Purpose The purpose of this paper is to use an ABC algorithm to improve the thrust-torque ratio of a rotating-wing unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) model. Design/methodology/approach The design of UAVs, such as aircraft, drones, helicopters, has become one of the popular engineering areas with the development of technology. This study aims to improve the value of thrust-torque ratio of an unmanned helicopter. For this purpose, an unmanned helicopter was built at the Faculty of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Erciyes University. The maximum thrust-torque ratio was calculated considering the blade length, blade chord width, blade mass density and blade twist angle. For calculation, artificial bee colony (ABC) algorithm was used. By using ABC algorithm, the maximum thrust-torque ratio was obtained against the optimum input values. For this purpose, a model with four inputs and a single output is formed. In the generated system model, optimum thrust-torque ratio was calculated by changing the input values used in the +/- 5% range. As a result of this study, approximately 31% improvement was achieved. According to these results, the proposed approach will provide convenience to the designers in the design of the rotating-wing UAV. Findings According to these results, approximately 31% improvement was achieved, and the proposed approach will provide convenience to the designers in the design of the rotating-wing UAV. Research limitations/implications It takes a long time to obtain the optimum thrust-torque ratio value through the ABC algorithm method. Practical implications Using ABC algorithm provides to improve the value of thrust-torque ratio of an unmanned helicopter. With this algorithm, unmanned helicopter flies more than ever. Thus, the presented method based on the ABC algorithm is more efficient. Social implications The application of the ABC algorithm method can be used effectively to calculate the thrust-torque ratio in UAV. Originality/value Providing an original and penetrating a method that saves time and reduces the cost to improve the value of thrust-torque ratio of an unmanned helicopter.