Long Range Drones With Extended Battery Power Are Filling Critical Commercial Niches

Expanding the scope and duration of drone flights is essential for extending drone missions into key commercial niches like infrastructure inspections and fertilizer and pesticide spraying over large agricultural farms.  One way to address this growing challenge is to use larger batteries with more storage capacity.  But there’s a trade-off:  larger batteries –for example, lithium ion batteries – while expanding storage also tend to have less power.  Drone operators must choose their batteries wisely, based in part on their payload needs and the added weight that may be involved.

Some longer-range UAVs with larger longer-lasting batteries are proving especially useful in these new commercial niches.  Some of these drones are fixed wing aircraft, which tend to have a natural advantage over multicopter drones when it comes to power usage and flight longevity. Multicopter drones, on the other hand, offer more flexibility and versatility than a fixed-wing aircraft, in terms of launch and landing opportunities and maneuverability in remote and inaccessible areas.  Again, it’s a balance, and the right drone choice can depend on the particular niche — or project – that the drone operator must fulfill.

What are the 5 best drones for long-range operations generally and how do they stack up against each other?  Several industry sources provide at least a tentative answer.  The 5 drones include:

Wingtra One Gen II

This may be the premier aerial mapping drone, a small fixed wing craft with VTOL capability. The Zurich-based company claims that a 1-hour mission with a WingtraOne is equivalent to 30 hours of conventional ground surveys.  Apparently, the drone is also up to 14 times faster than quadcopters and two times faster than other fixed-wing platforms.  The Wingtra has found favor in Europe for rapid mine surveying and for aerial damage assessments of wildfires and natural disasters to anticipate rehabilitation needs.  Weighing 8 lbs with a wingspan of just 4 feet, the Wingtra comes with various payload options (including camera types  and data management software systems) and can stay airborne for 59 minutes.   As a hybrid VTOL craft, it only requires about 7 feet of launch and landing space  For its speed of operation and efficiency, the Wingtra Gen II has been described as the “Usian Bolt” of drones.

Trinity F90+

Larger and heavier than the Wingtra, the Trinity F90+ weighs 12 lbs and features a wingspan of 8 feet.  It can stay airborne for a whopping 90 minutes, making it ideal for vast farm surveys and lengthy pipeline inspections.  Like the Wingtra, the Trinity F90+ substantially outperforms traditional multicopters and other fixed-wing drones. Because of its extended flight time –  one of the longest in the industry – the F90+ can map areas up to 20 times larger on a single charge, and comes equipped with high-performing multispectral cameras.  It also comes equipped with Post-Processed Kinematic (PPK) technology supported by the Quantum-System iBase Ground Reference Station which guarantees precision in its mission.  The drone’s 2.4 GHz telemetry also ensures a constant connection up to 7.5 kilometers.

DJI Mavic 3 Pro

DJI manufactures an array of highly efficient long range multicopters– the DJI Mavic 3 Pro being one of its most popular and versatile.  It’s expensive– nearly $5,000.  But if you’re serious, even as an avid private drone photographer, the Mavic 3 Pro is well worth the added expense. Most advanced drone models have two cameras – this one has three, including one of Hasselblad quality.  It shoots a maximum of 5K resolution footage at 50fps in 10-bit color (or 4K in slo-mo at 120fps).  The other two cameras have superior telephoto lenses of 166 mm and 70mm. The drone’s flight time is 43 minutes with a range of just over 17 miles.  And then there’s the Mavic 3’s sense-and-avoid technology, reputedly the best in the business, which helps protect your pricey investment.

Autel Evo II Pro RTK

Comparable to the DJI Mavic 3, the Autel Evo is a bit larger in size, and heavier,  but its flight time is still a robust 38 minutes. The RTK – Real Time Kinematics – feature ensures that all of the drone’s video images are stamped with precise GPS coordinates.  This particular model – like others produced by Autel – can be bought at a low base price of $4,000.   With affordable add-ons, the drone can  support 3D photogrammetry for advanced orthomosaic mapping.  Its 3-battery rotation system helps extend the drone’s flight time, outperforming other drones. Mappers of farms have found the Autel Evo II Pro especially useful for precision planting and spraying operations.  In addition, first responders in law enforcement and firefighting may benefit from the drone’s use due to its high-resolution thermal imaging.

Parrot Anafi Ai

France-based Parrot is fast entering the top ranks of drone manufacturing and sales worldwide.  Its Anafi Ai flagship is distinguished by its 180° vertical tilt camera ideal for dive shots and its ability to capture Pix4D level images that allow for breathtaking levels of detail for both 2D maps and 3D models.  Another outstanding feature is its ability to fly on LTE, providing near-unlimited range. On the downside, the Anafi Ai can only support a single payload at a time and its limited flight endurance on a single charge (25 minutes) may reduce its versatility relative to other drone modes. However, at $4,000, it’s cheaper than the DJI Mavic Pro and may better suit the limited budget of smaller  companies.

These are just 5 of the leading long range drone models available on the market today.  Another 10 could easily be added to make for an impressive top 15 list. Before Wingtra, the fixed-wing Sensefly eBee X was once a top contender with a 90-minute flight capability.  Its major drawback is its launch and landing requirements; it takes a skilled pilot to maneuver the craft, but it’s ideal for agricultural operations. Among multi-rotor copters, the Skydio X10, released in late 2023, is certain to make next year’s top 5 list.  It offers commercial users a next-generation data capture system and possibly the most advanced thermal imaging cameras on the market, with applications across multiple niches, including public safety, infrastructure inspection and military surveillance.

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