Published February 14, 2017

Which type is right for your needs?

When shopping for your first drone, it can be difficult to understand the differences between each type. The differences between fixed wing drones and multirotor drones are vast — and they serve dramatically different purposes.

Which route should you take: a multirotor drone, or fixed wing model? By comparing the pros/cons of both types, and determining what your needs are, the decision can be simple. Read on to discover the differences between the two, and discover which type matches your needs:

Multirotor Drones

Multirotor drones — also known as rotary drones, or multicopters — are UAVs that keep airborne through the use of motors and propellers. Quadcopters are the most common type of multirotor drone. They use four motors and propellers. Hexacopters and octocopters use six or eight of both, respectively.

Between these types of multirotor drones are various advantages and disadvantages. Quadcopters are less powerful than their more propeller-endowed sisters, which means that they can carry smaller loads and are more susceptible to strong winds. Hexacopters have greater power, but are bulkier and more pricey. Octocopters have even greater lifting power, but are even more bulky and expensive. Users should consider their budget and determine how much airspace they have before settling on a specific UAV. Here are the pros and cons of multirotor drones in general:

Pros:

There are plenty of advantages to choosing a multirotor. They have a wide range of movement and are able to move both vertically and horizontally. Multirotors can also hover, maintaining a fixed position. As a result, multirotor drones can safely navigate through tight spaces. If a motor malfunctions during flight, these UAVs can usually remain in the air. Since the other functioning propellers keep the vehicle in the air, pilots can safely land without causing further damage from a nasty fall. Further, they can be equipped with high-resolution cameras.

Multirotors can perform nuanced movements. This makes them ideal for detailed work. Today, drones have become an indispensable tool to cinematographers — though many hobbyists also enjoy sharing their footage online. From lining up the perfect shot for a video, to performing inspections on construction sites, professionals have found a wide range of uses for these vehicles. Hobbyists who live in urban areas rely on multirotors, since they are much safer to drive in densely populated environments. Multirotor drones are incredibly popular with enthusiasts — and it is easy to see why.

Multirotor drones are capable of extremely complex movements.

Cons:

There are a few issues to keep in mind when deciding whether or not to buy a multirotor drone. This type of drone tends to be slower than fixed wing models. While there are some exceptions (the Phantom 4 can hit around 45 mph in sport mode), pilots should look towards fixed wing models if they are looking for the highest speed, or to cover a wide area of land. They are also generally poor at dealing with severe weather conditions. It is inadvisable to use less powerful copters in strong winds. Even with professional-grade models, air resistance can be a serious drain on battery life.

Due to the way they operate, multirotors require a lot of power to stay in flight. Inexpensive models have batteries that can rarely exceed 15 minutes of flight at a time. Professional-grade models edge closer to a half-hour. Users often take extra measures to stay in the skies. Bringing an extra battery is a common solution, but pilots can also take some precautions to preserve battery life. If the camera is not going to be used during a flight, removing it will improve airtime. Avoiding strong winds can also help.

Fixed Wing Drones

While they are not as common on the market as multirotor drones, fixed wing drones have some unique capabilities. Fixed wing aircrafts have simpler structures and are more aerodynamic than multirotor UAVs. This means they are better for piloting across large distances. However, there are some drawbacks as well. Here are the pros and cons of picking a fixed wing drone:

Pros:

Depending on a pilot’s needs, there are some benefits to choosing a fixed wing drone. They can travel at a high speed, sometimes exceeding over 50 mph. An additional bonus is that they are not influenced by wind resistance or bad weather as easily as multirotors are. Their extended battery life means that they can cover many miles in a single session. While this gives fixed drones many useful applications, it has to be noted that simply controlling one in an open area can be a real thrill.

This video demonstrates what the Blade Helis Theory Type W is capable of.

Drones with fixed wings generally have better battery life than multirotors. In fact, it is not uncommon for them to have a battery life exceeding 45 minutes. This means that pilots can reliably take longer flights without the hassle of bringing extra batteries.

These UAVs can be exciting to use, and they have a wide range of professional uses as well. Due to their high speed, they can cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time. They are excellent at mapping and land surveying, Fixed wings tend to require a lot of space to operate safely, so recreational pilots should be careful with where they navigate. Open areas with plenty of airspace are ideal for these vehicles.

Cons:

On the flip side, there are some concerns that first-time buyers should keep in mind before investing in a fixed wing drone. They demand a great deal of space; trying to pilot one in a small area (or, worse, near a crowd of people) can be a disaster waiting to happen. Large take-off and landing areas are a necessity as well. As long as owners are conscientious, they can prevent these issues.

Another concern for fixed wing drones is maintenance. While multirotors have the advantage of keeping airborne even if a motor fails, fixed wings do not have that luxury. Failing to notice a problem before taking to the air can have serious consequences. Crashing while traveling high speeds is obviously bad for the lifespan of your drone.

Regardless of your choice, there is no question that piloting is a blast. Keeping the advantages and disadvantages of either type in mind should help future pilots make an informed decision. From soaring through the skies at blistering speeds to performing aerial acrobatics, there is a drone for any need.

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