Aren’t fixed-wing aircraft incredibly tricky to pilot and amazingly easy to crash? Well, yes, but the Parrot Disco is no ordinary remote-controlled aeroplane, Its main appeal is, in fact, that it’s far from tricky to fly; it’s just as accessible as any modern quadcopter. It’s as easy to take off and land it; it “hovers” (kind of); and you’ll be flying around with away in minutes. The only issue is that you need a bit more space to fly it in than your average quadcopter, simply because it can go so fast, and it can’t land on a sixpence like quadcopters can.
Parrot Disco: Take-off, flight and landing
Take-off is very impressive. With the Wi-Fi controller and battery in the drone charged up and powered on, you simply grasp one of the wings, press the take-off/land button on the remote with your spare hand and, once the rear-facing propeller fires up to full speed, and throw it up in the air.
As long as you’re gentle, it then takes to the air, rising steeply, and completely automatically, proceeding to fly in autopilot mode at an altitude of 50m in lazy, 60m circles at a speed of 24mph. If you want to, you can simply leave it to circle until you ready to fly. It will continue to circle in “orbital standby mode” indefinitely until you take control and start to steer.
Then the fun starts. The Parrot Disco is extremely responsive and, with its various safety features enabled, you can get stuck in without worrying too much about crashing or losing it. A downward-facing ultrasonic altimeter and camera work together to prevent you flying too low, and you can set up a basic, circular geofence as well. Once the drone hits its limits, it will turn itself around and head back to base.
The most important thing about flying remote-controlled aircraft is responsiveness and reliability, and the Disco meets those demands in spades. The right stick on the control pad is used to bank right and left, gain height and dive, while the left stick is used to accelerate, decelerate and, with a quick flick right or left, enter its “orbital standby mode”.
In fact, it’s easier to get to grips with than a quadcopter in my opinion, but you really need a wide open space to fly it. If you make an error of judgement about direction or altitude at up to 50mph, it doesn’t take too long for things to go wrong, and there’s no forward-collision avoidance which can be a disadvantage over more expensive drones.
Landing is the most tricky thing to pull off. The idea is to kill the altitude until you can fly no lower – ideally while flying it at yourself – then, when it’s 50m or so away, hit the landing button. The Disco will then cut the power, reverse its propeller briefly to scrub off speed and glide gently to the ground. But it will take practice to land it right at your feet.
Parrot Disco review: Features and FPV
The Disco is great fun to fly and there is an electronically stabilised 1080p camera in the nose, which produces incredibly smooth footage, recording directly to 32GB of internal storage.
The Disco is supplied with a Smartphone-driven VR headset that streams live 720p video from the nose camera, directly to your eyes for the real-time flying experience. Once your phone is docked in the headset’s docking tray, you connect it up to the controller via a USB cable, and put on the goggles, just as you would with a Samsung Gear VR. The headset fits comfortably and securely, and with a strap that stretches across the top of your head as well as a standard stretchy goggles strap.
It is impressive to fly, but I found there was some breakup of the signal when the drone flew further than 250 metres away, and the view looked a little pixellated on the iPhone 6s I was using for this test, but the wide angle of view provided an impressively clear view of my surroundings, and the display also overlays important telemetry onto that live image, so you know how fast you're going, how high you're flying and how much battery life is remaining.
If you do lose track- for example, if you fly beyond the range of the remote control, or you hit the limits of the geofence, the app displays a message in red on screen so you know exactly what's happening.
Another very useful features; with a touch of the shoulder button on the control pad, you can activate the drone’s “see-through” mode. This patches through the view from your Smartphone's camera so you can get a handle on what’s going on immediately around you before switching back to cockpit view. If you prefer not to have the image fill your vision, it's also possible to disconnect the goggles and view the live stream on the screen of your tablet or Smartphone, which you can clip onto the top of the controller.
Flight time is a staggering 45 minutes where most quadcopters manage less than 30 minutes, range is 1.24 miles, and the brains of the Disco — housed beneath a clip-on flap on top of the fuselage — contain a huge array of sensory wizardry, all designed to make flying easy and trouble free. The C.H.U.C.K. (Control Hub and Universal Computer for Kit) contains GPS and GLONASS radios; an accelerometer, magnetometer and gyroscope; there's a downward-facing camera and ultrasonic altimeter to help with landing and low-level flight; and a pilot tube on top of the Disco for sensing air speed.
Once you have mastered the Parrot Disco, it’s even possible to add an RC module to the flight bay that allows you to connect a full-blown enthusiast remote controller, although beware – by doing this you do lose out on the autopilot features. When you’ve finished flying, you can clip off the wings and stow it in the boot. Which is handy, as it's quite a large thing - the wingspan is 1.15m, but it is easy to carry.
Parrot Disco review: Verdict
The Parrot Disco is great fun to fly, without having to worry about a huge learning curve, and extremely easy to get to grips with. Even landing is relatively straightforward, and although it seems expensive, I think £1,150 for this lot is actually pretty good value.
But, in order to make the most of the Disco’s capabilities, you need a big, wide open area, much more so than with a quadcopter drone will need.
The Parrot Disco is great fun to fly, easy to learn and has all the wizardry to keep you in the air without too much fuss. I would certainly recommend it.