The RC quadrocopter, also called the quadcopter, quadricopter, and quad rotor RC helicopter all fall into the category of multi rotor RC which is the latest and fastest growing development in radio controlled vertical lift platforms that are able to take off vertically, hover, and fly in all directions. As the name suggests, there are 4 propellers arranged in a cross type configuration.
There is no single large collective pitch rotor or tail rotor that we are all used to seeing on a conventional RC helicopter. These propellers are fixed pitch, two will spin clockwise and the other two will spin counter clockwise. By precisely and accurately spinning these four propellers at different speeds, all the common directional movements of a standard helicopter are attainable - Hover, forward/backward movement, left/right movement, and yaw (turn rate) movement.
This makes the quad rotor and other multi rotor RC helicopters mechanically very simple with hardly any moving parts compared to conventional mechanically complex collective pitch and even fixed pitch RC helicopters. In most cases there are only 4 moving parts on the majority of quad rotor helis; the 4 spinning motor shafts which are directly connected to the 4 spinning propellers - that's it! This also makes quad and multi rotor RC helicopters very easy for enthusiasts to custom build their own machines. All that is needed is the frame, the motors, the propellers, and the electronics package...
There are certainly other incarnations of the multi rotor design using as little as 3 propellers arranged in a triangle configuration up to six arranged in a hexagonal configuration and even eight (Octocopters); but for ease of explanation, I will stick with the quadrotor variety as it is the most common and if you do end up getting this type of RC helicopter, most likely what you will be starting out with.
The reason RC quadrocopters and multi rotors are fairly new on the scene is the complex and rather heavy computing/processing power required to accurately control all the propellers to not only move the heli about, but to keep it stable. Inherent stability is very good, but directional control stability was the single largest hurdle that had to be overcome and only because of today’s solid state gyro and accelerometer technology, efficient and fast responding brushless motors, coupled with small micro processors to deal with the hundreds of calculations and control commands every second, can these things fly at all.
RC quadrocopters generally are not that performance minded. Times are changing however as lighter and more efficient processing power and electronic sensors become available making some fairly aggressive aerobatic flight possible and accurate – have a look at this video and you’ll see what I mean.
This level of performance is still in the development stages, but it shows what a quadrocopter is capable of and what might be available in the near future. In fact, more and more quads are aerobatic these days capable of flips and rolls. Even low cost micro sized ones like the Blade mQX can do basic aerobatics for under $150.00.
Here is my full review on it
- an outstanding little quadrocopter.
As I have been saying, the level of electronic sophistication required to keep these things airborne is remarkable and I often call them "aerial robots" since in actuality you are not flying them like a conventional RC helicopter. You are basically just telling them what to do and the electronics and programming are 100% responsible for the actual flying – they really are amazing little machines.
Does A Quadrocopter Make A Good First RC Heli?
Absolutely Yes! These make a wonderful first RC helicopter if you want the one of easiest flying experiences available to start with yet have some limited aerobatic performance and don’t really care about true single rotor RC helicopter flight or flight characteristics. Quadrocopters for the most part appeal to a larger group of people who just want to fly something by radio control and don’t necessarily care for a "real" conventional aircraft feel or look or perhaps just want one of the coolest flying gadgets around. Likely why multi rotor is showing the strongest growth and popularity over all other types of RC aircraft right now.
Since mulit rotor RC helicopters are electronically very complex, they were also very costly but again, as mass produced electronics and miniaturization becomes more and more common place prices are dropping sharply. It wasn’t that long ago if you could find one of these things for a thousand bucks you were doing good, but now with entry level quadricopters built for the masses such as the Parrot AR Drone quadricopter for about $300.00 and the Blade mQX for about $150.00, the costs are always dropping and it just keeps getting better.
You can be flying and flipping tiny palm sized quads such as the
UDI Micro Quadcopter
all for under $100 bucks! I personally don't think it's possible to cram as much flying fun into something so small, so inexpensively. These little rascals rock!
The AR Drone was my first introduction to the quadrotor design and for the low cost (back then) – it really is an amazing little heli that even boasts real time first person video (FPV) and RF (WiFi) signal strength and battery condition telemetry. I had huge amounts of fun with the Parrot AR Drone -
to see my full review on it.
Aerial Photography (AP) & Video?
Ah yes, the real driving force behind the multirotor design and the perfect job for them. Since these things almost fly themselves, hover like they are glued in the air, have superior lift efficiency, and don't take that much skill to pilot, they have become one of the most popular vertical lift and flying platforms for hundreds of different aerial photo and video applications from real-estate to sporting events to wildlife and nature. Many of these FPV quadrotor RC helis are also called UAV’s (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) with full on electronic autopilot systems providing a very stable and pinpoint fixed position hands off hover allowing the operator full concentration on camera control. If I was starting an AP business (which I have often thought about) and didn't have the time or desire to learn how to fly a single rotor collective pitch helicopter first (generally a year long process), a multi rotor is definitely what I would be using. Even knowing how to fly collective pitch well, if I ever do start an AP business, you can bet there will be at least one multi rotor in the fleet.
Best Quadrocopter for Your GoPro Camera
One of the most common questions I keep getting asked almost daily right now is "what's the best quadrocopter or multi rotor for taking pictures and video with my GoPro camera". There are certainly many quadrocopters and other multi-rotors out there now that have the power to lift a GoPro with room to spare, but the Gaui 330X was always one of my top recommendations for it's combination of quality, performance, and good price - it's still a very solid choice and top contender. That said, the fully ready to fly
DJI Phantom Quad Copter
offers very impressive features and value, that in my opinion, makes it a better choice over the 330X for those of you who just want to get a quad, put your GoPro on it, and start filming without worrying about all the other components needed including but not limited to pricy GPS auto pilot systems and specific camera mounts.
The DJI Phantom comes with everything but the camera and is purpose designed for cameras like the GoPro. The most amazing thing is it also comes with a very good GPS auto pilot & navigation system built-in which for the low price of under $700 bucks for everything is unheard of. Over and above hands off hovering with the autopilot turned on, even if you get out of radio range, the GPS auto pilot system will bring the heli right back to your position. Most GPS autopilot systems on the market right now capable of "return to base" cost well over $700 on their own, never mind being paired with a very capable quad rotor heli - simply outstanding! Other features like high intensity LED lighting for improved visual foot print and night flying plus the built-in camera mount so you don't have to spend extra on those items really pushes this quad far ahead of the pack in terms of value for all the features you get.
Here's the DJI Phantom in action both during the day and night.
Here's the GoPro view from under the Phantom while being flown by my friend Matt, owner of Red Rocket Hobbies.
Quads like the Phantom with all these features are starting to narrow the gap between the low cost hobby variety of AP capable quads with the higher quality industrial quads. Sure there is still a big difference between hobby grade and industrial quad quality, durability, and flight/performance ability, but the gap is getting smaller all the time.
Speaking of the GoPro camera; if you are in the market for the latest
, just click on those two links to access RedRocket's lineup of GoPro goodies. One of my personal favorite accessories for the GoPro is the
LCD Touch BacPac
. I find it doubles the usefulness of my GoPro and the only regret was not getting one when I first got my Hero2 camera.
One of the most common and recognizable high end AP radio controlled quadcopters is the Draganflyer X4 industrial vertical lift platform. This quad is the one that started it all. These have been used in surveillance work, search & rescue operations, and law enforcement for example or in much higher demanding image quality aerial photography/video rolls such as professional photography, video brochures, commercials, and aerial real estate to name just a few of the applications. Take a look:
Different RC Quadracopters Currently On The Market
With more and more quadrotor RC helis hitting the marketplace all the time, it is really hard to stay current, but here are a few links to companies that manufacture & carry radio controlled quadrotor helicopters from the micro hobby variety up to more industrial heavy lift applications.