A drone is an aircraft that has no human pilot onboard so they are also called UAVs or unmanned aerial vehicles. Drones are either preprogrammed or remote-controlled for flight.
In case you overhear two people using terms such as UAS (that means unmanned aircraft system), RPAS (that means remotely piloted aerial system), or SUAS (that means small unmanned aircraft system) they are only using the military terms that describe the specific types of drones.
There are different types of drones for recreational and professional purposes on the market. Drones are classified according to four factors.
- Aerial Platforms: The most popular drone classification type is by aerial platforms, which is the number and the type of propellers. For instance, there are multi-rotor, fixed-wing, single-rotor, and fixed-wing hybrid drones (more about this later).
- Size: Drones can be classified according to size, such as very small (nano/micro), small, medium, and large drones. The most commonly used types are very small, small, and medium drones. Most people will never ever lay their hands-on large drones because these are mainly used for surveillance and military purposes. As a matter of fact, large drones are sometimes used in place of fighter jets. In other words, large drones are not toys.
- Capabilities: Drones are a type of industrial robotics or unmanned systems for industrial use. Flying drones can be grouped by function or use according to equipment embedded or attached. For instance, there are photography drones, video drones, GPS drones, ready-to-fly (RTF) drones, delivery drones, waterproof/underwater drones, racing drones, and trick drones.
- Range: The range capability of a drone is another factor used to classify drones. A drone’s range tells you how far it can fly before there is a break in signal between the drone and its remote control. For instance, drones can be very close range, close range, short-range, mid-range, and endurance types of drones. Except for the very close-range drone, all other drone types require a special license because they are usually used for surveillance, espionage, and scientific purposes.
When classified according to uses and aerial platforms, there are four types of drones.
#1. Multi-rotor Drones
Multi-rotor drones are the most common, easiest to use, and the cheapest type of drones available on the market. Multi-rotor drones can be classified by the number of rotors: tricopter (three rotors), quadcopter (four rotors), hexacopter (six rotors), and octocopter (eight rotors).
The significant downsides of multi-rotor drones include limited endurance, limited flying time, and limited speed. Multi-rotor drones can fly for only about 20-30 minutes with a small payload such as a small camera. Their uses include:
- Aerial photography and videography
- Live streaming events
- Real-estate photography
#2. Single-rotor Drones
Single-rotor drones are like mini helicopters. A single-rotor drone has one large rotor and a small rotor attached to the tail to control its heading. The single-rotor drones carry very long blades that increase their efficiency compare to multi-rotor drones.
In aerodynamics, the larger a rotor blade, the slower it spins and the higher its efficiency. Single-rotor drones have the advantage of higher efficiency over a multi-rotor drone and even longer endurance because they can be gas-powered, which increases flight time.
The downsides of single-rotor drones are that they are more complex to use, more expensive, and more dangerous because of their large blades. They are also not as stable compared to multi-rotor drones. They are usually good for purposes such as:
- Long-distance inspection
- Aerial LIDAR laser scanning
#3. Fixed-wing Drones
Fixed-wing drones use the aerodynamic principles of airplanes. They use a wing in lifting, unlike the single- and multi-rotor drones that lift off vertically. This gives fixed-wing drones higher efficiency, longer travel distances, and longer flight durations. When they are gas-powered, they can fly for up to 16 hours or even more.
The major shortcoming of fixed-wing drones is that they cannot hover in one spot. This makes launching and landing very difficult. You will need a runway or a catapult launcher for takeoff and a runway, parachute or safety net for landing.
However, the smallest fixed-wing drones may be suitable for hand launch and “belly landing” in an open space. They are typically used for:
- Long-distance inspection
- Large-scale area mapping
#4. Fixed-wing Hybrid VTOL
The fixed-wing hybrid is a merger of the benefits of the fixed-wing drone with the hovering ability of the rotary-winged drones that enables them to take off and land vertically. They are typically used for:
- Providing real-time, accurate, 3D-comparable data for infrastructural plans
- Land surveying
Drones come in different models with different capabilities and can be used for various purposes. Now that you know the types of drones and their uses, you can get yourself a multi-rotor drone like a quadcopter if you’re into photography or a fixed-wing hybrid for large-scale mining.