Types of Drones

Lawrence Bonk Profile image

Written By:

Updated August 29, 2022

If you are an amateur in the world of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), you may wonder about the various types of drones out there. The best drones, after all, come in a wide array of shapes and sizes, with many excelling in one or two specific tasks. So what are the different drone types, and what should you consider before making a purchase? Keep reading to find out.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • There are various types of drones to suit different preferences and use-case scenarios.
  • Single-rotor and multi-rotor drones make up the vast majority of consumer-grade products.
  • Other types include fixed-wing drones, toy drones, and hybrid VTOL drones. More advanced drone technology brings commercial drones, military drones, underwater drones, rotary drones, and more.

Drone Types Explained

There are plenty of different drones out there, which you’ll realize when comparing drones vs quadcopters. Are you looking for a leading waterproof drone? You have plenty of options with regard to design, and the same goes when shopping for the finest underwater drone. Here are the major types of drones available for purchase so you can stop shopping and start learning how to fly a quadcopter drone, among other variants.

Insider Tip

If this is your first drone, don’t be afraid to start small to minimize your investment.

Single-Rotor Drones

This is the most basic type of drone. The design traces back to RC helicopters, though they also find use in the world of drone racing and in commercial applications. As the name suggests, these drones include a single rotor, though some feature an additional smaller rotor on the tail unit.

Though often considered bare-bones, heavy-duty single-rotor drones are a great choice for industrial applications, thanks to the increased durability accompanying premium designs.

Reasons to Buy

  • Despite boasting a single rotor, these drones generate a whole lot of thrust, allowing them to sit idly in the air. This makes them a good choice for videographers looking for steady shots.
  • The single available rotor translates to increased flight times, as long as the battery is up to snuff.
  • Single-rotor drones intended for commercial or industrial applications offer the ability to carry heavy payloads.

Reasons to Not Buy

  • The best single-rotor drones are really intended for professional use, so don’t expect premium performance from consumer-grade models.
  • Though adept at sitting idly in the sky, these drones are more difficult to fly than multi-rotor drones and other types.
  • They do not perform as well with medium or heavy winds compared to other types of drones.
  • Increased danger during use, as the single rotor blade spins faster to generate thrust than multiple rotor blades.

Tips for Choosing a Single-Rotor Drone

  • Take a look at the battery so that you make the most out of the increased efficiency provided by the single rotor design.
  • Look for drones that prioritize user safety, with a rotor blade that is not easily accessible during use.
  • If you want the drone to carry a payload, such as a third-party camera, make sure the components are durable and that the weight capacity is on the higher side.

Multi-Rotor Drones

As the name indicates, these drones boast multiple rotor blades, allowing for increased control and additional benefits compared to their single-rotor cousins. There is no universally accepted number of rotors that make up this category, so you’ll find tricopters, quadcopters, hexacopters, and even octocopters. This class makes up the vast majority of entry-level consumer drones.

Reasons to Buy

  • This type of drone starts at around $30, making them the perfect choice for those new to unmanned flight.
  • They allow for easy and precise control due to the increased number of rotors.
  • They hold up well in windy conditions, though this depends on the components used to manufacture the drone.
  • Multi-rotor drones are stable during flight and offer the option to hover.
  • They’re great for capturing videos and still images while moving.

Reasons Not to Buy

  • Multi-rotor drones offer smaller-than-average payload capabilities. These drones are for fun and not for carrying delicate items.
  • Each additional rotor contributes to a decrease in efficiency, which translates to low battery life.
  • Some of the cheaper models are made from low-grade materials with limited durability.

Tips for Choosing a Multi-Rotor Drone

  • Additional rotors do not necessarily translate to a better flight experience, as efficiency decreases with every rotor blade integrated into the system.
  • These drones are not known for carrying heavy payloads, so choose a model with a camera already equipped.
  • Some multi-rotor drones ship with more than one battery. Go for that to increase your flight range.

Fixed-Wing Drones

Just as single-rotor drones resemble helicopters, fixed-wing drones resemble airplanes or gliders. These drones feature one rigid wing and tend to have very large wingspans. They are available in various sizes and weights and typically require a runway or a person to provide a throwing headstart to fly. Rarely, fixed-wing drones can take off vertically in a manner similar to other types.

Reasons to Buy

  • Efficiency is off the charts here, thanks to gliding throughout much of the flight path, which translates to better battery life.
  • Some fixed-wing drones are extremely budget-friendly, as prices start at around $50.
  • Fixed wings allow these vehicles to reach higher altitudes than rotor-powered drones.
  • They can go really fast so long as they experience a strong headwind.

Reasons Not to Buy

  • The learning curve here is steep. Even learning how to take off takes a good amount of practice.
  • They cannot hover in place and can be significantly hampered by strong winds.
  • Some models require an additional purchase of a launcher to help the drone get in the air.
  • They can be difficult to land.

Tips for Choosing a Fixed-Wing Drone

  • Try before you buy, remembering that this type is extremely difficult to take off, fly, and land.
  • Read the fine print to suss out the takeoff capabilities and whether or not you need a runway or a dedicated launcher.
  • Make sure the build is durable enough to handle a crash or two (or three.)

Hybrid VTOL Drones

The newest drone on the block, these vehicles combine the features of a multi-rotor drone with that of a fixed-wing model. In other words, VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) drones ascend with rotor blades, but once in the air, they shift to a fixed-wing, with the ability to glide like an airplane. This best-of-both-worlds approach has caused this type of drone to become popular in a short amount of time.

Reasons to Buy

  • You don’t need launching devices or a runway to get these drones in the air; the same goes for landing.
  • Longer battery life and increased maximum range, thanks to the efficiency inherent with fixed-wing designs.
  • The learning curve is decreased, particularly when compared to traditional fixed-wing drones.
  • Fly how you want, thanks to the versatility of design.

Reasons Not to Buy

  • This is a new technology, so VTOL drones are extremely expensive, with few consumer-grade options available.
  • Though decreased, the learning curve is still steeper than multi-rotor or single rotor designs.
  • You may want to wait for a generation or two for the prices to go down and for the technology to overcome certain hurdles.

Tips for Buying a Hybrid VTOL Drone

  • There are various technologies at play here to allow these drones to shift types mid-flight. Do some research to find a design that works for you.
  • Expect to spend a whole lot of money to buy one of these, so budget accordingly.

Toy Drones

Otherwise called nano drones or mini drones, toy drones are intended for kids and amateur pilots. As you can imagine, these drones are on the smaller and lighter side, especially compared to more advanced designs. Nano drones are the smallest of this type, fitting in the palm of the hand, followed by mini drones. Beyond size, these drones typically feature a multi-rotor design.

Warning

Using a drone for commercial purposes requires a license from the FAA, and failure to obtain one can result in hefty fines.

Reasons to Buy

  • They are cheap. Toy drones are available for as little as $10.
  • Nano drones are intended for indoor flight, adding some fun to being stuck at home. Some mini drones can handle both indoor and outdoor use.
  • Indoor drones, like nano drones, do not require registration with the FAA.
  • These drones are light and compact, making them ultra-portable.

Reasons Not to Buy

  • Toy drones feature decreased battery life, maximum range, and speed compared to more advanced models.
  • These drones are too small to fit third-party cameras, and most models do not include built-in cameras for the same reason.
  • Cheaper drones in this category are essentially toys and will break easily.

STAT: The term drone has been used from the early days of aviation, being applied to remotely-flown target aircraft used for practice firing of a battleship’s guns, such as the 1920s Fairey Queen and 1930s de Havilland Queen Bee. (source)

Tips for Buying Toy Drones

  • Choose wisely, as mini drones offer different features than nano drones.
  • Though indoor-based nano drones do not require FAA registration, some mini drones will. Research ahead of time.
  • Opt for durable models that can handle a crash or two.

Drone Type FAQs

How much does a drone cost?

Consumer drones range wildly in price, from around $10 or $20 all the way to $10,000 or more, depending on the feature set required by drone pilots.

What is the purpose of drones?

Recreational drones are for having fun, though you can also use drone flights to capture HD video footage, for help during emergency situations, or race with friends and family.

How to choose which drone to buy?

It truly depends on personal preference, as underwater drones have a very different feature set from drones for beginners. There are so many categories of drones to choose from.
Lawrence Bonk Profile image