The Parrot Disco FPV ($1,299.99) is a rarity among drones. Instead of utilizing a quadcopter or hexacopter design to facilitate vertical takeoff and landing, it has a single rear prop and fixed-wing design—to put it simply, it’s an airplane. The result is a flight experience that stands apart from the crowd, but also the need to have a decent amount of open space for safe landings. As fun as it is to fly, it’s not practical for a lot of locations, and video quality leaves a lot to be desired. If you’re more interested in the thrill of flying it’s a worthwhile purchase, but aerial videographers and photographers are better served with a DJI Phantom 4 or Phantom 4 Pro at this price—both DJI quadcopters are Editors’ Choice winners.
The Parrot Disco is a big, foam airplane with a single rear propeller, detachable wings, a nose-mounted camera, and an advanced flight controller. When assembled the aircraft measures 4.7 by 45.0 by 23.0 inches (HWD) and weighs 1.6 pounds. Because of its weight you will need to register with the FAA before flying, and follow the same rules as you would with a quadcopter.
The aircraft features a black-and-white color scheme. It ships with Parrot’s compact Skycontroller 2 remote control and a VR headset. The Skycontroller looks a lot like an Xbox controller with a big antenna attached; it also has a clip to mount your smartphone. If you prefer first-person view flight (FPV), you can lock your phone into the included FPV goggles.
Everything ships in a box with cardboard inserts to keep it organized, and a plastic carrying handle. It’s not impractical to carry the Disco in its box, although two levels of storage are required—the wings sit at the bottom layer, with the fuselage and accessories in a cardboard insert above it. If you end up buying a Disco and find yourself frustrated with transporting it in the packaging, Parrot sells a $199 backpack.
Getting the Disco in the air is pretty easy. Once you’ve attached the wings, taking care that the aileron motors are locked properly in place, set the drone down on the ground and power it on. You may have to calibrate its compass (the app will guide you through the process, which just involves spinning the drone on three axes), but you won’t have to wait long for it to acquire a GPS lock.
The Skycontroller is required to fly the aircraft. Plug your Android or iPhone into the controller and fire up the Parrot FreeFlight Pro app. To launch the drone, hold it by the bottom and press down on the takeoff/landing button on the Skycontroller. You’ll feel the rear propeller start to spin—when it does, throw the drone upward.
If all goes well it will enter a steep ascent to a set altitude (165 feet is default, but you can change that in the app) and fly in a circular holding pattern. If it doesn’t go well the Disco will crash to the ground; it’s designed to land like that and the worst you’ll need to do is to clean off the lens. With a little practice you’ll get it into the air consistently.
Controlling the Disco is simple. You use the right control stick to ascend, descend, or bank left or right. The left stick is used to put the drone back into a holding pattern (by moving it left or right) and to adjust its speed—forward makes the drone fly faster, back slows it down. While you’re flying you’ll get a live feed from the camera on your phone’s screen, along with a horizon indicator, video and still capture controls, and telemetry data.
The drone really flies itself. The onboard flight controller makes it so you don’t have to know anything about flying an actual fixed-wing aircraft in order to keep it aloft. You don’t have to worry about adjusting the flaps, setting the throttle, or putting the aircraft into an ascent that would cause it to stall. Parrot does make it possible for model airplane enthusiasts to fly sans autopilot with a standard RC controller, but it’s not something I attempted. I know my limitations.
Landing isn’t as hard as you’d think it would be—you just need some clear space. I flew next to a few acres of open field and was able to bring the Disco down in a steep descent until it was close to the ground, then land it gently by holding the controller’s landing button. You can also land in an automated circular pattern, but you’ll need a lot of space—262 feet at minimum—around the center of the circle.
I did try to get cute with one landing and bring it down in the yard. As you can see in the test footage, despite having some runway space, I managed to almost fly the drone into the back of a Honda Accord. Thankfully the control stick continues to function when landing and I was able to veer away into the soft grass. But it’s a maneuver I won’t attempt again.
The Disco ships with a set of FPV goggles. I don’t recommend using them with this aircraft, and neither does the FAA. Its guidelines state that you should keep a drone within line of sight during operation, and even though you can feed your phone’s rear camera into the goggles at the press of a button, the video feed is an extremely poor substitute for your eyes. It’s fairly low resolution, which makes it difficult spotting the Disco in the air.
In fact, I was too concerned about the speed and power of the Disco to risk obscuring my vision of the world around me. I tried the goggles with the Parrot Bebop 2 FPV—it uses the same app and headset. First-person flight makes sense for tiny racing drones, but not for high fliers like the Disco.
Range and Performance
Parrot states the Disco has an operating range of about 1.2 miles, but that’s under absolutely ideal conditions. I didn’t quite manage to fly it that far away from home in my standard rural testing spot—I started to get a choppy signal at around 2,900 feet, at which point I turned the Disco around and started to bring it home. If you’re concerned about flying too far from home you can set up a Geofence in the app, limiting the distance it flies from its launch point.
I didn’t perform any suburban testing with the Disco due to safety concerns. I simply didn’t feel comfortable flying the drone in an area where I’d have to land with other people around. It’s one of the drawbacks of the fixed-wing design—you really want to be in a wide-open space to use it safely.
In terms of speed, the fastest I managed was 58mph according to my flight logs, but averages were around 35mph. Parrot says the top speed is 50mph, so I’d imagine some tailwind and a descent helped me better that. Battery life is going to vary based on how you fly the drone, but I averaged about 35 minutes per charge. That’s shy of the 45 minutes Parrot says to expect, but it’s still an excellent amount of air time. Most quadcopters are closer to 25 minutes of flight time per charge.
Flight logs keep track of speed and altitude, and show your flight path over a world map. They’re a neat way of finding out just how quickly you flew and where you were in the world. Parrot’s logs aren’t quite as good as the DJI’s, as you can’t retrace your path in animated form, but I still find them to be a good resource.
Video and Image Quality
The Disco records silent video at 720p or 1080p quality. (If you don’t see 1080p as an option, upgrade the firmware.) If you opt to fly with goggles, the capture resolution is limited to 720p. Regardless of the resolution you select, video quality is, well, meh. The footage is just soft and lacking detail. It is quite steady, however, thanks to some solid digital image stabilization.
The drone is actually using a very small portion of its lens to capture video. If you look at Raw stills you’ll see that the lens is a circular fish-eye design. The 16:9 video frame is digitally cropped from the full field of view. There’s plenty of sensor resolution to do this—the camera is backed by a 13.6MP image sensor and a 1080p video frame is just 2MP—so the fault lies within the quality of the lens itself. You can see this in stills, which are also fairly soft when viewed closely.
The lens design does let you adjust the angle of the video, even if the camera itself can’t tilt. You can pan up or down to get more sky or ground in your shot. I was able to fly above a car driving down a country road and pan down with the camera, tracking it from overhead as it ambled down the road.
But if you’re serious about aerial video and want to record pro-grade footage and stills, the Disco is one of the worst options on the market. Go with a quadcopter instead. All DJI Phantom 3 models record in at least 2.7K quality and Raw still images don’t show any fish-eye distortion.
So if the Parrot Disco FPV is big and expensive, delivers underwhelming video quality, and you need a lot of room to fly it, why am I rating it this high? The answer is a simple one: The Disco is a heck of a lot of fun to fly. Don’t get me wrong, operating a quadcopter also has a certain thrill to it. But you can take your hands off the controls and have it hover in place. With the Disco the aircraft is always in motion, even when it circles in place, and knowing that puts you in a different mindset when flying it. I recognize that $1,300 is a steep asking price for what is essentially a high-end toy, but if you take an interest in remote-controlled flight and have the expendable income, you’ll find the Disco to be rewarding. But if you want an aircraft that can go more places and capture better video, a quadcopter is a better choice. In this price range, our favorites are the DJI Phantom 4 and Phantom 4 Pro.
- Fun and easy to fly.
- 35-minute flight time.
- Detailed flight logs.
- Android and iOS compatibility.
- So-so video and image quality.
- Requires large, open space for landing.
- FPV goggles encourage unsafe operation.