There are some similarities between RC helicopters and drones, but whether you consider n RC helicopter a drone is a matter of semantics rather than definition. How does the RC community see these two aircraft, and do they draw a distinction?
RC helicopters are not considered drones, particularly in the RC community. Technically a drone is any unmanned remote-control aircraft, which includes fixed-wing RC aircraft and helicopters. Drones have come to represent quad-copters in the RC world, and helicopters are not classed in this group.
RC helicopters are very different to fly compared to drones, even though there are some similarities in their flight mechanics. Whether you consider an RC helicopter to be a drone or not will most likely depend on how long you have been around the RC flying community. As we compare these two RC aircraft, their definitions may become clearer.
Are RC Helicopters Classified As Drones?
Before we conclude whether an RC helicopter should be considered a drone or not, we need to look at what defines a drone.
A drone is a very broad term that essentially describes any unmanned, remote-controlled aircraft, irrespective of scale.
In the broad sense, this definition would encompass all RC aircraft, including helicopters, fixed-wing RC aircraft, and drones. However, colloquial definitions of what a drone is have led to the term having different meanings for different people.
How Do Most People Define A Drone?
The use of drones or UAVs by the military for espionage and weapon delivery has brought a military connotation to the word. These military drones are usually fixed-wing aircraft designed specifically for military use.
In some circles, when a drone is mentioned, the military application is the first aspect that comes to mind.
When quad-copters made their appearance in the hobby market, these remote-controlled aircraft also became known as drones. As their popularity grew, the public began to know these aircraft as drones, and the definition began to rival the military version for the name.
How Does The RC Community Define A Drone?
When a drone is mentioned in the RC community, the aircraft being referred to is most certainly a quad-copter.
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Even though the broad definition of a drone encompasses RC helicopters, the differences involved in flying the two aircraft exclude helicopters from this definition.
What Is The Difference Between RC Helicopters And Drones?
Quad-copter is another name for a drone in the RC community, and this name indicates one of the main differences between helicopters and quad-copters.
The physical differences between the two aircraft are not the only difference but also include the craft’s capabilities and how they are controlled.
Design Differences Between Drones And RC Helicopters
The physical and design differences are the most obvious when comparing drones and RC helicopters.
Drones, or quad-copters, typically have 4 rotors driven by 4 motors arranged at the ends of each of the 4 arms protruding from the vehicle. The drone rotors are generally smaller than the main rotor of an RC helicopter.
RC helicopters have different rotor arrangements, depending on their design, but seldom have more than 2 rotors.
Some RC helicopter designs have two rotors positioned above each other, driven by different motors. The rotors spin in opposing directions to counteract the torque created by the spinning rotors. In this design, a tail rotor is not required in the helicopter’s design.
In contrast, other RC helicopter designs have one main rotor and a smaller tail rotor that compensates for the rotational torque of the main rotor.
Capability Differences Between Drones And RC Helicopters
The flying capabilities of Drones and RC helicopters are very similar. Both aircraft can take off and land vertically, hover, fly forwards, backward, and laterally.
The main difference between drone flight and helicopter flight is the stability of the aircraft. Drones have a much smoother flight, making it easier to use these RC aircraft for other purposes, such as videography and aerial photography.
Control Differences Between Drones And RC Helicopters
From an RC operator’s point of view, drones are much easier to fly than RC helicopters. Drones come with sophisticated software to assist in aircraft flight controls.
Drones are equipped with gyros, software, and GPS systems to aid in piloting these aircraft. The assistance from the technology makes these aircraft easy to fly, even for beginner drone operators. The technology incorporated in drones allows for autonomous flight and programming flight coordinates, which the aircraft will follow.
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If the drone loses signal with the transmitter, it can automatically return to its starting point to allow for easy recovery of the aircraft.
RC helicopters are totally different to operate compared to drones. There is no sophisticated software to keep the aircraft straight and level. The operator’s skill is the only factor standing between a successful flight and a devastating crash!
RC helicopters do not have autonomous flight capability. If the RC operator is not actively controlling the helicopter, it will crash.
Due to the onboard cameras, drones can be flown beyond line of sight. This means that the quad-copter can be flown to a distance where it is no longer visible to the operator. This flying method is not possible with an RC helicopter. The operator needs to have constant visual contact to control the Rc helicopter.
Drones are easy to fly and are a good way for beginners to get into RC aircraft before progressing to flying RC helicopters or other RC aircraft.
Cost Differences Between Drones And RC Helicopters
RC helicopters are not expensive compared to drones. A good spec RC helicopter with good quality components is considerably cheaper than a cheap drone.
The cost difference between drones and RC helicopters has a lot to do with the additional technology included in the drones. Gyros, cameras, and control software all add to the increased cost of the drones.
RC helicopters typically have one or two motors to drive the rotors, whereas drones have at least double the number of motors. Additional motors increase the cost as well as the additional battery power required to drive the motors.
Drones Have Commercial Applications RC Helicopters Are A Hobby
RC helicopters are commonly flown for fun and as a hobby, with very little scope for commercial application.
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In contrast, drones are becoming increasingly useful in many industries, from aerial photography to remote fence checking, security patrols, and package delivery. The commercial applications for drones are made possible by their easier controls and more stable flight than RC helicopters.
Are The Regulations For RC Helicopters And Drones The Same?
The capability of drones to be used for illegal and nefarious purposes has caused authorities to impose strict regulations on drone operation.
In some instances, you need to apply for a permit to fly a drone, and you need to operate the drone within the strict guidelines prescribed by the regulations.
RC helicopters do not have the same range, controls, flight stability, and autonomous flying capability as drones, making their use less regulated. You do not need a permit or to register your RC helicopter in most locations.
Flying RC helicopters must be performed safely and only on property where you have permission to fly, but there are fewer legal obligations to consider than drone flying.
RC helicopters are not considered drones, especially by the RC community. Drones have a negative connotation in public opinion due to their nuisance value and potential for use for illegal activities or infringing on of privacy.
RC helicopters need line of sight for the operator and are not capable of autonomous flight. RC operators do not want these aircraft associated with the negative publicity that drones have attracted.