While the public has taken to calling all quadcopters and things that look like quadcopters “drones”. There’s been a lot of back and forth on what counts as a “drone”, but to me an unmanned craft is only a drone if it is at least semi-autonomous. If it can’t fly itself and is under your direct control is it a UAV, but not a drone.
Whatever your feelings on the semantics of the term, it now leaves us in the silly position of what to call traditional RC toys. Are RC cars now “ground drones”? What about RC planes?
This is what I was wondering when thinking about the topic of “fixed-wing drones”. Obviously there is such a thing, since the big military drones that fire Hellfire missiles are autonomous fixed-wing aircraft.
The commercial space is a little more fuzzy however.
Does attaching a camera to an RC plane make it a drone? Some products sold under this label are basically nothing more than this. Yet, the market for commercial fixed-wing drones has certainly grown and there are several distinct advantages to using them over multirotor aircraft.
Quick List of The Best Fixed Wing Drones
- Parrot Disco FPV
- Opterra 2m
- Parrot Swing + Flypad
- Nano Skyhunter Fixed Wing Drone
- Xcraft XPlusOne Pro Bundle
- Skywalker FPV Black X8 Fixed Wing Drone
The Pros and Cons of Fixed-wing Drones
Multirotor and drones with fixed wings fly using very different approaches. Both can get into the air, but what they can do their depends on their respective designs. So why would you want a fixed wing drone? Let’s look at the positives first.
The Good Stuff
Fixed wing craft are much more energy efficient than multirotors. A multirotor is about as good at gliding as a brick, but the aerodynamics of fixed wing craft take some load off the batteries. That means you can stay in the air for longer and fly further.
Fixed wing craft are also generally much faster than multirotor aircraft. This makes them perfect for surveying or mapped large stretches of terrain. There are also certain types of shots you can’t get with a multirotor thanks to a fixed-wing’s ability to smoothly roll and loop.
Fixed-wing craft also usually only have a single motor to replace or maintain, rather than multiple ones. Overall, they provide a very different flight character and fill a different niche than multirotor camera drones.
The Not-so-good Stuff
The main disadvantages of a fixed-wing craft are actually pretty obvious. For one thing, you can’t take off or land vertically.
Some fixed-wing drones can be hand-launched or thrown into the air, but larger ones will need some space to get off the ground. Landing also requires quite a bit of space, so this isn’t the solution for urban areas.
While a multirotor can usually land safely even if one motor fails, if your one and only motor fails on a fixed wing it will take some skill to glide it down to safety.
With multirotor craft each motor and rotor is also a control surface. In a fixed-wing craft you have multiple servos used for maneuvering. If any one of them fails you’re in trouble and only very skilled pilots can save the craft in some situation.
Another big caveat from a camera drone perspective is that you probably won’t have a camera that can look around much. It’s usually fixed at the front of the craft with little in the way of mobility.
Fixed Wing Drone Reviews 2018
While you don’t have nearly as much product choice as with multirotors, we’ve managed to string together a group of popular drones with fixed wings you can buy right now if you wanted to.
But are any of these worth the money? Let’s have a gander at the goods.
Parrot was an early pioneer of intelligent multirotor drones. The Parrot AR drone might seems positively primitive now, but at the time it was an amazing feat of consumer technology.
Almost from the start Parrot didn’t limit themselves just to quadcopter drones. They’ve experimented with jumping, rolling and waterborne drones.
The Disco FPV is the company’s take on a fixed wing camera drone and right off the bat it looks the business. It has a beautiful set of wings with neat curved wingtips. These not only look cool, but make the drone more efficient. It has a rear-facing propeller to stay out of the camera’s way.
This is not a cheap purchase, with an original recommended price north of a grand. These days however it’s not hard to get a massive deal on the Disco.
The deal is made even sweeter with the inclusion of FPV goggles, but you do need a smartphone to act as the screen. The Parrot Skycontroller 2 does duty as the transmitter and gives you a 1.2 mile range.
That might sound like plenty, but given that the Disco will reach a whopping 50 mph , it could be out of range in less than a minute if you floor it.
You shouldn’t panic too much though, since this is a true semi-autonomous drone. It will land and take off by itself and can return home if it loses signal.
Camera duties are performed by a 14 megapixel 1080p camera with a wide-angle lens .
To top it off, it’s rated for 45 minutes of flight time. You can cover a lot of ground with that.
In case you didn’t know “BNF” is short for bind and fly. This means you have to buy your own radio controller separately. The Opterra 2m therefore does not include a transmitter and you’ll have to buy a compatible one separately. The AS3X receiver the 2m comes with determines which transmitters you can use.
That’s not all missing from the base package. There are three camera mounts built into this drone, but no actual cameras. It’s up to you whether you want FPV equipment mounted up front or not. You can also attach a GoPro Hero 3 or 4 and anything else the same shape and size to the craft.
The 2m has been designed with some fancy aerodynamic features that make it perform well and fly efficiently.
Other things missing from this basic package include a battery and charger. Real all you get is the craft itself, with all the servos and main brushless motor already installed.
This means I can’t really talk about flight times or camera specifications, because you get to decide those things. The upside is that the cost of this base package is very low.
How expensive it all gets in the end is another thing you have control over. This is a good choice if you need to spec your drone yourself.
Just bear in mind that this doesn’t have flight autonomy. It’s just you and those sticks my friends.
What the heck is this thing?! That’s the first though to cross anyone’s mind when looking at the Swing.
This fixed-wing drone comes with the Parrot Flypad controller, which also includes a holder for your smartphone. Using the Flypad increases the control range and you don’t need a smartphone if you don’t want to use one.
One major feature of the Swing drone is the ability to transform from a plane design to a quad-wing “X” design . The plane mode provides more speed, with up to 19 mph on the cards. Putting it into quad mode turns it into a quadcopter. This means that it can take off and land vertically. You can still fly with fixed wing forward flight in quad mode too. It’s a really unique design.
The Swing does not have a camera and this drone is basically meant only as a fun flying toy. Which means it’s cheap price tag is perfectly appropriate. Apart from being really cool, this is an affordable way to practice fixed wing flight. It will certainly draw attention in any park!
Nano Skyhunter Fixed Wing Drone
The Skyhunter reminds me a little of the big seaplane from the Tailspin cartoon. It’s got a cool profile with a separate double tailfin.
If you look closely at the craft you’ll notice it’s not particularly refined or well-finished, but at this price you can only expect so much.
It does not include a camera of any sort. You also need to provide a 4-channel transmitter and a battery. It requires a mild bit of assembly too.
In other words, the Nano Skyhunter is an affordable RC plane platform that you can fit with FPV gear yourself or just fly without a camera at all.
According to those who own one, it’s a great flyer although there are already plans for 3D-printed find replacements that improve handling somewhat, apparently. There’s no doubt that this is one of the most affordable fixed-wing camera platforms you can buy today.
You’ll certainly do a double-take when seeing this fixed wing drone for the first time. While the idea of a drone that can both act as a quadcopter and as a fixed-wing craft is a cute idea when implemented in the Parrot Swing, here it’s a deadly-serious feature of a hardcore, fully autonomous drone.
The XPlusOne looks a little like a rocket standing on its tail before takeoff. Unlike most fixed wing craft this one has the camera mounted on a 2-axis gimba l. In forward flight it can easily keep its target in view.
Speaking of the camera, this Pro bundle comes with the Runcam HD 1080p camera included . This is a camera designed for FPV flight and not really for capturing good footage. So you might want to buy another photography-oriented camera if you have prettier pictures in mind. Unfortunately the GoPro mount is fixed and won’t work in the gimbal according to the company site.
Unlike most of the other fixed-wing drones I’ve looked at, the XPlusOne doesn’t have great endurance. You’ll only get about twenty minutes out of it before having to land. That’s basically just an indication that this isn’t a glider and of course that it has four motors.
So while having some quadcopter features hurts its overall endurance, it’s no worse than the average multirotor drone. Another culprit behind the low flight times is the lack of control surfaces. The only thing that makes this drone “fixed-wing” is the wing. Everything else is multirotor.
So what’s the point of the wing then? Simply put: speed. This little rocket will hit 60 mph (100kph) at full throttle. You simply aren’t going to find a drone capable of those sorts of speeds at this price while carrying a gimbal-stabilized camera.
In the marketing videos you see one of these drones lift off and track someone on a motorcycle. I’ve tried to do that with a quadcopters and they simply don’t have the speed to catch up with anything but the most sedate riding. Sixty miles an hour is more than enough for offroad riding.
This fixed wing drone doesn’t use its own in-house software, but uses third-party software to implement flight autonomy. It’s a little fiddly and the open-source apps aren’t always as user-friendly as commercial ones. Yet they make the XPlusOne highly-capable with the ability to fly along waypoints.
This is not a drone with fixed wings for everyone, but if you want super-fast FPV, to cover lots of ground in a short time or want software you can modify yourself, then this drone is a very interesting proposition.
Before the Skywalker Black there was the Skywalker White. An affordable fixed-wing drone you could buy from various cheap Chinese importers on the web. Apparently it was fairly well-received, so now the product has been updated and here we have the Skywalker Black.
It has redesigned winglets, a now fuselage with easier access to the interior and a new cabin cover. This plane has a massive 2122mm wingspan and can carry up to 2kg of load . So you have quite a bit of scope when it comes to kitting it out.
And kit it out you must, since this is just a barebones product that has just about nothing in it. You have to provide the brushless motor and the foldable props. Of course this means you can really go wild on the power if you like. Alternatively you can put something efficient in for longer flight times.
The same goes for the battery, where you have a choice of between 6000 or 10 000 mAh . Chuck in two servos, an ESC, receiver and transmitter and you are finally ready to fly. Yeah, you basically have to build the whole thing, but with a solid foundation you can purpose-build the plane you need.
Even after reading the manual there’s no clear indication of where one would mount a camera, despite this being referred to as an “FPV” drone. Interestingly the manual also states that you need to keep it under 85 kph . Any faster and the wings have to be reinforced. The manual sets the total payload limit at 3.2Kg.
Overall the Skywalker fixed wing drone is only for people who are advanced builders and pilots. It’s a cost-effective way to build a custom drone for your needs, but it’s also daunting.
The Verdict: Parrot Has It
There’s something to like about all the drones with fixed wings we’ve looked at here, but for most people the Parrot Disco is probably going to be the best of all worlds. It’s ready to go out of the box, has great capabilities and can be bought for a bargain these days.
For the serious customer who doesn’t want to build a fixed wing drone nearly from scratch, the XPlusOne seems like an amazing choice too.
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