When starting any company, there are lots of decisions to be made. Starting a drone services company offers even more. And one of the most significant decisions that will define your company is which airframe is best for your use case. In this article, we’ll review the most common airframes for drone services companies like yours.
Multirotors are the most common airframe type for drone services companies, and include quadcopters, hexacopters and octocopters. Multirotors are typically used to carry a sensor payload for inspection, surveillance or mapping. Most commonly, the sensor is mounted to the underside of the frame with the battery either inside or on top of the fuselage.
Drone delivery has become a quickly growing market segment. Multirotors are commonly used as drone delivery platforms for many reasons, including stability, payload capacity and ease of integration. Another benefit of multirotors is that they can be purchased and used for drone delivery for under $25,000 depending on payload capacity, flight time and configuration.
VTOL (Vertical Takeoff And Landing) airframes takeoff vertically, then transition to fixed wing flight. These airframes are helpful for longer distance flights while not requiring a takeoff and landing strip like a fixed wing UAS. VTOL airframes are limited in weight capacity as they are more sensitive to payload positioning than a multirotor due to their fixed wing nature. VTOL airframes are often more expensive than a multirotor and have a larger footprint.
VTOL aircraft are best used for larger mapping projects and long-distance drone delivery. While a common multirotor maps at around 5-8 m/s, a VTOL airframe maps at approximately 15-20m/s, allowing users to fly faster while maintaining the same resolution of imagery. VTOLs are much more efficient in fixed wing mode, allowing users to fly longer and collect more data per flight, ultimately saving you time and money.
Fixed wing UAS platforms fly like airplanes. These airframes are often used for large scale mapping missions. Fixed wing drones are often significantly less expensive than VTOLs, offering a good value to companies with larger mapping jobs without breaking the bank. The downside to fixed wing drones is that they require a landing strip for landing.
Many fixed wing drones are hand launched, meaning you throw the airframe at full power to get airspeed over its stall speed. Other airframe launch methods can include a catapult launch or a runway launch. When buying a fixed wing UAS, make sure you understand the requirements for takeoff and landing.
Helicopter-style UAS are gaining popularity from some of the largest drone delivery companies due to their ability to efficiently balance payload capacity, stability and flight time. These airframes have payload capacities that lie between that of multirotors and fixed wings, while also getting extended flight times from the efficiencies of a helicopter. A helicopter-style UAS is often recommended for applications that require mid-weight payloads such as drone delivery or agricultural spraying.
Drone Airframe Summary
The best part about making the decision regarding which airframe to buy is that you don’t have to pick just one! Many drone services companies have multiple airframe types for different types of missions. We recommend starting out with a basic multirotor due to cost effectiveness and reliability, then grow your fleet from there.
When starting your drone services company, make sure to follow your country’s drone regulations. Here in the U.S., we must comply with the FAA’s 14 CFR Part 107, including taking a knowledge exam prior to flying for commercial purposes.
If you need any assistance with drone-related projects, reach out to us at RIIS. We are custom hardware experts and can also develop software for any application. Let us know if we can help you with your next project.