To VTOL or not to VTOL? That is the question.

Everybody loves modern technology.

But there is always going to be resistance to new ideas and systems and overcoming these challenges is part of the process of working in the drone industry.

When looking for a fixed wing drone, do we go for a system which has been trialled over thousands of hours or do we go for an experimental system that promises to overshadow the old systems very soon?

Fixed wing drones are being used primarily by drone pilots in the commercial market to create maps. They can be flown over large areas due to their endurance and ease of use. It is much more beneficial and cost effective to use fixed wing drones rather than multi rotor drones for large areas.

With new aircraft being released; updated configurations being patented; and barriers being broken; the fixed wing drone industry is offering revolutionary aircraft for a variety of different purposes.


Wing Design

Straight and Swept Wing configurations are the traditional type of fixed wing drone which have been developed and they closely resemble modern planes. They offer the ability to place decent sized payloads in a variety of positions throughout the aircraft.

Delta Wing configurations can be easily repaired, can be reinforced in crucial areas and offer the ability to parachute land rather than belly land.


Since the 1950s, Vertical Take Off and Landing aircraft have been developed, mostly visible in the form of The Osprey. Due to the inherent problems with The Osprey, it seems like drone manufacturers have employed the tactic Keep It Simple Stupid, mostly.

The three main types of VTOL configurations are:

“Bolted On” – aircraft take the basic shape of a fixed wing aircraft and literally bolt 4 motors to the airframe.

“Tail Sitter” configurations rely on motors to launch the aircraft from a standing position only to change once airborne.

“Tilt Rotor” systems rely on moving parts to either change the direction of the motors or to fold away the VTOL system for flight.

A massive plus point for these aircraft is the versatility. The ability to take off and land from just about anywhere with no need for a landing strip or parachute landing, means that possible damage to the airframe is reduced.

On the negative side, “Bolted On” configurations create drag and the aerodynamic qualities are reduced. “Tail Sitter” drones need to be perfectly calibrated to ensure the correct transition occurs. While “Tilt Rotor” designs highlight The Osprey issues, with moving parts creating problems of their own.

Also, none of the above configurations are perfect at both hovering and forward flight. This means that a multi rotor is better at hovering than a VTOL and a regular fixed wing is better at forward flight than a VTOL.

I think we need to get a model which works seamlessly in both configurations. I believe this will take a bit of time in terms of development but hopefully there should be a good VTOL drone on the market soon.

In the pit of my stomach I feel the VTOL issues with drones will be like the problems faced with the V22 Osprey all over again. Millions spent in development for a drone that still creates Vortex Ring States for fun. Hopefully someone can make it work.


Charles Holmes