Drones and Their Usage

As unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) gained popularity in the public consciousness a few years ago, they were plagued by mystery. A lack of information and exposure left many confused about what drones do, the differences between various types of drones, and their respective levels of safety. However, with a bit of differentiating information, it’s easy to tell drones apart and easily identify the tasks they’re most suited to complete.

The key to understanding the varying types of UAVs is to discover where their specific designations come from. Typically, drones are categorized as any remotely piloted, unmanned, or autonomous aircraft. Size does not impact drone classification, as they vary widely. Drones can range in size from handheld or the size of a hummingbird to something as large as the RQ-4 Global Hawk, a military drone that weighs as much as 32,000 pounds. Furthermore, different names determine different types of drones. For example, UAV and unmanned aircraft are not the same. Whereas UAV refers to unmanned aerial vehicles – denoting a specifically autonomous aerial vehicle, unmanned aircraft specifically requires an electronic data link. This allows unmanned aircraft to generally only be fixed-wing airplanes, helicopters, or blimps.

Within the military, drones amass even more abbreviations. They are referred to as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), Remotely-Piloted Vehicles (RPV), Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), and Remotely-Piloted Systems (RPS). While these classifications seem tedious and unnecessary, they serve a specific purpose. The military maintains three different classifications for UAVs, one each for the Air Force, Army, and Marines. The Air Force flies under five different tiers and the Army and Marines fly under three different tiers. However, as none of these tiers entirely intersect, each branch of the military is forced to create separate designations for clarity between agencies

Additionally, there are the more widely recognizable quad-copters. These are the type of drones that have rapidly gained popularity in the last five years, for both commercial and recreational purposes. Due to their relatively low entry price points and accessibility, they have redefined the idea of remote piloting for operators with limited in-flight experience. Most quad-copters include elements, such as internal flight controllers, that make operating them more intuitive and hassle-free, minimizing the possibility of collisions. The defining component of most quad-copter drones is the use of four main rotor systems and the lack of a tail rotor.

After 2015, U.S. Congress agreed that drones should be allowed access to domestic airspace. However, in order to fly in domestic airspace, these drones must fall into one of the following six categories:

– Target or Decoy
o These UAVs are adept at providing ground and aerial gunnery an opportunity to practice firing by imitating an enemy aircraft or missile.
– Reconnaissance
o These UAVs relay data and intelligence to ground stations, giving them a more complete picture of the battlefield.
– Combat
o These UAVs provide operators with an alternative attack capability for applications where using a human pilot is too dangerous.
– Logistics
o These UAVs specialize in cargo delivery.
– R&D
o Research and Development strives to improve available UAV technology and increase in-flight efficiency.
– Civil & Commercial UAVs
o These UAVs can be useful in a variety of industries – proving an invaluable resource in agriculture, aerial photography, and data collection applications.

As drones continue to increase in efficiency and safety, the need for public information grows as well. Armed with facts regarding drone functionality, the public cultivates the ability to differentiate between agricultural drones, military drones, and recreational civilian drones. While this burgeoning market continues to grow in popularity and efficacy, having an informed public not only makes operating drones safer, but also eliminates the mystery that can contribute to over-regulation and even outright bans.