While most drone manufacturers are focusing on making compact quadcopter drones, Parrot is taking a completely different approach.
Parrot, known for making one of the first ready to fly drones back in 2011 with the AR.drone and most recently the light, foam Bebop drones, has now created a ready-to-fly fixed-wing drone — the Disco.
The $889 Parrot Disco (price reduced from $1,299) is an autonomous fixed-wing plane. It flies just like a plane — moving forward at all times. (That’s in contrast to most drones you would think of which are multicopters — typically four propellers that allow the drone to hover and move in all directions).
It can land and take off, maintain altitude and stick to a flight path autonomously. It can fly for up to 45 minutes at a time at 50 miles per hour — and sometimes even longer if you are flying with the wind. Flying into the wind? It can resist windspeed of 24 mph. It has a 1080p camera with 3-axis digital stabilization to get smoother video.
Parrot recommends that you have at least two football fields of space to safely operate the drone.
And that leads me to my big question with the Parrot Disco. Why would you use it?
You need A LOT of open space to fly this drone. I flew it over a series of four baseball fields. Even still, my drone crashed when I turned it and it hit a huge stadium light.
It’s a fixed wing drone. So, unlike a multicopter, it can’t hover, rise straight up, or navigate into tight spaces.
We’ll get back to that later. For now — let me tell you everything that this drone is about.
Parrot Disco Flight Control
Flying the Disco is certainly an interesting experience. You press the takeoff land to get the motor started, and then you throw it like a baseball into the air. However, the throwing took a couple of tries to nail down. The first time, I threw it way too low and the drone basically took a nosedive right into the dirt. (Protip: aim high!)
Once in the air, the drone climbs up to altitude (164 feet) on its own. The sensor technology here is super impressive.
When the Disco is in the air, the drone flies in “Loiter mode” — basically a 196-foot diameter where it flies in circles until the pilot overrides that by moving the joysticks. (Both the diameter and altitude can be adjusted on the Parrot Freeflight app).
This makes it pretty easy to control once you get the hang of it — and it’s quite fun to fly! Something about flying a plane vs. a multicopter has this exhilarating feeling.
The one major issue about flying the thing is you need open space — a lot of open space. You can’t make sharp turns, so if you are flying into a patch of trees and don’t realize it soon enough to turn (the Disco makes fairly wide turns) well…
Parrot Disco design
The structural design of the Parrot Disco is truly incredible. At less than 1.5 pounds, it’s super lightweight. It is made from EPP (expanded Polypropylene) which feels like foam and and is reinforced with carbon tubes. The wings pop on and off super easily. That’s excellent for if (okay, when!) your drone crashes. Rather than the wing breaking, it more than likely will easily pop right off — which means that when you’re ready to fly again, you can pop it back in. This was very brilliant design, and something I hope more drone manufacturers will incorporate to eliminate damaging the drone during crashes.
It’s also ideal to have easily removable wings for storage. While the Parrot Disco wingspan is nearly four feet (45 inches), the whole thing can be compacted into a much smaller box for storage.
Parrot Disco Skycontroller 2
The controller for the Parrot Disco is an update on its former Skycontroller — this time called the Skycontroller 2. The controller allows you to connect to your smartphone with the FreeFlight Pro app, so you can see what the drone’s camera sees in real-time. The Skycontroller 2 range is slightly more than a mile, according to Parrot.
Just like most multicopter RC transmitters, the Disco controller has two joysticks — though for multicopter users, they’ll have to get used to the joysticks controlling different flight patterns! The controller also has features like geofencing (this is software that puts a virtual fence in the air) — useful for making sure your drone doesn’t travel too far away.
Parrot Disco Camera