There are many types of drones out there. The current idea is to put four or more propellers on a craft and soar it into the air. While these aircraft fuselage designs are not made to help with flight, the propellers do all the work, there are machines that have a more traditional airplane design, with wings – we call them fixed-wing drones.
A quick trip to the local hobby shop and you’ll find many model airplanes, you might call them RC airplanes. That’s kind of it, folks, the way we define a ‘drone’ today, your old model airplane, designed with fixed wings, is a drone. Of course, what we want to look at today is not the traditional model airplanes, we’re more interested in VTOL aircraft.
VTOL: Vertical Take Off and Landing.
Best Best fixed-wing drones
- Yuneec Firebird FPV
- Autel Robotics Kestrel
- Parrot Disco
- Parrot Swing
- Wingtra WingtraOne
- RC airplanes
The design of a Fixed Wing craft
As explained, we consider a fixed wing drone to be a machine that has working wings, like an airplane, but also has propellers that can vertically launch, land and hover the machine. We’ll bend these rules a little bit for our list below, but at least you know what to expect.The importance of drones like this is more than you’d expect. Specifically, fixed wing craft typically have higher travel speeds and much greater battery life. Also, they can be heavier, depending on the build.
The basic science is easy, as a fixed wing craft moves through the air, the wings carry the weight of the craft, the propellers simply propel the airplane forward. This requires far less power to do than to outright suspend the craft in the air by propeller power alone.
With enough power to vertically launch the drone, that same motor can drag the craft through the air at much higher speeds than a quadcopter design.
The down side, there is a minimum travel speed for a fixed wing craft. I mean, you can hover by propeller or soar using the wings, but if the wings are employed, they have a minimum and maximum stall speed.
If you need to cover some ground, fixed wing craft are the way to go. If you need to stick out a great photograph, the battery life and slower speeds of a multi-rotor drone are worth the compromise for stability.
Drone legal and safety
If you are flying for pay, or any other form of compensation, you must operate under a different set of rules and possess a commercial drone license. We call it the Part 107, it’s not too hard to get, but it will take some time to learn all the rules. We want to help you learn the rules and get your commercial license, check out our drone pilot training material.
Yuneec Firebird FPV
Announced at CES 2018, this new fixed-wing craft is still a short while before it lands on store shelves. While we wait, we can be excited for this fairly large machine that collapses down nice and small for transport. Long flight times, high speeds and RTH functionality make this a fun and safe option for your flying pleasure. Stay tuned for more as the Firebird FPV nears its retail launch.
Autel robotics Kestrel
This may not be the backyard flyer you were thinking of, but Autel Robotics has had us pretty excited over their commercial class VTOL drones for a while now. They were working on a more consumer friendly machine, called the DragonFish, but the Kestrel is their airplane with articulating propellers that is on the market.
Designed for getting a view of a large area of land, and scooting over it quickly, Kestrel is not something we can just buy at Amazon. Sorry.
October 2016Release Date
The term "drone" encompasses a number of machines. Some drones are ground based robots, most are quadcopters, but some are a more traditional fixed-wing design. The Parrot Disco is a fixed-wing craft, which you might consider to be a RC airplane. This style of drone takes a bit more practice to get the hang of, mainly because the craft does not hover, it must be in constant motion to avoid stalling, and at a top speed of 50mph, it can get away from you fairly quick.
The Parrot Disco is officially discontinued, but do not fret, there are many fixed-wing draft out there for you to enjoy.
The Parrot Disco often sold for around $500, but is now more than that, and often sold used.
Another drone you will not be purchasing from Amazon, the Airbus Vahana is a line of passenger drones. One and two-seater craft may be headed to a helipad near you in a few years. Breaking our own rules again, this is a VTOL craft, but it is only in the testing stages so far. Public demos and rides are a long way out – we’re trusting Airbus to not let us down by putting their drone on this list, and then not producing the goods.
The easiest to get your hands on entry to our fixed wing list is the Parrot Swing. This is a toy class drone that offers a pretty manageable VTOL experience. Swing offers more of a fun and acrobatic experience than the stable flight experience you might have expected, and gets up to 19 mph.
Check out the Parrot Swing for $38 today.
The WingtraOne, from Wingtra, is a versatile VTOL craft, taking off and landing on its tail, but flying in a fixed-wing configuration. Most of the other craft on this list are consumer friendly craft, while a consumer might love to play with the WingtraOne, its purpose, and price tag, better suit it to commercial customers. Optional payloads include up to 42MP full-frame cameras, inspection grade RGB camera rigs and PPK GNSS receivers for 1cm accuracy on mapping jobs up to 31 miles of flight range, or about 400 hectares of ground mapping in an hour of flight.
Wingtra WingtraOne runs from around $20,000 and up, and is a custom order drone, contact them here.
(That’s ^ a real airplane, but you can get a toy version of it.) We do not cover these sorts of craft on our site, but I can’t complete an article like this without saying again, RC airplane are the original fixed wing drones. The addition of live video streaming, or even just a camera itself, is a decent way to differentiate between an RC plane and a ‘drone’ as we call them today, but they’re all unmanned aerial vehicles.
We know a team that does cover these machines, head on over to Flite Test to see all about RC airplanes.
There are a great many VTOL style drones in development these days. Most of them are military or other non-consumer focused machines. Fixed wing flight is undoubtedly the more efficient, unless I misunderstand the last hundred years of airplanes vs helicopters. However, helicopters are invaluable in ways that aircraft cannot compete.
What it boils down to, if you asked “can’t it be both?” when learning the differences between a multi-rotor drone and an airplane, a modern fixed wing drone might be the machine for you.
Looking for a multi-rotor-style drone instead?