It can be tricky to choose between a tricopter and a quadcopter and you don’t want to start a build and change your mind in the meantime.
In this article, we’ll cover the pros and cons of tricopters vs quadcopters, how tricopters work and if you should build or buy one already made.
We’ll also dive into what are the best tricopter kits, see how you can build one yourself, and even go into detail about some of the more industrial RTF(ready to fly) tricopters out there and what they have to offer.
A tricopter is a remote controlled aircraft that uses only 3 propellers for liftoff. It uses special back-to-yaw servos on the end of the tail to stabilize it and make it able to yaw (rotate) left or right.
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Tricopters were more popular back in the day, when finding parts was harder, and having fewer of them was useful. Nowadays people choose to build tricopters because they feel different in flight and can feel more agile at times for racing drones especially.
Yes, tricopters are stable because of a few tail mechanisms that can be used to adjust the rotation and yaw of the aircraft. The stability in air is also tightly maintained by a flight controller, which just like in a quadcopter, maintains an equilibrium between all the motors at all times so the tricopter can fly stable ( thanks to the gyroscope on board).
The most obvious difference between the two drones is the number of rotors. The abbreviation “Tri” stands for three, hence the number of rotors on a tricopter. This same concept applies to the quadcopter, whose abbreviation “quad” means four.
Most drones out there tend to be quadcopters, because they are overall easier to handle and build and provide better stability.
However, tricopters are lighter because the frames have less material and there’s fewer motors, propellers and even parts like ESCs.
Even so, they require slightly bigger motors for lifting the same amount of weight, so the reduction in size is not that significant overall.
One advantage you can get when building a tricopter is the size of the propellers.
Because the distance between the motors is usually bigger than in quadcopters, you can play with bigger size props and therefore have more control over efficiency.
But why are tricopters harder to build and fly?
The tricopter requires a more complex yaw mechanism, just like a helicopter that uses servos on its tail. You can also usually find a moving tail motor that tilts to help the tricopter rotate (yaw).
This however does come with the advantage that a tricopter usually can yaw (rotate) faster than a quadcopter and therefore the style of flight can be more entertaining and suitable for fast and acrobatic turns.
Tricopters are generally harder to find on the shelves or stores. In most cases, you might have to track down the drones from manufacturer websites instead.
Here are the pros and cons of a tricopter versus a quadcopter:
Tricopters kits and frames are pretty hard to find, because there’s simply less demand for them.
However, I researched a few of the main parts, and even a build tutorial so you can get started on your project quickly.
Here’s a video made by AndyRC while he creates a small tricopter frame:
You can use this frame currently found on banggood :
5 inch Tricopter Carbon Fiber Frame
It’s made of carbon fiber and has a small wheelbase, so it’s perfect for smaller builds (5 inch build).
There’s also a larger option, also made from carbon, that can turn into a great long range tricopter (8 inch).
Because most FPV drones these days are quadcopters, you’ll need to use a flight controller made for a quadcopter originally and change the mapping settings.
This can be quite a challenge, but it feels amazing if you finally succeed.
Here are a few flight controllers that work on a tricopter:
To change the settings and properly tune them you need to check the mapping information from this page
In this section we’ll take a look at some of the best tricopter out there that you don’t even need to buy yourself.
They range from beginner tricopters to industrial level ones, all great solutions if you want a ready built solution.
Jupiter is a tricopter developed by Flightwave, a company based in Santa Monica. When describing this drone, the words tough, endurance and strong will frequently appear. The tricopter drone runs on patented tilt pod technology that delivers a smooth level flying experience with controls as opposed to other alternatives in the market. Jupiter is built on the same core engineering that delivered the Edge-130 UAS, now with a wingless version ideal for tight indoor spaces.
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Jupiter drone overcomes some of the challenges faced by traditional quadcopters when rotating their frame to move to a new position. Upward, forward, left, right, or back tilt requires more power to execute if the drone is to remain at the same altitude. Jupiter checks this problem by deploying FlightWave’s autopilot, thrust-vector control, and power management system.
Jupiter was engineered to deliver on two key areas: lift greater weights, and air endurance. Jupiter mainly targets drone pilots looking to lift more weight and fly longer durations.
Pros of Jupiter Tricopter
Each battery pack carries over a kilowatt-hour’s worth of energy providing ample power in heavy lifting and endurance.
Power optimization and management
Heavy lifting demands large fans that offer maximum lift at a minimal power drain.
Relies on patented tilt pods that can accommodate small adjustments to the propellers’ position speed.
Affordable solution for companies looking for a workhouse UAS.
Jupiter tricopter offers heavy lift, easy-to-deploy, and stability for industrial users. The app caters to businesses in security, mining, warehouse work, public safety, surveillance, and several other applications. Jupiter is reliant on FlightWave’s open-source payload integration.
Flightwave has launched the Edge-130 Tricopter UAS that packs greater mission endurance. Edge-130 Tri-Copter solves energy consumption issues experienced by quadcopters by leveraging tilt-pods, custom autopilot technologies, and thrust vector controls. Quadcopters are affected by the dipping issue which helps them stabilize in the air. Flightwave’s new tricopter hopes to rectify this problem.
I also wrote a separate article about fixed wing and VTOL drones that also contains some interesting tricopters.
The tricopter is stronger, faster, and flies for longer durations. In addition, the Edge-130 Tri-Copter can carry a limited amount of payload in hard-to-reach areas.
Ability to control flying aircraft without relying on its control surfaces such as the wings, ailerons, or tail fins. Consider the military Boeing’s V-22 Osprey but at a much smaller scale. FlightWave also uses proprietary autopilot software to chart the best course during take-off, steering, navigation, mission execution, and return flight.
Flightwave uses its own designed batteries for the Edge-130 Tri-Copter. The batteries are purposefully built for serious commercial work with the drone managing its power consumption through a custom-engineered power management system.
As a commercial professional drone, the Edge-130 Tri-Copter has been used in the sectors of mining, coastal waters protection, railroad security, anti-poaching, and much more.
During its design, the Edge-130 Tri-Copter Was built to meet the US Coast Guard’s strict requirements.
The tricopter drone kit costs $1000 and comprises extra batteries, an entire kit, custom touchscreen controllers, and an aircraft. The payloads are industry-specific and fall under extras.
Coastal areas where it presents an advantage over quadcopters during strong winds.
Security missions where recon missions are run ahead of transports. For instance, the helicopter-like quality can hover it around corners, under bridges, or atop rooftops.
FrSky Rover 3 Tricopter is ideal for drone pilots in any skill level. Beginners love it for its stability while seasoned professionals can also find it challenging. It might look like your everyday traditional tricopter, but it has game-changing distinctions. For instance, its motors can tilt and it has landing gear. The tricopter is of a ready to fly design
Different flight attitudes
Different flight modes controlled by the 6-axis gyros.
While landing the drone can taxi on the ground thanks to mounted wheels. Can also perform touch and go.
The drone’s front rotors are steered by dual servos.
Tricopter has an inner fpv camera. Presence of a 600mW video transmitter that allows clear and precise piloting.
The drone is mainly targeted for the RTF pilot thus delivering more power and speed.
Let's go over why you'd want to pick a tricopter in the first place and a few other Frequently asked Questions.
Tricopters are much cheaper than quadcopters especially if you opt for a DIY kit. If you compare the tricopter to the quadcopter it comes with one less motor, speed controller, propeller, arm, etc.
Quadcopters generally last 10 to 15 minutes while the tricopters around 21 minutes. It’s worth noting that the highest flight time ever recorded for a drone is over 3 hours.
Quadcopters are usually better for beginners because they offer easier to learn controls and a more predictable flight pattern. The large selection of quadcopters also allows you to pick a drone more in tune with your needs and budget.
Tricopters are hard to come by in the market, as not many people find their advantages appealing, but building and flying one can be a very satisfying experience. In the battle of tricopters vs quadcopters, you might find yourself just bored of quads and wanting to experience some new way of flying drones, and the most acrobatic option you can pick is definitely the tricopter.