FPV: Drone Pilots Guide

What are Quadcopters?


Multirotor, quadcopter, drone, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) – there are many terms for this new addition to the radio control (R/C) aircraft family.  It doesn’t particularly matter what they are called; they are great fun for the enthusiast and a great tool for the commercial operator, and because of that they are rapidly growing in popularity.

In the early days they were all home-built by enthusiasts who were deeply into the programming side of things.   But when mass-produced quadcopters started to hit the market around 2012 the hobby went mainstream – and really took-off!


The multirotor concept has been around for a long time – but it needed recent developments in micro-processors and electronics to tame the inherently unstable design.  Miniaturised attitude sensing devices, developed for mobile phones and computer gaming equipment, are used to automatically stabilise the aircraft in flight. This is so successful that these craft make fantastic platforms for aerial photography and videography – as well as being great fun to just fly about.

Besides their obvious appeal as a variation on an R/C aircraft for a spot of recreation in a park, the camera carrying ability of these craft makes them ideal platforms for numerous commercial uses.  This raises various issues to do with safety – which aviation regulators around the world are coming to grips with.  One person’s weekend fun toy is another person’s surveillance drone – and the law has some way to go before it can differentiate fairly between the two. In the UK, at present, the key factor is whether the machine is being used commercially.  There is much more on this later.

Multirotor terminology

As mentioned above, there are many terms for these machines. But when it comes down to the actual shape of the machine (i.e how many motor arms it has) then the terminology is less subjective:

  • Tricopter (generally homebuilt) has 3 rotors
  • Quadcopter has 4 rotors
  • Octocopter has 8 rotors and so on

See the next section here: Meteorology