Which Is Better? RC Helicopter Or A Drone?

If you’re interested in exploring RC drones or RC helicopters, you may be wondering which is the better aircraft to choose to fly. Both of these radio-controlled aircraft are tons of fun to fly, but there are significant differences that may cause you to opt one over the other.

RC drones are easier to fly and more stable in calm conditions than RC helicopters. An RC helicopter takes more time to master but gives a more true-to-life flight experience than a drone. For photography and videography, a drone’s stable flight makes it better suited than an RC helicopter.

RC drones and helicopters can take off and land vertically, are maneuverable, and have rotors rather than propellers. Despite the similarities, these RC aircraft are very different to fly and are generally chosen by hobbyists for different reasons.

Which Is Better? RC Helicopter Or A Drone?
Title with an RC helicopter in a neon frame and a drone in a neon frame with sky in the background

What RC Aircraft Is Best, A Drone Or A Helicopter?

RC helicopters and RC drones are hobby RC aircraft with hover capability and extreme maneuverability compared to other RC aircraft.

Despite the fact that these RC aircraft have similar capabilities, drones and helicopters are completely different aircraft and vary in a number of features and controls.

Drones typically have 4 rotors used to get the aircraft airborne and control the aircraft’s flight, which is why they are often known as quadcopters. The banking, turning, climbing, descending, and forward and reverse motion is all controlled by varying the speed of the 4 rotors.

Hobby-grade RC helicopters, in contrast, typically have a main rotor and a tail rotor. The helicopter’s motion is controlled by the collective and cyclic pitch of the main rotor, which changes the angle of attack of the leading edge of the rotor and the tilt of the rotor assembly to maneuver the aircraft.

These differences in the flight mechanics between the drone and the helicopter make these two RC aircraft very different from each other to control and fly.

Which Is Harder To Fly, A Drone Or An RC Helicopter?

If the RC hobby is a new venture, you may be looking for an aircraft that is easier to fly and has less of a learning curve before becoming a competent operator.

As a rule of thumb, hobby-grade single rotor helicopters are more difficult to fly than drones and take much longer to master.

Some recent advances in RC helicopter technology have included the use of gyros to make the aircraft a little easier to fly. However, even with these additions, an RC helicopter is significantly more difficult to fly than a drone.

Many RC drones come with single-button take-off and landing, meaning you do not need to control the drone as it takes off or as it lands. Electronic sensors control these difficult aspects of the flight, making drones easier to fly.

Some entry-level RC helicopters have a similar single-button take-off feature, but this is not typical, as most hobby-grade RC helicopters are intended to give a more true-to-life flying experience.

Related post: Are RC Helicopters Considered As Drones?

RC Helicopters Are More Difficult To Hover Than Drones

Most drones have a built-in feature that will cause the aircraft to hover in place if you take your hands off the controls.

If you take your hands off the radio controls while flying a drone, it will hover in place until it receives a new instruction from the controller.

If you take your hands off the controls while flying an RC helicopter, the aircraft will go out of control and crash. The operator must constantly control the RC helicopter to keep it airborne.

When hovering an RC helicopter, you will have to constantly control multiple flight controls to keep the helicopter stationary in mid-air, which takes some time to master.

Is An RC Drone Or An RC Helicopter More Maneuverable?

RC Helicopters and RC drones are equally maneuverable aircraft, but most RC hobbyists will find the drone to be more maneuverable than the helicopter.

RC helicopters are maneuverable but more difficult to master to execute accurate and aerobatic stunts than a drone. Aerobatic flying also requires an advanced RC helicopter with both cyclic and collective pitch control, which requires an advanced level of skill to perform aerobatics.

The RC drone is typically more suited to aerobatic flying than the RC helicopter, and hobbyists interested in this aspect of flying would have more fun with a drone.

Can RC Helicopters Be Used For Aerial Photography?

RC helicopters can be fitted with cameras and can be used to take aerial photographs or video footage, but it takes a skilled pilot to take good images with an RC helicopter-mounted camera.

The additional skill required to fly an RC helicopter and the rougher flight movements of the aircraft makes it difficult to get good footage or photos using a helicopter.

A drone’s flight is much smoother than an RC helicopter, and the easier hovering controls of the drone make photography a much easier task with this type of RC aircraft.

RC Drones Are Easier To Maintain Than RC Helicopters 

DJI platinum mavic drone on the ground

RC helicopters have many more mechanical moving parts than a drone due to the more complex flight mechanics of the helicopter.

Most hobby-grade helicopters require the rotors to be calibrated and set up correctly before the RC helicopter can be taken out for its first flight. Before flying the helicopter, the rotors and blades must be balanced and calibrated to the controls. 

An RC helicopter with unbalanced rotor blades will be harder to control, making a crash more likely, and the flight time can be reduced due to the constant control adjustments

Balanced helicopter rotors and blades will increase power, give you better control, and increase flight time. 

Drones do not have these complications of manual configuration, balancing, and tweaking, making getting airborne out of the box quicker and easier.

Most drones are easy to assemble and simply need to pair with the controller before they are ready to fly.

Drones rely more heavily on electronics than RC helicopters, but these components are generally easier to replace on a drone and more readily available than replacement parts for a helicopter.

RC Drones Vs. RC Helicopter Crash Damage 

Since you are more likely to crash an RC helicopter than an RC drone, a drone can be considered the more durable, easier to repair, and maintain aircraft of the two.

A crash with an RC helicopter can result in significant damage, especially the rotors, and will consequently require more frequent and intensive repairs after a crash.

The electronic controls included in a drone are designed to assist the operator and prevent crashes, with features such as collision detection and return to the operator function in battery-low or out-of-signal situations.

RC Drones Vs.RC Helicopter: Autonomous Flight

RC drones are equipped with programmable onboard GPS units, which allow for a range of features uncommon in RC helicopters.

A drone’s flight can be programmed with GPS waypoints, altitude, speed, and the flight initiated by the press of a button. The drone will execute the flight plan autonomously without the need for the operator to control the aircraft.

RC helicopters do not have autonomous flight capability built into their engineering and must be controlled by the operator throughout the flight.

RC Helicopters Are Faster Than RC Drones

RC helicopters have more aerodynamically efficient rotors, especially the more advanced models that feature collective and cyclic pitch control. 

These rotor features on the RC helicopter make the aircraft more flight efficient, allowing the helicopter to fly using less power. This difference gives the RC helicopter a longer flight duration than a drone and a faster cruising speed.

Helicopters may be faster than drones, but that does not mean drones are slow. The high maneuverability of drones has seen an increase in drone racing growing in popularity among hobbyists.

RC Drone Vs. RC Helicopter: Flying Conditions

Two trees blowing in the wind

Drones are more stable in flight than an RC helicopter, but the greater aerodynamic efficiency of the helicopter gives it the advantage over drones in rough flying conditions.

RC helicopters are significantly more stable and easier to control in windy conditions than a drone. Most drone flyers will opt not to fly in weather conditions where helicopter hobbyists wouldn’t be concerned about the windy conditions.

If you live in an area with regular strong winds, an RC helicopter may be the better choice, as it would give you more opportunities to fly than a drone.

However, a drone is more suited for indoor flying than an RC helicopter. The drone is easier to fly and has programmed safety features such as collision detection and avoidance, making it safer and easier to fly these aircraft indoors.

RC helicopters are more difficult to control and do not have the programmed safety features that a drone has, making them unsuitable for flying indoors. 

Some RC helicopters are marketed as suitable for indoor flying, but these are toy-grade helicopters rather than advanced hobby-grade machines.

Drones Have More Alternative Applications Than RC Helicopters

The stability of a drone’s flight and the easier learning curve to fly a drone has resulted in many alternative applications for the drone or quadcopter compared to the Rc helicopter.

The drone’s ability to carry a larger payload than an RC helicopter has been another contributor to the versatility of this aircraft in applications other than the hobby industry.

Many industries have adopted drones for specific tasks, including the following.

  • Package delivery. Couriers, fast food restaurants, and document couriers have implemented drones to improve package delivery efficiency and reduce costs.
  • Utility patrols. Electrical utility companies use drones to inspect powerlines and electrical towers, while gas and petroleum companies use drones to inspect pipelines.
  • State and national park management. Park rangers use drones to monitor boundaries and fences and monitor dangerous conditions, such as fires.
  • Search and rescue. Drones can cover rough ground and difficult-to-reach locations, looking for people in distress after natural disasters or people lost in the wilderness.
  • Movie industry. Drones are used extensively in movie making, especially for aerial shots. The James Bond film Skyfall was the first big-budget movie to use drones significantly in its cinematography.

RC Drones Vs. RC Helicopters: Price

Drones are packed with advanced electronics and have more drive motors than a helicopter. The additional hardware combined with the sophisticated programming required for drone operating software gives these RC aircraft a relatively high purchase price.

RC helicopters have more mechanical moving parts, but the fewer electronics and programmed operations make them a cheaper investment than an equivalent hobby-grade drone. RC helicopters use technology that has been around for more than 50 years, while drone technology is relatively new, contributing to the price difference.

A quality drone can cost anywhere from $600 to over $2000, an example being the DJI Mavic Air (Amazon link), a mid-range drone that costs a little under $800.

In contrast, a hobby-grade 6-channel helicopter such as the UJIKHSD RC Helicopter (Amazon link), comes in at a relatively modest $500.

Although an RC helicopter’s purchase price is lower than that of a drone, the ongoing maintenance cost of the RC helicopter is typically higher. This cost is mostly related to the difficulty of flying the helicopter, which results in more frequent crashes.

Are RC Drones Or Helicopters Best For A Beginner?

The question of whether an RC drone or an RC helicopter is better for a beginner depends on the intention of the person getting into the hobby.

A drone is easier to fly and is suitable for aerial photography, aerobatics, and fun, but it is not a stepping stone to an RC helicopter. The flight controls of the two aircraft are vastly different, making the skills non-transferrable between the two.

Learning to fly a drone will not teach you the skills to progress to flying the more complex RC helicopter!

If you are new to RC, a drone will get you flying faster, but if you are interested in more of a challenge and like helicopters, you should rather start your hobby with an entry-level 4-channel hobby-grade helicopter.

Learning the basic RC helicopter flying skills on this entry-level model will give you a skills foundation to move on to the more advanced helicopters.

RC Helicopter Vs. RC Drone Summary
RC HelicopterRC Drone
Difficult to fly, requiring more skill and patience.Easy to fly
Less suitable for photography and videographyGood for aerial photography and videography
Flight is harder to control and less suitable for payloads.Stable flight good for carrying payloads
Many moving parts require more maintenanceEasy to maintain
Difficult to perform aerobatic stunts, requiring an advanced helicopter and an experienced operator.Aerobatic stunts are easier to perform
Handles windy conditions better than a droneNot easy to control in windy conditions
Higher flying speed than a droneSlower flying speed than helicopters
Longer flying time due to greater efficiencyShort flying time due to less efficient flight mechanism.
No GPS-programmed flightGPS-programmed flight
Selected for hobby flyingUsed for hobby flying, aerobatics, racing, photography and videography, and business and commercial uses such as payload delivery.
No autonomous or programmed flightsAutonomous Flight
Lower entry price but higher maintenance cost.Higher cost of entry but lower maintenance cost.
Table showing comparisons of flying an RC helicopter to flying a drone

Conclusion

RC drones and RC helicopters offer a different flying experience to the RC hobbyist. The choice between the two will largely be determined by your interests in radio-controlled aircraft and what your main interests are in the hobby.

Many hobbyists fly both of these aircraft because both offer unique flying opportunities but with the same goal; having some fun!

Paul Good

This awesome hobby has something for everyone, whether you like to build your RC from scratch and keep modifying till you've got it to just how you want it, to track racing. You might be out with a boat, or perfecting your skills with a plane. Are you taking some cool pics with your drone? I'm sure my site will help you on your journey.

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