What is the difference between a drone and an RC plane or helicopter?
You’ve heard of helicopters, RC planes, and drones but they all seem the same. I mean, they all fly, right? While these three types of aircraft are similar, there are a few key differences between a drone and an RC plane or helicopter.
Most people can easily identify a traditional helicopter with its single propeller on the top of the copter and the single rotor at the end of the tail, since this is the most frequently-used design for helicopters. Traditional helicopters have appeared in children’s picture books and in movie car chases, and it is not uncommon to see a real helicopter cruising across the sky near major cities. A helicopter has a wide variety of uses, most of which involve transporting heavy loads. Helicopters are also used for regular human transportation needed for tourism and medical emergencies. Helicopters are manned vehicles, meaning a live pilot operates it from inside a cockpit rather than the vehicle being controlled remotely.
An RC plane is always controlled by a remote. Although there are several different types of remote-controlled planes, the most commonly used ones are made out of light-weight, cheap materials like cardboard and foam and can be constructed at anyone’s kitchen table. Because of this flimsy design, most remote-controlled planes have rough flights and are prone to unwanted gyrations. Some advanced remote-controlled plane models are sophisticated enough to be equipped with a video feed showing navigational data, but most are used solely for recreation and have few, if any, practical uses.
It’s true that a drone is very similar to both a helicopter and an RC plane in its operation. For example, it can hover just like a helicopter, and it can be controlled remotely like an RC plane. But a drone is more specialized both in the way it is controlled, and in its functions.
It is set off from traditional helicopters mostly in that it is an unmanned aircraft. It was first used by the military to perform jobs too dangerous or difficult for manned aircraft. Drones have an increasing number of uses ranging from performing military operations to inspecting pipelines to locating valuable resources. They are also very versatile depending on their needed function: they come in varying sizes, can handle various loads (lethal and non-lethal), and can be controlled remotely or, unlike RC planes, fly autonomously (independent of external control). Due to risky environments that drones are frequently sent into, they are often engineered to be expendable—lightweight and cost-efficient—while still being durable and high-tech enough to perform these difficult operations.
More recently, camera drones have been cleared for commercial and home use. Almost anyone can fly a camera drone to take breathtaking landscape pictures or even film complex scenes for a movie. In fact, these drones are becoming a hot commodity in the photography and film industry, because drones can take pictures from heights too low for helicopters and from heights impossible for anyone on foot to reach. Unlike helicopters and remote-controlled planes, drones are designed to have easy maneuverability while still providing professional results.
While RC planes and helicopters have their limits, the uses of a drone exceed so much of what has previously been thought impossible.
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