Are Quadcopters Better Than RC Helicopters?

BY Alan Perlman
22 July 2015

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 & CEO

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.

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