Which Drone Design Should You Choose?

Ever wonder which drone design is best for you and your operational needs?

If so, you’re not alone; it’s one of the most common questions out there.

After all, commercial drones come in all shapes and sizes. Over the years, the industry has seen a wide range of variations in the form and function of UAVs. Every characteristic of drones has been engineered and re-engineered for optimal performance or specific industry needs.

But, one of the biggest characteristics you can focus on is the aircraft’s basic design.

UAVs can be fixed-wing, single-rotor, multi-rotor, or a blend of these, as seen in Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) designs.

Of course, like nearly everything in life, there are pros and cons to each configuration. Understanding which are best suited for particular tasks helps you make an informed decision on which design best matches your needs. 

Fixed-Wing Drone Designs

If you follow the marketing for commercial drone designs, you’ll notice manufacturers clearly tend to favor multi-rotor drones. Some of the most prominent OEMs in the market, like DJI, Skydio, and Autel Robotics, primarily offer multi-rotor UAVs.

But, regardless of the focus on multi-rotor platforms, a number of powerful fixed-wing options exist.

Fixed-wing drones consist of a ridged wing and some type of forward thrust system. Although designs vary, in most cases, thrust is generated by one or more propellers at the aircraft’s rear.

Regardless of where the propulsion systems lie, you can think of these as similar to traditional airplane. Basically, a controllable motor with wings.

Benefits of the fixed-wing drone design include better lift capabilities, longer flight times, low maintenance, and less power consumption.

Those all sound like things you’d want, right?

Well, these come at a cost you need to consider when choosing the best drone design for your projects.

You’ll need to weigh these benefits against the challenges presented by fixed-wing drones. Typically, these include the need for a take-off and landing strip, as well as the inability to hover in place.

These characteristics make fixed-wing drones ideal for lifting operations, delivering materials over long distances,  or surveying large areas, like those needed in agriculture.

One example is AgEagle’s eBee Ag. The eBee has a 55-minute flight time and can cover 160 hectares (or 395 acres) in a single flight. With the added RTK package, it can also survey to within 2.5 cm of Ground Sampling Distance (GSD).

In fact, according to the FAA, the eBee is the most used fixed-wing drone in the United States.

So, if you’re in need of a drone for something like precision agriculture over large areas, fixed-wing drones, and the eBee in particular, would be the perfect choice.

Or, if you’re looking for methods of delivering payloads over long distances, it’s certainly a design you’ll want to consider.

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Multi-Rotor Drone Designs

Without a doubt, the reigning champion of the commercial UAV world is the multi-rotor drone. Quadcopters (four rotors) are especially common, and what most people probably think of when they think of drones. However, many platforms use different configurations.

So, when deciding which drone design is best for you, what makes this one so appealing?

Frankly, the widespread use of multi-rotor drones is thanks to the numerous advantages of the design. Multi-rotor drones are particularly beneficial to commercial drone applications such as photography, mapping, and inspections. 

On the positive side, the design offers ease of use, stability, excellent camera support, payload versatility, and the ability to hovereven in confined spaces.

That said, two major cons of the multi-rotor design are low payload weights and relatively short flight durations.

Now, selecting the best multi-rotor UAV for your operation will depend on what type of work you do.

Currently, one of the most popular & highly regarded multi-rotor drones is DJI’s Matrice 30T.

This aircraft is well-suited for many applications, including thermal inspections. As a quadcopter, the M30T is well-equipped for aerial photography and utility inspections. Its flight time is up to 41 minutes – pretty good for a portable multi-rotor drone.  

In addition to the drone’s impressive specifications, it’s also designed to operate with the DJI Dock.

If you’re in the oil & gas, security, or railroad industry (as well as many others), you’ll find this very beneficial. And, if you’re looking for a mid-level enterprise drone capable of supporting numerous mission types, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better multi-rotor drone currently on the market.

Of course, like every drone design, these come in a wide variety of sizes, price points, and abilities. And, each comes with with their own set of pros and cons.

Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL)

In an effort to blend the strengths of both multi-rotor and fixed-wing designs, engineers created the VTOL.

The technology has been in practice with military aircraft for many decades. As such, it was only natural that VTOL would find its way into the commercial UAV industry.  

As you might expect from a blend of two designs, VTOL drones are capable of longer flight durations than comparable multi-rotor platforms. However, they tend to have less flight endurance as fixed-wing drones.

While their design negates the need for a runway or landing strip, their hovering capabilities are sometimes less stable than multi-rotor UAVs. It’s a trade-off, for sure, and a challenging balance to achieve. 

However, one manufacturer that accomplishes this balance well is Wingtra, with their WingtraOne GEN II specifically designed for mapping.

With a flight duration of almost one hour, the UAV is more than capable of mapping large areas in a single flight. The 42MP camera mounted to the bottom of the drone operates in the fixed-wing configuration, aiding in stability and image clarity.

If you’re in need of surveying large areas, regularly, and in a hurry, it’s definitely one you’ll worth considering.

Single-Rotor Drone Designs

In a sense, you could think of single-rotor drones as helicopters without people.

While radio-controlled commercial helicopters have been around since the early 1990s, you don’t generally see many single-rotor drones in the current commercial drone market. While single-rotor aircraft can lift more efficiently, using less fuel, they suffer several disadvantages compared to other UAV designs. 

The most critical shortfall of drones with the single-rotor design is degraded stability.

Now, if you’ve ever flown in a helicopter, you know there is a lot of vibration.

More likely though, you haven’t. That said, you’ve probably experienced these effects, whether you realized it or not!

When you watch a police car chase on the news, the picture is often shaky or fuzzy, partly due to this movement.

For this reason, single-rotor drone platforms are not ideal for commercial drone operations in most cases.

When deciding which drone design you should opt for, leave this one for the hobbyists.

When Deciding Which Drone Design to Choose, Consider Your Needs

Deciding which drone design is best for your needs can be a challenge.

But, if you take into consideration the most common applications you need them for, you can easily narrow down your options.

Need to quickly cover long distances in a hurry, for delivering packages over distance, large scale surveys, or precision agriculture? If so, then fixed-wing drones might be what you’re in need of.

Need something more suited for slowing down and taking high-def photos for inspection purposes or more detailed data gathering? If that’s your case, then multi-rotor drones, like the Matrice 30T, might by your best option.

Need something in between, to cover large areas and also provide you more detailed information at times? A VTOL option, like the WingtraOne GEN II might offer the solution you need.

The point is, when choosing which drone design you should choose, it really comes down to why you need one.

What’s right for one operation, isn’t right for another – and vice versa.

From fixed-wing to multi-rotor, all offer advantages and disadvantages that to consider.

So, which drone design should you opt for? Should you outsource your drone operation, or create and develop an in-house team?

At Consortiq, we help you discover a better way to get the data you need.

Whether you’re looking create an in-house program from the ground up, or would rather hire someone to do the flying & data gathering for you, we’ve got you covered.

We’ll fly your site & deliver the data you need with little-to-no jobsite disruption, train groups of pilots for your own program, or help you build an in-house drone program from the ground up.

Just fill out the form below to get started!

Are you ready to find your better way?

Picture of David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly, is an award-winning photographer/writer and licensed (FAA) Commercial sUAS pilot. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, David is a former Marine Corps officer with a BS in Oceanography and has earned his MBA from the University of Redlands. David has worked for Fortune 100 companies and has a background in aerospace, construction, military/defense, real estate, and technology.

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