Are Quadcopters Better Than RC Helicopters?

The below is a guest post from Jose Lozano at RC Hobbies on Air. Want to write for UAV Coach? Check out our guidelines here. Jose, take it away…

quads vs helis

My good friend, Omar, recently started to research the RC flying devices world because he wanted to find the best type of remote controlled aircraft. I have experience with RC helicopters and he wanted to know my opinion. Something we noticed very fast is that quadcopters are very popular gadgets these days. Later that day I researched more about quadcopters and I saw that people compare RC helis and quads as if they were the same type of aircraft, however, after what I learned about quads, I think this is like comparing RC helis and airplanes. In my opinion these have different functions. If you find yourself in the dilemma of deciding which is best, you want to keep reading.

Quadcopters have gained a lot of visibility because they have helped to produce some of the most amazing aerial footage ever. Many of the amazing videos we can see online about high buildings, wonderful landscapes, and crazy aerobatics were filmed using one of these. Even if you’re not filming anything, quads today offer a fairly easy to fly platform that allows you to have lots of fun and a great flying experience.

The truth is that more than saying which is best, we must strive to discover which is best for our intended purpose. Thus, the right question is: what is the best for me?

How to know if you need a quad or an RC helicopter?

Blade 120 SR

Blade 120 SR

There are a few things to consider to know which device is the best for you when starting with RC flying devices. You must know that all of them are exciting. For now I’m not including airplanes in this report because they don’t tend to be compared with quads, since people see the obvious differences, but between quadcopters and helicopters is easy to be confused sometimes.

Once you get more used to fly any of these devices you’ll create your own list of what to look for when deciding which aircraft is best for you, but for now let’s stick with what I consider a basic but useful guide.

  • Stability
  • Application
  • Expertise Level
  • Budget

Stability is really important

Quadcopters are becoming rapidly famous because they offer a relatively easy-to-fly platform that is also very stable. As many of you know, a quadcopter has four different motors in a square shape, and it is by controlling parameters such as the speed and angle of these rotor blades that many interesting and funny things can happen.

The main challenge (and where the fun is) is to control the rotor blades so that you can perform all sorts of aerobatics and tricks. In most cases, quadcopters tend to be more stable than helicopters, and this is the reason why they have been used for applications such as aerial photo and video shooting. When I speak about stability, I mean that the ship is able to perform and keep performing an instruction commanded by the remote control until other instruction is transmitted. This is something that quads seem to do better than RC helicopters.

DJI Phantom 2 Quadcopter

DJI Phantom 2 Quadcopter

The higher the stability the easier to fly. However, a few months ago one of my readers told me that he couldn’t believe that quadcopters were more stable than RC helis, because four propellers are harder to control than just one. He was totally right, in fact, quadcopters have a bunch of electronics to control the signals from the transmitter and then translate that to the motors to produce the best results. You must know that a quadcopter is a complex system that requires electronics and programming to offer the super stability that some models such as the DJI Phantom are able to display.

On the other hand, some of the simplest helicopters that I know don’t require such advanced systems to be pretty stable, and even when this could be perceived as a weakness for the quads, it’s actually the opposite, because these systems are very effective and they’ve brought to the world a very stable flying gadget. The other good thing here is that with the miniaturization of electronics, the quads now can be found at very affordable prices without sacrificing performance.

From the stand point of a beginner, a quadcopter comes with a built-in-system that allows you to focus on enjoying the experience of flying an RC aviation device, while getting used to control something that has no brakes and can crash as well. Later you may want to find something a bit more challenging, and a more advanced quadcopter or helicopter (which is a completely different thing) can be the right choice.

Don’t think that helicopters are more difficult to control or less stable, is just that some of the best RC helicopters doesn’t have much of the electronics that a quad has. In this case you’re pretty much in control of everything, while in the quad, you’re aided by an electronic control in charge of producing the right outcome.

In summary, the more stability the easier to fly, because this means you have more control over the ship. In terms of stability and easiness to fly, especially if you’re worried about crashing with something, a quadcopter may be the best choice for you. If what you want is to be in complete control of the ship and be 100% responsible for what happens or not, then an RC helicopter may best suit your needs.

The Application determines a lot

What do you want to do with it? The good thing of these two types of gadgets is that both are pretty flexible and can more or less perform the same activities. However, and with the current options available on the market, you want to really dig deep to know exactly what type of aircraft you need.

If you intend to transport something, such as a camera or another mid-weight object, then a quadcopter is for you, not just because of the stability but also because they have a bigger body and the design allows you to hang something at the center of the structure. A helicopter may get balanced to one side and that would affect the center of gravity, altering the entire functionality of the device.

Blade mCP X BL BNF

Blade mCP X BL BNF

I’ve seen that both quadcopters and helicopters can perform 3D flight, which is really fun and advanced. The main difference that I’ve seen between these is the response time that you get when sending a command. RC helicopters tend to respond quicker than quads because there is only one or two motors that need to be adjusted, while the quadcopter needs to reconfigure the speed and rotation angle of four. In this case, most hobby-grade helis are designed to perform 3D flights, while not all quads will be able to perform these aerobatics.

Summarizing all this, quads are great for transporting small objects such as cameras. If what you’re looking is a more recreational device, then some quads are good for having fun, however is more common to see RC helis doing all sorts of maneuvers and tricks. Hopefully this will change with time.

What is your expertise level?

I’m assuming you have very little or no experience with RC flying devices, thus I want to share with you my rule for differentiating a toy-grade ship (easier to fly) from a hobby-grade one (harder to fly): Look for the number of channels (3 – 4 channels can be considered a toy-grade device, while 5 and more will be hobby-grade ones).

The more channels the more things you have to control. A good way to understand a channel is to think of it as an axis of action. The more axis the more things you have to control, and this is what makes interesting flying a hobby-grade device.

The most basic RC heli works with 3 channels (up/down, left/right, and back/forward). Quads on the other hand have a minimum of 4 channels (up/down, left/right, back/forward, and roll). This tells us that, by design, quads are harder to fly than RC helis, but as I previously mentioned, you get lots of electronic aids to control the quad and thus it is possible to have a great flight experience, even for a complete newbie.

I started with RC helicopters and I think these can be very simple and fun to fly even at the starting stages. What will set the difference here is your own preference combined with where you want to go with your flight experience. Take a look at advanced pilots of both quadcopters and RC helis and you’ll know what you’d like. However, there is no reason to think that you have to choose one or the other, instead, I want to invite you to choose both.

But don’t forget the Budget

This is another important aspect to consider when choosing your RC flying device. In the past a quadcopter could be much more expensive than an RC helicopter, but with the time this has changed and now you can get a great quality quadcopter for less than $100 dollars.

The Hubsan X4 Quadcopter

The Hubsan X4 Quadcopter

It’s very important to consider spare parts when choosing one of these devices. Don’t let the price tag be the only indicator of the budget you require to get one of these airships because that could be a costly mistake. You must consider that a quadcopter or helicopter may need some spare parts with time, so make sure you also check the price of spare parts (make sure these are available as well) such as the rotor blades, battery, and any other body part that the aircraft may need.

In most cases the sellers of RC helicopters or quads also release spare parts packages, these can be sold separately or come inside the box when you first purchase your gadget, but what’s really important here is to consider in your budget a spare parts package since sooner or later you’ll need it. Believe it or not, some models of these devices can be very cheap (and low quality more than often) but when you need spare parts you discover that these cost more than the actual device.

Now it’s up to you – What will you choose?

Hero RC H911 2.4GHZ iRocket

Hero RC H911 2.4GHZ iRocket

As you can see, these devices share differences and similarities at the same time. To me is not a matter of determining which one is best but simply which one is the best for each person, and for that I present you the information, but now it’s completely up to you to make a decision.

This list is a work in progress and I’m pretty sure you’ll add more items to it as soon as you start with any of these devices, for now, I want to invite you to make the first step and get your first RC heli or quadcopter.

Tell me, is there something else you know about RC helis and quads, in terms of which one is best to start, that all of us should know? Don’t be shy and add to this conversation by sharing your experience with us. Did you already make your decision? What was it and why? Don’t forget to push the social buttons and share this post with your friends so that they also know more about these fantastic devices.

 

About the author:

Jose Lozano

Jose Lozano

Jose Lozano is an enthusiast of RC helicopters. He loves to write useful content about RC flying devices so that other people can learn of these fantastic gadgets. He’s the owner of RC Hobbies on Air, a website where he shares the best RC helicopter reviews showing the good, bad, and ugly about each product. You can also find great advice about how to fly RC helis on Jose’s site.

Alan Perlman

Founder at UAV Coach
Alan is an FAA-certified drone pilot and founded UAV Coach in 2014 to help connect drone enthusiasts, to provide world-class sUAS industry training courses, and to help push the drone community forward with a focus on safety and commercial opportunities.

  9 comments for “Are Quadcopters Better Than RC Helicopters?

  1. Dave
    September 12, 2015 at 10:15 pm

    I have tried drones/quads and have to say, I like my Helis better, and always will. Quads are a obnoxious.

    • John Archer
      December 27, 2015 at 9:24 am

      I went from Blade 120 to an Align T-Rex 450. I found a place on eBay that specialized in them and had them ship me a completely assembled, ready to fly,(including radio) electric chopper. Man, it was a work of art! Beautiful!
      I strapped on the recommended training gear, and did some very basic liftoffs. Indoors. I never let it get higher than a couple inches before I chopped the throttle. Finally after doing this for a month, I retreated to the backyard, training gear still attached. I will never know if I bumped the throttle to hard or a gust of wind caught it, but the next thing I knew it was laying on its side 🙁
      I shipped it back to the people that put it together and they completely rebuilt it. Another couple weeks hopping around in the basement, then back outside. CRASH! Same-O-Same-O!! 🙁
      Thought maybe a larger bird would be a little easier. Got another Align T-Rex in the 600 flavor this time. Long story short, and many thousands of dollars later, I gave up. This is NOT a slam against Align. IMHO they did and still do build some of the best heli’s on the market. It was my own short comings that made me toss in the towel.
      Fast forward about 4-5 years and I got bit by the drone bug. Currently I am FLYING a DJI Phantom 3 Pro. This is the deluxe model with all the bells and whistles in the Phantom line. It cost about what the first 450 did, the difference being I can actually fly this thing. All I had to add was either a smart phone or something like a Ipad to the controller, everything else was included. It can take off and hover about 3 feet off the ground with a simple slide of your finger on the screen. It is GPS controlled and automatically corrects for a gust of wind. It has a range of close to a mile and you can watch the whole flight on the aforementioned screen. You get in a jam, let go of the sticks and it goes into an automatic hover. OR, hit another button on the front of the transmitter and it flies itself back to where it launched. That may be more control than you want, but for an all thumbs , slow-to-react person like myself, I find it a perfect way to take to the sky. Did I mention I can film the entire flight from take-off to landing?
      I admire and respect all you chopper pilots out there and wish I had the skills necessary to fly an RC Heli. If that were the case I would probably still have one in my hangar. For klutzes like me, a drone, technically a quadcopter is the way to go.
      Just my 2 cents.

      • Erwin
        December 29, 2015 at 8:19 am

        Hello John,

        I can relate to your story. I crashed 3 helicopters including a fairly expensive Align T-Rex 450. But I just had to succeed. I bought a slightly smaller helicopter but still with 4 channels and 3D possibilities. The transmitter has several settings which help set the difficulty level. For instance the easiest level won’t let you move for more than 15 degrees in every direction. Meaning it’s very stable. It’s been two years and I feel very comfortable flying my helicopter at advanced settings. But I still won’t fly upside down. Only on my pc simulator. I do also own a drone but I definitely prefer the helicopter. The thought that crashing is easy makes it much more exciting.

        • John Archer
          January 3, 2016 at 2:46 am

          Cool! To be totally honest, I will always wish I had the chops to fly a heli. I admire your courage to not give up and now you have the skills to fly. I have one more handicap to add to my 2 left feet, 2 left humbs, molasses slow reflexes. I had cataract surgery a few years back and eventually lost the vision in my left eye, depth perception is a fading memory. I have to have a lot of room to fly the Quad and being able to let go of the sticks has saved my buns more than once. That’s something you can never do with a chopper, you have to be on your toes at all times. Again, I wish I had the skills necessary. To late in this lifetime. Good luck on your heli’s, Sir and Thank You for sharing!

  2. Bob bill
    February 1, 2016 at 3:00 am

    Helis are far more challenging. Try to build and program everything perfect. CCPM helis are AMAZING MACHINES. And you can take what you learned from building true ccpm helis to the real world. Quads are boring and no talent at all to fly them. On the other hand try to fly or even hover a ccpm and if you never flown one you will crash usualy first time then give up. CCPM helis require alot of mechanical and electrical know how. You will never get with a quad that basically a monkey could fly.

    • John
      February 5, 2016 at 6:26 pm

      Bob bill,

      Well Sir, just call me and a monkey if that makes you feel better. Must be tough being an expert at everything. You did read the part about me being 1/2 blind didn’t you? Just for the sake of the argument, and since you are an Expert Pilot and know everything about everything, put a patch over one of your eye’s next time you fly and then report back to all your fans here how your flying session went . Better yet post a video on You Tube. I’d really like to see that. Should be a piece of cake for a smug, Superior Intellectual Pilot such as yourself. Right Billy Bob?

      • February 8, 2016 at 12:11 pm

        Bob, I disagree that multicopters are “boring” and take “no talent at all to fly them.” You should see some of the brilliant things members of our community are doing with sUAS.

        To everyone else in this thread, let’s keep things civil and respectful over here 🙂

  3. Mr. Nice Guy
    March 21, 2016 at 11:41 am

    Hello to all

    I have been designing Electronics for some time now, an I can say that both quads and helis are a blast to fly but when it come to advance flying platform’s. Helicopters and not just your run of the mill helis but true racing helis like the goblins or gaui r5 which is my new favorite there’s no comparing the two. Now both are or can be built for stability with the use of electronics but the quad platform is just that, Stable! and much easier to fly and thus requires less experience. That being said I have a DJI inspire 1 that my 12 year old nephew can pretty much fly with very little guidance…as for my gaui r5 there not a chance in hell. I love both but when I bust out the gaui r5 and make a past at 160mph fellow rc flyers and land bound rc’s are in owe with the look and sound of it.

  4. Liam Mapson
    May 14, 2016 at 5:55 am

    I fly a Blade 450 and a Phantom 4. Both are fun. The heli is more challenging, but gets boring. Also, the heli is a hell of a lot of maintenance and set up which does not bode well if you have a hectic life.

    The drone is easy to fly but at least I know I am not going to crash it or have a top over from a gust of wind while landing.

    The attraction to the drone for me is the beautiful video and pictures. You don’t get that with a heli. And I can fly the drone miles away out of sight. Try that with a heli.

    Really you need both. But the heli gets boring without the video/camera equipment. The drone can be boring to fly because it is so damn easy.

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