April 11, 2023

VTOL vs. Quadcopter: Which one is best for public safety?

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Our idea of what drones can do is changing. As the public safety UAS industry has matured, so have the capabilities of aircraft. These aircraft vary in size, application, and propulsion type, providing users with specialized solutions that meet their needs. Vertical Take Off and Landing, or VTOL, aircraft are one of these many developing platforms.

But how does the performance of a VTOL compare to that of conventional quadcopters? What advantages can it offer to the public safety sector? We answer those questions here.

What is a VTOL?

Rotary-wing drones, like quadcopters, can take off and land anywhere. Quadcopters also have exceptional maneuverability. 

Fixed-wing aircraft trade maneuverability for efficiency. They rely on a fixed airfoil for lift, lowering the load on the motors and increasing battery efficiency. As a result, they offer greater endurance, range, and payload capacity than quadcopters.

VTOLs are fixed-wing aircraft that can take off and land like a quadcopter. Regarded as “the best of both worlds,” they offer flexibility with the efficiency of conventional fixed-wing aircraft. 

(While quadcopters are technically VTOLs, we want to clarify that in this article, the term refers to fixed-wing VTOL aircraft.)

How does a VTOL aircraft work?

VTOLs achieve impressive capabilities with either thrust-vectoring jet engines (used on modern military jets) or a tilt-rotor design. While these two propulsion systems are technically different, their premise is the same: thrust is directed downwards for takeoff/landing and horizontally for forward flight.

As you can imagine, the transition between vertical and horizontal flight is crucial to get right. Fortunately, onboard flight computers make the maneuver easy. The pilot can bring the aircraft from a hover to forward flight with a simple command or joystick input.

VTOL Aircraft Applications

It’s no surprise then that VTOLs have the edge over quadcopters across several mission sets. They especially excel in missions that require:

  • Long Range
  • VTOLs can fly higher, which enables greater transmission strength and range. Therefore, they are optimal platforms for border patrol operations, pipeline inspections, or large mapping projects — all missions encompassing an area outside the range of many quadcopters. 
  • Long Endurance
  • Highly-efficient aircraft, VTOLs have flight times needed for ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance) missions. Many VTOLs available to public safety agencies average a 100-minute flight time — double that of quadcopters. 
  • Covert Operation
  • Flying at high altitudes means lower acoustic signatures. As a result, operators flying VTOLs can discreetly observe a subject without revealing their presence.

Despite their great range and endurance, VTOLs sacrifice performance in two key areas — two areas where quadcopters excel.

Quadcopters are optimal for scenarios that require:

  • Maneuverability
  • When it comes to missions like infrastructure inspections or indoor flight, maneuverability is crucial for safety and success. Rotary-wing aircraft like quadcopters are best for these applications.
  • Static Overwatch
  • Quadcopters are optimized for hovering, making them the best for static overwatch missions. Whether it’s flying over a house fire or barricaded subject, these aircraft will be able to maintain that specific vantage point. On the other hand, fixed wings have to circle a point of interest, possibly losing sight of the subject during the orbit. Although VTOLs can hover, they are not designed to do so for long periods.

VTOL Options

Drone technology has progressed enough to make VTOLs accessible to the mainstream enterprise market, including:

  • Autel Dragonfish
  • Created by the makers of the popular EVO II quadcopter, the Dragonfish is a mature VTOL platform already in use with several U.S. public safety agencies. The Dragonfish is available in three models: Lite, Standard, and Pro. These options differ in size, flight time, and payload compatibility. 
  • Quantum Systems Vector
  • The Vector is purpose-built for tactical applications, offering operators the ability to use military-grade imaging payloads, a C2 link with Silvus radios, and Auterion software. Additionally, the Vector can transform into a dedicated tricopter with an optional configuration kit called Scorpion.
  • Wingtra WingtraOne II
  • A mapping drone by design, WingtraOne II leverages a VTOL design to provide exceptional performance. The efficiency of fixed-wing flight enables this aircraft to capture larger areas at speeds faster than quadcopters. Exceptional performance, paired with the ability to take off and land in confined spaces, makes the WingtraOne II a powerful addition to mapping workflows

Key Takeaways

Of course, there are caveats to the incredible capabilities of VTOLs; they cannot replace rotary-wing and fixed-wing drones. As mentioned, hybrid designs require compromise, and VTOLs are no exception. Moreover, these aircraft are significantly more expensive than conventional designs.

What aircraft type should your agency choose? The answer depends on your mission requirements. If your UAS team is deploying to static incidents, they may be better off with a quadcopter. On the other hand, if your agency needs to patrol a wide area — a county or portion of the border — a VTOL will be the better solution.

Questions? The FLYMOTION team is ready to help! You can get started by filling out the form below. 

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