What Are RC Quadcopters Anyway?

Why Is Everyone Talking about RC Quadcopters?

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You’ve heard someone mention them either in casual conversation at work or at a party or on TV or on the radio. What’s all the fuss about these gadgets called RC quadcopters?

Let’s take a real quick look at the history of the quadcopter and then dig into what makes these remote controlled vehicles quadcopters.

When Was the Quadcopter Invented?

The first quadcopter was created many, many years ago. The earliest records depict a machine, called the Briguet-Richet Gyroplane, designed in 1907 that only got a few feet off the ground.

Several more designs were attempted in the following decades, but none of these ever were truly successful. It wasn’t until the current decade (2011-2020) that the quadcopters that you’ve heard about have really become popular and successful.

Syma X12 Nano
Syma X12 Nano

Many of the early quadcopters were large contraptions for carrying people and cargo. RC quadcopters on the other hand are intended for taking still pictures and video and for the sheer enjoyment of flying. There is also the possibility of some of them carrying smaller parcels. Companies like Amazon are interested in this kind of vehicle.

What Is So Special about a Quadcopter?

A quadcopter, or quadrocopter, is one particular form of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), or drone, which is basically a flying robot. Many quadcopter owners who fly them for fun prefer to call them multirotors or quads, for short, as opposed to drones which often have a military connotation.

Compared to an aircraft like a helicopter, a quadcopter is much easier to fly. There is a nice balance that quadcopter makers achieve that allows you to maneuver it relatively easily.

You can also get a quadcopter with built-in protections that help it survive crashes. Crashes are almost certain to happen when someone is first learning to fly. Helicopters and airplanes don’t have these safeguards. In some cases, if a quadcopter doesn’t come from the factory with protective pieces, you can add them on later yourself.

The cost of a quadcopter is another factor that makes it special. You can easily get started in the hobby for less than $50. The Syma X12 Nano pictured above is just one example of many such vehicles. While such aircraft don’t come with a lot of features, they are great for learning the skills needed to handle more expensive vehicles, which can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Where Can I Fly a Quadcopter?

There are currently (2015) restrictions on where you can and cannot fly a quadcopter. You can’t fly them in national parks, for example, unless such a park would have an area specifically designed for their use.

Beyond that, it depends where you live or where you take your quadcopter. Each state and local government can have it’s own rules about flying these machines. Most of the time, if you stay indoors or on your own property, there shouldn’t be a problem. You might need to be a little more careful if your quadcopter has a camera attached to it though. There could be some privacy issues you need to check.

What Makes Up a Basic RC Quadcopter?

There are just two major components of most RC quadcopter systems – the quadcopter and the remote controller. Each piece is made of metal and plastic, and the two can communicate with each other.

The quadcopter has a central hub that contains the “brains” of the machine. Extending from this hub are four arms that each lead to a rotor with spinning blades. Two of these sets of blades rotate clockwise, and two rotate counterclockwise. This provides the stability that these aircraft are known for.

Some quadcopters are built with guards around the blades that protect them from their surroundings and conversely protect their environment from the blades at the same time. Bumping into the walls of your house won’t leave dings, dents, or scratches with these guards in place.

The remote control normally has two levers for guiding the quadcopter in the multiple directions that it can fly. The lever on the left hand side of the console controls both throttle and yaw while the one of the right takes care of roll and pitch.

Increasing throttle moves the quadcopter upward; decreasing it brings it back down to the ground. Yaw (also known as rudder) makes the aircraft spin to the left or the right. This is how you change the direction of the quadcopter.

Adjusting the roll (aka aileron, from the world of airplanes) will tilt the machine to the left or right. Changing the pitch will tilt it forward or backward.

What Else Can My Quadcopter Do Besides Fly?

One of the most common uses of a quadcopter, other than simply flying it for fun, is to take pictures and create videos! You might need a more advanced (and expensive) quadcopter to handle this task however. It depends on the quality of output that you need. You can get an aircraft that produces basic video for under $50.

Many of the more expensive quadcopters come equipped with a built-in camera or with a gimbal for holding one that is usually purchased separately. A quadcopter with a GoPro camera has become a popular choice due to the durability of that brand. See the Phantom 2 Vision below, for example.

A gimbal is simply a mount for holding and turning a camera. A quadcopter with this attachment can sometimes be programmed to take pictures and video in directions other than that in which the quadcopter is currently flying. Cameras built into the body of the vehicle are obviously restricted to the forward direction, which is often all that is needed.

Phantom 2 Vision with GoPro on gimbal
Phantom 2 Vision with GoPro on gimbal

Is That All There Is to Know about Quadcopters?

You could spend a lot of time learning everything there is to know about quadcopters because each one is really quite different from another. There are dozens (hundreds?) of quadcopter models for sale, covering a large range of styles and prices. Deciding which one (or more) is for you is a task which this site can help you with.

If you just can’t decide, you could try to build your own quadcopter!

What you’ve just read here should whet your appetite to find out more about these amazing machines. Look around at the reviews and other informational articles to narrow down your choices and zero in on the remote control quadcopter that is just right for you.

Your first quadcopter is out there waiting for you. Go find it.