
- Most economically priced for the fly time
- Technology advances makes price of components and extras more affordable (propellers, batteries, carrying case, etc.)
- Economical battery-powered energy source
- Maintains extremely stable, static in-air flying position
- Limited fly time of only 20-30 minutes
- Speed restrictions
- Not suited for long distance applications
- Repairs are more expensive and take longer due to more complex electronic/mechanical components
Drone prices vary based on the types of drones that pique your interest. Whether using the drone for work or play, the prices vary from low, medium and high-end.
Basic, mini, toy or low-end models range from $30 to $100.
Mid-range multirotors, used for hobbyists or photographers, run anywhere from $200 to just under $1000.
High-end multirotors range from $300 to $1700, definitely priced for the serious enthusiasts or professionals.
Fixed Wing Drones
The fixed wing types of drones are used to save time and money, typically for professional or commercial purposes.
Instead of a vertical lift off with the use of propellers, these types of drones are designed to fly more like an airplane. Instead of hovering in a static in-air position, they glide and cover greater distances and a wider area of land. They also stay airborne for approximately 45 minutes. For hobbyists, fixed wing drones give the experience of flying a real plane.
Common uses for fixed wing drones include agriculture applications like mapping or surveying, while some other uses include public safety, construction and maintenance applications.
- Less complicated structure is easier and more affordable to maintain
- Operates at higher altitudes to cover more geographical areas
- Saves time on projects due to longer in-air flight time
- Operates well under inclement or windy weather conditions
- Longer battery life extends flight time up to at least 45 minutes
- Gas-powered engines can stay in flight for up to 15 hours
- Cannot carry heavy payloads
- Cannot remain in one in-air position; constant motion
- Launching requires a catapult
- Landing requires protective landing gear (parachute, net) to prevent damage
- More expensive to fly
- Trickier to master take-off, in-air control and landing operations
- Not well-suited for still aerial photography
For Fixed Wing drone enthusiasts, these models can be used for aerial photography, although a multirotor is better for still shots.
Prices for fixed wing drone enthusiasts can range anywhere from as little as $60 or $80 for beginners who want to get the feel of it, to models as high as $500+.
Based on your skill level and usage, pick and choose the model that best fits your needs for a hobby.
The professional models are more expensive, starting at around $250 and going up to several thousand dollars.
Single Rotor – Helicopter Drones
The helicopter drone, also known as an RC helicopter, is a good choice if you need a heavier payload or a more energy-efficient drone. It provides longer in-air hovering time as compared to a multirotor. These types of drones are the least popular of drone models; described as something between a multirotor and fixed wing. The smaller, niche-like market for Heli drones may be small, but it is growing.
These drones feature the use of one main rotor and a tail rotor, which controls direction. Also called Heli drones, they are the most dangerous of all models due to the sharp blades. Because it takes a bit of experience to operate the Heli drones properly, they should be handled with extreme caution.
These drones vibrate, which affects stability of the flight. Landings can be tricky and one bad landing can result in serious damage to the blades or drone itself.
Popular for racing in recreational usage; they are also used commercially for search & rescue, security and surveillance. Heli drones are also used for monitoring farms and for other agricultural purposes.
- Can hover a larger payload (i.e.; LIDAR laser scanner, heavier camera)
- Longer endurance with forward flight
- Can utilize gas-powered engine for longer flights
- Greater thrust efficiency due to longer blade, single rotor design
- More intricate design requires more mechanical maintenance
- Spinning rotor may cause injury; handle with care
- Requires more training and experience to learn how to fly, maneuver and keep in the air
- Significant vibration
For hobbyists or beginners, RC helicopter drone pricing starts around $50 and up, while professional helicopter drones can cost several hundred to several thousand dollars.
Fixed Wing Hybrid Drones
This is a fairly new drone category, blending the features of the fixed wing drone with the ability to take off and land vertically. The hybrid also features more advanced hovering capabilities.
Still in the development phase, there are several designs on the table:
One concept focused on fixed wing models using a vertical lift motor, while another concept shows an aircraft resting on its tail; pointing vertical for takeoff then pitching over for horizontal flight.
Yet another design shows either a rotor or wings with propellers facing upwards for takeoff; then horizontally for forward flight.
Drone delivery is the primary use for this type of drone.
Although still in the development stages, there is the potential of using the hybrid models for still aerial photography and/or for hobbyists looking to experiment with up-and-coming, advanced technology.
- Vertical takeoff and landing
- Some hovering capabilities
- Longer flight times
- Unstable forward flight operation
- Unstable hovering capabilities
- Still in development
The pricing is undetermined at this point because these types of drones are still in development.
As with any drone, the more features and benefits required, the higher the cost of the drone.
Mini models, toys and kits tend to be less expensive than professional drones used for higher-end aerial photography or capturing data.
Summary – Different Types of Drones
Drones are gaining momentum and popularity every day. The advances in technology and merging drone programming with cell phones will only cause the market to further expand.
As the uses for drones continues to expand commercially, the types of drones, hybrids and modifications to existing types of drones will also expand and grow as usage and market demand dictates. Studies and surveys indicate the use of drones is more economical and energy efficient to operate.
The use of drones has been proven to save time and money for commercial applications.
As electronics and payloads become lighter, the projected amount of drone usage is also anticipated to experience growth.
Currently, the use of drones is increasing in various markets such as agriculture, law enforcement, the military, disaster relief efforts, sports training, power line/tall structure inspections, surveying and surveillance.
It will become easier to keep maps (think Google Maps) up-to-date more easily with the use of drones. Capturing more accurate and up-to-date data almost in real time reporting is just the tip of the iceberg of advancing possibilities of drones.
It is a new and exciting field of discovery not only for commercial purposes, but for the drone enthusiast. The majority of drones used for enthusiasts include photography, racing or simply adding to an existing collection of various types of drones.
The benefits a drone hobbyist will see down the road are models that are easier to use, capable of faster flying times and enjoying longer flight times. While controlling your in-air drone, you will be able to produce amazing photography, enjoy racing, aerial acrobatics and different flying options.
As you become more comfortable with operation and learn to experiment with your drone, you may want to take advantage of newer models and technological advances along the way.
To shorten the learning curve, don’t forget about the ever-growing fan clubs, groups, forums and social media connections. These clubs can keep drone enthusiasts in the loop and up-to-date on the latest in emerging developments, reviews and new product launches.
As apps, applications and new types of drones are released, it’s an exciting time to be a part of the up-and-coming drone phenomenon.