Fixed Wing, Quadcopter, Multi-rotor: What Does It All Mean?

by coptrz on June 2, 2016

altura zenith

So you’re thinking about buying a drone for your business? We salute you! Welcome to the unique club of business innovators. You’ll know that now the hard part starts: choosing your drone! In the first of our ‘About Drones’ series, we’re going to look at the design of different UAVs and why you might consider each for your business.

There are two distinctive types of construction for unmanned aerial vehicles: fixed wing and multi-rotor. Each has their upsides and downsides, (and sometimes sideways too if the wind is strong!), but we’re going to look at each and help you make that all-important first decision about which drone type you’re going to research.

Fixed Wing

The fixed wing is based on an aerofoil design – it looks far more like a traditional remote controlled aeroplane you might have played with as a kid (or adult that never quite grew up – that’s totally OK too!). Two wings in an aerodynamic shape enable the drone to glide easily.

Geo Mapper

This is ideal for anyone wanting to use their drone for long distances, such as for surveying. The glide element is very important when it comes to saving battery power: the motor doesn’t have to work as hard as on a multi-rotor model, so your battery will last considerably longer to give extended flight times.

(Remember: by law you must always keep in eye line of your drone – even if it flies for miles, you still need to see it!)

A fixed wing like the Geo Mapper is used for aerial surveys as it can provide highly detailed geo-referenced images, making it easy to collate and interpret data, render 3D models, and provide precisely repeated surveys over time. Long flight time and high speeds mean vast areas can be covered easily to significantly reduce time and labour costs. A fixed wing is also of a simpler design, meaning there are fewer components to go wrong!

However, there are two downsides to a simpler fixed wing design. The first is that the design requires a more involved take-off and landing procedure, and you’ll need either an automated system that does it for you or a very skilled drone pilot. You’ll also need more space for this: a multi-rotor can hover and set down on the vertical, but a fixed wing needs room to land on the horizontal, so it’s not ideal for smaller spaces.

The second downside is that the simple design and specific aerodynamics of a fixed wing often mean the payload is more limited than on a multi-rotor. There simply isn’t so much lift in the power, especially as fixed wing UAVs are lighter models than multi-rotors, so the weight-to-lift ratio is much smaller. The good news here is that many now enable you to purchase swappable components, so you can switch various cameras and sensors on and off the drone depending on what’s required.


This is what most people imagine when they hear the words drone or UAV: it’s the mini-helicopter design with four or more rotors on individual arms. The more rotors you have, the more stable the drone and the higher payload option is available thanks to the superior power of larger hexacopters and octocopters.

(To help clarify, a multi-rotor comes by different names depending on how many rotors it has. Simple really! A quadcopter has four, a hexacopter has six, and so on).

acecore neo multi-rotor drone

There are some distinct advantages to multi-rotor drone systems, the first being the hover element. A multi-rotor drone can be set on a flight path on the vertical as well as the horizontal: imagine being an architect who wants to envisage what each view of a each floor of a high rise will be. A multi-rotor can be set to hover at very precise levels, so you’d be able to take images as if looking out of each window. Neat, huh?

Multi-rotors are also very stable: the larger models even more so, often having multiple redundancy on their rotors. That means that if one or even two rotors stops working mid-flight, your drone will continue to fly. Multi-rotors also can withstand much higher wind conditions than a fixed wing, and the maneuverability makes them ideal for jobs which require high definition footage and photography in a multitude of environments and weathers.

The downside of a multi-rotor mostly lies in the flight time: the larger the UAV, the heavier the battery is required, which in turn affects how long and how fast the drone can fly. In a payoff, however, the higher weight-to-power ratio of a multi-rotor means that – while your flight times are shorter – you can heft on much higher payloads such as upgraded cameras and sensors at the same time.

Which Should I Choose?

The type of platform you choose for your drone very much depends on what it’ll be used for. If you require longer flight times, a fixed wing is usually the best bet. However if you’re after snappy and stunning video footage in unique angles – even indoors – a multi-rotor is your best friend.

A multi-rotor drone is more common for most applications, due to the versatility. However, fixed wing drones are ideal for certain industries such as those relying on high definition surveys – like precision agriculture or construction.

If you’re still not sure which platform will be best for your business needs, get in touch! Email and we’ll be happy to help.

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