At this point you’ve probably seen a drone. If not, you’ve at least heard of drones and have learned that how they’ve been made available to the public. Although most would just say drone to describe the product, there are a bunch of different names. Basically, a drone is an “unmanned aerial vehicle”, or UAV. But they’re also called drone helicopters, multicopters, or quadcopters (the four rotor type is the most common). Generally a drone is a UAV that has both remote control and autonomous components. So, the primary difference between a remote controlled unmanned aircraft and a drone is the autonomy.
The drone helicopter is, as stated before, another name for a drone. Although you might think of a helicopter drone as the traditional build – two rotors, one larger horizontal rotor on the top and a smaller one vertically set on the tail. But that’s not necessarily the case when referring to a drone helicopter. This unmanned aerial vehicle is generally a multicopter (four or more horizontally placed rotors) with autonomous capabilities and they come in different sizes and builds, depending on price range and the desired use of the vehicle.
Helicopter drones work in the same way UAVs do. There’s a receiver built into the computer of the aircraft and a human operator, on ground, sends a signal from his transmitter to that receiver, allowing the human to pilot the aircraft without being in the cockpit. Aside from that, some can fly autonomously using built-in GPS systems and self-sustaining-functionality programs. Now, huge progress has been made in the technology, so when referring to higher end autonomous drones, at this point in the market, you can safely assume that drone is fitted with a livestreaming camera that offers the pilot on the ground a first-person-view (FVP). Most of the smallest of the drones (mini or nano drones) will not have the FPV. But with it, the pilot can fly the aircraft with the same perspective as if he were in the cockpit himself.
Helicopter drones are not RC (remote control) helicopters. These toy helicopters do not have any autonomous capabilities and they generally have the same build as the traditional, full sized, two rotor helicopter. Although a drone helicopter can be used recreationally like the RC helicopter, particularly for just flying around, in drone racing communities, or for capturing video footage and still shots from the air, but they can also serve commercial purposes.
The drone helicopter equipped with a camera can capture aerial footage. Cinematographers and photographers alike are now using them professionally. Many companies have integrated drones into their surveillance platforms, maintenance teams, delivery vehicles, and so on. With the onslaught of the drone age, these professional applications have only begun to flourish. In the next decade, depending on government regulations, it’s highly feasible that we will be seeing helicopter drones in various fields of endeavor.
Just a reminder: a helicopter drone is not the same thing as a remote control helicopter. Drones are multicopters which have autonomous components that can be used both recreationally and commercially. An RC helicopter is a toy used by hobbyists.
As stated before, drone helicopters can serve a multitude of purposes. Let’s not rule out the fact that there are some classic helicopter drones on the consumer market. Bur, usually, the type of build you’ll see for a drone is a quadcopter. There’s a long list of reasons why this build works best for the smaller scale consumer drone, but that’s an entirely different conversation. If you’re interested in learning more and want to purchase one of these machines, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best drone helicopters and RC helicopters currently available on the market.
When choosing your first aerial machine, there is a long list of things to consider. It’s important that you first do your research and then decide what your intent is when piloting the drone. Do you something just to fly around as a toy? Do you want a helicopter drone that will introduce you to the full drone dynamic (aerial photography, livestreaming the first-person-view, autonomy)? What sort of budget are you looking at for your first drone? One thing to note here, when purchasing an RC helicopter (classic build – two rotors), it will be exponentially harder to pilot than the common quadcopter. Since there’s usually a pretty big difference between drone helicopters and RC helicopters, we’ve included both to the list.
This is an RC helicopter that’s often referred to as the best package for the money. It’s certainly one of the most powerful helicopters within the price range (around $170). We won’t continuously reiterate this, but just to drive the point home, RC helicopters will almost always come without a built-in camera, nor will they have integrated autonomous components that allow for easy flight. The Blade 130 S BNF uses a 3-axis MEMS flight system. It’s complex and dynamic performance makes it a perfect helicopter for those who want to improve their preexisting skills. If anything, this machine is ready to cruise through the skies. It can perform an assortment of aerial maneuvers like flips and hurricanes. It flies for around ten minutes and has incredible power for its size.
By all means, this little RC helicopter is meant to be a toy. It’s also one of the cheapest machines available (under $50). If you’re looking to see what the RC helicopter fuss is all about, this is certainly a neat way to start. The Syma S 107G flies for around 5-7 minutes once fully charged, is highly durable, and contains an integrated gyroscopic sensor system that helps stabilize its flight patterns. It‘s about 7 inches long, weighs under a pound and is extremely portable. It is just about ready-to-fly right out of the box and is a great machine to learn to pilot indoors. It doesn’t fare well outdoors since it’s so small, and it can’t fly in the dark because of low-light visibility – but that’s not what it’s made for. If you’re looking to buy a cheap RC helicopter that’s sure to be fun, introduce you to piloting, and won’t break your heart if you crash it, then the Syma S 107G is a perfect choice.
It’s safe to say that the Phantom 4 Pro is the staple of drone engineering. This is not an RC helicopter; it’s one of the most sought after consumer drones on the market. It is DJI engineered, which means it’s hyper-intelligent, durable, and has great flight capabilities. It comes with an assortment of autonomous features, such as return home, follow me, and active tracking. It comes equipped with a camera that can shoot both 4k and livestream the first-person-view in high definition via Lightbridge technology. It has 360 degree obstacle avoidance which remains at speeds up to 30mph. It can fly at 45mph in the newly integrated sports mode, and sustains flight for up to 30 minutes. It’s said to be the drone that ‘anyone can fly’, and that’s because it’s intelligent enough to adapt to even the most inexperienced pilots. You’ll see this drone everywhere when researching the top consumer drones. Its price point (a little under $2000) reflects a professional machine that can take industry standard aerial footage, Aguably, there’s no better drone.
Blade has a long track record of engineering durable, resilient, and powerful RC helicopters. For the price point and capabilities of the mCX2 RTF, Blade hits the mark again. This drone ($100) requires zero assembly and is ready to fly as soon as it is charged. It can fly longer than most beginner RC helicopters, clocking in at around 15 minutes (give or take). It has an integrated counter-rotating head design and it comes with LED lights (so you can fly in the dark, however, this drone is not recommended for outdoor use). Since it’s a bit heavier than the Syma we discussed, it’ll be a bit more stable to fly. This is another RC helicopter that is fantastic to learn on and comes with our full recommendation. Having a second LiPo battery will enable you to have one charged and ready once the first runs out of juice.
This is a DJI machine that’s been quickly taking the consumer market by storm. It’s not an RC helicopter, but a quadcopter drone. It’s basically everything the DJI Phantom 4 Pro is, except that its compact, smaller, consolidated build sacrifices a few camera specs and flight capabilities. It folds up into the size of a water bottle, yet can still hit a top speed of 40mph, is loaded with autonomous tech guts, and can shoot in 4k. It integrates the same obstacle avoidance system as the Phantom 4 Pro, and it can active track while the system is on. Its control range nears 7km and it can fly for up to 25 minutes at a time, depending on conditions. It comes in at around $1000, depending on the package purchased along with the Mavic Pro. This is a fantastic drone to learn to pilot on because of its portability, ease of use, and autonomy.
Yuneec has some serious competition in the consumer drone market. But they’re making their mark now alongside the other more popular brands. The Yuneec Breeze 4k has gained traction as one of the most convenient and capable mid-grade drones on the market. This quadcopter requires little set up; all you’re required to do is fold out the four wings, power it on, and make sure the smartphone app is installed into a phone or tablet. With intuitive integrated controls and autonomous features such as return home, the Breeze 4k is extremely user-friendly, with the name is targeted for those who want a machine that can capture amazing aerial photography, yet doesn’t cost the $2k for a Phantom 4 Pro. It’s even got integrated social media components that allow you to post pictures/videos directly to certain platforms via the app. It flies for around twelve minutes and has a control range of 90m. It also livestreams FPV in high-definition, and all for under $500.
For starters, this drone looks like a baby x-wing from Star Wars and is advertised as having the ‘power of a plane, the ease of a quadcopter.’ Instead of propellers on the top, they’re on the front, which means the drone can hit higher speeds than others of its size and capacity. It’s controlled by the standard parrot application and you can use either a smartphone or a tablet to pilot. Since it’s light-bodied, it doesn’t fare well in windy conditions, but it has a range of around 30m and lasts about 20 minutes per charge. The camera isn’t anything to brag about, since it only shoots pixelated pictures in 480p. Still, it’s a fantastic drone to learn to pilot on, because it’s so dynamic. And let’s face it, it looks absolutely amazing.
You’ll see this little drone all over the drone community. It’s often recommended as the quadcopter to learn on since it offers the full dynamic, is incredibly capable and durable, and is offered at a reasonable price. With an integrated camera that shoots in 720p, it also livestreams FPV directly to the 4.3” LCD screen built into the controller. It is ready-to-fly right out of the box, so you won’t have to deal with any of the preassembly required for some of the more tedious and complex drones. All things considered, you need to know what you’re buying: this drone weighs less than 60g, so it’s not going to fly outdoors. It doesn’t have an integrated GPS unit so it can’t position lock - you’ll have to manage the flight completely manually. This is often seen as a huge perk, as pilots will learn how to rely on their own skills rather than the autonomy of the machine. It flies for around ten minutes, depending on how often you’re using the camera, and spare parts are relatively inexpensive. This is another quadcopter that’s great to learn on, as you’ll have to perfect your handling and you’ll still experience the first person view.
This is an RC helicopter that comes in at under $50. It’s a 4 channel, 2.4GHz machine with a built-in gyro system. The company claims that it can be flown outdoors, but this is highly unadvised, as it’s too small to sustain any sort of windy conditions. It takes about 30 minutes to charge and offers five minutes of flying. It’s about 8 inches in length and the control range is somewhere between 50-80 meters. Perhaps the most notable attribute of the Gyro V911 is its agility. This little stud can perform all sorts of aerial maneuvers and handles extremely well for its size and price-point. Not only that, but it’s ready to fly right out of the box – so all you have to do is charge it up, put some batteries (sold separately) in the controller, and start it up. If you’re going to start with RC helicopters, this isn’t a bad introduction to the flying hobby. You’ll be quick to outgrow it if you’re truly inclined to become a hobbyist, but at the price there’s no money wasted.
Sproutoy Phantom Drone LED
So far we haven’t added any micro drones to this list, but we’re going ahead and listing the Sproutoy Phantom Drone with LED lights. For under $40, this drone is an absolute riot. It’s quick, sports a 6-axis gyroscopic flight-system, and is surprisingly powerful for a drone of its size. The simple design makes replacing parts and maintaining the aircraft a breeze. It comes with an integrated headless mode, meaning you can fly the drone without knowing the orientation (this is incredibly helpful when first learning to pilot). It can do 360 degree flips, rolls, and dives. It’s extremely responsive to the transmission and it flies for around 5 minutes once fully charged. Similar to the RC helicopters (except for it’s being a quadcopter with autonomous capabilities), it’s a great little toy to use indoors as a ‘taste-test’ of the drone dynamic.
As you can see, there’s a long list of RC helicopters and drone helicopters out there. And there’s a huge range of them: everything from micro drones that fly around for five minutes and cost the same as a gourmet cheeseburger, to the professional machines which can shoot in 4k, fly themselves autonomously, and cost as much an entire month’s paycheck. When buying your first drone, the choice must be made within your budget and purpose of use. Hopefully with these suggestions, you’ll have a bit to look at. At the very least, we’ve introduced you to the machines which will introduce you to the sky.