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What Are All the Different Types of Drones?

Drone technology is on the rise, and these devices are finding new applications with each advancement. That is why nowadays, we have various types of drones used for different purposes, and understanding their classification can help you find the perfect model for your needs.

Before we start, let us ask one question. What widely recognized flying machine can be as tiny as a few centimeters or as big as an airplane and can be used by children, hobbyists, businesses, public services, or even the military? That’s right, it’s a drone. It’s clear that these devices can be found in use across sectors that, in essence, have nothing in common. So, let’s answer how many types of drones are there and which one should be your choice, depending on your needs.

What Is a UAV or a Drone?

Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as UAVs or UASs (unmanned aerial systems). It’s basically a flying robot that can be controlled from afar or can fly itself. It does so thanks to sensors and a Global Positioning System (GPS) that works with software-controlled flight plans built into its system. There are different drones that are built in various sizes and have different applications across industries.

Two white drones against a blue sky

What Types of Drones Are There?

Drones come in a variety of sizes and capabilities, and they range from small recreational models to sophisticated control and surveillance drones. In order to understand the diversity when it comes to UAV technology, you should understand their different categories.

Here are the four main categories of unmanned aerial vehicles:

  • Single-rotor UAVs,
  • Multi-rotor UAVs,
  • Fixed-wing UAVs,
  • Fixed-wing hybrid VTOL.

There are other designs of drones which are less frequently encountered, like remote piloted air balloons. 

The Pros, Cons, and Uses for Each Category

Let’s look at our overview of different types of drones, their advantages, disadvantages, and typical uses, along with their price range.

Drone typeProsConsUsesPrice range
Single-rotorCan hover, can take off and land in small areas, carries more weight, long enduranceMore complex operation, higher riskAerial scanning with LIDAR€22,500 – €270,000
Multi-rotorEasy to use, good for tight spaces, and controlled camera movementsShort flight times, limited payloadAerial photography, inspections, drone delivery€4,500 – €58,500
Fixed-wingCovers large areas, fast, long enduranceCannot take off and land in small areas, needs space and a runway typically, no hoverMapping, pipeline inspections, drone delivery€22,500 – €108,000
Fixed-wing hybridCombines VTOL with long enduranceNot specialized in hovering or fast flight, still under developmentDrone deliveryAround €171,000

Single-Rotor Drones

Single-rotor drones are sturdy and resemble traditional helicopters. They feature a single large rotor for lift and a tail rotor that controls direction and stability. These drones are particularly efficient, and they outperform multi-rotor models when it comes to energy use. Their design allows them to have very long blades, which operate more like wings than propellers, and that gives them a greater aerodynamic efficiency.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Single-Rotor UAVs

One of the major advantages of single-rotor drones is their ability to carry heavy payloads. This makes them ideal for specialized tasks such as aerial LIDAR laser scanning. The ability to hover and long flight duration are both crucial for these types of tasks.

However, single-rotor drones come with their set of challenges. They are complex and expensive, which, in turn, leads to higher maintenance requirements. These UAVs are also less stable, and forgiving in the case of a bad landing.

drone camera up-close

Multi-Rotor Drones

Multi-rotor UAVs are accessible and cost-effective, and that is what makes them a popular choice for tasks that require precision and close-range operations. These drones include tricopters, quadcopters, hexacopters, and octocopters, and are named for their multiple rotors. Quadcopters, with their four rotors, are the most popular choice because of their balance of control and manageability.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Multi-Rotor UAVs

They can handle moving in multiple directions, including vertical ascents and descents, lateral movements, and rotations around their axis. This maneuverability makes them ideal for tasks like aerial photography and close proximity inspections of structures and buildings.

However, multi-rotor drones do have downsides. Their endurance and speed are relatively limited, which restricts their use in large-scale aerial mapping or long-duration monitoring tasks such as pipeline or road inspections.

man holding a drone

Fixed-Wing Drones

Fixed-wing drones resemble airplanes in their design, and they feature a single rigid wing that provides lift. Unlike multi-rotor vehicles, they don’t need energy to stay above ground vertically. Their energy is used to move them forward, and that’s what makes them energy efficient. Their ability to efficiently cover large areas makes them invaluable for extensive surveying tasks and large-scale monitoring projects.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Fixed-Wing UAVs

Fixed-wing drones are particularly great for long distances, mapping extensive areas, and maintaining prolonged flights over points of interest. They can stay in the air for several hours at a time, while some models, powered by fuel, can stay in the air for 16 hours or longer.

However, there are some challenges with these types of drones. First of all, they tend to be more expensive and require more skill to operate, and training for these UAVs is essential.

They also need a lot of space and room for taking off and landing – an area long and wide like a runway. Apart from space, they also need to be fast enough in order not to stall. This means they are not appropriate for use cases with low speed.

man holding a white drone

Fixed-Wind Hybrid VTOL

Hybrid VTOL drones combine the best features of fixed-wing and rotor-based designs. They are equipped with rotors on their fixed wings, which makes them able to hover and perform vertical take-offs and landings. Their best application is for delivery, as their hybrid advantages make them ideal for delivering packages in different environments.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Fixed-Wing Hybrid UAVs

One of the main advantages of hybrid VTOL design is the autopilot system, which allows the human operator to focus more on navigation. However, this VTOL drone is generally not suitable for beginners, and its advanced technology places it among the more expensive options in the fixed-wing drone market.

black delivery drone

UASolutions Can Help In Determining Your Category

As drone technology advances, it gains new features that can be used for a variety of tasks, such as farming and agriculture, mapping and monitoring from above, and search and rescue missions. As technology improves, especially with hybrid VTOL drones, there are exciting new ways that these aerial systems can be used.

However, to integrate drone technology into your operations, you need to navigate drone conformity, different categories, operational compliance, and handle specific operations risk assessment (SORA)

UASolutions offers support including financing support and also strategic regulatory and compliance support with guidance tailored to what your needs are.