11 Ornithopter Drone/UAV Advantages+Disadvantages Explained

Ornithopter drones/unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are incredible types of drones that use biomimicry to recreate the biology of animals that flap their wings to fly such as birds, bats and some insects.

In this post, we will be diving into the benefits and drawbacks of the flapping-wing/ornithopter configuration.

5 Ornithopter Drone/Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) Advantages

Ornithopter drones offer several benefits that are unique to this configuration.

Here are 5 ornithopter drone/unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) advantages:

  • Some are capable of hovering in place during flight
  • They’re much more efficient than other types of UAVs
  • They have a simple mechanical complexity
  • They’re typically very safe
  • They can expand the capabilities and applications of drones

How are some ornithopter drones/UAVs capable of hovering in place during flight?

Some ornithopter drones/unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can hover in place using their flapping wings that can be angled in order to fly vertically while eliminating the thrust that is also generated simultaneously.

Check out our full post on ornithopter drones where we dive into how they work, the types, applications, parts/components, advantages/disadvantages, propulsion systems and examples:

Related Post: What Are Ornithopters? Flapping-Wing Drones/UAVs Explained

Some ornithopters incorporate a tail-sitter type configuration in order to hover. This means that the drone rests in its tail with the nose of the aircraft facing upwards and can takeoff in this position and hover.

Others can simply reduce their speeds to a nearly stationary position in flight, although this is rare.

They can rotate/change the angle of their flapping wings in order to both hover and generate thrust when needed.

Why are ornithopter drones/UAVs much more efficient than other types of UAVs?

Ornithopter drones/unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are much more efficient than other types of UAVs as their wings are capable of generating a large amount of lift while using less power.

The only area they may lack in improvement is the hovering capabilities which are generally going to be up to par with a conventional unmanned helicopter.

Check out our full post on what rotary-wing drones/UAVs are where we dive into how they work, applications, parts/components, advantages/disadvantages, common powerplants and examples:

Related Post: What Are Rotary-Wing UAVs? Unmanned Rotorcraft Explained

This will primarily depend on the shape of the wing used. The most efficient bird-inspired wing will ideally generate lift while reducing drag induced by vortices and thus saving power overall and therefore efficiency.

This is said to be the crescent-shaped wing.

Why do ornithopter drones/UAVs have a simple mechanical complexity?

Ornithopter drones/unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) almost always use a combination of similar mechanical components that are in general very simple in order to allow them to function.

This is typically made up of the same parts and components found in other types of UAVs with additional mechanical oscillators that enable the wings to flap at a controlled speed and direction.

Parts and components include the fuselage, airframe, wings, electronic speed controllers (ESCs), an inertial navigation system (INS), a flight controller (FC), a transmitter and receiver among many others.

We have full posts on the parts and components of fixed-wing UAVs and the parts and components of rotary-wing UAVs.

Why are ornithopter drones/UAVs very safe?

Ornithopter drones/unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are very safe as they need to be made very lightweight to fly which means that they only have few parts and components that are each light.

This means that the weight of the craft is very light which minimises the risk of injury if it collides with a person in flight.

Furthermore, they do not use sharp propeller blades that spin at very high speeds in order to generate lift nor do they use engines that combust which could potentially catch fire in a worst-case scenario.

Check out our full post where we dive into several powerplants and propulsion devices used in drones. We expand on how they work, the types, advantages/disadvantages, and examples of drones using them:

Related Post: How Are Drones Powered? 6 Drone Energy Sources Explained

Of course, they are not perfect and can still pose a threat to an individual or to themselves in specific situations.

How can ornithopter drones/UAVs expand the capabilities and applications of drones?

Ornithopter drones/unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can expand the capabilities and applications of drones by excelling in certain applications that a regular UAV could not do.

The coolest application is probably exploring other planets where the air is thinner making a regular fixed-wing or rotary-wing UAV have a much harder if not impossible time at attempting to effectively and efficiently operate in.

Another application is military spy missions where the military would operate these devices fitted with cameras to gather intelligence while infiltrating a secure location posing as a bird for example.

Check out our full post on ornithopter drone applications where we explain what each use case entails and how flapping-wing UAVs are used in them:

Related Post: 6 Awesome Ornithopter Drone/UAV Applications Explained

11 Ornithopter Drone/Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) Disadvantages

Ornithopter drones are not perfect and the design is still being developed. This means that they still have several serious drawbacks.

Here are 11 ornithopter drone/unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) disadvantages:

  • They’re challenging to fly
  • They typically have difficulty landing
  • They’re typically quite unstable during flight
  • They can’t be flown in bad weather
  • They can’t fly as fast as other types of UAVs
  • They often have very low payload capacities

How are ornithopter drones/UAVs challenging to fly?

Ornithopter drones/unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are challenging to fly due to the aerodynamics of the flapping wing. The drone and its wings typically have to be at a certain angle in order to generate lift and maintain stability and control.

The operator also needs to make wide turns in order to turn around as changing the direction of travel too quickly could throw the drone off balance and make it roll over in the air and crash.

Furthermore, ornithopter drones can be difficult to launch and to land depending on the type it is.

Hand-launched ornithopters are the most common which may be a challenge to get used to. The operator also needs to land the drone in a controlled way to reduce the potential to damage the drone (more on this in the next section).

If the operator is not experienced and treats these types of drones like other types that are easier to operate such as rotary-wing UAVs, then they may not be using the UAV for much longer.

Why do ornithopter drones/UAVs typically have difficulty landing?

Ornithopter drones/unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) typically have difficulty landing as they don’t generally have landing gear and rely on landing on the belly of their fuselages which can cause them to tip over and roll if the impact of the landing is too rough.

Typically, only ornithopter drones that can’t hover will be affected by this disadvantage.

This can also damage the wing mechanisms as it puts stress on them, especially if the tips of the wings get caught on the ground as they flap and at the same time touch the ground on the downstroke.

A rough landing happens when the operator tries to land the drone at too high a speed and when the drone is losing altitude too quickly. This is a big problem for ornithopters that fly at moderate speeds and that can’t glide.

Landing is typically done by slowly and carefully bringing it to the ground.

If not done properly, the drone could tip over and roll and potentially damage a part or a component.

Why are ornithopter drones/UAVs typically unstable during fight?

Ornithopter drones/unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are typically unstable during flight as the aerodynamics involved have not yet been fully perfected. Any imbalance in weight or miscalculation messing up the timing of a mechanism can make it unstable.

The biology of a bird wing for example is very complex incorporating various muscles, materials, and bones that all work seamlessly enabling the bird to accomplish stable and controlled flight.

This system is very challenging to replicate artificially. Any error or miscalculation can cause stability issues.

Furthermore, an inexperienced pilot that does not yet understand the basics of how they generate lift could further negatively impact its stability by being too violent in changing its direction and altitude.

Why can’t ornithopter drones/UAVs be flown in bad weather?

Ornithopter drones/unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can’t be flown in bad weather as they are susceptible to things such as crosswinds and heavy rainfall which will negatively affect the drones stability, speed, and altitude.

This is a big issue for all types of aircraft, even manned ones.

However, ornithopters are still fairly new and the technology has not yet been perfected which makes them even more susceptible to these sorts of things.

This is an issue for any pilot no matter how skilled and can be very dangerous for the drone.

Why can’t ornithopter drones/UAVs fly as fast as other types of drones?

Ornithopter drones/unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can’t fly as fast as other types of drones as their wings have to focus primarily on generating lift while producing less thrust that propels the vehicle forward.

This may improve as time goes on, but for now, they must fly at fairly slow airspeeds.

These devices are very lightweight which makes air resistance that increases at higher speeds a big issue that can make them unstable. The wings must balance the amount of lift they generate with the amount of thrust produced.

Why do ornithopter drones/UAVs often have very low payload capacities?

Ornithopter drones/unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) often have very low payload capacities as they need to be built as lightweight as possible in order to generate lift and maintain stability and control during flight.

A flapping wing may generate a lot more lift using a similar amount of power compared to a blade, but a larger wing often means it will also increase in weight.

Finding a balance is essential for these types of drones. Increasing the overall weight of the drone means that either the wingspan and surface area of the wing or the speed at which the wing flaps will have to be increased.

The faster these UAVs travel, the more air resistance they will experience which is a big issue for their lightweight bodies which will be more affected by it making them unstable.


Ornithopter drones/UAVs may seem to have more drawbacks than benefits. However, some of these drawbacks may not be as important as the benefits so don’t give up on these types of drones.

They have incredible potential in this industry and could revolutionise some aspects of our lives.

If you’d like to learn more about these types of UAVs, check out our full post on what ornithopter drones/UAVs are and how they work.

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