Most people think of four-propellor drones, known as quadcopters, when they think of drones. However, that’s not the only type of drone out there. Another type is a fixed wing drone, which replaces the four propellers of a quadcopter with two wings for gliding, just like an airplane.
Fixed wing drones are rising in popularity, but how exactly do they work and why would you choose one over a quadcopter drone? We answer all those questions and more in this guide.
We’ve also reviewed the best fixed wing drone models that you can buy right now.
What is a Fixed Wing Drone?
A fixed drone is a drone that replaces the four propellers of quadcopter or multirotor drones with two wings. They are still powered by motors like quadcopters, but instead of using propellers to hover, the wings allow them to glide through the sky, essentially like a mini airplane.
The main difference between the two designs is that fixed wing drones use a lot less power than quadcopters. Fixed wing drones require only the energy to propel it forward, using their wings to maintain control while flying. In contrast, a quadcopter constantly drains battery power by continuously spinning the propellers to generate lift.
Whereas quadcopters are readily available in almost every price range from cheap hobbyist drones to commercial high-end drones, fixed wing drones are a more recent development, and only a few models are currently available. However, leading drone manufacturer Parrot has made several affordable models, which we’ll review further down this page, and other big companies are entering the market.
VTOL Fixed Wing Drones
Something you’ll often hear of in conversation about fixed wing drones is “VTOL” technology – vertical take-off and landing. A VTOL fixed wing drone is one that offers fixed wing flying but with the controller vertical take-off and landing ability previously associated with quadcopters.
Before this, you had to launch a fixed wing drone by hand and it would then glide down to land on its belly. However, this required large, open areas for safe landing, and even then landing could still damage the drone. Plus, hand-launched drones had to be lightweight which in turn limits the payload.
VTOL fixed wing drones solve these issues, as they have higher payloads and can be landed safely in different areas and environments. However, as you can probably imagine, these drones are more expensive than the classic ones that don’t use VTOL technology.
Fixed Wing Drone Uses & Applications
You may be wondering why you would bother buying a fixed wing drone if you can easily purchase a quadcopter that can perform a range of different functions. Well, there are several benefits that come with opting for a fixed wing drone.
As we’ve already touched on, a fixed flying wing drone uses less energy than a quadcopter. This means they can fly faster and for longer than quadcopters at a similar price. Thanks to this they’re better suited to certain applications, particularly surveying.
With a fixed wing drone, you can conduct surveys for things like city planning, mine shafts, and agricultural land more efficiently than with a quadcopter drone. You can map areas quicker and cheaper using a long-range fixed wing drone, which is a huge advantage for people working in these industries.
However, that’s not the only use of long-distance fixed wing drones. Their speed, range, and battery life mean they’re also used for surveillance, infrastructure maintenance, emergency response and search and rescue. Quadcopter drones are also used for these purposes, but a fixed wing drone with long-range can cover larger areas in less time.
It’s important to remember that for applications like aerial photography, the easy altitude hold and hovering functions of quadcopters mean they will better suit most photographers.
However, it does ultimately all come down to personal preference. Below we review toy fixed wing drones, an affordable fixed wing drone with a high-quality camera, and professional mapping fixed wing drones so that you can make your choice depending on your preference.
The Best Fixed Wing Drones on the Market
Now, let’s take a look at the top fixed wing drones you can buy today.
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Parrot Swing – Best Toy Fixed Wing Drone
- Price: $50 — Available on Amazon here
Starting with the cheapest and most basic model on our list, the Parrot Swing is a toy drone that’s a good choice for beginners looking to get into fixed wing flying.
This drone is actually a hybrid between a fixed wing and quadcopter, with a unique design that incorporates four wings with propellers on each. In Parrot’s own words, this results in “the stability of a quadcopter, the power of a plane”.
There are several intelligent flight features that make it super simple to fly, including vertical take-off and landing, as well as autopilot. It can reach speeds of up to 19mph, which is pretty quick for a drone of such a low price.
One of the most unique features is the fact that there are two piloting modes – quadcopter and plane. This means you can fly at speed and perform maneuvers like a plane and then swap to hovering when you wish. You can even perform tricks like flips and loops.
You can control this cheap fixed wing drone using the intuitive controller within a range of 196ft. You can also use the FreeFlight Mini app on your smartphone which allows you to direct the drone simply by tilting your mobile.
It’s a popular low cost drone, with satisfied customers lauding how easy it is to fly, the smooth flight and maneuverability, and the intelligent flight features.
Volcantexrc P15 Mustang – Popular RC Plane Fixed Wing Drone for Beginners
- Price: $129 — Available on Amazon here
If you’re looking for a classic toy fixed-wing drone rather than a hybrid like the Parrot Swing, make sure you check out the Volcantexrc P15 Mustang. This company is one of the leading producers of toy fixed-wing drones, and the P15 is among its most popular models.
Like the Parrot Swing, it doesn’t have a camera and is simply designed for the joy of flying. One of our favorite things about it is that it has a powerful over-grade motor system which makes it easy to control in flight while performing aerobatic stunts like 360 flips. This drone also has an Xpilot stabilizer which means the gyro system is kept incredibly stable during flight.
It has three different control levels to choose from: beginner level with full assist, intermediate with partial assist, and expert for full manual control. So, it’s suitable for users of all levels and is a great way to practice your flying. The gearbox system allows you to increase the power and speed mid-flight, while the plane has a 20-minute battery life.
The Volcantexrc P15 Mustang has a 2.4Ghz radio control distance of 656ft, while it has strong anti-interference capability so you can fly it alongside other drones with your friends.
With over 400 reviews and a high star rating across Amazon, it’s a popular drone among purchasers.
Parrot Disco FPV – Best Fixed Wing Drone for Hobbyists
- Price: $599 — Available on Amazon here
Now we’re into the proper fixed wing drones. Parrot is one of the leading drone manufacturers and we believe the Disco FPV will suit most people best. This is because it offers fantastic quality at a reasonable price.
For starters, it has a powerful motor capable of reaching speeds up to 50mph. You can also fly it for up to 45 minutes at a time, within a range of up to 1.2 miles, allowing you to fly faster, for longer. This drone has an aerodynamic design and a light carbon frame which helps improve its flying performance.
One of our favorite things about this long-range fixed wing drone is that it comes with the Parrot Cockpitglasses. This is a VR headset that makes you feel as if you’re really gliding through the air from your drone’s POV — now that’s an immersive flying experience.
The Parrot Disco has a powerful wide-angle camera that captures professional-grade footage with 1080P video and 14Mpx photos. Footage can be captured in various formats, including JPEG, RAW, and DNG.
This Parrot fixed wing drone is controlled using the Parrot Skycontroller 2 which is very intuitive, so it’s really easy to use. You can also live stream video from the drone to your smartphone via the FreeFlight Pro app. The controller can even attach to your smartphone to further augment your flying experience.
Finally, we’re also big fans of the intuitive flight features. For example, you can easily create autonomous routes using waypoints on the app, while automatic take-off and return to home make it easy for even beginners to get to grips with this fixed wing drone.
Applied Aeronautics Albatross UAV RTF – Mid-range Professional Fixed Wing Drone
- Price: from $7,549
The Albatross UAV RTF, created by Applied Aeronautics, is a fixed wing drone designed for mapping and surveying professionals, but it’s also used by militaries for surveillance. While it’s not quite the best model on the market, it’s still an extremely high-quality drone that’s available for a lot less than the most expensive options.
This long-range fixed wing drone has some really impressive specifications, none more so than the up-to-four-hour flight time. This is one of the longest flying times on the market, although you only get this if you buy the premium battery pack. It also has a payload of 4kg and a range of up to 170m, which makes it suitable for search and rescue operations.
Another impressive feature is that this fixed wing UAV drone is fully autonomous from takeoff to landing. It can be used with the PX4 flight planning software which has intuitive waypoint-based technology, meaning you can easily plan missions and track progress in real-time with just a few buttons.
The standard Albatross UAV fixed wing drone kit costs $7,549, but you can customize the package to suit your needs. For example, you can choose the camera, video range, autopilot options, and telemetry options. The higher quality settings you choose, the more expensive the drone kit will cost.
This drone has been built to be compatible with market-leading sensors and payloads, so you can customize it with parts from leading manufacturers like FLIR and NextVision. It’s also compatible with leading autopilot systems from the likes of Pixhawk and Auterion, so it’s a really scalable fixed wing drone.
SenseFly eBee X – Best Fixed Wing Drone for Mapping and Professional Surveyors
- Price: from $19,800
SenseFly is one of the leading manufacturers of fixed wing drones and the eBee X is the company’s flagship model. This is the finest example of a professional fixed drone for surveying and mapping on the market.
With this 4G fixed wing drone, you can easily and safely capture aerial mapping data and then use it to create high-resolution orthomosaics. Alternatively, you can use it with photogrammetry software to generate topographic maps.
This fixed drone aerial mapping drone has incredible endurance, able to fly for 90 minutes at a time, meaning you can cover up to 400 ft at a time. It’s a rugged drone with space-friendly Steep Landing technology and live air traffic data, so it’s durable and can be flown safely in a wide variety of different environments.
You can’t just buy the eBee X straight from the SenseFly website – you need to speak to the sales team and come up with the package that best suits you. There are seven different cameras to choose from, each with their own unique features.
For example, the SenseFly SODA 3D changes orientation during flight to capture three images every time instead of one, while the Duet T is a thermal camera used for creating geo-accurate thermal maps and digital surface models.
This fixed wing drone with long-range supports a wide range of file types for kinds of mapping. These include orthomosaic rasters, 3D point clouds, index maps, digital surface models, mapbox tiles, contour lines, and textured 3D meshes.