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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  • Electric Kadet Senior is good too. Axi 4120/18 with a 14"x7" prop, 5S lipo of about 5000mAh to 10,000mAh capacity and a good 80amp Esc. I like Castle's HV-85, it doesn't even get warm. :) For similar performance on a smaller scale, the Herr Cloud Ranger is a good choice.
  • 3D Robotics
    They do make a bigger (81") Skymaster. A bit too big for me, but YMMV.
  • I'm really liking the skymaster design actually...if it only had a longer wingspan...
  • 3D Robotics

    Thanks for the reminder of the popularity of the SIG Kadet for UAVs. I should have mentioned in my intro that I was just covering electrics, which we prefer for most purposes for the usual reasons (noise, safety, reliability, lack of mess, etc). But the gas-powered Kadet is great for heavier payloads and longer missions.
  • Nice list. Its great you commit your time just to make this information easier to find!
    I plan on using a Sig LT-25. Just about the right size for my motor, but the fact that its a tail dragger is going to make calibrating the gyros on start up harder.
    Anyone have experience with the LT-25 in terms of a UAV?
  • What a nice plane, I am a big sucker for the translucent covering. :D
  • A lot of universities are using SIG Kadet Senior aircraft because of the relatively large internal space and 7 pound payload capacity (with a bit of modification). If you're looking for long endurance or to carry a lot of electronics, this is a good aircraft.

  • Moderator
    I have 2 of the EasyStars for FPV flights and the NitroModels Cessna 337 Skymaster 81" (big brother to the one above) for my UAV project.

    There are some design/build issues with the 81" Skymaster (things like the wing tubes, and no riudder)

    I haven't found the right powerplant for the Skymaster yet, but I'm sure it'll be some honkin' big brushless. (there's enough room for a car battery, so amps ain't gonna be a problem!)

    Chris is right on with this list.
  • I have one of the Nexstars, and it is a fine aircraft. Lots of room in the fuselage. Also a BIG bonus with the Nexstar is the included simulator software. Hook the transmitter to the pc, and destroy thousands of dollars of virtual aircraft in minutes. I spent about 12 hours on the sim before I ever went to a flying field, and it was a massive help. I highly recommend it for RC newbs. It has also proven to be a popular aircraft at the flying field. Many of the experienced pilots have asked to fly it, and have been impressed by the aircraft. So far, I have managed not destroy it, though I did rip the firewall off on a rough landing. oops.
  • T3
    I personally like the Skymaster if you can get your autopilot working with two speed controllers it gives you some redundancy having a push pull setup. If one speed controller or motor goes you do not have to deal with asymmetric thrust issues.
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