The vast majority of drones out there use electric motors powered by lithium polymer batteries, but that’s not the only way you can power a drone. Using gas to power drones is an emerging technology that is still in its infancy, but it’s likely to become more prominent in the near future.
So, what advantages does a gasoline drone have over an electric one that uses lithium batteries? That’s exactly what we’ll answer in this guide. We’ll explain how gas powered drones work, their benefits, and then look at the best gas-powered drones available at the moment.
Benefits of Gas Powered Drones
Longer flight time
The reason that virtually all consumer drones use Li-Po batteries to power electric motors is because it’s generally simpler, cheaper and more efficient than using a combustion engine that runs on gas.
However, that also means Li-Po drones have some inherent limitations, particularly when it comes to flight time. This is because the more battery you load a drone with, the weightier it becomes. This, combined with the low energy density of Li-Po batteries, means that the majority of drones are limited to flight times of under 40 minutes.
And when we say under 40 minutes, even that flight time is only reserved for the very highest tier of consumer drones. There are still many professional drones that cost thousands of dollars and yet can only be flown for 30 to 40 minutes at a time.
So, you need the big bucks to fly drones for a lengthy time — and even then, you’re limited on options.
In contrast, a gas-powered RC drone can run longer as it has a much higher mass density, volume density — and isn’t reliant on loading heavy batteries in order to achieve long flight times.
Combustion gasoline engines are small, lightweight, and robust in comparison to lithium batteries which have lower energy densities.
Quicker & easier to refuel
Plus, it’s a lot quicker to refuel a small gas engine than it is to recharge a Li-Po battery. Out in the field, you can refuel the best gasoline drones within seconds, rather than waiting hours to charge the battery.
Most gas-powered drones use the common types of gasoline that you can easily buy, such as unleaded gas or two-stroke motor oil. There are also a few that use nitrogen-based fuels.
Less affected by strong weather
Another advantage of a gas-powered drone is that they are more stable in windy conditions, due to having more moving parts and therefore a heavier weight.
The heavier weight doesn’t have as much effect on flight times, though, due to the increased power through the gas engine. This increased stability makes gas-powered drones ideal for aerial photography.
You can also read our buyer’s guide for camera drones.
In addition, the increased power that comes with using combustion engines means that gas-powered drones can carry considerably more weight than most electric ones.
For example, one of the drones we profile later in this guide is capable of carrying an astonishing 50lbs. This, combined with the increased flying time of gas-powered drones, makes them better for transporting things such as rescue supplies.
For more on this: read our buyer’s guide for heavy duty drones.
Along with increased payloads, the power of combustion engines also means gas-powered can reach high speeds such as 60kph, so you can cover great distances in shorter times than with electric drones.
Limitations of Gas Powered Drones
While gas-powered drones can offer long flight times and the heavier weight helps keep a gas-powered drone stable in the air, it can also mean reduced maneuverability and responsiveness, making them more difficult to fly.
It also limits the drones to use in open spaces where there is no need to maneuver through tight spaces.
Fuel issues & crashing
Another issue is that you have to be particularly attentive to fuel levels and lubrication so that you don’t risk your drone crashing.
In contrast, many Li-Po-powered drones have automatic return to home features for when battery power is low. These issues mean that a gas-powered drone requires more skill and experience to fly smoothly than an electric drone does.
There’s also the issue of having to ignite the motor and risking interference due to the high voltage levels required for taking off a gas-powered RC drone.
This can be solved using a PCM or 2.4GHZ spread spectrum radio, but it’s not something you want to deal with if you’re not experienced with this kind of thing.
Where Can I Buy a Gas Powered Drone?
At the moment, there are not really any commercially available gas-powered drones. However, there are several that are in the conceptual and Kickstarter phases, so they could become more widely available in the next few years, though they are expensive.
There are also several examples of DIY gas-powered drones that have been built from scratch by serious hobbyists. While this is a complex and expensive undertaking, it is impossible for drone enthusiasts that have the time, know-how, and budget.
Below, we profile both DIY gas-powered drones and those that are currently crowdfunding for mass production.
Some of the best gas-powered drones available
Yeair – Hybrid Gas and Electric Powered Drone (Soon to be on the Market)
The Yeair is a well-known gas-powered quadcopter drone that’s currently in a Kickstarter phase but is anticipated to be on the market in the near future. In fact, the Yeair website even states the price you’ll be able to buy it from – €1399, which is about $1600.
That may sound expensive, but when you compare it against the features the Yeair offers, you realize that it’s actually very competitively priced in comparison to electric drones with similar capabilities.
For starters, the drone offers 60 minutes of air time, which is considerably more than even much more expensive electric drones.
This is made possible thanks to the fact that the Yeair is in fact a hybrid drone powered by both gas and electricity. The drone uses an electrically powered hub shaft that’s directly connected to the combustor to relate accelerations and delay values, which provides more dynamic and stable flying than if it were to just use a combustion engine.
That’s not the only impressive aspect of the Yeair drone. It can also handle payloads of up to 5kg, so it can be used to carry heavy objects such as professional cameras or other more practical objects.
For more: read our buyer’s guide on heavy lift drones.
The drone is even capable of reaching speeds of up to 60km/h, so you can fly faster than ever within the 60-minute flight time.
The Yeair is also a very safe gas-powered drone with a dual-motor system, lowering risk of failure, while the stability and power systems mean you can fly the drone in strong winds.
This drone is one of the few gas-powered quadcopters that’s fully completed and is ready for mass production, it’s just a matter of the company raising the necessary funds. So, at the moment, this looks like the most likely gas-powered drone with a camera to become available to consumers within the near future.
Goliath – DIY Gas Powered Drone
The Goliath is a DIY, open-source prototype for developing gas-powered drones, which was created by former aerospace engineer Peter McCloud.
This is a gas-powered quad drone with four propellers powered by a single central gas engine with a belt drive. A large and bulky drone, a single 30HP vertical shaft engine was chosen due to the higher power-to-weight ratio than four smaller engines offered. The ambition is for the Goliath to ultimately be able to carry up to 40kg payloads.
Even the 36” propellers are custom made from foam blanks with birch stiffeners, resulting in propellers that weigh just 0.25lb yet can carry 60lb.
There are actually three different versions of the Goliath gas-powered drone:
- The Mk I was focused on developing the drone’s drive train.
- The Mk II was constructed using a more lightweight aluminum frame for increased responsiveness and stability when flying.
- The Mk III, named the Titan, is currently in development and uses an updated drive system alongside 42” rotors, rather than the 36” rotors used in the previous model.
However, even when the Mk III is completed it will still serve as a model for future gas drones, rather than being a purchasable consumer drone.
Overall, if you’re looking for inspiration for your own DIY gas-powered drone, then the Goliath is the best place to start.
Nitro Stingray – Best Gas Powered Drone for Stunts
The Nitro Stingray is one of the best-known examples of a gas power drone and has some really interesting features. This drone is actually the gas-powered version of Nitro’s original electric-powered Stingray drone.
It’s well known for its smooth and stable flying which enables it to perform a range of different maneuvers and stunts, such as barrel rolls, so it’s arguably the best gas powered drone for performing aerial acrobatics.
These features are made possible thanks to the two-stroke Scorpion motor and the intuitive TG-Multi flight controller which provides complete control of the drone. It also has a variable pitch feature that increases mobility and responsiveness while in the air.
While it’s best known for its maneuverability and aerobatics, the Nitro Stingray’s stability in windy conditions also makes it a good gas powered RC drone for aerial photography.
This gas quad drone is a much lighter and agile gas powered alternative to the likes of the Goliath – you can see it in action here. However, it’s still harder to master and a fair bit noisier than electric alternatives, which is something to bear in mind.
Incredible HLQ – Heavy Duty Gas Powered Drone
This is another developmental gas quadcopter that went through a Kickstarter campaign and raised the necessary amount, though it seems it never become commercially available.
The Incredible HLQ was developed by a group of engineering students from San Jose State University in California, though the four did benefit from assistance from some of San Francisco Bay’s top aerospace and engineering firms.
This drone is most notable for its huge 50lb payload. The HLQ stands for “heavy lifting quadcopter”.
This seriously impressive lifting capability is made possible by the two 2-stroke gasoline engines, each capable of producing 12.5.HP. The engines power four helicopter rotor heads with 435mm blades.
The frame is constructed of aluminum tubes to make it more lightweight, and it runs on the popular, intuitive and open source Ardupilot module flight controller that can be customized to your liking.
The Incredible HLQ may never have made it to market, and it’s certainly not a small or compact drone that’s easy to fly, but its huge payload does showcase what can be achieved with a gas powered helicopter drone.