Today, drones are used for different applications. The most widely used application of drones is for photography. However, they may also be used for things like aerial mapping, and inspection. There are many different types of drones available on the market. So, while you might think that multi-rotor drones are the only option available to you, perhaps because they are the most widely available, there are a lot of other types out there.
In this article, we’ll have a run-down of the four main types of aerial drones, their strengths, and weaknesses.
Types of Drones
There are four types of drones:
- Single-Rotor Drones
- Multi-Rotor Drones
- Fixed Wing Drones
- Hybrid VTOL
Given below is the description of how each one of these types fares, the pros, cons, and much more:
#1. Single-Rotor Drone
- Useful For: Aerial LIDAR laser scanning
- Pros: Hover capability, Longer Duration Flights (with gas power), Heavier Payload Capability
- Cons: Dangerous, Hard to Fly, Expensive
Single-Rotor Drone is the most basic type of drone you’ll find. As the name suggests, it employs just a single rotor plus a tail rotor to control where it’s heading. While helicopters – which also feature a single rotor design – are hugely popular in manned aviation, when it comes to drones, there are not many single rotor options.
It is a general rule of aerodynamics that the larger and slower the rotor blade, the more efficient it is! Therefore, a single-rotor drone is usually capable of generating thrust much more efficiently than its multi-rotor counterparts. Such drones are also ideal for longer flight durations. Also, for those who need to hover with a heavy payload, a single-rotor drone is really the best bet!
However, there are certain drawbacks to the single-rotor design too! Having a single-blade design and gas-powered nature usually leads to a higher cost of these drones. The costs can go as high as $300K! Larger rotor blades also mean that there’s a higher chance of you getting accidentally injured by them. Also, these drones are not very stable and are harder to fly and balance in the air.
#2. Multi-Rotor Drone
- Useful For: Aerial Photography, Aerial Video Inspection
- Pros: Budget, Ease of use, Hover Capability, Good for Photography
- Cons: Low Payload Capacity, Shorter Flight Time
Unlike the single-rotor drones, which look a lot like a helicopter, the multi-rotor drones feature multiple rotors positioned at different points on the aircraft. Depending upon the number of rotors, this drone maybe a quadcopter, octocopter, and so on…
Considered the most popular option for camera drones, the multi-rotor drones are perfect for aerial photography. The additional rotors on such drones ensure that the drone is always stable and keeps hovering. They are the easiest to control and cheapest drones with great control over position and framing. Multi-rotor drones can be priced anywhere between $5k for starter units to $65k for topmost options.
However, there are some downsides to such drones too. Multi-rotors are fundamentally inefficient and require a lot of energy. Since there are several rapidly moving rotors involved in such drones, they can remain airborne only for a short duration. Even the top-notch options manage to offer only up to half an hour of flight time. These drones are also unsuitable for carrying heavy payloads because it affects the balance maintained by the rotors.
#3. Fixed-Wing Drone
- Useful For: Aerial Mapping, Power/Pipeline Inspection
- Pros: Long Flight Time, Large area coverage, Fast Speed
- Cons: No Hover Capability, Hard to Fly, Expensive, Large Space Required for take-off & landing
Unlike the former two drone types, the Fixed-wing drones don’t feature rotors. They have a fixed-wing design which makes them look more like an airplane.
The wings of this drone enable it to achieve a vertical lift; so you need energy only to keep it moving forward rather than lifting it up. This makes such drones super-efficient, and ideal for long distances. While you can’t keep multi-rotor drones airborne for long durations, a fixed-wing drone can fly continuously for as long as 16 hours! So, you can map much larger areas, and loiter for longer times while monitoring your points of interest. In addition, you can also use gas engines as their power source (in most cases). Fixed-Wing drones usually cost anywhere between $25K and $120K.
Talking about the downsides of fixed-wing drones, such drones are usually suitable only for expert drone fliers. Since they don’t feature a rotor, landing them is a tough job. They must have a carefully executed and extremely soft belly landing. Also, lack of rotors means that fixed-wing drones aren’t able to hover at one point the way helicopter-style rotors can. So, these drones are unsuitable for general aerial photography work.
#4. Hybrid VTOL
- Useful For: Drone Delivery
- Pros: Has benefits of both fixed-wing & rotor-based drones
- Cons: Still in development
Hybrid VTOL drones let you get the best of both worlds – fixed-wing & rotor-based designs. These drones feature rotors attached to the fixed wings. Therefore, they can take off and land vertically too.
However, the technology to implement these features is still in the nascent stage. Not many hybrid fixed-wing aircraft are currently available on the market. But, expect to see more of such aircraft in the coming years as the technology matures.
Final Words: Which Drone Type Should You Get?
So, by now you must be well aware of the different types of drones you can get. The one that’s most suitable for you depends upon your use case. For example, if you’re looking for aerial photography or inspection, your needs should suffice with a quadcopter multi-rotor drone.
But, if you need your drone for professional stuff like aerial LIDAR laser scanning or anything else that involves higher payload capability and longer flight duration, you should choose a single-rotor drone. For expert drone fliers who are looking for accurate results while aerial mapping, or power/pipeline inspection, a Fixed-Wing Drone is the best choice.
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I hope this guide helped you learn about the different types of drones available on the market, and which one of them is best suited for you. 🙂
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