Drone vs RC Plane: How Different Really Are They?

In this article you will find the main factors that differ for drone vs RC plane - who do they fly, how are they controlled and variety of models
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Last updatedLast updated: April 02, 2024
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If you know about drones, chances are you know about radio-controlled (RC) planes too. People often lump drones and RC planes together but they are in fact different devices. While they share some similarities such as flying, remote control, amongst others, various factors separate them.

Although the different features of drones and RC planes can appear pretty glaring, it might surprise you to learn that telling the difference between them isn’t always the easiest thing. To make life easier for you, we’ll do a comparison of drone vs RC plane, dissecting the things that set them apart.

So, what are the differences between a drone and an RC plane? Which of the devices will serve you better? How can you identify the right option for your use? Ride along with us as we provide the right answers to your questions!

RC Plane Overview

An RC plane is simply a radio-controlled or remote-controlled aircraft. Essentially, it uses radio signals for remote operation. Besides, an RC plane is easily recognizable by its airplane-like shape but it’s typically made from less sophisticated materials. This might surprise you but you can even make the aircraft in the comfort of your home.

Furthermore, an RC plane usually features one rotor, unlike the four you find on most drones. And it sports essential parts such as nuts & bolts, radio transmitters, electronic speed controller, electric controller, control horns, battery, foam board, receiver, etc. Also, an RC plane’s design tends to be flimsy due to its nonstandard materials. Hence, it’s usually unstable in the air.

Where it’s used

From the design of RC planes, you can easily tell that they are not made for the most sophisticated tasks. They are almost exclusively used for recreational and educational purposes, making them ideal for someone who’s learning how to fly. Although rare, an RC plane can also be used for commercial purposes such as photography, videography, etc.

Ups and downs

Drone vs RC Plane: How Different Really Are They?By now, you know that RC planes offer some advantages. Their main advantage is their suitability for recreational purposes. Instead of investing in expensive drones, RC planes are far more affordable options for entertainment. Also, the cheap design of RC planes makes them ideal for beginners in aero flying. Essentially, they’re a great first step in aero flying.

Thanks to their cheap construction, they can be used as disposable aircraft to gather essential scientific data. And the most obvious advantage of all, RC planes are much cheaper than drones.

On the other hand, RC planes have their drawbacks, which include the fact that they cannot be programmed to fly unmanned or independently. Also, these planes cannot fly at very high altitudes and cannot carry payloads either. Lastly, they are a bit difficult to handle and maneuver as most of them lack sophisticated features such as auto-landing and return-to-home functions.

However, the top RC planes on the market boast some sophisticated features. For example, the HobbyZone RC Airplane is equipped with GPS-enabled technology that helps to prevent loss of control and crashes. There’s also a Landing Assist Sensor (LAS) available for smoother landings.

Drone Overview

A drone is basically a sophisticated unmanned aircraft engineered for recreational, commercial, and military purposes. In the aircraft’s early days, it was mainly deployed for military purposes but it’s now increasingly used for recreational and commercial purposes. Moreover, drones are made of lightweight materials to ensure efficiency and maximize battery life.

Despite their lightweight design, drones are usually sturdy and can withstand some bumps in the air. Also, they are often equipped with technology such as GPS, infrared cameras, navigation systems, sensors, etc. And these aircraft are fairly easy to control. Unsurprisingly, individuals, small & medium enterprises (SMEs), large companies, etc., use them to execute several tasks.

Besides, drones usually sport different designs, making them ideal for different purposes in some cases. For example, some drones use arms and rotors to fly while some feature a fixed-wing design and operate like an airplane. Commercial drones often sport four rotors, which makes them quadcopters.

The vital parts of drones include propellers, frames, cameras, transmitters & receivers, flight & motor controllers, etc. These parts power the drone to fly in the air. Overall, drones improve personnel safety and help save time and money.

Where it’s used

By now, you can easily guess that drones have several applications. Specifically, they are deployed in nearly all the major sectors of society. These aircraft can be used for emergency services such as rescue operations, etc. They can also be used to monitor happenings up in the sky.

In the energy industry, drones can be used to inspect utility infrastructure such as wind turbines, pipelines, power lines, etc. Instead of subjecting human inspectors to potential dangers, it’s safer to deploy the aircraft to detect leaks. Drones are also used by some energy companies to survey areas to detect drill sites.

In the agricultural sector, drones are used to monitor crops. With their infrared sensors, these aircraft determine the health of crops and provide farmers with the chance to improve the crops’ conditions.

In 2014, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), the trade group that represents producers and users of drones and other robotic equipment,  predicted that Trusted Source Growing use of drones poised to transform agriculture Drones are quickly moving from the battlefield to the farmer’s field — on the verge of helping growers oversee millions of acres throughout rural America and saving them big money in the process. www.usatoday.com  80% of the commercial market for drones will eventually be for agricultural uses. The prediction was an acknowledgment of the vital role of drones in the agricultural sector.

In the past, helicopters were used to shoot fast-paced scenes in action films but things have changed today. Nowadays, aerial drones are used to shoot most fast-paced scenes, thanks to their easy maneuverability and control. Journalists also use these aircraft to broadcast events such as protests, football matches, etc.

Additionally, drones are used for military purposes as well as wildlife and climate change monitoring. The best drones without a camera are also used by beginners and kids to learn the ropes of flying.

Ups and downs

Drone vs RC Plane: How Different Really Are They?Drones have a lot of positives. They are easy to fly and are also relatively cheap to use. You can fly them for recreational purposes and enjoy some good time away from work. Also, you can use them for various applications, ranging from commercial to defense and more. Furthermore, high-quality obstacle avoidance drones help to prevent crashes.

However, like other devices, drones have their limitations. Firstly, they have a relatively short flight time, mostly about 10 to 30 minutes. Secondly, they require frequent replacement of batteries. Thirdly, drones cannot fly on windy or rainy days because the electric components are sensitive to moisture.

Also, drones can injure people and cause accidents. For example, in January 2022,  a drone fell on two people Trusted Source 2 Injured As Drone Falls On Them During Republic Day Event In Madhya Pradesh's Jabalpur Two spectators were injured after a drone, which was part of the tableau of the Madhya Pradesh agriculture department, fell on them in the Republic Day function held at a stadium in Jabalpur on Wednesday, police said. www.ndtv.com  during an event in India and left them hospitalized.

Drone vs Remote Control Airplane

As promised, we’ll do a comparison of drone vs remote control airplane based on various factors:

Drones RC planes
Stability Rarely gets into accidents Prone to get into accidents
Controls Unpiloted and remote Remote only
Ease of control Very maneuverable Less steady
Materials quality HQ metals Plastic
Flight evenness Smooth Shacky
Downsides Flight time limit Difficulties with gaining altitude
Field of use Commercial and domestic Domestic only
Camera Up to 4k UHD None

Materials and durability

Let’s pit RC plane vs quadcopter in terms of materials. RC planes are made with various materials, including carbon fiber, balsa wood, plastics, foam, fabrics and films for coverings, etc. On the other hand, drones are made of carbon-fiber-reinforced composites (CRFCs), aluminum, thermoplastics (polyester, polystyrene, nylon, etc.), lithium-ion batteries, etc.

Clearly, RC planes and drones share some similarities in terms of the materials used in designing them. However, drones’ materials boast superior quality and offer better durability.

Control easiness

Drone vs RC Plane: How Different Really Are They?When it comes to controlling, drones and RC planes can be controlled remotely but quadcopters can also be controlled unpiloted, giving them an edge. Also, RC planes are less sturdy, which makes them a bit difficult to control. Drones, on the other hand, are very maneuverable, making them easier to control than RC planes.

Fields of use

Drones and RC planes have various applications. However, drones have more applications. While RC applications are mostly used for only domestic purposes, drones are ideal for domestic and commercial use. Without any doubt, drones can be deployed in more fields than RC planes. You’ll have to make a choice here based on your needs.

Flight and moves

In terms of flights and moves, drones are the clear winners. They fly and move very smoothly, thanks to their sophisticated technology. Due to their limited quality, RC planes are often unstable in the air and their movement is usually bumpy.

Media control

Drone vs RC Plane: How Different Really Are They?As we mentioned earlier, drones are often deployed to shoot movies and broadcast live events from high altitudes. They can do these things because they feature high-quality cameras. The best drones even sport 4K ultra-HD cameras.

The Holy Stone HS720E GPS Drone is a good example of such an aircraft. Not only does it boast a 4K EIS UHD 130°FOV Camera, but it also comes with two batteries that offer a 23-minute flight time each for a total of 46 minutes in the air.

On the other hand, RC planes don’t feature cameras.


With drones’ superior technology, they’re naturally much faster than RC planes. Also, drones gain altitude quickly while RC planes find it difficult to do the same. Overall, drones are superior in terms of speed.

Models’ variety

When it comes to models’ variety, both drones and RC planes have them in abundance. RC planes can be made by anyone with the requisite knowledge of their design. And different makers design different models of these planes. The same applies to drones, which are designed by various manufacturers. Various brands on the market make different models of drones.

Flight time and altitude

Flight time is determined by various factors such as the aircraft’s weight, battery capacity, weather conditions, and more.
These factors affect both drones and RC planes. Drones have an average flight of 10-30 minutes while an average RC plane flies for between 15-20 minutes. In terms of altitude, drones fly at higher altitudes than RC planes.

Final Thoughts

In the battle of RC plane vs drone, it’s difficult to choose a clear winner because there are various factors at play. Of course, in terms of overall sophistication and functionality, no one can side with RC planes and bet against drones.

Notwithstanding, RC planes are better placed for some exercises. For example, you want a beginner in aero flying to start with an RC plane before moving to the more sophisticated drone. On the other hand, it’s better to call on a drone to execute tasks in remote areas that are difficult to fly in. Also, drones are better suited for taking high-resolution images.

Ultimately, when trying to choose between a drone vs RC plane, your goals and expectations should determine your choice.


Growing use of drones poised to transform agriculture
Drones are quickly moving from the battlefield to the farmer’s field — on the verge of helping growers oversee millions of acres throughout rural America and saving them big money in the process.
2 Injured As Drone Falls On Them During Republic Day Event In Madhya Pradesh's Jabalpur
Two spectators were injured after a drone, which was part of the tableau of the Madhya Pradesh agriculture department, fell on them in the Republic Day function held at a stadium in Jabalpur on Wednesday, police said.
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