3D Robotics

Five good planes to convert to a UAV

I get this question all the time: what's a good plane to turn into a UAV? The answer is that it depends on your needs, your budget and your RC skills. But here are some good electric candidates:

For RC beginners:

The NextStar (see above) is roomy, slow-flying and comes with everything you need (including a RC flight simulator). It even has its own rudimentary flight-stabilization system with a Futaba PA-2 optical co-pilot.

For DIY'ers on a budget:

The $110 SuperStar is a nice-flying four-channel plane with enough room for an autopilot and cameras strapped below. The ARF kit comes with a brushed motor and NiCad batteries, which are enough to get you started. When you're ready, you can upgrade to a brushless motor and LiPos. This is the plane we use for GeoCrawler 2 and will also be the basic platform for our ArduPilot-based UAV. You can hand launch it in a park, or take it off from a runway at an airfield. It's tough and can handle wind. All and all, a really comfortable plane to work with, especially once you upgrade the motor and battery.

[Note. This plane appears to be discontinued. You might want to check out the NexSTAR Mini EP as a replacement. It's not quite as good, as it's more expensive and has less interior room, but it does the trick]

For those looking for long flight times:

The Aero-Master is a powered glider with a pusher prop, which means no propellers in the way of your cameras. This is the aircraft used by Marcus UAV.

For those who want to carry heavy, high-resolution cameras, with unobstructed views:

If you're looking for something like the classic Pioneer UAV, with a twin tail and a pusher prop, you might want to consider starting with this Skymaster RTF. Skip the front motor (put your cameras there instead), double the size of the rear one, and you're pretty close. We've got one and the plane looks beautifully made. We haven't flown it yet, but the dimensions are encouraging.

[This one appears to no longer be available, although a larger gas-powered one still is]

For an all-around great first UAV platform:

EasyStar. The classic. Easy to fly, hard to break and plenty of room for electronics. Works best with a brushless motor upgrade.

An even cheaper variation on this, with the helpful addition of ailerons, is the Dynam HawkSky. Well worth considering as an EasyStar alternative,.
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  • another great top pusher glider would be the Volantex 757-7 Ranger, you can mount your camera in the nose as it has the pre-molded camera mount. great plane also for besiegers because the fuselage is not foam and its plastic, it will take a hard crash.
    or motorless gliders that are very light weight so when you crash it will not break, something like this would be great if you want to start to fly powerless gliders https://microbirds.com/rc-gliders/
    hope this helps.
    PS: i wish multiplex would continue selling their easy star, that was one great rc glider
    RC Gliders - RC Gliders Radio Control DLG Micro Gliders
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  • 3D Robotics
    Donald, no, this post is ancient. Some of these aren't even available anymore. I should probably update it..
  • Thanks Chris, much appreciated.
  • with so many new models out is this list still the best 5?


  • 3D Robotics
    This is what I use for aerial video
  • I knew UAV means that it can fly itself autonomously. What I did not know was the term for what I was doing, FPV. Now I do, thanks. Now, what would be a good FPV camera?
  • 3D Robotics
    Ben, I know the terminology is confusing. What you're describing is called FPV--First-person view. It's not a UAV. UAV are flown by on-board computers (aka autopilots), not by manually via RC.  That's what autonomy means--no human pilot (although a human can always take over if need be)
  • I understand that fact, I guess I didn't elaborate enough. So yes, I am really just trying to make an RC plane the "can be flown from a camera's perspective". Do you know if flying it manually from 1st person would be hard to do for the whole flight?
  • 3D Robotics



    What they're saying is that the defintion of a UAV is an aircraft that can fly autonomously. There's no such thing as a UAV with no autopilot. FPV is just RC with a camera.

  • Hey Martin

    My apologies for any misunderstanding. I will clear it up:

    My uav will have the full uav first-person capability, but with no autopilot. Is it a bad idea to fly it without an autopilot since my budget doesnt allow it? And, does it matter if the wingspan is only 44 inches for flight performance?

    Hope this Helps.
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