Over the past decade, drone technology has advanced significantly, making drones inexpensive and increasingly common in both professional and civil environments. The huge takeoff of drones means that there are a large number of different types of drones available for purchase, which is good news for people who want their own small flying machine, as you are sure to find one that fits your needs perfectly.

But different types of UAVs are used for various purposes, so you'll have to do more research to discover the best drone for your specific needs. In this article, we will discover a simple and practical classification of the different drone types based on very specific parameters.

Types of drones

What is a drone?

What is a drone?

A "drone" is an unmanned aerial vehicle. That is a machine that can fly without a human pilot. Its flight path is programmed by software or controlled by remote control.

This is just a general definition, there are different terms to refer to this type of aircraft.

  • RPA or RPAS refers to Remotely Piloted Aircraft and Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems. This concept refers to the remote control of an aircraft.
  • Drone, the most popular name, refers to unmanned aircraft. 
  • UAV or UAS is an acronym for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle and Unmanned Aerial System. This concept refers to the absence of a physical pilot on the aircraft.

CW-10 drone

What are the different types of drones and their uses?

Drones come in different sizes, capabilities, and a wide variety of models, from recreational mini-drones to control and surveillance drones. Instead of throwing a bunch of new information at you, we decided to break things down into a few different drone categories.

Types of drones according to wing types

Types of drones according to wing types

Here is a rundown of the four main types of drones according to wing type, their uses, their advantages, and disadvantages:

Drone type

Advantage

Disadvantage

Use

Multi-rotor drones

  • Easy to control and maneuver
  • VTOL and hover flight
  • Often lower price
  • Portability
  • Limited flying time
  • Small payload capabilities
  • Less stability in the wind
  • Lower flight speeds
  • Aerial photography
  • Aerial inspection
  • Landing surveying
  • Agriculture

Fixed-wing drones

  • Longer flight time
  • Can carry a heavier payload
  • Greater stability in the wind
  • Higher flight speeds
  • More training needed
  • No VTOL/hover
  • Expensive
  • Difficult to land, more places needed
  • Aerial mapping
  • Utility inspection
  • Surveillance
  • Agriculture

Single-rotor helicopter drones

  • VTOL and hover flight
  • Long endurance (with gas power)
  • Heavier payload capability
  • More dangerous
  • Harder to fly, more training needed
  • Expensive
  • Aerial LiDAR laser scanning

Fixed-wing hybrid VTOL drones

  • VTOL and hover
  • Long-endurance flight
  • Fast speed
  • Heavier payload capability
  • More training needed
  • Expensive
  • Aerial mapping
  • Utility inspection
  • Surveillance
  • Agriculture
  • Search and rescue

Multi-rotor drones

Multi-rotor drones, also known as rotary-wing, are the most widely used type of drones for recreational and professional use. Their small size and excellent control make multi-rotor drones the best choice for aerial photography.

PH-007 multi-rotor drone

Offering great versatility, they allow the installation of all types of cameras to perform different tasks. They are drones that can hover easily and take off vertically, adding more flexibility as well.

However, the biggest drawback of multi-rotor drones is usually related to the flight autonomy they offer. Adding more rotors makes the drone more difficult to control. All those moving parts also consume extra energy, draining the battery faster. Most multi-rotor drones have a flight time of less than an hour. If we want to perform certain tasks that take a long time, we have to have several batteries to replace them. This also means extra costs.

Fixed-wing drones

Fixed-wing drones are those capable of harnessing air and generating forces that allow them to stay in the air by taking advantage of their aerodynamics. They are similar in design or aesthetics to radio-controlled aircraft and are often used to map large areas due to their powerful autonomy. They take advantage of their aerodynamics and design to keep them afloat, which means they have a longer endurance and flight speed.

Sensefly eBee X fixed-wing drones

The downside of fixed-wing drones is that they tend to be more expensive compared to multi-rotor drones. They require a large, clear space to take off and land, just like airplanes. Some larger models also require specialized ground equipment to help them take off and land. In addition, fixed-wing drones can only fly forward, so they do not offer the same maneuverability as multi-rotor drones.

Single-rotor helicopter drones

Powerful and durable, single-rotor drones look similar in construction and design to actual helicopters, with only one rotor to provide power, plus a tail to control direction and stability. Combining the advantages of tiny multi-rotor drones and single-rotor drones, they are better suited to carry larger payloads and fly more efficiently than multi-rotors. Single-rotor devices typically use gas engines rather than batteries, which greatly increases their flight time.

Single-rotor helicopter drones

However, these drones tend to be larger and more complex than other types of UAVs. This means they are more expensive and more difficult to operate, and their larger blades can make them more dangerous.

Fixed-wing hybrid VTOL drones

As the latest drone technology to be introduced, fixed-wing hybrid VTOL drones refer to fixed-wing aircraft that have been modified to take off and land vertically. They combine the long-range and flight time of fixed-wing UAVs with the vertical takeoff capability of rotary-wing devices, eliminating the drawbacks of fixed-wing UAVs that require large spaces for takeoff and landing. They are designed for mapping, power line inspection, surveillance, agriculture, and rescue operations.

CW-007 VTOL fixed-wing drone

However, this VTOL drone tends to be unsuitable for beginners, and the more advanced technology puts it at the high end of the fixed-wing drone market in terms of cost.

Types of drones according to their sizes

Types of drones according to their sizes

Drones can be classified according to their size, from very small drones to large drones.

Size

Length

Propeller diameter

Weight

Use

Very small drones

150mm (15cm, 6 inches) or less

51mm (2 inches) or less

200 grams (0.2kg, 0.44lbs) or less

Military surveillance

Small drones

Up to 300mm (12 inches)

76-152mm (3-6 inches)

200-1000 grams (0.44-2.2lbs)

  • Indoor equipment inspections
  • Recreation and photography

Medium drones

300-1200mm (12 inches – 4 feet)

150-640 mm (6-25 inches)

1-20kg (2.2-44 pounds)

  • Professional applications
  • Amateur photography

Large drones

120cm (4 feet) and up

64 cm (25 inches) and up

20kg (44 pounds) and up

  • Enemy detection and combat capabilities
  • Civil applications such as drone deliveries or filmmaking

Very small drones (Nano)

The size of these drones can be as small as an insect and easily fit in the palm of your hand, with dimensions between 1 and 50 cm. Because of their small size and wing design, nano drones can fly in very confined spaces and are not easily detected and are mainly used by spies to gather information on people and objects.

Very small drone

Small drones

Small drones they are slightly larger than micro drones, between 50 cm and 2 meters. The wings of these drones are usually fixed and can be easily lifted by the arm and thrown into the air. They can be used for indoor equipment inspections (prop guards, cages ......), but they are more often used outdoors for recreation and photography, such as traffic management.

Medium drones

Medium-sized drones are larger and heavier than smaller drones, with dimensions exceeding 2 meters and weighing up to 200 kilograms. They take two people to lift them, which are most often used for professional applications and amateur photography.

Medium drone

Large drones

Large drones are comparable in size to smaller aircraft and are used mainly for military purposes such as surveillance and strategy. With the most advanced technology, they are replacing fighter jets, allowing for rapid enemy detection and combat capabilities. They are also designed for civil applications such as drone deliveries or filmmaking.

Types of drones accroding to their payload capacity

Types of drones according to their payload capacity

How much weight a drone can carry will depend on the power of the motor, and the lift generated by the propeller in standard weather conditions. Below we will divide UAVs into four categories based on the weight of the payload they can carry.

Drone type

Weight

Payload capacity

Use

Featherweight drones

Less than 11 grams (0.011 kg)

4 grams to 100 grams (0.004 to 0.1 kg)

Military surveillance

Lightweight drones

200-1000 g (0.2-1 kg)

150-270 g (0.15-0.27 kg)

Recreation and photography

Middleweight drones

1-600 kg (2.20-1323 lb)

400-1460 grams (0.4-1.46 kg)

  • Professional applications
  • Aerial photography

Heavy-lift drones

More than 160 kg

More than 1,000 kg

  • Enemy detection and combat capabilities
  • Civil applications such as drone deliveries or filmmaking

Featherweight drones

These are typically referred to as nanoscale drones, which weigh as little as 11 grams (0.011 kg) and can only carry payloads ranging from 4 grams to 100 grams (0.004 to 0.1 kg).

Lightweight drones

Lightweight drones refer to mini drones with an average weight of 200-1000 g (0.2-1 kg), and their payload capacity averages between 150-270 g (0.15-0.27 kg).

Middleweight drones

Here we are referring to medium-sized drones weighing between 1-600 kg (2.20-1323 lb). They are generally divided into two categories: commercial drones and military drones.

CW-25 middleweight drone

The payload capacity of consumer and commercial mid-weight drones averages between 400-1460 grams (0.4-1.46 kg). An example of a consumer/commercial drone is the JOUAV CW-15, which is capable of carrying an incredible 3 kg of different payloads!

Military mid-weight drones have payload capacities between 40 kg (88 lb) and 150 kg (331 lb).

Heavy lift drones

Heavy lift drones refer to large drones, mainly military drones, with a small percentage used for delivery and high-precision mapping. These drones weigh more than 160 kg, with some weighing more than 1,000 kg. Their payload capacity can reach 550 kg and above.

Heavy lift drone

Types of drones according to drone range

Types of drones according to drone range

According to the range, UAVs can be classified into very close range, close range, short range, mid-range, and long range.

Drone range

Flight distance

Flight time

Use

Very close-range drones

5 km

1 hour

Recreation

Close-range drones

up to 50 km

1-6 hours

  • Military surveillance
  • Aerial photography

Short-range drones

up to 150 km

8-12 hours

  • Large-scale surveillance
  • Mapping and surveying
  • Utility inspection

Mid-range drones

644 km

24 hours

Military combat and surveillance

Long-range drones

More than 644 km

More than 24 hours

  • Military surveillance and espionage
  • Weather tracking
  • Geographic mapping

Very close-range drones

Very close-range drones can fly within a range of 5 km from the controller, with an average flight time lasting 1 hour! These drones are mainly used for recreational purposes.

Close-range drones

Short-range drones can fly up to 50 km away from the controller and stay afloat in the air for 1-6 hours. Because they can fly very high, they are often used in military drones for surveillance.

Short-range drones

Short-range drones are drones that can fly up to 150 km away from the controller. With very powerful batteries, they can stay in the air for 8-12 hours and are usually used for combat as well as surveillance purposes.

Mid-range drones

These drones are capable of flying 400 miles (644 km). They can fly at altitudes of 12,000 to 30,000 feet for more than 24 hours. These are typically drones used for combat as well as surveillance.

As a drone with longest flight time and range, the JOUAV CW-40 has a control range of up to 200 km and a long flight time of up to 10 hours, which are widely been used in large-area surveillance and mapping.

Long-range drones

Long-range drones, also known as endurance drones, are technically and functionally superior to these other drones. It is estimated that they can travel well over 400 miles (644 km) (some reaching hundreds of thousands of square miles) without losing their signal. Although their use is primarily for military surveillance and espionage, they are also used by professionals to track weather patterns, geology, and geographic mapping.

Types of drones according to their power sources

Types of drones according to their power sources

In order to fly, a drone must have a power source, such as batteries or fuel. Based on the different power sources, drones can also be classified into different types.

Power source

Pros

Cons

Battery-powered drones

  • Lightweight
  • Ability to store decent amounts of energy
  • High discharge rates
  • Short lifespan
  • Mistreat them and they can start a fire
  • Use up energy fast

Gasoline-powered drones

  • Potentially dangerous as they carry highly combustible fuels
  • More noise than a battery-operated drone
  • Large size
  • No need for expensive battery backup and charging stations
  • No need to wait for batteries to recharge
  • Higher flight speed
  • Easily carry heavier payloads
  • Longer flight time
  • Smooth and stable flight

Hydrogen fuel cell drones

  • Renewable and environmentally friendly
  • Resourceful
  • Higher energy density than batteries
  • Longer flight time
  • Refuels in just minutes
  • Works at low temperatures
  • Generate a lot of heat
  • Currently very poor in terms of efficiency

Solar drones

  • Reduce operating costs
  • Increase operating hours
  • Lightweight

Limited flight time

Battery

The primary source of power for most drones is the battery. Three common types of drone batteries include lithium polymer (LiPo), nickel-metal hydride (NiMH), and nickel-cadmium (Nickel-Cadmium) batteries.

Gasoline

Generally, gasoline is used as fuel for large-sized drones because it is light and cheap. Gas powered drones have long flight times and large payload capacities.

Hydrogen

Hydrogen-powered drones are more efficient at high altitudes than many drones using internal combustion engines, which suffer more derogation due to lower air density. Smaller internal combustion engines exert peak fuel efficiency in only a narrow range of conditions with low noise, zero-emission, and great safety.

An example of a hydrogen-powered drone is the CW-25H, also known as DJ25, jointly developed by JOUAV and Doosan Innovation. It won the Wins CES 2022 Innovation Award and can carry a payload of up to 4kg.

CW-25H hydrogen drone

Solar

Solar-powered drones use the sun as a power source, converting sunlight into electricity in order to charge their batteries. This allows for long flights as long as the sun is available.

Types of drones according to their abilities & equipment

Types of drones according to their abilities & equipment

Toy drones

Toy drones it is conspicuous in the toy department of supermarkets, come in various sizes and shapes, with or without cameras, can be used indoors and sometimes outdoors, they can be controlled by remote control or smartphone depending on the model, he is generally moderately priced and is the ideal drone for beginners.

toy drones

Photography/videography drones

There are different kinds of drone models of cameras drones that can record photos or videos in HD, Full HD, or 4K, with the camera mounted on a 2-axis or 3-axis nacelle for perfect image stability.

They can be equipped with different features, GPS, people tracking, route programming, etc. Getting smaller and more sophisticated, it allows you to capture magnificent images from almost anywhere! Be aware, however, that the production and distribution of photos or videos taken in the airspace are strictly regulated.

Racing drones

Competitive drone or FPV racing is generally used on private and strictly regulated land and consists of obstacle courses at high speeds by flying a drone with virtual reality glasses, an activity that requires many hours of training to gain the agility and reflexes needed to control the drone. There are now a growing number of clubs that can legally engage in this hobby.

Racing drones

Ready-to-use (RTF) drones

RTF drones are drones that are available for users to assemble themselves. You can put all the parts you need in one kit, making it a fun experience as you build your drone!

GPS drones

These drones are connected to satellites and use them as a means of plotting flight direction. They also can "return home" when their batteries are low.

Professional drones

Professional drones can be equipped with cameras or video cameras for all types of aerial photography. They can also be equipped with probes, sensors, or thermal imaging cameras for technical services such as mapping, surveillance, or others depending on the needs of the customer.

Professional drones are the only aircraft that can fly over built-up areas, restricted or prohibited areas, and conduct night flights, as long as the professional pilot has made a county declaration and obtained the required authorization.

They provide many services in the public and private sectors, inspection, control, or monitoring, whether it's beaches, traffic, buildings, or rooftops, these services are huge and continue to grow.

Military drones

Military drones, the origin of drones, are a completely different drone category from civilian drones. They are increasingly used in various conflicts, initially for surveillance and intelligence, but now they can be armed and become formidable weapons.

Sky Hero Loki military drone

Delivery drones

Delivery drones are a new application of drones that are being tested by companies like Amazon. These UAVs types may soon become widely available to us in the future

Types of drones according to motors

Types of drones according to motors

According to the motor type, we can divide the drone types into brushed motor drones and brushless motor drones.

Drone motor

Pros

Cons

Brushed drone motors

  • Inexpensive to make
  • Can be made in a small package
  • Favorable in extreme environments due to lack of electronics
  • Replaceable brushes for extended life
  • Two-wire control – control is simple; Brushless motors have 3 wires and require a speed controller to work
  • No speed controller is required for fixed speed
  • Less cost
  • Uncomplicated wiring
  • Low energy efficiency
  • Commutators and brushes wear out more quickly

Brushless drone motors

  • No brushes – lower maintenance and longer durability
  • More efficient – less energy wasted as heat
  • Better speed and torque due to the absence of brushes, because brush friction increases with speed
  • Wider speed range
  • Better heat dissipation due to the construction compared to brushed motors
  • More cost-effective for high-speed/power operations

High cost

Brushed drone motors

Brushed motors are the type of motor present in most recreational drones. While they are indeed cheaper motors, they also require more maintenance than brushless motors.

The power of these motors is practically the same in all the models we could find, only the size varies (the larger the size, the more power). However, most of these motors are not in direct contact with the propeller.

The motor is connected to a pinion gear which turns a large gear which in turn drives the motor. This is called a "speed reducer" because due to these two gears we are reducing the maximum power the engine can give us. This will help us operate the drone and will extend its life because we will not be pushing the motor to its limits at any given time.

Brushless drone motors

The main feature of these motors is the absence of brushes in contact with the rotor. This keeps its maintenance to a minimum and its operation very effective and efficient. In addition, these motors have much higher power than brush/brushless motors (50-70 km/h compared to 150-200 km/h for brushless motors).

However, these types of drone motors work mainly with alternating current, therefore, each motor must have its own ESC. ESC (electronic speed controller) or electronic variables that can define the speed of rotation of the brushless motor.

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