The concept of flight has always fascinated mankind and we’ve long enjoyed hobbies and activities that let us experience it for ourselves.
Remote controlled helicopters and drones are just two ways that we can experience the thrill of flying and the challenges that come with it, but the two types of aircraft often get mixed up with each other.
What is the real difference between a drone vs remote control helicopter?
Generally speaking, a drone refers to any unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) so technically anything that you control in the air from the ground can be one, even an RC helicopter. However, this usually refers to a quadcopter with four rotors as compared to a helicopter which has one primary one, but there can be many differences and similarities depending on what model you’re looking at.
We’re going to explore the main differences between drones and RC helicopters to make it clearer for you, as well as some of the ways they’re similar.
By comparing their purpose, design, capabilities, and limitations, you’ll be able to easily make the distinction between the two and choose which one is going to suit your needs best.
- 1 What’s the Difference Between a Drone and an RC Helicopter?
- 2 Where Are You Allowed to Fly RC Helicopters and Drones?
- 3 What Power and Ranges Are RC Helis and Drones Capable Of?
- 4 How Much Do Each of These Aircraft Cost?
- 5 Can You Add a Camera to Your RC Helicopter?
- 6 Related Questions
What’s the Difference Between a Drone and an RC Helicopter?
When talking about a drone in comparison to an RC helicopter, we’ll discuss the most popular format that they take – the quadcopter.
With that in mind, there are a few key differences that you might notice on the more common models of either.
Design and shape
Comparing a standard helicopter to a quadcopter drone and you can see the most obvious difference.
A helicopter is modeled after the aircraft and has one main rotor on top whereas a quadcopter has four rotors on either of its sides.
The blades of a quadcopter are generally smaller because there are more of them but a drone can be made into any shape or size, even that of a helicopter.
Ease of flying
Most beginner pilots find flying a drone easier because of the four rotors that can be controlled and the onboard software that comes with it.
Learning to maneuver an RC heli by yourself is a challenge because there’s either no or limited software helping out, which many find more satisfying.
RC helicopters are generally made just for flying, competing or racing, with a few exceptions to that rule.
A drone might be used for other purposes like filming with a camera attached to it or delivering goods in the case of larger models.
An RC helicopter offers the pilot a lot more autonomy and control, as you’re required to always keep an eye on it in the sky.
Many drones come with software and GPS that allows them to fly on their own, even if you lose sight of it, and they can land themselves back at base with the touch of a button.
Where Are You Allowed to Fly RC Helicopters and Drones?
For many years, RC helicopter pilots were able to fly their vehicles pretty much anywhere, but it all changed as the popularity of the drone grew.
With the introduction of GPS enabled and automated drones and quadcopters, laws got tighter surrounding where these aircraft could be flown and the Federal Aviation Administration tried to make some changes.
RC hobbyists are required to register their vehicles and personal information on the FAA website if your aircraft weighs more than 250 grams.
There are also restrictions on the height that you can fly the aircraft, with 400 feet being the ceiling.
However, it seems these laws and regulations are being constantly argued and changed, so it’s up the RC pilot to be in the know.
When it comes to drones specifically, the laws are a little tighter.
Provided you are flying a drone for recreational purposes and you’ve registered the UAV with the FAA you should be able to fly most places.
You’re responsible for upholding local rules and regulations regarding drones though, which can include weight limits and no-fly zones.
What Power and Ranges Are RC Helis and Drones Capable Of?
One of the first things you look at when you’re deciding on a new drone or helicopter to buy is its capabilities, mainly the transmission range and battery power it’s capable of.
Long range drone models on the market today can fly up to around five miles away before their signal gets interfered, and provided they share the same sensitive radio transmission technology, RC helis can do the same.
The difference with these ranges is that it’s the goal of the RC pilot to always have their aircraft in sight so that they have total control.
For a UAV that has a camera attached and automation onboard software, there’s really no need to keep it as close by and so you might opt for something that can go further.
When it comes to battery life, the standard amount of flying time you’ll get on a full charge for an RC heli is around 10 minutes.
For a drone, you’ll get around 10 – 20 minutes depending on the model.
However, the difference between the two is that drones usually fly far away and thus you need enough battery on them to ensure they’ll return.
How Much Do Each of These Aircraft Cost?
There’s such a varying price range when it comes to drones and RC helicopters with so many features and specifications that can make a difference in their cost.
In general, a low range drone will be cheaper than a low range helicopter, but that doesn’t mean that either one is going to be of decent quality.
Both UAVs and RC helis cost around $100 for a basic model, and from there they can reach well into the thousands of dollars.
Depending on what you’re using it for, your skill level, and what specifics you require, these costs will vary quite a bit, but generally speaking, a basic drone is cheaper to purchase.
There are other things to consider when it comes to the cost as well.
RC helicopters may be more susceptible to crashes when flown outdoors, but drones come with many other accessories that are required to enjoy the experience.
Therefore, it’s a totally personal choice to decide which you’d rather spend your money on and what you hope to gain from the experience.
Can You Add a Camera to Your RC Helicopter?
Most people assume that drones are the only flying aircraft that can be equipped with a camera, but it turns out that RC helicopters are more than capable of doing so as well.
Provided you are shopping for a camera that suits the design of your helicopter, it can be done.
There are specific RC heli cameras made for this very purpose, taking into account the weight requirements they have, but they won’t fit on all models and sizes of helis.
Keep in mind that while you’re definitely able to attach a camera to your RC helicopter, it’s not always recommended.
The added weight of the camera, even an entry-level compact one, will weigh down your vehicle and reduce your flying time when it comes to battery power.
It can also have an impact on how it flies when the camera’s attached, so it might not be ideal.
Drones and RC helicopters are experiencing a huge boom in popularity at the moment, and if you’re completely new to piloting these aircraft you’ll probably have a lot of questions.
We’ve answered some of the more frequently asked questions about the two to give you a little more insight about their capabilities.
Are All Drones Battery Powered?
Most consumer grade drones run on rechargeable batteries, but more serious drones used for the military and commercial use a combustion engine and sometimes solar energy.
This allows them to fly for longer and at heavier weights than a recreational or domestic use drone that relies solely on batteries.
Can Drones and RC Helicopters Fly in Wind?
Drones should not be flown in harsher weather conditions like the strong wind as they’re unable to handle it as well as an RC helicopter.
However, more damage can be done an RC helicopter if they crash so it’s advisable not to fly either type of aircraft if conditions aren’t ideal.
Are Drones and RC Helicopters Covered By Warranty?
RC helicopters usually have a shorter warranty coverage period than drones because of their build and some brands might not even offer one at all.
A standard drone will have a warranty of around 12 months but this is limited depending on how the drone becomes damaged or faulty, and cheaper models usually feature no warranty.