Helicopter vs Drone: Efficiency, Design, Controls and Many More

For this article, we've picked everything you need to know for helicopter vs drone - from control differences to variety of applications
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Last updatedLast updated: February 16, 2024
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Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Trusted Source Definition of UAV | PCMag What does UAV actually mean? Find out inside PCMag’s comprehensive tech and computer-related encyclopedia. www.pcmag.com , or UAV, have been around since the early 1900s when they were first developed for military use.  This term refers to any type of remotely piloted vehicle, though not all of the models that fit into this category are identical. There are actually a few different types of UAV on the market for personal or professional use.

Two popular options that are often compared are helicopter vs drone models. These have some of the same features but also have a variety of differences that are worth noting, especially if you’re trying to choose which one to buy. To help you figure out which is the right one for you, we’ve compared what each one has to offer in the following sections. For more information on drone vs helicopter options, keep reading.

What are drones?

Helicopter vs Drone: Efficiency, Design, Controls and Many More

A drone is a compact aircraft that includes features like onboard GPS and waypoint navigation software that allows them to fly wherever you like using its remote control. They are made of lightweight materials for amazing maneuverability, allowing you to try out some cool tricks with the best stunt drones once you’ve mastered the controls.

Drones include 4 arms, which can be fixed or foldable like the ones on the DJI Mini 2 model, cameras, and various sensors and navigations systems to aid in flight.

A drone is not a helicopter. A drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that is controlled by a remote operator or by onboard computers. While both drones and helicopters can fly and be used for similar purposes, they have distinct differences in terms of their design, operation, and capabilities.


Drones are easy to use, even for beginners. They are also versatile, so you can use drones for fishing, photography, surveillance, or anything else you have in mind. The materials used to build them increase their speed and altitude for more range, while reducing noise and vibrations. Drones can also move in any direction you like or hover over one spot.


Though exceptional in many ways, drones do have some flaws. They don’t take off or land well on uneven surfaces, so could topple over at times. They also have a relatively short battery life, so you need to keep extras on hand for longer use. Though you can find some decent drones under $600, many high-quality models cost $1000 or more.

What are RC helicopters?

RC helicopters don’t just look like the real versions, they actually fly in a similar way, except they are controlled using a remote device from the ground. The remote control for these models includes a lever for the collective pitch control, a stick for the cyclic pitch control, and a throttle to help perform specific maneuvers. Those maneuvers include hovering, spinning, or even flying backward as well as forward and to the sides.

RC helicopters vary in size, from tiny models that you can use in your living room to huge outdoor helicopters. The bigger the helicopter and the more maneuverability it has, the more complicated it will be to fly.


RC helicopters are relatively cheap to buy, depending on the model you’ve chosen. For instance, the Blade Nano RC Helicopter S3 is less than $150, so you don’t need to spend a fortune to get a decent model. They move fast and are quite versatile, so you can use them for races, competitions, or just for fun.


These devices are not as easy to fly as some other UAV. They tend to tilt to the side as you move them, which increases the difficulty when learning how to fly a helicopter. The more maneuverable it is, the harder they are to control, so beginners need to start with basic models and work their way up. Most of them don’t include cameras, so for photography or videos, a camera needs to be purchased separately.

Difference between RC helicopters and drones

When comparing an RC helicopter vs a drone, there are a few specific features that you may want to consider before choosing one for your recreational or professional use.


In terms of efficiency, drones and RC helicopters have different advantages and disadvantages. Drones typically have more efficient propulsion systems and longer flight times, while RC helicopters are more maneuverable and capable of vertical takeoff and landing. Additionally, the cost of drones has decreased significantly in recent years, making them more accessible, while RC helicopters may still be more expensive. Ultimately, drone vs RC helicopter efficiency will depend on the specific needs and preferences of the user, such as the desired flight experience, maneuverability, and cost.


Though you may expect them to have similar control abilities, this isn’t the case with these two devices. An RC helicopter has precision controls with more control and autonomy to offer, so you need to keep your eyes on it at all times to ensure it’s doing what you expect it to.

Drones include software and GPS systems that give them more freedom to go out of sight, so you spend more time looking at the screen on your remote control than you do at the drone. The touch of a button brings it home, so you barely need to watch it at all.


When it comes to designs, RC helicopters look like real-life helicopters that are flying in the sky. They have a single rotor on top and come in varying sizes, though the overall design remains the same.

The most common drones are the quadcopters, which include four rotors on the corner areas of the model you buy. The blades are smaller than the ones on a helicopter, plus drones come in varying shapes and sizes, so you can get the design you want.

Helicopter vs Drone: Efficiency, Design, Controls and Many More

Flying easiness

For flying easiness, drones are the top choice. The four rotors on the corners of these devices make them much easier to control than the single rotor on the helicopter, which causes tilting and toppling if you move it too fast. The modern drones also include onboard software that the helicopter lacks, though some people prefer the challenge and skill required to fly RC helicopters.

Body shape

Helicopters have a similar body shape as a real one, with a long, slim body and large propellers on top. Drones are more square-shaped, with four rotors on the corner areas.


Drones have a decent speed range, usually going up to 80 miles per hour or so, depending on the drone. They can fly at this speed in any direction, so you can get it where you need it in only a few seconds.

Though drones are fast, RC helicopters are a bit faster, reaching speeds of about 100 miles per hour. These speeds shouldn’t be tried until you’ve mastered the controls, though, to avoid damaging the helicopter.

Flight time

Flight time is also something to consider when comparing drone vs remote control helicopter models. Drones usually have a flight time of about 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the drone, the battery it uses, and how you’re flying it. A helicopter’s flight time is a bit shorter at 7 to 15 minutes, which limits your time quite a bit.


Both RC helicopters and drones use Lithium Polymer (LiPo) batteries for the power source. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can swap the batteries between these two. There are various sizes available, so you do need to find the right one to fit the drone or helicopter you’re using. These batteries are rechargeable and can run all of the onboard systems these devices include.

Helicopter vs Drone: Efficiency, Design, Controls and Many More


When it comes to price, both drones and RC helicopters have a wide range of costs for the models available. You can find basic ones for $100 or so if you’re on a budget or just learning to fly one. The high-end models can cost $1000 or more, depending on the model you choose. RC helicopters are trickier to fly and more prone to crashing while drones require extra accessories for a better experience, so you should also keep this in mind when considering the prices.

Flying range and altitude

RC helicopters don’t have a lot of range since you need to keep them in your sight constantly to control them. Drones are different, thanks to the GPS and other navigational software they include. You can spend the entire flight looking at the screen on your remote control to see where it is while it is out of sight, giving it much more range than a helicopter. You do need to monitor the battery life, though, to be sure it has the power to come back. As for the altitude, both of these UAV can be flown at altitudes of 400 feet or less due to FAA restrictions Trusted Source Recreational Flyers & Modeler Community-Based Organizations www.faa.gov , though drones are capable of going much higher than this.

Field of use

Though both of these models are great for aerial photography, most drones come with a camera while helicopters need them purchased separately. They are both great for recreational flying or competitions but drones are the popular choice for surveillance, deliveries, filmmaking, and even for fishing. There are even toy helicopters with a remote control that are meant for kids, one of the most common is the Syma S107G.


There are a few questions people ask when deciding between these two devices. Here are the most common ones.

Which device will do better in the rain?

Though both helicopters and drones often include waterproof casings to protect against moisture, you shouldn’t fly either of them in the rain. Water could leak into the electronic parts and cause a short, rust, or other damage.

Which device is safer to use?

The basic, compact drones and helicopters are about the same in terms of safety levels. The danger arises from the larger RC helicopters since these are made with materials like carbon fiber and metal for increased durability, which adds weight as well. The larger propellers are also a safety risk, though responsible helicopter enthusiasts don’t fly their choppers near anyone that could be injured by them.

Are drones better at flying during windy weather?

No, drones are not better at flying during windy weather than helicopters. The drones can’t handle strong winds and can even be affected during breezy conditions, so it is best to use them on calm days. RC helicopters fly better in wind but crashes could be more devastating.

Final thoughts

UAV models are becoming increasingly popular, despite the regulations and restrictions in place. This is because these devices are much more versatile than they used to be, so you can use them for almost anything.

If you’re considering a UAV, you’re likely involved in the helicopter vs drone debate. Both have amazing features, like high speeds, quality materials, and amazing capabilities but there are some differences worth noting. Drones are easier to fly for beginners, usually come equipped with cameras, and have navigational software to give you more freedom when flying them. Helicopters are more hands-on for precision flyers, plus they tend to be a bit cheaper and have higher speeds once you master them. Your preference concerning these features will likely have you leaning towards one option over the other.


Definition of UAV | PCMag
What does UAV actually mean? Find out inside PCMag’s comprehensive tech and computer-related encyclopedia.
Recreational Flyers & Modeler Community-Based Organizations
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