Different types of drones

Last Updated: 14:23, 27 March 2024
author icon Written By: Benjamin Wilson

Drones, with their diverse applications, have evolved into various types, each tailored for specific purposes.

You've probably heard most of the names like nano drones and camera drones, these names are more or less self explainatory.
But what about a tiny whoop, a freestyle drone or a brushless quadcopter? In this article, we will help you identify and learn more about all the different types of drones.

a collage of different drones below a dark blue text "Types of Drones"

What is a Drone? An Introduction

In recent years, the word "drone" has buzzed its way into our collective consciousness, often accompanied by images of sleek, airborne machines soaring through the sky.

But what exactly is a drone? At its core, a drone, also known as an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), is a type of aircraft that operates without a human pilot onboard.

Editors Note: I thought for a long time that drones where called drones after the insects name, the bee drone. My association was that bees have a hive mind, and each bee isn't controlled by its "self" but by the "hive". In the same way the mechanical drone we talk about in this article doesn't have its operator or "mind" within its body. Instead it is controlled by the pilot on the ground, separated from the drone.

The true reason (according to the Imperial War Museum) why drones are called drones is believed to be because of a British radio-controlled aircraft, named the DH 82B Queen Bee, and the name inspored the later used term "drone".

1935 the British produced a number of radio-controlled aircraft to be used as targets for training purposes. It's thought the term 'drone' started to be used at this time, inspired by the name of one of these models, the DH. 82B Queen Bee.

Its applications range from recreational to commercial and military uses, making it a versatile and increasingly important technology in our modern world.

The Rise of Drones: A Brief History

The concept of unmanned flight is not new. It dates back to the early 20th century, but it wasn't until recent decades that technology caught up with imagination.

Initially developed for military purposes, drones were used by the air force for missions deemed too dangerous or difficult for manned aircraft.
Later, remotely piloted aircraft systems like reconnaissance drones with infrared cameras became part of the standard arsenal.

However, with advancements in technology, military drones have become smaller, more affordable, and as the technology continued to progressed, tactical drones have became available, first in search and rescue operations, later to police, and finally it became accessible to the general public in the form of mini drones we see today.

I think its beautiful to see the evolution of large combat drones leaving the military purposes to be used for recreational and educational purposes. How something violent can be transofmed to something kind.

Types of Drones: From Toys to Tools

Drones come in various shapes and sizes, each designed for specific tasks. The most common types include multirotor drones, often used for photography and videography, fixed-wing drones that excel in long-distance operations, and single-rotor helicopters known for their heavy-lift capabilities.

From the palm-sized nano drones, fixed wing drones, multi rotor drones, to the large, sophisticated models used in commercial and military operations, there's a drone for almost every purpose.

Understanding the Different Types of Drones

Drones, once a niche technology, have now become a mainstream phenomenon, revolutionizing everything from photography to agriculture. As their popularity soars, it's essential to understand the different types of available unmanned aerial vehicles.

Each type offers unique features and is suited for specific tasks. Let's dive into the world of drones and explore the four main types: Multi-Rotor, Fixed-Wing, Single-Rotor, and Fixed-Wing Hybrid VTOL.

  1. Multi-Rotor Drones: The Most Popular Choice

Multi-rotor drones are the most common type of drone for both hobbyists and professionals. The most common one is the quadcopter with four rotors, but you can also find three, four, six, or eight rotors (hence the names tri-copter, quadcopter, hexacopter, and octocopter, respectively).

These drones are known for their stability and control, making them ideal for aerial photography, videography, and surveillance. Their ability to hover and perform precise maneuvers is unmatched. However, they have shorter flight times and carry less weight compared to other types of drones.


  • QuadRanger Drone: A quadcopter that is a jack of all traits. A impressive 720 HD high quality camera and lots of fun features that make it a perfect choice for beginners.
  • Yuneec Typhoon H: A hexacopter renowned for its advanced features like a 360-degree gimbal camera and collision avoidance, making it a favorite for filmmakers and tech enthusiasts.
  1. Fixed-Wing Drones: For Long-Distance Flying

Fixed-wing drones look more like traditional airplanes, with a single set of wings providing lift instead of multiple rotors. These drones are known for their efficiency in long-distance flying, making them perfect for mapping, surveying large areas, and agricultural monitoring.

They can cover more ground quickly and stay in the air for longer periods. But the drawback is that they require space to take off and land and are not capable of hovering, which limits their use in tight spaces or for tasks requiring stationary flight.


  • Sonicmodell AR Wing Pro: A highly efficient fixed-wing drone that can house a dji camera, gopro or an FPV camera.
  1. Single-Rotor Drones: The Helicopter Equivalent

Single-rotor drones resemble miniature helicopters and have one large rotor for lift and a small rotor on the tail for direction. They are more efficient than multi-rotor drones, capable of carrying heavier loads and flying for longer periods.

These drones are often used in aerial LIDAR surveys, heavy-lift operations, and situations where endurance and efficiency are crucial. However, they are more complex and expensive, and their large spinning blades can be more dangerous.


  • Schiebel Camcopter S-100: Often used in military and commercial applications, this drone is known for its endurance, payload capacity, and ability to operate in diverse environments.
  • RotorWay Exec 162F: A kit helicopter that, while larger than typical consumer drones, exemplifies the capabilities of single-rotor design in terms of lift and efficiency.
  1. Fixed-Wing Hybrid VTOL: The Best of Both Worlds

Fixed wing hybrid VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) drones combine the benefits of fixed wings and rotor-based designs. They can take off and land vertically like multi-rotor drones, and once airborne, they transition to fixed-wing flight, offering greater speed and efficiency.

This versatility makes them ideal for missions requiring both the maneuverability of a multi-rotor and the endurance of a fixed-wing drone. They are increasingly used in logistics, search and rescue operations, and any application where space for takeoff and landing is limited.


  • Quantum Systems Trinity F90+: A professional drone combining the advantages of fixed-wing and VTOL design, ideal for surveying, mapping, and inspection tasks.

Understanding Drone Motors: Brushless vs Brushed

A hand holding a brushless next to a hand holding a brushed dc motor
One of the critical components that significantly impacts the performance of an unmanned aerial vehicle is its motor.

There are two main types of motors used in drones: brushless and brushed. You've probably heard about these two types, and they're a great way to separate drones into 2 general categories.

I like to think of them as brushed = affordbale, and Brushless = Quality.

Each type has its unique characteristics, advantages, and applications. Let's delve into the world of drone motors and understand the differences between brushless and brushed motors.

If you want to know more, check out this article on drone motors and how they work.

Brushless Motors: The Powerhouse of Modern Drones

Brushless motors have become increasingly popular in the drone industry, especially for higher-end models. These motors are known for their efficiency, reliability, and longevity.

Advantages of Brushless Motors:

  • Efficiency and Power: Brushless motors are more efficient than their brushed counterparts. They generate less heat and provide more power, which translates to longer flight times and better performance.
  • Durability: Without brushes, these motors have fewer parts that wear out, making them more durable and reliable over time.
  • Low Maintenance: The absence of brushes reduces the need for maintenance, as there are no brushes to replace.
  • Noise Reduction: Brushless motors tend to operate more quietly, which is a significant advantage for certain applications like wildlife photography or surveillance.

Applications of Brushless Motors:

  • Professional Photography and Videography Drones: Drones like the DJI Mavic series and Phantom series use brushless motors for stable and efficient flight.
  • Freestyle & Racing Drones: Due to their high efficiency and power, brushless motors are preferred for their speed and agility.
  • Industrial and Agricultural Drones: Their durability and reliability make them ideal for commercial drones used in agriculture, surveying, and inspections.

Brushed Motors: The Traditional Choice

Brushed motors are the older type of motor technology used in drones. They are simpler in design and generally more cost-effective than brushless motors.

Advantages of Brushed Motors:

  • Cost-Effectiveness: Brushed motors are less expensive to produce, making them a popular choice for budget-friendly drones.
  • Simplicity: Their simple design makes them easier to understand and repair, which is beneficial for beginners and hobbyists.

Disadvantages of Brushed Motors:

  • Shorter Lifespan: The brushes in these motors wear out over time, leading to a shorter lifespan.
  • Less Efficient: Brushed motors are less efficient, produce more heat, and have a lower power-to-weight ratio compared to brushless motors.
  • Maintenance: The brushes need regular replacement, which adds to the maintenance cost and effort.

Applications of Brushed Motors:

  • Toy and Beginner Drones: Many entry-level drones and children's toys use brushed motors due to their lower cost.
  • Educational Purposes: Their simplicity makes them suitable for educational kits and DIY drone projects.

There are of course other types of electric motors and power sources. While battery powered drones are the most common, you can find energy efficient gas powered drones and even solar drones now that drone technology is progressing.

The benefit of gas power drones is that you don't have to wait while charging your battery and they can achieve longer flight times and carry heavier payloads compared to their electric counterparts.

Commercial Drones: From professional to toys

Now that drones aren't exclusive to the air force, the commercial drone market has exploded in recent years, offering a wide range of options for various applications. From photography to racing, each type of drone serves a unique purpose and comes equipped with specific features. Let's explore the diverse world of commercial drones, including ready-to-use, GPS, photography, mini, nano, FPV, racing, toy, and professional drones.

Photography Drones

Photography drones are designed with high-quality cameras and stabilization systems, such as gimbals, to capture stunning aerial images and videos. These drones are popular among professional photographers and videographers. The DJI Phantom series and Inspire series are notable examples, known for their superior high resolution pictures, video and stability.
See examples in our list of best drones with camera

GPS Drones

GPS drones are equipped with Global Positioning System technology, allowing for precise positioning, stable flight, and advanced functionalities like return-to-home (that automatically return the UAV back to its starting position) waypoint navigation, and geofencing. They are used in various applications, including aerial photography, surveying, and search and rescue operations.

Mini Drones

Mini drones are smaller than typical drones but larger than nano drones. They are portable, easy to maneuver, and often used for recreational purposes. Despite their size, many mini drones, like the Parrot Anafi, come equipped with decent cameras and features.

Nano Drones

Nano drones are the smallest category of drones, often fitting in the palm of your hand. They are primarily used for indoor flying and are popular among beginners and drone enthusiasts. The difference between nano and mini drones lies in their size; nano drones are significantly smaller and more compact.

If you want read more on Nano drones, check our this article on the best nano drones.

FPV Drones

FPV (First Person View) drones provide an immersive experience that's radically different from traditional drone flying. Pilots see what the drone sees in real-time through goggles or a headset, making it feel like they're in the cockpit.

This style of flying is popular in drone racing and freestyle flying. Here is our list of the best FPV drones.
Even though many FPV drones are built from scratch, there are some great RTF alternatives on the market.

Let's delve deeper into the various FPV models, such as Twig, Toothpick, Tiny Whoop, and five-inch models, to understand what these terms mean and their specific applications.

    Twig Drones

    Twig drones are a subcategory of FPV drones known for their slender and lightweight frames, resembling the thinness of a twig. These drones strike a balance between size and performance.

    They are larger than Tiny Whoops but smaller than the typical five-inch racing drones. Twigs are designed for pilots who want a drone that's fast and agile but still manageable in smaller spaces. They are ideal for both indoor and outdoor flying, offering a good mix of maneuverability and speed.

    Toothpick Drones

    Toothpick drones are similar to Twig drones in terms of size and agility but are generally even lighter and more minimalistic in design. The term "Toothpick" often refers to the frame's style – thin and minimal, resembling a toothpick. These drones are known for their ultra-light frames and efficient motors, making them incredibly agile and fast for their size. Toothpick drones are perfect for pilots looking for a high-speed experience in a compact form factor, suitable for tight spaces and intricate maneuvers.

    Tiny Whoop Drones

    Tiny Whoop drones are among the smallest FPV drones, ideal for indoor flying and perfect for beginners in the FPV world. They usually have ducted fans, which means the propellers are enclosed in a protective casing. This design not only makes them safer for indoor use but also more durable against crashes. Tiny Whoops are known for their ease of use, stability, and relatively low speed, making them great for learning the basics of FPV flying and indoor racing.

    Five-Inch Models

    Five-inch FPV drones are the standard size for FPV racing and freestyle flying. The "five-inch" refers to the propeller size, which is the most common in FPV racing leagues. These drones are built for speed, agility, and durability. They are equipped with powerful motors and can carry larger batteries for extended flight times. Five-inch models are favored by experienced pilots and racers who require top performance and the ability to perform complex aerial maneuvers. They are typically used in outdoor settings, where their speed and agility can be fully utilized.

    Racing Drones

    Racing drones are the same as FPV or freestyle drones but are used to complete an obstacle course as fast as possible.

Ready-to-Fly (RTF) Drones

The term RTF is mostly heard in assiciation with FPV drones, and refers to the drone being ready to go up in the air right out of the box. These drones require minimal setup, making them perfect for beginners or professionals who need a drone without the hassle of assembly. Models like the DJI Mavic series are popular examples, offering ease of use with advanced features.


This is almost like the RTF kit and means that you it doesn't come with a remote controller. Note that its Bind-N-Fly drones don't work with just any controller, you need a hobby graded RC controller to connect it to the drone.


This is the hardcore version of drones and stands for Almost ready to fly. Getting an A-R-F only means that the drone isn't assembled and you'll need to do it yourself.
also known as DIY (Do it yourself) Another thing to be aware of when it comes to A-R-F, at least in my experience, is that they usually don't come with a remote controller. So you could say that the proper acronym should be A-R-Bind-N-Fly. But until that catches on, I'd recommed looking at the specs to make sure if it comes with a controller or not.

Toy Drones

This is a loose term in my opinion, but generally, Toy drones are designed for casual use and are great for beginners.
A common thing amongst Toy drones is that they usually feature brushed motors, basic or no cameras, and often come with propeller guards for safety (Make sure it does if you are buying for a child). Toy drones, like the Syma X5C, are affordable and user-friendly, making them a popular choice for recreational flying. A good thing is that they almost always come with a remote control. And to name a con it might be that their electric motors let them remain airborne for no more than 8 minutes.

Here is our list of the best drones for kids.

Industrial Drones
These professional drones are designed for heavy lifting and specialized tasks. Since they are large drones they can carry equipment like high-end cameras, LIDAR systems, infrared cameras, and other instruments. These drone models are used in filmmaking, industrial inspections, agriculture, and more. Models like the DJI Matrice series exemplify the capabilities of professional drones, offering advanced features and robust performance.

While the air force probably have Military drones and reconnaissance drones have tech that aren't available to the public domain.
The research and technology slowly trickles down to the comercial domain.


Q: What are the main differences between RTF and DIY drones?

Q: Can GPS drones be used for indoor applications?

Q: What makes racing drones different from other FPV drones?

Q: Are professional drones suitable for beginners?

Meet the tester

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Benjamin Wilson
Benjamin, with a background in naval architecture, is passionate about RC boats. From sailboats to speedboats, he's sailed them all. Based in Florida, he's our anchor when it comes to all things aquatic in the RC world.
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