Drone vs RC Plane: What Are the Differences?

Welcome to our comparison of Drone vs RC Plane.

If you’ve had a passion for aviation for a long time, you probably have come across RC planes. The first aircraft I flew was an RC airplane.

They have been around for a while; longer than drones have, and even though drones are excelling in some aspects, you can still experience the thrill of flying an RC plane.

Drones and RC planes are aircraft you can use for various purposes like photography, videography, racing, freestyling, stunts, and so on.

They have captured enthusiasts’ imaginations, offering many hours of excitement and fun.

But they are not the same. So, what are the differences?

The key difference between drones and RC planes is efficiency. Most drones are autonomous and offer a wider range of purposes due to their efficiency.

RC planes are primarily inefficient and can only function after receiving signals from a radio transmitter.

Besides efficiency, this article also explores other differences between drones and RC planes to help you know which one matches your needs.

Let’s dive in.

Drone vs RC Plane: What Are the Differences?

The two aircraft have a broad range of differences, including the following:

  • Design
  • Control
  • Flight time
  • Flight range
  • Purpose
  • Speed and maneuverability
Metric
Drone (Rate out of 10)
RC (Rate out of 10)
Design
8
7
Control
9
8
Flight Time
6
7
Flight Range
8
7
Purpose
9
7
Speed and Maneuverability
8

Design

Drones are more sturdy than RC planes. The small unmanned aircraft are made of sophisticated technology.

Their buildup materials are lightweight to enhance battery life and efficiency.

A drone is quite sturdy and can withstand bumps during flights. Additionally, it has refined technology like infrared cameras, navigation systems, sensors, and GPS.

RC planes are remotely piloted, tiny aircraft built from insubstantial materials such as foam.

Control

Drones are often controlled using electronic flight controllers, which process inputs from the pilot (or autonomous algorithms) and adjust the speed of individual motors to control orientation, altitude, and movement.

Some drones also incorporate GPS and inertial sensors for navigation and stabilization.

RC planes are typically controlled using a handheld radio transmitter that sends signals to the aircraft via radio frequency.

The pilot manipulates control sticks (e.g., throttle, elevator, ailerons, rudder) to adjust the plane’s speed, altitude, and direction.

Flight range

Drones have evolved to have advanced communication systems that extend their ranges to longer distances depending on factors like interference and the transmission technology used.

They also come with GPS and autonomous capabilities that extend control even when you lose connection to the controller.

On the other hand, RC planes rely on radio control that limits the range to a few miles.

It’s possible to use modules that extend the range, but you may not achieve the same functionality you would with a drone.

Flight Time

Average camera drones have 10-30 minutes of flight time. The top-notch professional drones have extended battery options, allowing them to fly for 40-50 minutes when fully charged. 

A fuel-powered RC plane has a flight time of 10-15 minutes, while an electric model has a 5-10 minutes of battery life.

However, some models, like the
Great Plane Cap 232, can fly for about 2 hours.

Stability

Typically, RC planes are more stable during flight than drones due to their longer wings and the ability to tolerate more wind.

Contrarily, drones are less stable as they have smaller wings and are less tolerant of wind.

You can improve your drone’s stability by calibrating and cleaning it regularly and maintaining a properly balanced center of gravity.

Purpose

Drones’ higher task performance efficiency allows them to handle commercial tasks. Thus, they’re suitable for more specialized operations such as emergencies.

Drones are highly versatile, handling various purposes like photography, videography, mapping, surveying, and military operations.

RC planes are inefficient and, hence, mostly used for recreational flying, photography and videography.

Speed and Maneuverability

Drones have an average speed of 45mph (72 kph) but can increase to 186-217 mph (300-350 kph). However, the FAA legal limit is 100 mph (161 kph).

Many RC planes’ speeds range between 20-60 mph (32-97 kph) or beyond. Their design, purpose, and power system determine the specific speed.

RC planes are more maneuverable than drones. They can do loops, fly vertically, and many more postures, making the flights more interesting.

You can achieve the same with an FPV drone, but most camera drones have automated flying assistance that limits any of the stunts you could do with an RC plane.

Wrap Up

Our seven key metrics in drone vs RC plane comparison are eye-openers for identifying and choosing the right device depending on your objective(s) and expectation(s).

First, the design description helps you distinguish the two and know how they work at a glance.

Drones are easier to control, have a more extended flight time, have a higher speed, and are more efficient. They can handle more recreational and commercial tasks due to their flexibility.

RC planes have a longer flight range, are more stable during flights, and are highly maneuverable. However, since they lack sensors and functionality, they’re suitable for recreational purposes.

FAQS

In the contemporary sense, RC planes are not drones.

Drones have sensors, are more autonomous, and come in different sizes and designs depending on their function.

In this case, RC planes are often fixed-wing drones that are used for hobbyist flying.

But in regulatory aspects, such as by the FAAA, drones and RC planes are under the same category.

While RC planes may seem more accessible, they are more difficult to fly, fragile since they are often made of foam, are large and less portable, and can’t be used for much other than having fun.

Author
Peter Karanja

Peter is a licensed drone pilot and drone fanatic. He owns a DJI Air 2S that he uses to shoot videos for fun, enjoyment and for clients.

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