By definition, helicopter is an aircraft that has a single-wing rotary motor, hence the term "monocopter." Some variations have one of more horizontal rotors that use rotating blades to fly and allow it to lift and hover. Initially, it was used for military, search and rescue operations, transporting supplies, and conducting aerial patrol.
But do you know it also has its miniature version similar to a drone? Yes, the quadcopter you're using to take aerial shots also comes in smaller form called RC (remote-controlled) helicopter drone.
What exactly differentiates this from regular drones? What are the best RC helicopter drones in the market this 2021? I have all the answers here!
Drone helicopters are basically miniature helicopters, but without the capacity to load people. Instead of passengers, an RC helicopter drone has a camera attached to it, which allows it to capture photos and videos like a conventional drone.
Both drones and RC helicopter drones are used in the industries of real estate, tourism, journalism, wildlife protection, security, sports, agriculture, or simply for hobbyists.
So if both these device are used for the same purposes, then what exactly differentiates them? Let's go deeper into the discussion below!
As the name suggests, an RC helicopter drone is a smaller version of the conventional helicopter usually used for military and rescue operations. There are various ways to clearly tell the difference between an RC helicopter and a quadcopter.
RC helicopters are distinguished by its nose and tail, just like a real helicopter; whereas quadcopters have a center with four wings. It's easier to maneuver a quadcopter because they are multi-directional, meaning you can command them to any direction because the it doesn't have a concept of nose or tail such as in the RC helicopter.
RC helicopters only have one or two rotors with blades, with one of which always smaller than the other one; whereas in drones have four rotors, hence the term quadcopter.
Initially, RC helicopters were only meant for hobbyists. Through wireless technology, its operators started flying it for enjoyment. But as technological advancements came, professional flyers started mounting cameras on it for property and livestock surveillance. Improvements also came with additional battery chargers and extra blades and rotors. Like drones, there are also toy counterparts of RC helicopters for kids to enjoy.
Drones, on the other hand, are mainly for competitions, professional use, and hobbies. However as utility upgrades become more frequent, RC helicopters are no longer limited to being a hobbyist's device but something that is considered as an alternative option for drones. Although drones were more widely used today, manufacturers of RC helicopters are now devising more ways how its cameras can go at par with those of drones.
Both can be controlled through apps on mobile device and tablets.
The argument on which is better between the two could be analyzed through a study made by Lithuania-based firm, Laserpas. In this research, they compared the capabilities of a drone and an RC helicopter to patrol over 700 km of medium voltage electricity lines. The project is divided into two virtually equal blocks with similar geographic designs.
The results revealed that the drone had unexpected and frequent breakdowns, as opposed to the helicopter that finished the project faster, cheaper, and better. The drone on the other hand had better flight accuracy and attention to detail.
Here are other aspects we're keeping our eyes on:
Prone to Crashes:
- Drones have collision avoidance technologies to prevent them from crashing into another object. However, this does not make them safe from unmapped transmission wires that come across the path unlike in RC helicopters where accidents are not as frequent.
- Since majority of manufacturer warranties only cover the price of the drone rather than the gear that it carries, the price of the technology ruined or affected by the accident might be higher than the full price of the drone. Unlike in RC helicopters that less prone to accidents, the financial consequences are lesser.
- Since helicopters have a traditionally uniform function and purpose across all nations, it is easier to adapt to the aerial regulations whether for local or international usage. On the contrary, not all countries have a clear set of guidelines for drones. Although some countries have clearly underlined their do's and don'ts, some simply do not have a solid set of rules.
- When it comes to loading in packages and items, both can accommodate up to a certain amount of weight. The only advantage lies on helicopters which can take slightly heavier items as compared to drones. However, this does not fully limit a drone's capability as there are recent modifications to make them lighter and more capable of carrying heavier loads.
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Technically speaking, no. Drones, also known as quadcopters, are called as such because they have four rotors that support its system, unlike in RC helicopters that only have one to two rotors.
However, you may call it RC helicopter drone because it almost similar functions as a drone, except the fact that RC helicopters are easily distinguished by their nose and tail while drones have four sides. But to simply call it a drone is not only technically but also systematically wrong.
Both drones and RC helicopters are battery-powered and can be maneuvered by, as the term RC suggests, remote controls. But there's more to that if we're going to consider the ease of controlling it.
Let's take a look at these factors:
Ease of flying:
- It is easier to fly to a drone simply because it has four rotors. The software used to control it also helps add to the ease. RC helicopter drone, on the other hand, takes more challenge because it only has one to two rotors, doesn't have a software yet and has a different controller. But with time and practice, you'd easily get accustomed to it too.
- RC drone helicopters are generally meant for flying, racing, and competing. While some people have used it for couriers, it isn't a well-known device for that matter yet.
Drones meanwhile are primarily used for filming purposes and for delivering products.
- Flying an RC helicopter drone requires the person to maintain visual line of sight on it because it doesn't have a GPS software in it yet. This is the complete opposite with drones because they have built-in GPS software that allows it to fly by itself and land in your selected location by just a single command.
Drones have a slight advantage in this aspect because of their features like object collision avoidance and GPS system. However, it is highly prone to crashes due to the disturbance caused by unmapped transmission wires so just be careful to tread near these areas. It's still better to do some prior research before flying in an area, especially if it is unfamiliar territory.
Now that you've learned about the primary difference between drones and RC helicopter drones, it's time to rate the best from the rest.
Just to give a sneak peak, my number one RC helicopter drone for this year is the S977 Metal Gyro. Its dual rotor blades and gyroscope system is everything I need for.
But aside from that, what other models made it to this list? We'll find out all about that here!
1. Syma S107
- This $20-model's prime selling point is its gyroscopic technology, which allows it to hover steadily and take deep-angled turns. It is perfect for both indoor and outdoor use, can last up to 6-8 minutes of flight time, and has a 10-meter flight range.
Pros: Despite its cheap price, it boasts of a 3-channel transmitter and a durable yet lightweight frame. And if by any chance this accidentally crashes, its LED lights, rotors, and 32-level speed controller will automatically turn off.
Cons: When it comes to the speed department, it's not as fast as the other newer models. It also makes uncomfortable noises.
2. S977 Metal Gyro
- With price ranging from $40 to $70, this sleek copter drone boasts of six channels, gyroscope stability, lithium ion battery, and a steel material. It also comes with dual rotor blades and a spare one.
Pros: It could fly longer than most models with a flight time of 7-10 minutes. Its steel composition protects it from minor scratches without leaving any marks.
Cons: It is more suited for indoor rather than outdoor flights. Finding spare parts can also be a challenge. Just an advice, take good care of it and do not abuse its sturdiness.
3. Blade 130X BNF
- Attractively priced just under $40, this outdoor model-type of copter features a multi-channel control, rechargeable lithium ion battery, and color designs according to your preference from blue and yellow to red and black.
Pros: Its main advantage over the two models mentioned above is that it's mainly built for the outdoors—it can smoothly fly while withstanding winds and unexpected collisions on foreign objects, leaving none to minimal scratches on its surface. I highly recommend this to entry-level users practicing to operate drone copters.
Cons: It doesn't have lights to guide you during nighttime flying. There is also no camera for video. If you want to use the camera for photos, you still have to buy a separate micro SD card.
In the previous discussion we talked about the best drone helicopters with respect to durability and other standout features. For this part, we're going to focus specifically on the cameras.
Most users would easily lean into buying a drone for this purpose, but RC helicopter drones are now becoming a viable option for high-resolution cameras that provide sharp footage. The only thing you really need to bear in mind is—not all cameras match the sizes of drone copters.
Here's a list of the must-have models that I highly recommend:
- Banking on a 640x480-pixel resolution, this model is sure to guarantee you good quality of photos and videos. Priced at $48, its camera can store footage in a 2GB memory card which can store up to an hour's worth of recordings.
Pros: Made of lightweight yet durable material, allowing it to protect itself from rough surfaces and objects. Perfectly compatible with both Apple and Android device.
Cons: Charging time takes up to 45 minutes but its flight time only lasts between 6 to 7 minutes. Its dimensions are also considerably smaller than usual at 10.3 x 5.2 x 2.4 in large and with a weight of 11.4 ounces.
2. UDI U13A Metal RC Helicopter
- Being one of the most expensive copter drones in the market today at $72, UDI can back it up with optimum quality. First off, its digital 2.4GHz transmitter and receiver allows it to grasp strong connectivity for the copter. Having a 500-ft range also gives it an advantage in moving towards six directions—something that not all copter drones could do. Its battery operates on a 580-mAh capacity.
Pros: Its durability is mainly because of the metal composition in its mainframe, making it even more resistant to scratches obtained from rough surfaces.
Cons: Having the dimensions of 7.5 x 7.5 x 7.5 in for length and 2.2 lbs for weight, this model is quite heavier compared to most copter drones. But for me, I wouldn't discount this feature because this is exactly what makes it durable. And if you're concerned about the weight affecting its speed and performance, it won't.
3. Odyssey Flying Nighthawk Helicopter
- One of the most expensive models today at $120, this copter surely delivers with quality performance—built-in gyroscope, 3-channel operation, LED lights, 3 motors, and a video-recording camera that's convenient to use. It is 12-inch long and looks sleek with a black and blue design.
Pros: Can be used for both indoor and outdoor setup, can record footage at any vantage point, and has a large storage of 1GB SD card.
Cons: You need to be careful in landing this whether in indoor or outdoor use because the plastic landing struts may not support it firmly in case of abrupt landings. You also need to charge the 6 AA batteries more frequently.
Since RC helicopter drones have a different design, controller, and mechanical system than drones, there are certain aspects that drone users might be unfamiliar of.
Here are some of the factors you should take note:
If you're now hooked into buying an RC helicopter drone, the primary factors you should first consider are the
As previously mentioned, it's quite a challenge to find camera models that fit right in with the RC helicopters today. And since these parts are mostly electronically-operated, they are easily prone to damage and breakdowns especially when hit by an object.
For those who are specifically looking for cool designs, the newer models now come in different sizes and colors with prices ranging from budget-friendly to high-cost professional ones. But some of the best models often look like actual life-size helicopters. Some of these even come with additional tail lights and maneuver like the helicopters we usually see.
On an average, they last from 6-7 minutes for cheaper models and 10-15 minutes for more expensive ones. There is a wide selection for rechargeable lithium ion batteries so it's a plus, however I must say manufacturers would have to develop this aspect more because some drones could even last up to 25-30 minutes.
Since RC helicopter drones first started as a hobbyist's device, it is particularly meant for recreational purposes and we also see this in models for kids. Compared to drones, copter drones are easier to maneuver from the perspective of a child since they don't have much technicalities and complexities in operating it.
Let's take a look at some of the safe and beginner-friendly models for kids.
1. JJRC Mini Drone
- This $27-kids drone is easy to fly with its one-key start landing. With just one press of a button, it can ascend easily and hover steadily at a fixed altitude, thanks to its auto-hovering function. It also has a headless mode that let's the kid enjoy flying without having to worry about direction orientations. Users could also swiftly shift from low to high speed according to their level of proficiency. The sturdy outer cover also helps diminish inevitable scratches from bumping into foreign objects.
2. Cheerwing U12S Mini RC Helicopter
- Slightly more expensive at $45, this toy boasts of a built-in WiFi camera that lets you see the real-time feed of the photos and videos through your phone. It also has an auto-hovering function to lock its position at a chosen height.
What sets this apart from cheaper copter drones is its 2.4 Ghz remote control system that enables a multi-player control option, perfect for bonding with the kid's friends. With 2 speed modes, the user can also practice from low to high speed modes. The durable metal frame and flexible blades protect it from crashes.
3. S107H-E Aircraft
- One of the more expensive lineup of kids drone we have is this $59 drone that convincingly looks like a pro helicopter drone. Same with the others, it also has an altitude hold function and a one-key take off button.
What makes this stand out is its frequencies that allows it to fly up to 2 helicopters at once! Its built-in gyroscope lets is move up, down, left, right, forward, and backward smoothly.
It is also equipped with 12 certificates such as FCC and CE, making it compatible with US flying standards. The 0.97-pound alloy material also makes it sturdier and more resistant from other cheaper models.
A helicopter's nose and tail are the eye-catching features that make it distinctively unique from drones. But aside from these, what are the important features every RC copter drone user has to learn?
Plus, it also pays to have a quick brush-up on the general knowledge in flying these bad boys. Let's discuss all of those in this section.
- As mentioned extensively in this article, the main difference between a helicopter and a quadcopter (drone) is that the former has one to two rotors while the latter has four, thus the term, quad.
- A helicopter's blades are usually slightly bigger than a drone's. But with today's design advancements, the size of the blades between the two has become almost similar. When it comes to which one has better blades, there's not really a competition in here because both deliver the same capability.
- Initially, copter drones looked like they were all the same, having almost a monochromatic and sometimes bland color like gunmetal gray or black.
But with the advent of aesthetically-inclined models, some manufacturers have started producing colorful designs as well.
Previously, drone helicopter users didn't have to register to obtain certifications for flying. But since the usage for GPS-enabled and automated drones skyrocketed in the past decade, authorities have also started to impose regulations on copter drones.
Similar to basic drone laws, users of copter drones also have to register their devices under the Federal Aviation Administration if the model weighs more than 250g. There is also a height limitation at which you may not fly the helicopter drone higher than 400ft.
But due to the still lack of universal consensus about flight regulations and the continuous changing of laws in different countries, the operator is still highly encouraged to brush up on his knowledge every now and then, specifically on weight limitations and no-fly zones.
If you're still thinking about whether or not buying helicopter drones would do you good, this is the part where you can fairly evaluate its price competitiveness.
A quick know-how guide on how to operate would also let you give an insight if operating copter drones is just the same as in drones.
Buckle up, this last chapter has the information you need!
Frankly speaking, flying a helicopter drone is just as similar as for drones. You have a remote control, batteries, gyrocopters, and a set of LED lights to guide you through the way. Some newer models have a GPS-enabled system, headless modes, a one-key starting button, and a real-time feed of footage on mobile devices.
The only striking features most drones have today that are not yet present in helicopter drones are the follow-me mode and obstacle collision avoidance system. Add to that, some models still do not have built-in cameras. But give it some time, for sure manufacturers are now addressing these issues since more people are considering copter drones as alternative options for UAVs.
The recent models today have built-in sensors that alerts the operator when they're flying too close to obstacles and crowded areas. But this is nowhere similar to an obstacle collision avoidance in drones. Still, the best thing to do is to consistently maintain a visual line of sight on your copter drone.
Here are the different price ranges of copter drones according to their purpose and advantages:
$40 - Majority of models under this range are aimed specifically for beginners due to the ease of controlling them. Some come in glow in the dark models while some are powered by LED lights that help guide the units through the dark.
$200 - Some of the units under this tier have wireless capabilities and can connect with mobile devices
$500-1,500 - This is where drones start to have multi-functional purposes, combining all the features that cheaper drones have and adding more high-tech aspects like carbon composite blades, telemetry feedback, and self-leveling modes. These models can survive crashes with little to no damage. Majority of these are used for business purposes.
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