Drone Anatomy: Getting To Know Your Drone

Drone Anatomy: Getting To Know Your Drone

The world of drones is exploding at an exponential rate. There’s new trends, incredible innovations and it seems like every week, new laws and regulations pop-up all over the globe. The world record for speed — 163 mph — was broken in 2017, a drone photographer helped save a lost hiker with his aerial view and the UK announced new laws for recreational drone pilots. Unless you’re knee-deep in the thicket of aerial robotics, It’s hard to keep up-to-date with the constant changes!

It’s from that spot — the outside-looking-in landscape — that this blog takes root. As your crash course in all things UAV, Drones Anatomy is your textbook, travel journal and study guide.

Types of Drones

Of the UAVs on the marketplace, multirotor drones are by far the most popular. Just as their name suggests, multirotor drones are, “a helicopter having more than two rotors, typically one designed for unmanned flight.” Of the multirotors available, there are three main distinctions that separate the products.

Number of Rotors

Single Rotor:

“An aircraft without wings that obtains its lift from the rotation of overhead blades.” Near the end of the commonality scale, single rotor UAVs resemble your typical helicopter. While they’re a staple of manned-flight operations, single rotor drones haven’t made the biggest impact in the hobbyist market. As NSW Director of Operations Andrew Chapman says:

"A single-rotor helicopter has the benefit of much greater efficiency over a multi-rotor, and also that they can be powered by a gas motor for even longer endurance. It is a general rule of aerodynamics that the larger the rotor blade is and the slower it spins, the more efficient it is. This is why a quad-copter is more efficient than an octo-copter, and special long-endurance quads have a large prop diameter. A single-rotor heli allows for very long blades which are more like a spinning wing than a propeller, giving great efficiency."


Utilizing three rotors, tricopters have the luxury of innovative design. From resembling a standard, 3-armed drone to UFO and dragonfly designs, to be classified as a tricopter, the drone only needs three rotors. In the three-rotor design, you’ll notice that tricopters have a distinct “back” motor, separated from the other two “front” motors. Similar to the points on a “Y” or a “T”, you’ll be hard pressed to find a tricopter on the market — and for good reason. Across the drone community,tricopters are considered slow and cumbersome. With only three propellers, tricopters provide less thrust, maneuverability and performance, and depending on the reason for which they’re purchased, there’s usually a better rotor-option on the market.


The most common configuration on the market and the choice of racing pilots, farmers, robotics clubs and search and rescue groups, quadcopters utilize four rotors. Seen as giving the best of both worlds, quadcopters are fast, powerful and easily manipulated. Their simple design characteristics translate to quick-and-easy manufacturing and cost efficiency, and the power provided by four dedicated rotors allows for quick movements and fast-paced piloting. While they don’t have as much power as a hexacopter of octocopter — more rotors = more power — quadcopters are easy to repair and cost less than their counterparts. While small single rotor and tricopter drones are viewed as toys, quadcopters are a pilot’s first step into the hobbyist, adult-centered marketplace.


As you could have guessed, a hexacopter utilizes six rotors. With the same benefits of a quadcopter, hexacopters lend more power and stability to a drone during flight.  While they’re bound to lose in a race versus a quadcopter, hexacopters support longer flight time, more vertical height and overall safety of the drone equipment. As Mike Gortolev of Droneby says, “by having 6 motors 120 degrees apart, one motor can die while the rest pick up the slack. This means that a pilot will be able to safely land the drone even if one motor is damaged. For anyone coming from a quadcopter, this would be very difficult to do with less motors.” While hexacopters offer better measured-performance when compared to a quadcopter, their repairs are expensive, the models can triple the ticket price of a quad and their larger overall size limits where they can be flown.


The eight-rotor upgrade from a hexacopter, an octocopter offers all the same perks of a hexacopter, plus some. They’re more powerful, give pilots incredible control in weather and just as a hexacopter, an octocopter can lose a motor or two without a change in flight performance. With incredible control, stability and power, an octocopter is the ideal choice for anyone looking to film or photograph with their drone. When you’re strapping thousands of dollars of filmmaking equipment to your drone, you want to make sure you’re being as safe as possible — something the octocopter has on every other rotor distinction. With eight individual spinning propellers, there is no better choice for aerial photography. However, just as with a hexacopter, octocopter repairs are expensive, the models can cost as much as a used car and their robust size greatly limits where one can be flown.


The second of three main distinctions on the drone marketplace is the size of your drone.

  • Nano / Micro: Extremely Small Drone
  • Mini: Small enough to fit in the palm of your hand
  • Small: Normal for beginners, usually small enough so no need to register and can support camera and additional features
  • Medium: More expensive and professional with more features
  • Large: Used for professional work

Product Stage

The third distinction on the marketplace is how the drone comes once it’s purchased. Out of the box, what do you need to get a UAV in the air?

  • RTF (Ready to Fly): Right out of the box, these models can hit the open skies without any manipulation of the product.
  • BNF (Bind and Fly): BNF drones come with everything except a transmitter, which means to get flying, one will need to be purchased and bound.
  • PNP (Plug and Play): Plug and Play drones need a transmitter, battery and battery charger before a pilot can get them up and running.
  • ARF (Almost Ready to Fly): These drones have a little more hands-on action items. Common items include servo's, motor, electronics and batteries.
  • Modular: These drones require full assembly and configuration. While more work, modular drones offer a deeper, look into the engineering and design principles of a drone.

Drone’s Anatomy

While UAVs can differ in their number of rotors, most use the same elements and components.

Camera: The camera captures video feed, allowing for real-time, FPV flight.

Drone: An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or unmanned aerial system (UAS) that can be programmed to fly autonomously.

Electronic Speed Control (ESC): The ESC’s control the speed of the motors by regulating how quickly they turn.

Flight Controller (FC): The flight controller is the brain of the drone, the place where flight protocols are stored and executed.

FPV: First-Person View.

IFS: Integrated Flight Systems.

LiPo Battery: A lithium polymer battery, or more correctly lithium-ion polymer battery, is a rechargeable battery of lithium-ion technology using a polymer electrolyte instead of the more common liquid electrolyte.

Motor: Motors spin the props.

Multirotor: A drone with more than two rotors, typically designed for unmanned flight.

OSD: On Screen Display.

Power Distribution Board (PDB): This is like the motherboard of a computer, the place where all the drone’s electrical components connect and draw power from the battery.

Propeller (Prop): Just like a helicopter, props provide lift for the drone.

Radio Controller: A hand-held, radio transmitter that directs the drone.

RTF: Ready-To-Fly.

UAV: Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.

Video Antenna: The video antenna sends video to the goggles via RF (radio frequency) transmission.

Video transmitter (VTX): The VTX takes the analog signal from the camera, converts it to RF (radio frequency)and sends it from the antenna to the FPV goggles.

Laws and Regs

Now, when it comes to drones, the biggest differences arrive with the laws and regulations surrounding unmanned-aerial flight. From state laws to local ordinances, everywhere you fly is going to have a different set of rules. Always look-up your local and state laws before taking to the skies. From registration requirements to limits on flight space, make sure you’re in accordance with the laws of the sky.

Nationally, a pilot’s best resource comes from the website knowbeforeyoufly.org. As their website states:

Know Before You Fly is an education campaign founded by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) and the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) in partnership with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to educate prospective users about the safe and responsible operation of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

As excitement and enthusiasm continues to grow around UAS, and the regulatory framework continues to take shape, more consumers are looking to buy UAS for personal use and more businesses are looking to use UAS too. These prospective operators want to fly, and fly safely, but many don’t realize that, just because you can buy a UAS, doesn’t mean you can fly it anywhere, or for any purpose. Know Before You Fly provides prospective users with the information and guidance they need to fly safely and responsibly.

Housing rules and bylaws for recreational, commercial and government use, Know Before You Fly lays out the recreational safety guidelines as such:

  • Follow community-based safety guidelines, as developed by organizations such as the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA).
  • Fly no higher than 400 feet and remain below any surrounding obstacles when possible.
  • Keep your sUAS in eyesight at all times, and use an observer to assist if needed.
  • Remain well clear of and do not interfere with manned aircraft operations, and you must see and avoid other aircraft and obstacles at all times.
  • Do not intentionally fly over unprotected persons or moving vehicles, and remain at least 25 feet away from individuals and vulnerable property.
  • Only fly in uncontrolled, Class G airspace, or acquire authorization to fly in controlled airspace. 
  • Do not fly in adverse weather conditions such as in high winds or reduced visibility.
  • Do not fly under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Ensure the operating environment is safe and that the operator is competent and proficient in the operation of the sUAS.
  • Do not fly near or over sensitive infrastructure or property such as power stations, water treatment facilities, correctional facilities, heavily traveled roadways, government facilities, etc.
  • Check and follow all local laws and ordinances before flying over private property.
  • Do not conduct surveillance or photograph persons in areas where there is an expectation of privacy without the individual’s permission (see AMA’s privacy policy).

Users of commercial and recreational UAS should be aware that in remote, rural and agricultural areas, manned aircraft, including fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, may be operating very close to ground level. Pilots conducting agricultural, firefighting, law enforcement, emergency medical, wildlife survey operations and a variety of other services all legally and routinely work in low-level airspace. Operators controlling UAS in these areas should maintain situational awareness, give way to, and remain a safe distance from these low-level, manned airplanes and helicopters.

While these guidelines are a great starting point for any aspiring pilot, before heading to the flight field, make sure you are aware of and in compliance with any drone laws in your area.

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Chapman, A. (n.d.). Types of Drones: Multi-Rotor vs Fixed-Wing vs Single Rotor vs Hybrid VTOL. Retrieved August 10, 2017, from https://www.auav.com.au/articles/drone-types/

English Oxford Living Dictionary. (n.d.). Multirotor - definition of multirotor in English | Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved August 10, 2017, from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/multirotor

Gortolev, M. (2017, August 08). 2017 Quadcopter vs Hexacopter vs Octocopter: Pros & Cons [EXPOSED]. Retrieved August 10, 2017, from http://dronebly.com/quadcopter-vs-hexacopter-vs-octocopter-the-pros-and-cons

Know Before You Fly. (n.d.). RECREATIONAL USERS. Retrieved August 10, 2017, from http://knowbeforeyoufly.org/for-recreational-users/

Landcaster, P. (2017, July 15). Flying Drones | Tricopter Versus Quadcopter | Which is Better? Retrieved August 10, 2017, from https://flying-drones.expert/tricopter-versus-quadcopter/