Gas Powered Drone: A Guide

As the world shifts towards an electric future, is there a place for gas powered drones?

While most of today's drones are powered by lithium-ion (Li-Po) batteries, the technology has certain limitations.  

With continued advancements, it's a safe bet that alternative power sources will come to fruition for specialized applications. 

In this guide on gas powered drones, we'll take a look at the following topics:

What Is a Gas Powered Drone?

A gas powered drone is equipped with an internal combustion engine and a fuel tank to power the drone. Some of these drones simply use the engine to create energy. In contrast, others will send the power directly to the motors. 

There is a growing demand for drones with longer flight times as the applications for drones become more abundant. While fixed-wing drones can provide longer flight duration, they are not always appropriate for every use case. 

A gas-powered RC drone is typically more powerful and efficient than a battery-powered drone while maintaining the same functionality. The majority of these drones are using regular unleaded fuel. 

Gas Powered Drone Uses

Before companies like DJI made drones a mainstream product, battery-powered aircraft were considered a niche. For example, model aircraft that fly at AMA fields are typically gas-powered. 

Li-Po-powered drones are remarkable for their lack of complex mechanical components and quiet operation. However, they are less efficient and have significantly less operational time than a gas quadcopter. 

Gas powered drones are beginning to gain traction, but the technology is still far less prevalent than electric drones.

Drone Delivery Services 

Various companies such as Amazon, Walmart, and Google are working to make uncrewed deliveries an everyday service. While impressive strides are being made with drone deliveries, they have yet to become a common occurrence.

Excluding regulatory setbacks, the electric power source used in many delivery drones is too limited. Range fluctuates with weather changes, and the payload characteristics like weight and overall size limit a drone's capabilities. 

Gas powered drone flight time is far greater than the traditional electric systems used on many drones. The compact but powerful engines are more efficient and are quickly refueled instead of waiting for a charge. 

Due to weight, drone gas powered airframes are usually larger and far heavier. The structural integrity afforded by the larger footprint allows for bigger payloads and better flight stability.    

Whether it's a product, food, or medical delivery, drone delivery services have the potential to benefit from the adoption of gas powered drones. 

drone-delivery-gas-powered-drone

Emergencies & Rescue Services

No emergency is alike, meaning flight conditions may not always be ideal for a traditional battery-powered drone. A gas powered drone helicopter can stay airborne for hours in search and rescue situations.  

Crewed helicopters are a staple of emergency response, but as drones have become more reliable, there is a dramatic shift towards using uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Internal combustion engines' increased range and efficiency are perfect for flying complex missions where conditions are constantly changing. Li-Po batteries become compromised when subjected to strong winds and large swings in temperatures. 

A gas-powered drone remains nearly unaffected by environmental conditions because it will operate as long as it has fuel. Gas is also easier to transport in rural areas where an electric power source is not always readily available. 

gas-powered-drone-search-rescue

Security & Surveillance

The unique perspective drones capture makes them a fundamental tool in surveilling large facilities. Even in residential settings, homeowners are integrating advanced drones into their home security systems. 

Many of the drones flying security missions are hindered by lackluster flight time. The situation is further exacerbated if the drone operates over an expansive area.  

Gas powered drones excel in long-duration missions and are easy to refuel and return to service with minimal downtime. 

gas-powered-drone-surveillance

Filming & Live Events 

The film industry was one of the first to adopt drone technology several years ago. Cheaper operation costs compared to crewed helicopters constitute a significant advantage.

However, Hollywood-sized cameras and hours of shooting are extremely taxing on Li-Po-powered drones. Instead of traveling with cases of batteries and charging stations, gas powered drones are filled up and ready to go. 

As mentioned previously, the large airframe design of these drones means they can carry larger cameras without compromising flight performance.  

A drone gas powered setup's weight and span are more steady in high-wind conditions, essential for filming. 

event-footage-gas-powered-drone

Advantages of Using a Gas Powered Drone

Gas powered drones continue to advance, and more applications will become available. The developments will further validate the demand for power sources other than electric. 

The following are key advantages of using gas powered drones:

  • No need for expensive spare batteries and charging stations
  • Refuel on demand and return to flight without waiting for a battery charge
  • Internal combustion engines are typically easier to repair and maintain long term
  • Higher top flight speeds due to the increased power output
  • Easily carry heavier payloads compared to battery-powered drones 
  • Can fly for hours without the need to land and continually refuel the drone
  • Most of the operational aspects of the drone are similar to flying an electric-powered drone
  • The heavier construction provides smooth and stable flights in any environment

Disadvantages of Using a Gas Powered Drone

One glaring drawback of gas powered drones is the lack of off-the-shelf options. Some individuals learn how to build a gas powered drone for this reason. 

The following are key disadvantages of using gas powered drones:

  • They are potentially dangerous as they carry highly combustible fuels
  • Produce a lot more noise than a battery-operated drone
  • The large size can cause difficulty when flying the aircraft in hard to maneuver spaces 
  • It could become a hazard if the drone experiences an accident
  • Less portable than regular drones because of their size
  • Harder to service parts if you lack experience working with engines and fuel systems
  • Require more maintenance of internal parts like the fuel components and the lubrication of moving parts
  • More expensive than Li-Po-powered drones

Another disadvantage worth mentioning is not being able to fly gas powered drones for indoor applications. Drones are being used in warehouses, nuclear power plants, and mines, to name a few.

The fumes from the drone in an enclosed space are dangerous and not practical for the mentioned specialized use cases. If you're looking for a drone for mining and inspections, the Elios 2 or Elios 3 are the best choices for indoor environments.

antithesis-gas-powered-droneThe Elios 3

Best Gas Powered Drones on the Market

Gas powered drones are currently hard to come by because the tech is still being developed. 

Many prototypes don't make it to the final product stage because of the disadvantages listed above.

Nitro Stingray

The Nitro Stingray is a sleek and powerful gas powered drone equipped with a two-stroke scorpion engine. It features variable pitch, allowing pilots to control the drone easily and make quick adjustments.  

Its agile and stable design is excellent for aerial photography. The powerful two-stroke engine can perform a host of stunt maneuvers. Its dedicated controller provides the pilot with complete control of the aircraft. 

The Pros:

  • Great for aerial photography
  • Realistic flight sensation.
  • Powerful two-stroke scorpion engine
  • Stable in windy conditions

The Cons:

  • Very loud
  • Not a lot of spec information is posted publicly
  • Challenging to locate one for purchase

gas-powered-drone-nitro-stingrayNitro Stingray | Source: Flite Test

Gas Drones That Haven't Moved Beyond the Prototype Stage

Goliath Quadcopter

True to its name, the Goliath Quadcopter is a massive drone that is a DIY project designed for the Hackaday Prize competition.

It features a powerful 30 HP lawnmower engine mounted to a lightweight hybrid frame. The drone is relatively easy to assemble because it is built from various off-the-shelf parts. 

The immense lifting capabilities are ideal for heavy-lift operations. Additionally, the Ardupilot flight control system is open-source, meaning drone pilots can customize the software for their specific needs.  

The Pros:

  • Heavy payload capabilities 
  • Open-source software
  • Powerful 30 HP engine
  • Stable in windy conditions
  • Lightweight wood/aluminum frame

The Cons:

  • Very loud
  • It takes time to understand how to control the drone
  • Still in the prototype stage 

goliath-gas-powered-droneGoliath Quadcopter | Source: Hackaday

Incredible HLQ

The Incredible Heavy Lift Quadcopter (HLQ) started as a Kickstarter campaign led by a group of students. It is equipped with a dual two-stroke engine system for a combined 25 HP. 

With so much power, the drone easily lifts up to 50-pound payloads and is designed for drone deliveries. The 435mm rotor blades ensure that enough lift is created to handle heavy objects.

Utilizing the Ardupilot system, the open-source flight controller software is customizable and adds to the flexibility of this platform.       

The Pros:

  • Heavy payload capabilities 
  • Open-source software
  • Powerful 12.5 HP dual engines
  • Stable in windy conditions

The Cons:

  • Very loud
  • It takes time to understand how to control the drone
  • Hard to transport

HLQ-gas-powered-droneIncredible HQL | Source: Kickstarter

Yeair Hybrid Quadcopter

The Yeair Hybrid Quadcopter is a unique hybrid quadcopter that breaks traditional standards of what a drone can achieve—boasting an hour of flight time and speeds of 62 mph.

Gas powered drones are usually not as responsive as electric-driven motors. However, the Yeair features a dual engine design with a combination of gas and electric.

Each rotor is powered by a 10cc two-stroke engine and a 600-watt electric motor. While the gas engine provides power, the electric motor assists with quick maneuverability. 

Yeair claims the drone can carry payloads up to 12 pounds, and it's not limited to delivery applications. 

The Pros:

  • Heavy payload capabilities 
  • Programmable LED lighting
  • Hybrid engine configuration
  • Great flight range and duration
  • Built-in Wi-Fi
  • Retractable landing gear
  • Rotors are protected by caged-design

The Cons:

  • Very loud
  • Expensive and no recent updates on the Kickstarter campaign

yeair-gas-powered-drone-hybridYeair | Source: Kickstarter

Other Types of Novel Power for Drones

Li-Po-powered drones dominate the market, and this trend is unlikely to change going forward. Although, this is not to say that alternative power sources are out of reach. 

Another area of interest is hydrogen-powered drones. The numerous benefits make a strong case for the further development of this technology. 

What is a Hydrogen Powered Drone?

Hydrogen drones utilize hydrogen fuel cells for power. Hydrogen must be free of other elements and stored under high pressure to be a viable power source. 

Hydrogen is then converted within the fuel cell by mixing it with oxygen, and the byproduct is then removed with water. This process affords better energy density in comparison to battery drones. As a result, hydrogen drones can stay airborne for hours. 

A downside of this technology is the conversion process of the fuel generates extreme heat that can damage critical aircraft components.

While alternative fuel source research and development is early, the future looks promising. 


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