Estimated reading time: 19 minutes
Drones are now part of our lives. From filming to surveillance to agriculture, they have found a place and role in most industries. But all drones are not the same. There’s another type that has been around for longer but is less popular called the RC helicopter also known as drone helicopter.
While they do have some similarities in how they function, drone and helicopter have some differences. So, what is a drone helicopter?
With reference to UAVs, a helicopter is an unmanned flying device that’s controlled through radio signals. Unlike regular quadcopters, they lack computers or any autonomous features.
Please keep reading to find out more about drone helicopters, how they work, and some of the best drone helicopters for having fun or for professional activities.
Table of contents
- What is a drone helicopter?
- What Is a Difference Between a Drone and a Helicopter?
- Are Drone Helicopters Legal and safe to fly?
- Advantages of an RC Helicopter:
- What to Look for in a Remote Control Helicopter?
- Top 5 Drone Helicopters:
- Best RC Helicopter for Beginners – Syma S107G:
- Best RC Helicopter with Camera – Cheerwing U12S Mini RC Helicopter:
- Best Collective Pitch RC Helicopter – Blade 230 S V2 RTF RC Helicopter:
- Best Fixed Pitch Helicopter – Blade 70 S RTF RC Micro Helicopter:
- SYMA S40 Helicopter: Buy Now:
- NASA’s Ingenuity – A Drone Helicopter in Mars:
What is a drone helicopter?
As I’ve already established, a drone helicopter is a radio-controlled flying device. It’s simply a remotely controlled helicopter. Like in quadcopters, drone helicopters come with a controller that features a stick for cyclic pitching, a lever for collective pitching, and a throttle.
All of these controls help the pilot maneuver, take off, land, and control all the helicopter’s movements. Like any other UAV, RC helicopters have a flight time of at least 20 minutes, and some can achieve speeds of up to 100 MPH.
What Is a Difference Between a Drone and a Helicopter?
Now let’s look at the main differences between a drone and a helicopter.
Number of Rotors:
One of the significant and most noticeable differences between these two UAVs is the number of rotors. Drone helicopters are single rotor devices, meaning they only have one motor and one set of propellers.
This rotor controls generating uplift, maintaining Altitude, and all types of movement by changing in angle or tilting along the swashplate.
On the other hand, drones (quadcopters) have at least four rotors which all work together to maintain the drone in flight. Instead of tilting like in single rotors, quadcopters change the aspects of their flight by adjusting the speeds on some propellers.
Variable Pitch vs. Fixed Pitch:
Due to the difference in the number of motors, both UAVs have different types of pitches. Helicopters have a variable pitch, where you control the device’s movement without altering the rotor’s rotation speed.
On the other hand, drones have a fixed pitch where the propeller’s angles don’t change. To land, the rotor speeds have to reduce. However, helicopters come in different types, as I’m going to discuss later.
Some of them have a fixed pitch, while others have what is known as a collective pitch.
Are Drone Helicopters Easy to Fly?
Helicopters are pretty challenging to fly, especially for beginners. Even though they have a gyroscope and other stabilizing mechanisms, it’s still challenging to hover in one place.
You have to keep stroking the rudder. As a result, you can’t take a break from flying the helicopter as long as it is flying.
But with the latest technologies, some have self-leveling features and altitude hold features. On the other hand, quadcopters can hover on their own.
Once you stop stroking the controls, the drone can remain in the same position thanks to the inbuilt flight controllers.
Are Drone Helicopters Legal and safe to fly?
Drone helicopters are as safe to fly as any other drone can be. They pose the same dangers to people and property, and you must adhere to local laws to fly them safely.
Under the FAA regulations, any UAV weighing less than 250 g doesn’t have to be registered. Some RC helicopters weigh less than 250 g, while some are larger are heavier.
Even though you don’t have to register them, they are still subject to other flying regulations. Below are some main ones;
- Always fly within the line of sight.
- Don’t fly at night without authorization.
- Avoid flying in crowded areas, parking areas, or within the vicinity of public transport.
- Avoid flying close to airports, barracks, police stations, or other areas designated as no-fly zones.
- Don’t fly the drone when in a moving vehicle unless there are no people or property around.
- If you are using the drone for professional work, you must get the Part-107 pilot license and register your drone.
Advantages of an RC Helicopter:
While quadcopters are fast gaining popularity, some people still choose to fly RC helicopters. Below are some reasons why.
- They give you more manual control – With a drone helicopter, you can’t program how it flies or select autonomous flight modes. You have to be aware of every moment it’s in the air. If you’re more of a hands-on guy and love trying out things manually, you’ll love this type of UAV.
- Easy to maintain – Even though they aren’t the easiest to fly, RC drones are easy to maintain, and most of their accessories are cheap and easy to find.
- Longer flight time – Since they use one rotor, RC helicopters consume less power and have the ability to fly for longer. The single rotor system also makes them perfect for carrying larger payloads, flying lower and even faster.
- More versatile – Due to the variable pitch and single rotor system, drone helicopters are flexible in some situations, such as when it’s windy. They also readily take off regardless of the ground they are on.
- They are responsive – Radio controls tend to be more responsive with minimal chances of lag than Wi-Fi signals.
What to Look for in a Remote Control Helicopter?
Below are some factors to consider when purchasing an RC helicopter.
Level of complexity:
The level of complexity you choose depends on your experience in flying drone helicopters. Generally, there are 3 types;
- Coaxial – This is one of the easiest to fly and perfect for beginners. They feature two rotors, each rotating in the opposite direction, and they lack a tail rotor. The two rotors handle all the movements of the helicopter. Their flight is relatively stable, but they can’t perform any stunts. They also don’t fare well when it’s too windy.
- Fixed pitch – This type is slightly more challenging to fly compared to the coaxial RC helicopters. However, instead of two opposing rotors, they have one rotor, and the movements are controlled by changing the speed of the rotor. In both the coaxial and fixed pitch drone helicopters, the amount of lift is proportional to the throttle. Unlike coaxial helicopters, fixed pitch helicopters can perform some basic acrobatics and can withstand moderate winds.
- Collective pitch – This type is ideal for experienced RC pilots. It features a single rotor mode, but unlike coaxial and fixed pitch, the lift doesn’t rely on the throttle. Instead, they feature a variable pitch where the angle of the rotor changes depending on the action you want to accomplish. Collective pitch RC helicopters can perform complex aerobatics such as inverted flying, flips, and loops. But they tend to be more expensive.
Price and Build Quality:
Drone helicopters come in all price ranges. How much you’re willing to spend should depend on why you need the drone, your budget, and the value it will offer.
Don’t just buy a hobby drone just because it’s cheap. Check the materials it’s made from. A relatively cheap drone would be great as a beginner since you may crash a couple of times.
As you advance your skills, you can opt for the more expensive models. Besides the purchasing cost, you should also consider maintenance costs such as buying spare parts and even the availability of these parts.
This is how far the helicopter can fly from the controller. The longer the range, the better. You should also check for the responsiveness of the aircraft to the controls.
The drone helicopter shouldn’t be too snappy, and it shouldn’t be too slow either. Go for smooth operation between the two devices for the ultimate flying experience.
Nothing’s more frustrating than a drone whose battery gets depleted even before you get to enjoy flying it. While RC helicopters lack mighty batteries, go for one that can last a bit longer.
You should also check how long the batteries take to charge. This way, you can purchase several of them and charge them with a portable device when outdoors.
Features and Performance:
The features you need in an RC helicopter depend on where you’ll use it. There are toy drones that can only do a couple of tricks, professional drones with cameras and other payloads, and even racing RC helicopters.
The channels, speeds, weight, and dimensions are tailored in each of the types to suit the application. For instance, a basic hobby RC helicopter will often have 3 channels, which means you only get to control 3 aspects (speed, yaw, and rear motor). But advanced RC helicopters, such as the collective pitch drone helicopters, can have more channels.
Top 5 Drone Helicopters:
Now let’s review some of the best RC helicopters you can buy.
Best RC Helicopter for Beginners – Syma S107G:
Your first RC helicopter doesn’t have to be expensive. SO if you’re just starting, I’d recommend the Syma S107G. It’s one of the most popular, so you don’t just have to take my word for it; you can also check the numerous positive reviews it has received.
For starters, it’s a coaxial RC helicopter, which, as I mentioned earlier, makes it stable due to the motors rotating in different directions. It’s also a 3-channel RC helicopter, so don’t expect to perform any complex stunts with this drone. All you can do is move up, down, forward, reverse, left, and right.
Featuring a lightweight metallic body, this helicopter is quite durable. You can crush into objects, and it will remain intact.
Performance and Ease of use
Being a coaxial helicopter, it’s not that stable when it’s windy, so it would be best to fly when it’s calm or fly it indoors.
The gyroscopes do help with stability but don’t risk taking it outdoors when there’s turbulence. With a range of up to 30 feet, this helicopter is quite responsive to controls thanks to the infrared transmitter.
The controller also has a trim button that allows you to align it. Even a complete beginner can find their way through the controls.
With a battery life of at least 10 minutes, the Syma S107G is better than most hobby helicopters. Better yet, the battery charges within 30 to 60 minutes.
You can charge the helicopter from the controller or an electrical outlet. The controller, on the other hand, uses 6 AA batteries. If you’re traveling, charging from the controller can be pretty convenient.
With the price tag set at roughly $20, this is one of the best values you can get. You can buy several of them for your kids and let them have all the fun without worrying about the costs. The accessories aren’t that expensive either.
- It’s affordable.
- Very durable
- Easy to set up and fly.
- It’s unstable outdoors.
- It can’t perform any complex stunts.
Best RC Helicopter with Camera – Cheerwing U12S Mini RC Helicopter:
If you’re looking for a helicopter that can not only fly but also record videos and take pictures, the Cheerwing U12S is perfect for you.
Like the Syma S107G, this is a coaxial helicopter, so there isn’t much you can do regarding stunts. It comes in a slick design, with the camera positioned at the front. It also comes in blue, red, and yellow colors.
The metallic frame, lightweight design, and plastic blades make it very durable. Being lightweight minimizes its impact when it knocks on objects, ensuring it doesn’t get damaged.
On the other hand, the plastic blades ensure it doesn’t damage property or hurt someone in case it crushes.
Performance and Ease of use:
While it’s not clear what type it is, flying gives me the sense that both kids and adults can fly this drone. You can fly it right out of the box, and the controls are clearly indicated.
You can take off and land the helicopter with just one key. There’s also a high-speed mode and a slow-speed mode, convenient for experienced pilots and beginner pilots, respectively.
Once the drone takes off, it will hover thanks to the auto-hover function, making it easier for people who have never flown such a device before. There’s also an Emergency stop function for when you need to stop the helicopter abruptly.
Filming and Photography:
You can record videos, take photos, or watch a live feed with the 640 b4 480p camera. This transmission is made through Wi-Fi signals, so you need to have a good internet connection and download the app on your smartphone. Once again, the Auto-hover function comes in handy to ensure the helicopter is stable as you record.
Want to have a contest with other pilots? You can with this model thanks to the 2.4 GHz multiplayer-enabled frequency technology.
5 to 6 minutes of battery life is not that bad for an RC helicopter. But it tends to take longer to charge (80 minutes) compared to the Syma S107G. On the other hand, the transmitter uses 4 AA batteries which you’ll have to purchase.
Cheerwing U12S features a low battery alert that alerts you when it’s about to get depleted and an out-of-range alert to make sure you don’t lose connection to the controller.
Generally, this drone has a 30-meter operating range which is perfect, especially when flying outdoors.
The $45 price tag is considerably high compared to the Syma S107G, but the camera, hover, and other advanced features make it a better buy.
- Easy and fun to fly
- The camera is an excellent addition to hobbyist photographers.
- It’s durable.
- Excellent customer service.
- The battery doesn’t last long.
- It’s challenging to control outdoors.
Best Collective Pitch RC Helicopter – Blade 230 S V2 RTF RC Helicopter:
If you’re an experienced pilot, or an intermediate pilot seeking to challenge your skills, a collective pitch copter such as the Blade 230 should be your next stop.
As I’ve already mentioned, it’s a collective pitch copter, meaning you can perform a wide range of stunts. The orange shade with some black sections gives it a stealth look as it maneuvers through the air.
Featuring a reinforced frame, a metallic build, and ABS plastic blades, this heli can survive a crash. Its form also makes it perfect for flying even in adverse weather conditions, but you shouldn’t risk it in the rain or when it’s snowy.
Performance and Ease of Use:
What I love most is that it has 3 modes; a beginner mode (stability), an experienced mode (agility), and a professional model (3D). In the stability mode, the drone stabilizes itself and limits you to certain movements.
In agility mode, you get more control over the bank angle. On the other hand, the 3D mode allows you to perform flips and other acrobatics. This way, you can comfortably progress through the skill levels of an RC helicopter pilot.
You also get to experience state-of-the-art visibility, brushless motors, canopy, and tail rotor, all designed to deliver the best flight experience.
BLADE engineers incorporated two safety mechanisms, the SAFE technology, and the Panic Recovery, to make it even easier for you.
With the SAFE technology, the drone automatically levels itself, allowing you to master the collective pitch. Panic recovery is a button that resets the drone to beginner mode and helps it regain level in case of any destabilization. There’s also SAFE-Z altitude control, a feature that allows the heli to maintain its Altitude.
7-Minutes flight is not that bad considering all you can do with this copter. It takes 1 to 2 hours to charge the 800mAh, so you can wait it out or purchase an extra battery.
It costs roughly $300, which is quite steep considering the other models cost less than $50. But the performances you get make it worth every penny.
- Spare parts are cheap and easy to find.
- A very powerful heli.
- Extended flight time.
- Advanced safety features
- It’s expensive
- It’s too light to fly outdoors.
Best Fixed Pitch Helicopter – Blade 70 S RTF RC Micro Helicopter:
While it doesn’t perform like the collective pitch Blade 230 S copter, the Blade 70 S is still a good challenge for beginners who’d love to advance their flying skills.
It’s a fixed pitch helicopter, meaning it only has one rotor instead of 2, and it lacks a fly bar. The fly bar-less technology makes it easier to fly and ensures the copter can manage a wide range of movements while maintaining a miniature look.
Featuring a solid plastic composite frame and a carbon fiber tail, this heli can survive minor crashes. But be careful when flying it since some surfaces may cause more damage to plastic than others.
Performance and Ease of Use:
Brushless motors have made a name for themselves in various applications due to their power and durability. And Blade utilizes them in conjunction with a powerful 1S 150mAh battery to deliver the best throttle response.
You’ll also love the high and low rate modes with varying speed and agility. You can choose the slow rate when learning and advance to the high rate once you’ve mastered flying this copter.
Blade also adds their stability-oriented safe technology that limits the bank angle and initiates self-leveling at all times. This makes this drone easy to fly as you learn how the fixed-pitch concept works.
5 minutes of flight time is not the best, but it’s understandable considering the power the rotor needs to keep the copter in the air. Besides, it only takes 30 minutes to charge the battery, making the short flight time more tolerable.
Unlike the Blade 230 S, this RC helicopters roughly $50, which is excellent value for a fixed-pitch helicopter.
- Very durable
- Easy to fly.
- Short charging time.
- Short flight time.
- It’s perfect for indoors.
SYMA S40 Helicopter: Buy Now:
This is another excellent helicopter for kids or people who are just getting started with flying RC helicopters.
It’s a coaxial helicopter with two rotor blades rotating in different directions for stability. But unlike most coaxial copters that have 3 or 3.5 channels, this copter has 4 channels.
That means it has the basic movements: up/down, left/right, forward/backward, and two extra movements: left side flight and right side flight. This is made possible by the extra rotors on the side.
SYMA utilizes a light but durable alloy which is collision-resistant and durable. The blades are flexible to make sure they don’t get easily damaged, damage property, or injure the user in case of a crash. They also include protection against low voltage.
Performance and Ease of Use:
Like any other coaxial copter, the SYMA S40 is relatively easy to fly. You can take off and land with just the strike of a button.
Once it takes off, the Altitude Hold feature kicks in, making the drone hover as you figure out the controls. The inbuilt gyroscope also ensures stability as the drone flies.
There are two speed modes, high and low, making it suitable for beginners and intermediate pilots. If you want to fly two copters simultaneously, you can do that thanks to the 2.4GHz connection.
SYMA S40 also features an LED light that makes it easy to spot, especially if it crashes. And lastly, the 25 meters operating range makes it perfect for both indoors and outdoors.
This is one aspect in which this drone beats the rest. The manufacturer promises up to 12 minutes flight time, but it averages 10 minutes, which is still impressive. With a recharging time of 50 minutes, you can have fun with this helicopter all day.
$50 is a reasonable price for the flying experience you’ll get from this heli. It also makes crashes not that frustrating since you can get another one.
- Easy to fly.
- Stable flight thanks to gyroscopes and altitude hold.
- Extended flight time.
- The alloy build doesn’t always last long.
NASA’s Ingenuity – A Drone Helicopter in Mars:
Drone technology has come a long way. Now we not only have drones flying on earth, but scientists have also managed to fly a drone on another planet, Mars.
The drone is named Ingenuity, and it was on board the Perseverance Rover that landed on Mars in February 2020.
But they had to modify it for it to generate flight on the Martian surface. Mars is different from the earth because its atmosphere is thinner, and the gravity strength is 1/3 of what we have on earth.
To generate a lift, NASA engineers designed the copter to use two blades. But they had to spin faster than they would on earth. In the earth’s atmosphere, the blades have to make at least 500 revolutions per minute. The Ingenuity drone’s blades make at least 2400 revolutions per minute.
They also had to make the blade span larger. The Ingenuity drone is as small as a tissue box, but the blades are 1.2 meters long.
The Ingenuity drone is just a test flight. If it’s successful (which it is at the time of writing this), scientists plan to use drones to explore other planets since they are smaller, easier to control, and versatile.
Another drone named Dragonfly is also under development, and NASA plans to use it to explore Saturn’s moon, Titan. Unlike Mars, Titan’s atmosphere is dense. It’s 4 times thicker than that on earth.
And instead of using two blades, Dragonfly will be a multi-rotor drone, with 8 rotors and a design similar to the large drones we already have. Unlike Ingenuity, Dragonfly is set to do a more profound analysis of the chemical process in an attempt to find signs of life on the moon.
And there you have it. Even though drone helicopters don’t give much compared to quadcopters, there are still great for those looking for a more hands-on piloting experience.
Some of them even have cameras for FPV flying. Whether to choose a quadcopter or a helicopter depends on why you need a drone. And since I’ve given a detailed explanation of their difference, now you can decide which one to choose.