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Ultimate guide on fixed wing UAVs
Compared to typical quadcopters, fixed-wing drones have completely different properties and that also means they are used for different things more successfully.
In this article we’ll take a look at everything related to fixed wing UAVs, what are the best fixed wing drones for sale, and what their main uses are.
In a nutshell, fixed wing drones are airplanes that are remotely controlled.
There are a few different types that we’ll talk about soon, but the ones we’ll focus on most in this article are consumer-level or professional ones, excluding the military stuff.
While there are many types of drones out there, the quadcopter is the most popular format in the industry because it provides a good level of stability and can be used successfully in videography and photography.
Fixed wing drones on the other hand have different specs and therefore uses.
A fixed wing drone can usually cover large distances by gliding or with the help of fixed wings (duh) making the process of flying much more energy-efficient and increasing battery life.
While racing drones can reach much higher speeds, it comes at the expense of battery life, and this means quadcopters aren’t made for long-range missions even if the signal would permit it.
Here are the advantages and disadvantages of fixed wing drones compared to a quadcopter
In this section we're taking a look at how fixed wing drones are used, in what industries and why you might actually need one.
Environmental surveys are notoriously difficult to do because of potential obstructions like trees, foliage, etc. One way to better scan fields like this is by using a LiDAR scanner which uses lasers to measure distances and height.
Such a system can still be quite heavy and fixed wing drones are the best suited to carry such a scanning system for longer periods of time and scan the largest areas possible.
Again, since pipelines can span for many miles, inspecting them in the most efficient way possible and mapping them out can best be done with a fixed wing drone. Again, the need for a heavier rig like gas monitoring sensors and mapping cameras means a fixed wing drone would be the perfect choice.
While the expensive professional surveying use of these drones seems to be the most beneficial, the RC community has been flying FPV planes for a while now and aren’t planning to stop. By using FPV goggles, a live image, without any lag, can be transmitted over long ranges.
Newer models have seen the addition of Vertical Take Off (VTOL) even in cheaper builds. These can come either in a fixed wing drone kit or already made for you so you can start flying right away.
The best setup for a fixed wing Vtol aircraf usually uses 3 motors and are called tricopters.
The use of drones for advanced agricultural scanning and mapping usually happens on a larger scale, since small farmers don’t usually have the budget.
This means entire hectares need to be scanned, mapped as fast as possible and with good precision. The ability to fly above a considerably larger part of land in one setting means the Fixed wing drones are the best choice for operations like these.
There are a lot of variations of fixed wing drones, and they differ from the shape of their wings to their ability to take off vertically and especially their main use.
There are also a lot of shapes fixed wing drones can come in, some of which you can find in the infographic below.
Vertical Takeoff, also known as VTOL is a feature some fixed wing drones have to take off vertically from the ground just like a quadcopter.
People also call these fixed wing hybrid drones, since they combine the best of both worlds, planes, and quadcopters.
You’ll notice that most of the drones I recommend will be VTOL for the simple reason they are much more versatile and don’t require a landing and takeoff runway.
Vertical take off is usually achieved by having 2 or more propellers that work as a bi-copter and take the aircraft up to a certain height, and then switch it to horizontal and enter plane flight mode.
This turns it into a fixed wing that can hover and that makes landing and taking off much easier.
In this section we'll look over what to look for in a fixed wing drone before you buy one as well as details on my top choices and why I made them.
Depending on what you actually plan to do with the drone, range has to not be the limiting factor. It’s especially important for Fixed wing aircraft since it’s specifically designed to fly for longer periods of time and cover large areas.
Range can be between a couple hundred meters to tens of kilometers.
While fixed wings already come with a better flight time compared to regular drones, you should still check the specs for it.
Especially in commercial flights or humanitarian aid, battery life is of utmost importance, surveying a large area takes time.
While different types of cameras are the typical payload for quadcopters, when it comes to fixed wing, things can vary quite a lot. Cameras are still prevalent, however many things like beacons, spraying devices, carrying compartments and so on make it important for a fixed wing drone to be able to support a larger payload.
The Dragonfish is the newest Professional long range fixed wing drone from Autel, one of the main competitors of DJI.
Made for use in surveying, reconnaissance and mapping (even military use), it’s no toy to play with, and priced accordingly.
This vertical take off fixed wing comes with AI high speed tracking and other useful flight modes like point of interest, advanced mission planning and even adaptive tracking.
In the adaptive tracking mode, it can maintain a fixed height from the ground at all times, so it doesn’t crash and the potential followed targets don’t notice.
What’s the most impressive about this fixed wing drone is the camera itself, the standard one coming with a 20x zoom, which is stunning and comes with a ton of potential uses.
Some of these uses can be police work, conservation and tracking of wildlife, mapping, surveying and pretty much anything that requires a silent eye in the sky.
The multiple use is helped by the modular interchangeable payload system, which can pretty much change the camera to one of these options:
Autel list the potential uses for this drone as being:
The parrot Disco is one of the best FPV fixed wing drones you can buy, especially for beginners. Parrot is a US-based company that focused on a variety of more serious and toy quadcopters as well as a few models of fixed wing aircraft, so they have the experience for making good stuff.
While in no way cheap, the disco comes with the whole shebang, an RTF(Ready to fly) fixed-wing drone that comes with a camera, the motors, an awesome controller and FPV goggles included.
The Parrot Disco also comes with automatic take off and landing, assisted piloting controls and return to home functionality. All these things make it much safer to fly than a typical FPV airplane and will prevent crashes in the long run.
Because this is a GPS fixed wing drone you have more than auto return to home, as it also comes with the benefit of knowing at all times where the drone is on the map.
Putting it in the air is a matter of throwing it with your hand and it will start flying by itself, stabilized by a gyroscope inside the craft.
While I also included a human-carrying drone in my list with the best heavy lifting drones, this time it differs a lot in terms of design. The Airbus Vahana is a VTOL fixed wing flying car that can also work as a drone, yet has all the advantages of a typical plane.
They call it a tandem tilt wing configuration, and it’s made so that the wings of the car-plane can rotate to position the motors at different angles, depending on the direction the drone needs to fly towards.
They also made some flight tests and posted them on youtube and it seems quite successful.
Since while in flight the 4 wings are positioned like a typical plane, it saves more battery by gliding through the air, however the 20 minute battery life still seems quite short for a flying car, for now.
It’s range is somewhere at about 50 km with that battery life and it’s entirely electric.
As soon as we get more efficient batteries, like Solid State Batteries, the world of flying electric cars might actually be usable.
If you’re looking for a toy level fixed wing RC plane, then the Parrot Swing is perfect for having heaps of fun.
It’s very cheap and comes with a controller and an app to control it. It doesn’t come with an FPV camera, so you’ll have to pilot it with your line of sight. However one really cool thing about it is its vertical take off capabilities, since it also has a quadcopter-like flight landing and launching.
This thing can reach speeds of up to 19mph in plane mode and comes with a dual flight mode (quad/plane).
The WingtraOne is a professional industrial level drone with a camera on its belly that’s made with a focus on mapping uses. They claim it’s one of the most efficient drones on the market in terms of mapping surface and precision, can withstand powerful wind and comes with a multitude of modular cameras to use.
The drone comes with the software, tablet and pretty much everything you need for all sorts of mapping.
Surveying is also a job this fixed wing drone can do, while being supported by precise GPS to return back to home and use waypoints to automatically do the jobs.
Agriculture mapping and surveying is also a forte for the Wingtra, being able to do projects as small as 10 acres or as large as 1000 acres easily.
The AR Wing Pro is a cool looking fixed wing drone kit that’s easy to assemble at home and comes at a super low price considering the things you can do with it.
It’s made from high quality EPP material, which is light weight as well as durable and it comes at a 1m wingspan.
You can get it both in a kit version where you can add your own transmitter and camera to it as well as a PNP (Plug N play) version.
It comes with a dedicated nose camera bay, and you can buy all the parts from banggood.
The nose camera slot is compatible with all HD Action cameras, from GOpro, Runcam, DJI, etc..
It also comes with a large batterybay and multiple tunnels inside all equipment bays for easy wire management.
Overall, this is a very cheap fixed wing drone kit to work on and one of the most relevant out there for hobbyists.
While the Atom RC fixed wing comes in a kit version, it can also be bought in the Plug and Play and FPV version, which comes with an included FPV camera mounted and pretty much everything set up already.
It’s one of the coolest looking planes on this list and it comes with a single motor mounted in the back.
The design is extremely aerodynamic and it comes with a great grip for when throwing it. Unfortunately it isn’t VTOL but thanks to the easy throwing capability it’s not that big of an issue.
The main feature of this airplane is it’s insane speed (being able to fly even at close to 200km/h according to the manufacturers)
With a maximum flight time of 90 minutes it can cover up to 500 hectares in a short time.
It can reconstruct 3d vertical environments with the photogrammetry camera and the senseFly camera for geo-accurate thermal maps.
While we already saw 2 other hobby fixed wing airpane kits on this list, I simply had to put this on the list as it’s such a fun to fly and great looking plane.
THe P51 Mustang is a scaled down version of a real world war 2 airplane and while being a toy it has all the great stunt capability and flight potential of any other.
It can fly for about 15 minutes and it can fly as far as 100m, which is not much, but usually enough for a toy level airplane.
Let's take a look at some of the additional questions that people ask a lot about fixed wing drones as well as some companies that manufacture them.
While DJI has recently revolutionized the FPV racing drone industry in a few ways, including the release of the DJI FPV drone they still haven’t released a proper long range FPV Fixed wing plane.
However, considering their implication in mapping and agricultural drone technology, I’m sure one is to come soon enough.
While we mentioned that DJI might be on the verge of creating such a fixed wing plane, there are other renowned companies that make these successful.
Some of these we have already included in the list:
Autel - With their Dragonfish model for professional commercial flight, they are unparalleled for what they do. Probably the biggest competitor to dji, alongside Parrot, they have also made long range quadcopters and foldable camera drones.
Parrot - While this company is probably the biggest in the US, their fixed wing drones have so far only been hobby-grade with FPV cameras and nothing yet to be used on an industrial level or for mapping.
Hubsan - Just like Parrot, the company Hubsan has started with toy drones and got their popularity in that field. They have created the H301s Spy Hawk in the past as a pretty capable FPV RC plane, but for some reason discontinued it.
Wingtra - With their VTOL mapping oriented aircraft they got quite a lot of popularity lately, and for a good reason, their products and services are pretty amazing.
Fixed wing drones are both old and new technology as more advanced models come on the market. Just as with regular quadcopters, there is a large variety you can choose from, but since the landing and taking off portion of the flight is more sensitive, beginners tend to avoid them. So their popularity stems from their prevalent use in industries like agriculture and inspection.
If you want to fly your own fixed wing drone, all you have to do is invest a medical amount on an RC fixed wing plane you can find on Amazon or banggood and you’re good to go.
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