Are RC Helicopters Considered Drones?

Are RC Helicopters Considered Drones?

Thanks to strides in technology that have kept pace with devices like the cell phone and laptop computer, the drone’s popularity has grown in recent years. Whether used for recreational or commercial purposes, the appeal and entertainment value of the product is evident. Like most high-tech gadgets, the drone’s origins can be traced back to humble beginnings. Early prototypes didn’t necessarily aspire to become the modern-day drone. The drones that the public can buy off the shelf or online evolved from the Remote Control (RC) helicopter. For decades, young and old alike have engaged in the hobby of flying remote-controlled helicopters, whether they built the model helicopters from a kit or purchased them pre-assembled. As technology advances, the RC helicopters have become almost unrecognizable compared to the early versions, although the principles of flight that guide them are still in play.

The terms drone and RC helicopter are often used interchangeably. Are drones and RC helicopters indeed the same? It makes sense to review the accepted technical definitions of these devices. Drone is the original terminology used to describe an unmanned aerial vehicle which can either be controlled remotely or fly on its own, while the RC helicopter is a radio-controlled aircraft model. On the surface, both definitions appear to be very similar. However, there are key technical differences between the two.

Drones have historically been associated with the military. Any opportunity to take the human element out of the equation to save lives must be maximized, and utilizing drones is part of the solution. High-risk activities such as acting as a decoy for enemy missiles, performing reconnaissance, flying combat missions, serving as targets for firing practice, or delivering cargo are primary roles for drones. Like the majority of military-related technology, the science behind drones has been leveraged for both the benefit and enjoyment of civilians.

Renaming recreational flying devices “drones” rather than the traditional “RC helicopter” is more of a marketing ploy. The term “drone” has an intriguing and sleek connotation, implying an edgier flying experience. Cameras are typically a staple on recreational drones, an enhancement that enables the buyer to see what the drone sees. It isn’t uncommon for RC helicopters to have multiple propellers attached beyond the standard two rotors, and for the body style to deviate from that of a traditional helicopter. For example, the most recognizable transformation is the quadcopter with four rotors. RC quadcopters have become more popular than the standard helicopter due to aesthetics and controls, and are synonymous with recreational drones. Dual-propeller movements are trickier to grasp, while the quadcopters are much easier to maneuver. For those looking to capture quality photographs and video footage with their RC helicopter, maintaining control of the aircraft is essential, and RC quadcopters are the product of choice.

With RC helicopters becoming more complex in design, their potential in the field of photography and video has expanded. The controversial aspect associated with this growth is the inevitable privacy concerns. People purchasing RC quadcopters with cameras may innocently fly the craft around in their backyards, not realizing they are inadvertently observing their neighbors’ property as well. Something so seemingly benign can lead to quite a few unforeseen implications, so it’s important to be mindful of one’s surroundings, not only when it comes to privacy, but adhering to flight restrictions near airports, busy roads, venues, government facilities, etc. All these rules and regulations can become overwhelming when first learning the ropes, but the website knowbeforeyoufly.org is a valuable resource to ensure beginners are getting the most out of their RC helicopter without getting into trouble.

RC Helicopters have been on the market for decades, but a naming convention has mostly caused the relatively recent public backlash against drones. The concept of a product called a drone and cameras affixed to flying toys has spooked some sectors of the public, when in fact, the technology has been available for many years. As with any subject that gets heightened media attention, it’s imperative to sort through the facts to understand the core issue. The legislation is in place, requiring owners to license their unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), the accepted generic term for remote-control devices. Also, the Federal Aviation Administration has partnered with various associations to educate users. Like any advancement in technology that’s available on a wide scale, it has to be used responsibly, and unfortunately, there are those select few who will continue to exploit it. In conclusion, are RC helicopters considered drones? Not all RC helicopters are drones, but all drones that consumers can purchase legally are essentially RC helicopters.

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