Published February 14, 2017

As a first-time buyer, finding the right drone kit can be a difficult task. Simply trying to find out how to get started can be intimidating to newcomers. This isn’t made any easier by acronyms thrown around on forums and product pages. What is the difference between an RTF kit, a BNF kit, and an ARF kit? It can have a beginner wondering “WTF are they talking about?”

Here are the differences between different types of drone kits, as well as special considerations buyers should keep in mind when purchasing each type:

RTF: Ready-to-fly

With a “ready-to-fly” (RTF) drone kit, less-experienced hobbyists can find everything they need to get started in one package. The vehicle itself comes pre-assembled in RTF kits, so there are only a few steps to get started. For beginners who are more interested in piloting than building a drone, an RTF drone kit is the way to go.

Nevertheless, the drone is not ready for flight directly out of the box. There are a few simple steps that users must complete prior to takeoff. A few of the tasks that users might have to do prior to flight are charging the battery, binding the controller to the vehicle, and installing propellers.

With the ease of getting started with RTF kits, it can be easy for beginners to forget key maintenance procedures. While these kits come pre-assembled, users should remember that regular maintenance can protect a drone from serious damage in the future.

BNF: Bind-and-fly

“Bind-and-fly” (BNF) kits are essentially the same as RTF kits, except they lack a controller. The user only needs to bind their current controller to the new model in order to get started.

Depending on the quality of a user’s current controller, they may want to consider purchasing an upgrade. If a pilot doesn’t have a controller at all, it’s generally a bad idea to control a UAV with an app on a mobile phone or tablet. While apps can be useful in the short term, they lack the tactile feel and options of real controllers. While well-reviewed controllers can seem pricey, they are worth the investment. Many drone controllers are compatible with a wide range of UAVs. This means that users can use the same controller with new drones if they decide to upgrade in the future.

Not all transmitters and receivers are compatible with each other. Controller manufacturers usually maintain a list of compatible drones. Keeping this list handy should prevent users from any hassle.

ARF: Almost-ready-to-fly

Those who are equally interested in piloting as learning the ins and outs of drones should buy an “almost-ready-to-fly” (ARF) drone kit. these kits may contain most of the components of an RTF kit, but the drone will be completely unassembled. They are basically projects for the DIYers of drone hobbyist community.

Users usually have to buy additional essential components to get started. Parts like flight controllers, batteries, and motors, might need to be purchased separately. Obviously, consumers should read product descriptions on ARF drone kits very carefully in order to understand what components they will need to buy.

Beginners might be wary about the prospect of building a drone, but taking this initiative can payoff in the long-run. Learning how individual components work can help users troubleshoot future problems. It also gives users a greater degree of choice when it comes to cost and performance needs.

Each type of drone kit has its own purpose, advantages, and disadvantages. Newcomers looking to pilot a UAV as soon as possible should strongly consider an RTF kit. Users who already have a controller that they like will be best off with a BNF kit. For those who are equally interested in building a drone as they are in piloting one, a ARF kit is the best choice. Making the right decision to suit your needs is an important first step in enjoying the hobby.

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photo credit: Kevin Cabral First Flight of Winter via photopin (license)

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