Main Fixed-Wing Drone/UAV Parts & Components Explained

Fixed-wing drones/unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are often sophisticated unmanned robots that are made up of several parts and components.

Whether you’re here to learn out of curiosity, or you’re here in order to build one of your very own fixed-wing UAVs, this post is made for you.

Here are the main fixed-wing drone/UAV parts & components:

  • Fuselage
  • Wing
  • Tail assembly/empennage
  • Payload
  • Propulsion system
  • Landing gear/undercarriage
  • Transmitter & Receiver
  • Flight controller (FC)
  • Electronic speed controller (ESC)
  • Battery eliminator circuit (BEC)
  • Inertial navigation system (INS)

In this article, we’re going to explain what each part and component is, how it works within a fixed-wing unmanned aerial system (UAS), 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.

Take note that a part is a larger piece that makes up a whole whereas a component is a smaller contained piece within a larger part.

What Is A Fixed-Wing UAV Fuselage?

A fixed-wing drone/UAV fuselage is the main body of a fixed-wing drone. It can be used to provide lift, and it typically supports the UAV’s wings and tail assembly. Various payloads including passengers and freight/cargo may also be stored within it or attached to its exterior.

Take note that an airframe is the structural part of a fixed-wing UAV that typically reinforces and holds together the fuselage, wings, landing gear and tail assembly but not the propulsion system.

The fuselage of a fixed-wing drone can vary in shape. These shapes include the lifting body (no wings and the fuselage provides lift), blended wing-body (no clear distinction between the wings and body), and conventional wing (distinct wings, fuselage, and empennage) configurations.

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:

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The shape of the aircraft along with the aerodynamic devices and materials it’s made of all contribute to benefit the drone’s lift to drag ratio, stability, and control.

The wings, tail assembly, and landing gear also need to be attached to the fuselage in a way that provides stability and control for the operator (for conventional wing and blended wing-body configurations).

Examples include the MQ-9 Reaper made by General Atomics which is a conventional wing UAV and the S-70 Okhotnik-B made by Sukhoi which is a flying wing UAV.

What Is A Fixed-Wing UAV Wing?

A fixed-wing drone/UAV wing is an airfoil/lifting surface responsible for capturing airflow and therefore generating lift. A single wing (also called wing plane) refers to the length from one wingtip to the other, even if it goes through the fuselage.

The primary wing that generates lift on an aircraft is commonly called a mainplane.

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:

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Several aerodynamic devices can be fitted to the drone’s wings. These include vortex generators, flaps, slats, ailerons, wingtips, spoilers, speed brakes (can also be fitted to the fuselage), among others.

There are also canards which are small wings typically fitted to the nose of an aircraft.

Wing configurations include straight wings (wings shoot straight out from the fuselage), folding wings (wings can fold for storage and/or during flight), swept wings (wings are swept either backwards or forwards).

Additionally, there are delta wings (wings are swept back with triangular planform with a straight trailing edge), tandem wings (two mainplanes placed one in front of the other), and variable sweep wings (wings can sweep backwards or forwards during flight).

Fixed-wing drones with different numbers of wings also have specific names. These include monoplanes (1 wing plane), biplanes (2 wing planes), triplanes (3 wing planes), quadruplanes (4 wing planes), and multiplanes (5 or more wing planes).

Some aircraft are also shaped in a way where the entire body of the UAV acts as an airfoil thus generating lift. These are called flying wing UAVs and do not have a fuselage or a tail assembly (but can have a tail fin).

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

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Examples include the Mantis made by BAE Systems which is a conventional wing monoplane with wings swept backwards and the Bat made by Northrop Grumman which is a flying wing monoplane.

What Is A Fixed-Wing UAV Tail Assembly/Empennage?

A fixed-wing drone/UAV tail assembly/empennage is the entire tail configuration which conventionally includes a fin (vertical stabiliser) and rudder which act vertically and a horizontal tailplane/stabiliser and elevator which act horizontally.

There are several different types of tail configurations including conventional empennages (from the image above), t-tail empennages, v-tail empennages, y-tail empennages among others.

For more information on empennages including images of real fixed-wing UAVs using these types of tail assemblies, we recommend checking out our post on the types of fixed-wing UAVs.

There are also foreplanes which are generally small aerodynamic surfaces that can serve the purpose of either increasing control, increasing lift, or both. These types of foreplanes include canards which are small wings placed on the nose of the aircraft in front of the mainplane.

Examples include the Hermes 900 made by Elbit Systems which is a conventional wing monoplane with a v-tail empennage and the FQM-151 Pointer made by AeroVironment which is a conventional wing monoplane with a t-tail empennage.

What Is A Fixed-Wing UAV Payload?

A fixed-wing drone/UAV payload includes any additional weight a UAV can carry other than its base weight. The payload includes all sorts of cargo such as baggage and passengers and additional equipment that is not required for the aircraft to function and excludes things like fuel or other power sources that are needed by the drone to function.

A common misconception is that unmanned aerial vehicles cannot have anyone on board the robot for it to be considered a drone. In reality, there just can’t be any crew members operating the vehicle in the aircraft.

There are many accessories used with UAVs such as LIDAR (light detection and ranging), radar, gimbals, cameras, thermal imagers etc.

Check out our post where we dive into 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:

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These types of payloads are typically used for all types of drones, not just for the fixed-wing design.

There are a few payloads adapted specifically to the fixed-wing design such as seed dispersal systems for reforestation/afforestation projects and large storage compartments attached to the underside of fixed-wing UAVs (seaplanes) which can be used to drop water on large areas affected by fires.

Examples include the Firebird made by Northrop Grumman equipped with electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensors, radars among other possible payloads and the MQ-25 Stingray made by Boeing which can carry a large amount of fuel and acts as an aerial refuelling drone for other manned and unmanned aircraft.

What Is A Fixed-Wing UAV Propulsion System?

A fixed-wing drone/UAV propulsion system is the entire system that propels the drone and provides it with power enabling it to takeoff and cruise. This includes machines and devices such as engines, propellers, batteries, fuel cells among others.

These types of propulsion systems are typically used for all types of drones, not just for the fixed-wing design.

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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The types of powerplants include engines (gas/combustion turbine, rotary, piston/reciprocating, hybrid engines), batteries (Lithium-Polymer, Lithium-Ion, Nickel Cadmium, Lead Acid etc), hydrogen fuel cells (proton-exchange membrane, direct methanol, electric storage etc), solar power, motors (brushed or brushless), among others.

Batteries typically either power motors attached to propellers, or store energy gathered by solar panels on solar-powered drones.

Engines (including types mentioned above) typically propel the drone using air and combustion.

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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Examples include the Stalker made by Lockheed Martin which is powered using a solid-oxide fuel cell with propane as fuel enabling an 8 hour flight time and the Silent Falcon made by Silent Falcon UAS Technologies and Bye Aerospace which is powered using photovoltaic cells (PV-Solar Energy) providing a 12 hour flight time.

What Is A Fixed-Wing UAV Landing Gear/Undercarriage

Fixed-wing drone/UAV landing gears/undercarriages are equipment aircraft use for takeoff and/or landing from a surface such as water, snow, ice, but conventionally land. These can come in the form of wheels, skis, and floats.

These types of UAVs include unmanned seaplanes (equipped with floats or they have floating hulls), unmanned skiplanes (equipped with skis), unmanned amphibians (can have floats or a floating hull with additional wheels for land operations), and conventional drones equipped with wheels.

Each of these types of undercarriages can extend the capabilities of the drone as it opens it up to the possibility of operating in various environments.

Check out our post on several fixed-wing UAV applications where we explain what each is, how fixed-wing drones are used in them, how they’re beneficial typically over manned aircraft, and some real examples/concepts if there are any:

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Examples include the Flyox I made by Singular Aircraft which is an unmanned amphibian flying boat (floating hull) and the X56A made by Lockheed Martin which is a conventional wing drone with a wheeled undercarriage.

What Is A Fixed-Wing UAV Transmitter & Receiver?

Fixed-wing drone/UAV radio transmitters (Tx) and receivers (Rx) are components found in drone systems that enable the operator to control the UAV, send and receive data from the UAV using electromagnetic waves.

These components are typically used for all types of drones, not just for the fixed-wing design.

Take note that a radio transmitter and receiver used in the same telecommunications unit is called a transceiver.

The drone operator controls the drone with their transmitter (controller) that generates and transmits electromagnetic waves over to the receiver found on the UAV which sends that data to the flight controller for it to act. This enables the operator to increase the speed or change the direction the drone is flying.

Some systems can have the drone send back some data as radio waves to the operator’s controller which converts those radio waves into visible signals for them to read on the controller interface. Both also have antennas to transmit this data.

More sophisticated UAVs typically require large equipment called ground control stations (GCS) or mobile control stations (MCS) depending on whether they are mobile during operation which extends the capabilities of a hand-held controller.

These large controllers can drastically increase the range of a UAV along with a better receiver module in the drone which is very beneficial to long-range fixed-wing drones depending on the power output and the quality of the antennas used for the data exchanges. They can also keep track of, control, and measure data sent from a complex UAV, although it may require multiple operators.

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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Examples include the RQ-4B Global Hawk made by Northrop Grumman which uses a ground control station and has a flight range of around 22,780km (14,154mi) and the Disco made by Parrot which uses a hand-held remote controller and has a flight range of around 2km (1.2mi).

What Is A Fixed-Wing UAV Flight Controller (FC)?

A fixed-wing drone/UAV flight controller (FC) is a circuit board equipped with varying numbers of sensors and equipment on the drone that processes the information gathered by these sensors and controls things such as the speed of the aircraft and the data it measures. It is considered the brain of the drone.

These components are typically used for all types of drones, not just for the fixed-wing design.

With the addition of wires and ports, electronic speed controllers (ESCs), power distribution boards (PDBs), motors, inertial measurement units (IMUs), barometers, and many additional components are all connected to and controlled by the FC if it can support these devices.

Take note that different flight controllers (FCs) can support different numbers and types of ports. They can come with additional features such as a built-in compass, current sensors to measure current, an autopilot module, or these devices may need to be purchased separately.

Examples include the F405-WING flight controller made by Matek Systems and the Byme-D flight controller made by Radiolink which are built for the fixed-wing design.

What Is A Fixed-Wing UAV Electronic Speed Controller (ESC)?

A fixed-wing drone/UAV electronic speed controller (ESC) is a device used in drones to control and change the speed of their electric motors. They contain microcontrollers and sometimes integrated power distribution boards (PDBs).

These components are typically used for all types of drones, not just for the fixed-wing design.

The ESCs microcontroller has a program or firmware which controls the motors.

A power distribution board (PDB) is a component that can either be built into each ESC or is separately placed in between the power source (typically a battery) and the ESC and distributes the right amount of power to each ESC.

These PDBs typically have integrated BECs (more on this in the next heading) to regulate the amount of voltage being distributed to each ESC.

Typically, each motor requires its own ESC. However, more recent innovations have brought the 4 in 1 ESC which is a circuit board that does the job of 4 separate ESCs in one place making it more compact and lightweight.

The ESC also needs to be connected to the receiver so that the inputs from the operator on the ground can be implemented in the drone.

Examples include the AR13A made by AGFrc and the 80A made by Surpass Hobby which are both built for the fixed-wing design.

What Is A Fixed-Wing UAV Battery Eliminator Circuit (BEC)?

A fixed-wing drone/UAV battery eliminator circuit (BEC) is a voltage regulator used to properly distribute the right amount of power (DC voltage) to any electric component that needs power therefore eliminating the need for multiple batteries.

These components are typically used for all types of drones, not just for the fixed-wing design.

These devices are used to regulate the DC voltage from the battery and to distribute the required voltage to each component such as the flight controller, payloads, IMU, etc. Different components may require different amounts of power.

The difference between power distribution boards (PDBs) and battery eliminator circuits (BECs) is that PDBs split up the power from the battery specifically to the ESC and still need built-in BECs within them to regulate voltages whereas BECs both distribute and regulate the voltage sent from the battery for each component in a drone that requires power.

BECs can either come separate or can be integrated into the component intended to be powered within the robot.

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

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Examples include the 20A BEC Pro made by Castle Creations and the 10A BEC made by ZTW which are BECs used in fixed-wing drones.

What Is A Fixed-Wing UAV Inertial Navigation System (INS)?

A fixed-wing drone/UAV inertial navigation system (INS) is an electronic device comprising of several sensors such as an inertial measurement unit (IMU), barometers, and sometimes magnometers which measures and reports a drone’s specific force, angular velocity and direction, fuselage orientation, altitude, and sometimes magnetic field.

These components are typically used for all types of drones, not just for the fixed-wing design.

The INS is a type of guidance system and is an essential component that enables a drone to have autopilot capabilities.

The IMU is a smaller component within an INS containing accelerometers and gyroscopes which contribute to gathering data such as the acceleration and the orientation of a drone.

They work together with GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) sensors that synchronise with these types of artificial satellites to determine the exact location of a drone.

They also work together with barometers which measure air pressure to in turn determine the drone’s altitude.

If the GNSS sensor fails, the data being gathered by the IMU can take over as the primary navigation system.

Examples include the Ellipse 2 Micro INS made by SBG Systems and the INS-B-OEM made by Inertial Labs.

Additional Fixed-Wing UAV Parts & Components

Here are additional fixed-wing drone/UAV parts and components that may not be essential for the drone to function but are still commonly used:

  • Servos: device used to control aerodynamic devices such as rudders, flaps, ailerons etc; controlled by receiver and ESC
  • LED lights: includes navigation lights and anti-collission lights to aid in keeping track of a drone during flight
  • Obstacle avoidance sensors: used to avoid obstacles before the drone impacts with them. There are downwards facing sensors and forward facing sensors
  • Kill switch: safety mechanism connected to the flight controller and receiver that shuts off the power to the drone when instructed by the operator in an emergency


Those are the primary parts and components typically found in fixed-wing UAVs. We indicated the components that are typically used in all types of drones as they are essential for them to function.

These robots are quite complex and are capable of achieving some incredible things. We hope you learned something new and make sure you check out our article on what fixed-wing UAVs are.

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