12 Awesome Fixed-Wing Drone/UAV Applications Explained

Zipline UAV Image Credit: Roksenhorn – Source

Fixed-wing drones/unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are some of the most popular types of UAVs alongside rotary-wing UAVs.

The primary difference between the two is the fact that they’re far better suited for traversing long distances faster and for longer periods of time compared to rotary-wing UAVs.

Here are 12 awesome fixed-wing drone/UAV applications:

  • Reforestation/afforestation projects
  • Extending reach and/or capacity of communication systems
  • Unmanned aerial refuelling drones/tankers
  • Radio/remote controlled (RC) airplane racing
  • Delivery of freight/cargo overseas
  • Commercial surveys and inspections
  • Military ISTAR operations
  • Delivery of medical supplies to remote locations
  • Crop spraying/monitoring
  • Wildlife tracking and monitoring
  • Tracking and mapping wild fires for fire departments
  • Environmental modelling

We’ve primarily included fixed-wing UAV applications that are more suited to the fixed-wing design rather than any other type of drone. There are various types of fixed-wing UAVs such as unmanned seaplanes, gliders, flying wing, lifting body among many others.

Take note that hybrid VTOL drones (tiltwing, tiltrotor, quadplane, tail-sitter drones) will not be the focus of this article as they are in a category of their own.

How Are Fixed-Wing UAVs Used In Reforestation/Afforestation Projects

Reforestation is the process of planting seeds in areas where trees used to grow but no longer do. This primarily consists of planting trees that may have gone through deforestation or have been destroyed by wildfires or other natural disasters.

Afforestation is the process of planting seeds in areas where there have never been trees before.

Fixed-wing and rotary-wing (multi-rotor specifically) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are the two most popular types of drones currently used for reforestation/afforestation projects.

Fixed-wing drones/UAVs typically have special payloads (seed dispersal systems) adapted to the size and shape of the UAV which hold and properly disperse the necessary quantity of seeds at controlled, pre-determined, and consistent rates. They can also carry pods filled with a combination of seeds, fertiliser and soil for these reforestation/afforestation projects.

Check out our full post that dives further into how fixed-wing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) work, the differences between fixed-wing and rotary-wing UAVs, fixed-wing drone applications, some parts/components that make them up, advantages/disadvantages, powerplants that are used in them and some real examples of fixed-wing UAVs:

Related Post: What Are Fixed-Wing Drones/UAVs? Everything You Need To Know

The seeds are typically planted over large areas. Manned reforestation/afforestation projects (often planted by hand) can become very dangerous for each worker, time-consuming, and costly compared to the use of aerial drones.

Fixed-wing UAVs are more beneficial than most other types of drones as they can operate for long periods of time and can cover long distances without recharging/refuelling.

This is primarily due to the fact that they consume less energy to generate lift and most winged craft have a gliding capability, although the gliding capability is not often very efficient as the size and weight of fixed-wing aircraft used for this role are typically quite heavy.

Fixed-wing UAVs could not only be used in the reforestation process but could also be equipped with payloads such as electro-optical (EO) and LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) sensors enabling them to scope out the state of the target area beforehand whether it be for reforestation or afforestation.

Conventional wing fixed-wing UAVs alongside unmanned seaplanes and unmanned skiplanes could all potentially be used for reforestation/afforestation projects depending on the environmental conditions at the project’s location.

Check out our full post that dives into each type of fixed-wing drone/UAV. For each type we explain what they are, how they work, their sub-types, what each is used for, a benefit and drawback, and two examples of each:

Related Post: Types Of Fixed-Wing Drones/UAVs Explained (+Pictures)

Several fixed-wing UAVs were modified and adapted to carry seed dispersal systems. These include the drone built to test the capabilities of fixed-wing UAVs for reforestation of Lebanon cedar trees in Turkey back in 2011 and the fixed-wing UAV built by the International Research Journal of Engineering and Technology (IRJET) for afforestation.

How Can Fixed-Wing UAVs Be Used To Extend The Reach And/Or Capacity Of Communication Systems

Communication systems are a collection of multiple systems such as telecommunication systems or relay stations which all provide some sort of transmission of communications.

For this application, we will be focusing primarily on cell towers and artificial satellites.

Cell towers hold antennas and electric communication systems that provide a wireless network and enable any cellular device (laptops, tablets, smartphones etc) connected to them to transmit and receive wireless communications and WIFI.

Artificial satellites (which are considered drones but typically called robots) are used to study the Earth along with other planets, and also to help provide wireless communications similar to cell towers except with a much larger coverage as they’re typically orbiting the Earth.

Check out our post where we explain whether a drone is a robot, what a drone and a robot actually are, some types of robots, the difference between the two, and some examples of each:

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Cell towers/sites are typically built as high as possible as the higher they are the better their reach. Several of these towers have to be built near each other to give constant wireless communication to those devices connected to them.

Sending artificial satellites to space although very beneficial for several reasons is also very expensive and time-consuming.

Fixed-wing drones/UAVs can be positioned in the stratosphere in between terrestrial communication systems (cell towers) and artificial satellites while providing similar capabilities effectively and efficiently. One of these drones could provide the same coverage as over 200 cell towers and can fly for months on end with an efficient and eco-friendly propulsion system.

The Airbus Zephyr series are fixed-wing UAVs that have revolutionised this idea. One of these UAVs can fly up in the stratosphere (21,336m/70,000ft) for months on end while providing persistent surveillance and extending the reach and/or capacity of terrestrial communication systems.

The fixed-wing UAV design is far more beneficial than any other type of drone as they can fly far higher which enables UAVs in these roles to stay clear of manned aircraft that don’t fly as high.

Check out our post that explains all fixed-wing UAV advantages and disadvantages:

Related Post: 11 Fixed-Wing Drone/UAV Advantages+Disadvantages Explained

These types of drones need to be lightweight and efficient in order to constantly provide these services without interruption. They will most likely need to incorporate a large wingspan alongside a lightweight fuselage similar to gliders/motor gliders to reduce drag and increase lift.

How Are Fixed-Wing UAVs Being Used As Unmanned Aerial Refuelling Drones/Tankers

An unmanned tanker/aerial refuelling drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that refuels other aircraft (often manned fighter jets/helicopters or simply other UAVs) with aviation fuel that it’s transporting while flying using either a long flexible hose system (probe-and-drogue) or a rigid tube (flying boom).

Unmanned UAVs can be far more beneficial for these types of roles as they can serve the primary purpose of refuelling other aircraft for long periods of time. The fuel it carries could potentially help prolong even its own flight time and allow it to fly for days on end fulfilling its role.

Having no crew onboard enables it to fly for as long as possible.

Fixed-wing UAVs specifically are far more beneficial than any other type of drone as they can generally fly for long periods of time while carrying heavy payloads (in this case fuel) and are typically very stable which is essential for these types of operations.

Boeing MQ-25 T1 Stingray (left) refuelling a manned F-35 Lightning II (right)

These types of UAVs are currently being tested for military applications. The MQ-25 Stingray (seen in the image above) made by Boeing is the first successful unmanned aerial tanker built and tested for these types of missions. Its first refuelling test mission was in mid-2021.

What Is Radio/Remote Controlled (RC) Airplane Racing

Radio/remote controlled drones include any type of drone that is controlled remotely using radio signals.

There are many associations located all around the world that help join together RC model airplane enthusiasts for races and for those who wish to show off their do it yourself (DIY) fixed-wing UAVs. These drones are either heavily inspired by real aircraft from the past or are custom built for speed and agility to race around set race tracks.

Check out our article where we explain what each part and component of a fixed-wing UAV is, how they work, the different sub-types of each component (if any), and some real examples of either the part/component itself or UAVs that have some of these parts:

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There are associations such as the British Model Flying Association (BMFA), the National Miniature Pylon Racing Association (NMPRA), and the Unlimited Scale Racing Association (USRA) and many more. The USRA will be the primary focus of this section.

These associations include most types of drones from aerial (rotary-wing and fixed-wing), to ground, and even to surface drones that race on water. However, we will only be discussing fixed-wing drones, specifically the large scale model aircraft that fly at very high speeds.

The USRA enables drone enthusiasts to use custom-built UAVs of any scale (sometimes representing a full-size aircraft) to fly at speeds that can exceed 322km/h (200mph).

These model airplanes are typically built as monoplanes (one wing) and sometimes bi-planes (two wings).

How Can Fixed-Wing UAVs Be Used To Deliver Freight/Cargo Overseas

The most common form of ocean freight shipping is transportation using large container ships. These ships can carry thousands of containers in one trip, typically over the span of several weeks depending on the destination.

However, the overall costs have been increasing, they consume large amounts of fuel, they’re generally a lot slower than the alternatives, and they’re not eco-friendly as they release large amounts of oil into the ocean.

Freight can also be shipped using a cargo airplane which is a far quicker method of overseas freight/cargo shipping. However, the rules and regulations required for this type of transportation method are a lot more strict.

Fixed-wing drones/UAV prototypes, specifically unmanned ground effect vehicles (GEVs), are now being developed and tested for future use in the overseas shipping industry. These types of fixed-wing UAVs are far more efficient than regular aircraft, are far quicker than container ships, and can be much more eco-friendly than both.

Check out our post where we dive into what unmanned GEVs are, how they work, the types of GEVs, applications, common parts/components, advantages/disadvantages and examples:

Related Post: What Are Unmanned Ground-Effect Vehicles (GEVs)?

An unmanned ground effect vehicle is a fixed-wing drone hybrid between an aerial and surface drone that uses ground effect which is the principle where a flying fixed-wing object experiences far less aerodynamic drag when flying close to any flat fixed surface (land, water, ice etc).

The Flying Ship Company Flying Wing Prototype – Source

These unmanned GEVs could transport heavy payloads at very fast speeds while simultaneously reducing emissions with a powerful and low cost yet eco-friendly propulsion system. They can also easily integrate with existing maritime loading/unloading infrastructure.

Check out our full post where we dive into several power sources currently used in drones. For each power source, we expand on how they work, the different types, the advantages, disadvantages, and real-world examples of drones that use it.

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The same applies to unmanned fixed-wing cargo shipping UAVs. Another added benefit would also be the fact that they can be made fully autonomous in the near future.

How Are Fixed-Wing UAVs Used For Commercial Surveys And Inspections

Commercial drone surveys and inspections include any sort of visual survey or inspection which is carried out for the purpose of making a profit for a business or maintaining existing business assets while using any kind of drone.

These operations include inspecting long pipelines, surveying large plots of land for future construction operations, and inspecting infrastructure and utilities such as long railways and airstrips. Fixed-wing UAVs would be most beneficial for those missions with very long structures such as the above examples.

Fixed-wing UAVs can mitigate the risk of injury for those inspections that require a worker to put themselves in dangerous environments such as climbing tall towers, they’re far quicker and cheaper than conventional methods as they’re reliable preventing costly delays, and they’re capable of gathering accurate and precise data.

These types of fixed-wing UAVs can typically be equipped with electro-optical (EO) sensors fixed to gimbals, Infrared (IR) sensors, and light detection and ranging (LIDAR) which is used to measure ranges.

If you’d like to find out what a drone gimbal is, what kinds of drone gimbals are available, whether drones need gimbals, how a drone gimbal works, how to choose the right gimbal, how much they cost and much more, check out our post on this topic below:

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Unmanned seaplanes, unmanned skiplanes, along with conventional wing drones are all fixed-wing UAVs that could potentially be used for such applications depending on the location of the site.

How Are Fixed-Wing UAVs Used For Military ISTAR Operations

Military Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) operations are missions conducted by military forces with the purpose of gathering intelligence that can be used to plan and execute often dangerous operations and/or to generally obtain assets/objects.

Military fixed-wing UAVs are used for ISTAR operations to gather intelligence information during or before a mission and to obtain assets/objects. Fixed-wing drones are much safer as they are unmanned and can mitigate the risk for human injury, they’re much cheaper to operate than manned aircraft, and they can operate at very long ranges with near infinite flight times.

Check out our post on military UAV flight range where we compare manned to unmanned military flight range, we talk about the factors that impact maximum flight range, and we take a look at some military UAVs with the longest range today:

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Most fixed-wing UAVs have a gliding capability that is very beneficial as they can use it while under power enabling them to consume less fuel.

These missions utilise all types of drones from unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Unmanned spacecraft (space drones) are also commonly used such as unmanned artificial satellites.

Common payloads include electro-optical (EO) sensors with high zoom, infrared (IR) sensors typically for nighttime operations, guided missiles, and bombs such as glide bombs.

Most types of fixed-wing UAVs can be beneficial for military ISTAR operations. However, several designs and configurations come out on top such as flying wing, blended wing-body, variable-sweep wing, and swept wing UAVs along with conventional wing UAVs.

These types of fixed-wing UAVs can be powered using motors and propellers connected to batteries, engines, solar power, or hybrid propulsion systems which connect multiple powerplants in one vehicle.

We highly recommend you check out our full detailed post on drone propellers including the different types, how they work, their different sizes and pitch, their materials, how to choose them and much more.

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How Are Fixed-Wing UAVs Used To Deliver Medical Supplies To Remote Locations

Companies are now beginning to use drones to deliver medical supplies such as blood or vaccines to fight against the many diseases plaguing today’s society to remote locations where its residents either can’t afford them or can’t get enough of them in time.

These areas can be secluded in hard to get to places where roads and other infrastructures may not be fully developed or not developed at all.

This makes delivery of crucial time-sensitive medical supplies challenging as delivery by ground can be nearly impossible or may take a very long time.

These places typically do not have suitable land or airstrips to land a plane either which makes delivery by manned aircraft very challenging.

Fixed-wing UAVs are already being used to deliver medical supplies to remote locations as they are capable of flying for long periods of time, travelling long distances, while transporting these medical supplies in parcels and dropping them once they arrive at their destinations.

Zipline, an American company headquartered in San Francisco, has been using their fixed-wing UAVs to do these missions in Rwanda, Africa. They have a headquarter where workers load up these supplies and place the drone on a catapult system that then launches the UAV.

The drone then autonomously flies to its destination, drops the parcel which then deploys a simple parachute to slow the rate it drops, then the drone flies back on its own and is caught using a hook system attached to its tail and a line attached to a fixed structure which stops the aircraft.

Hybrid VTOL UAVs, specifically quadplanes (wings+rotors) would be even more beneficial for these types of missions as they could not only fly to the location but could land in small areas because of their vertical flight capability.

We have a detailed post where we dive into how VTOL and hybrid VTOL drones work, the types of VTOL drones according to flight modes, designs, and propulsion methods, their costs, how much they weigh, their payload capacities, applications, examples, and more:

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Unmanned seaplanes, skiplanes, and even ground effect vehicles could all be beneficial for these types of applications depending on the environment they’re used in along with conventional wing UAVs.

How Are Fixed-Wing UAVs Used For Crop Spraying/Monitoring

Crop spraying and monitoring typically involves using an aircraft to spray insecticides/pesticides, and also potentially using it to control frost by flying over certain areas and pushing warm air onto the crops.

Fixed-wing UAVs are used by farmers in crop spraying/monitoring to measure the temperature of the water, to take air quality readings, check for specific micro-organisms, and potentially spray insecticides/pesticides, control frost, and plant seeds. They use various payloads such as electro-optical (EO) sensors, biological sensors, seed dispersal systems, thermal imagers among others.

Fixed-wing UAVs have many benefits especially over manned aircraft as they’re fairly easy and quick to deploy, they can cover large areas in short periods of time, they can carry various payloads expanding their capabilities, and they lower the risk of damaging crops if they malfunction compared to manned aircraft.

How Are Fixed-Wing UAVs Used For Wildlife Tracking And Monitoring

Wildlife tracking and monitoring is the process of finding an animal and keeping track of it. This is primarily done as a means of protecting species that may be endangered.

This is done for migration tracking, habitat management, species identification, and also to protect them against poachers.

Typically, researchers go out themselves to search for these animals on the ground. This can be time-consuming, expensive (even with many volunteers), and dangerous for everyone taking part.

Fixed-wing UAVs are used for wildlife tracking and monitoring by flying over the target locations and using electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensors to identify the animals. These drones are much quieter than a person on foot reducing the chance of scaring off wildlife, and they have long flight times and ranges enabling them to identify and study animals for long periods of time over long distances.

Unmanned seaplanes could be beneficial for water-based wildlife and unmanned skiplanes could be beneficial for wildlife located in cold environments generally covered in ice or snow.

How Are Fixed-Wing UAVs Used By Fire Departments To Track And Map Wild Fires

Fire departments are institutions responsible for a variety of tasks including but not limited to fighting and preventing fires, rescuing people in need, and even providing emergency medical services.

Wildfires are becoming more frequent and more severe every year, many speculate because of global warming. These fires need to be examined and controlled in order to reduce damages and potential injuries.

Wildfires can span wide sections of land covering large areas such as forests. Firefighters need to assess the situation once they arrive on the scene, plan the best course of action to mitigate risk for all those involved and carry out that action quickly and effectively due to the limited time available.

Fixed-wing UAVs are used by fire departments to track and map wildfires as they are quick to deploy and get into the air, they typically have fast flight speeds and long flight times if needed, they’re cost-effective and can be fitted with various payloads expanding their capabilities such as infrared cameras to detect living things that may be caught in the fire.

Additional payloads include electro-optical (EO) sensors for a general look at the scale of the fire and thermal imagers.

Time is no luxury for these sorts of operations. The benefit of quick deployment is not one to be overlooked or underestimated. Manned aircraft that are to be deployed for the same purpose can take a lot longer to deploy and reach the target area.

Fixed-wing unmanned seaplanes (flying boats specifically) could also play a part in these types of operations by gathering water when floating on water, then transporting it to the location of the fire and dropping it on top of the affected areas just like manned aircraft already do.

Check out our full post where we dive into how unmanned seaplanes work, the different types, applications, parts, advantages/disadvantages, and several examples of real drones:

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How Are Fixed-Wing UAVs Used For Environmental Modelling

Environmental modelling is the process of creating and using mathematical concepts to describe a system in the environment to better understand the natural environment or for general research purposes.

Scientists and engineers use this method for a variety of reasons including but not limited to monitoring and measuring climate change, coastal and soil erosion, volcano craters, glacial dynamics, cliff faces among many others.

Fixed-wing UAVs are used for environmental modelling as they can cover long distances for long periods of time in order to properly monitor these sometimes large systems, they can be equipped with various payloads depending on the mission’s goal, they are cost-effective replacing more costly methods of gathering this data.

Added benefits include the possibility of using different types of fixed-wing UAVs such as unmanned seaplanes for water-based models, unmanned skiplanes for snow/ice environments, and even potentially unmanned gliders for environments with many hills or mountains as they could provide near infinite flight times while sacrificing payload capacity.

Check out our full post where we explain how unmanned gliders function, their types, applications, advantages/disadvantages and examples of real drone gliders:

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There are a few examples of some really cool applications that fixed-wing UAVs may already be used in or are going to be used in soon. We tried our best to only mention those applications that would primarily benefit from the fixed-wing design rather than any other kind.

We hope you learned something new and we encourage you to check out our full post explaining fixed-wing drones for a general overview of this type of UAV.

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