Master the Drone Lingo: Your Essential Guide to UAV Terminology and Abbreviations

Last Updated: 12:13, 9 April 2024
author icon Written By: Benjamin Wilson

Ever felt lost in drone discussions? Quickly get up to speed with our definitive guide to drone lingo. Covering everything from ‘UAV’ to ‘GNSS,’ this guide will equip you with the language of drone enthusiasts and professionals alike. Intuitive and succinct, it’s tailored for those seeking a fast-track to drone terminology fluency without unnecessary jargon.

Key Takeaways

  • UAV, UAS, and RPAS are distinct terms; UAV emphasizes the unmanned aerial vehicle, UAS encompasses the vehicle, ground control, and comm link, while RPAS highlights remote piloting.

  • Important piloting terms include Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) which requires the drone to be in unaided sight of the pilot, and Air Traffic Control (ATC) which coordinates air traffic in controlled airspace.

  • Key navigation technologies for drones include GPS for position information, INS for flight stability, and GNSS which includes other satellite systems for improved precision.

Decoding the Drone Alphabet: UAV, UAS, and RPAS

An illustration of various types of drones hovering in the sky

  • RPA – Remotely Piloted Aircraft

  • RPAS – Remotely Piloted Aircraft System

  • RPV – Remotely Piloted Vehicle

  • ROA – Remotely Operated Aircraft

  • UA – Unmanned Aircraft

  • UAS - (unmanned aircraft system)

  • UV - (unmanned vehicle)

  • UAV - unmanned aerial vehicle

  • sUASSmall unmanned aircraft system (drones under 55 pounds).

We’ll begin by deciphering the drone alphabet code. UAVs), UAS, and RPAS are often used interchangeably, but they each have specific nuances.

UAV is a term that focuses on the aircraft itself, an aircraft that operates without a human pilot onboard.

UAS on the other hand, refers to the entire system, including the aircraft, the ground control station, and the communication link between them.

RPAS Emphasizes the fact that the aircraft is piloted remotely, usually from a ground control station. In this context, RPAS can also be referred to as a remotely piloted aircraft system.

In essence, these acronyms reflect different facets of drone technology, and understanding them is the first step towards mastering drone lingo.

Having decoded these terms, it’s time to uncover more specific terminology every drone operator needs to know.

The Pilot's Lexicon: From VLOS to ATC

  • VLOS - Visual Line of sight

  • BVLOS - Beyond Visual Line of Sight

  • VO - Visual observer

  • ATC - Air Traffic Control

  • FAA - (Federal Aviation Administration) The U.S. agency overseeing civil aviation and flight regulations.

  • Part 107 - A set of FAA regulations that outlines requirements for pilot certification, drone registration, and operational rules.

  • PIC - (Pilot in Command) The person who is responsible for the drone, and safety during flight.

VLOS is a fundamental principle in drone operations. It means the drone pilot must always have the drone in sight, using their unaided eye, except for corrective lenses. Note that Flying BVLOS requires a permit from the FAA.

The VO is an important role in drone operations, especially when the pilot if wearing first-person view (FPV) goggles or focusing on the drone's controls and cannot always maintain direct visual contact with the drone. The primary responsibility of a VO is to keep an uninterrupted eye on the drone during flight, ensuring that it does not collide with any obstacles, other aircraft, or enter unauthorized airspace.

Simply put, grasping these terms is pivotal for effective communication in the drone world, facilitating safe and responsible operations. Next, we’ll examine some technologies that aid drones in sky navigation.

  • GPS - Global Positioning System

  • INS - Inertial Navigation System

  • GNSS - Global Navigation Satellite System

GPS, INS, and GNSS are key technologies that ensure precise and reliable navigation.

GPS is a satellite-based navigation system that provides geo-location and time information to a GPS receiver on the drone. This allows the drone to determine its position accurately, which is essential for many drone applications, from aerial photography to precision agriculture.

The INS, on the other hand, uses an inertial measurement unit with motion sensors to determine a drone’s position and orientation. This system is crucial for maintaining the drone’s flight stability and assisting in its navigation.

Lastly, GNSS, or the Global Navigation Satellite System, is a more comprehensive term that includes systems like GPS, along with other similar systems like Europe’s Galileo or Russia’s GLONASS. By using GNSS, drones can access more satellites, providing even more precise location data.

Equipped with an understanding of these technologies, it’s time to delve into the anatomy of a drone.

Anatomy of a Drone: Key Components Explained

A drone is more than the sum of its parts - it’s a marvel of modern technology, brought to life by a symphony of components working in perfect harmony. From the frame to the propellers, each part plays a vital role in ensuring the drone takes to the skies.

We’ll examine some of these critical components and their roles more closely.

The Drone's Core: Flight Controller and Sensors

  • FC - Flight controller

  • PCB - Printed Circuit Board

  • VTX - Video Transmitter

  • RX - Radio Receiver

  • ACC - Accelerometer

  • ESC - Electronic Speed Control

At the heart of every drone lies the flight controller, a sophisticated piece of technology that interprets sensor data to stabilize the drone during flight. The flight controller is responsible for:

  • Processing data from various sensors

  • Making adjustments to the motors

  • Maintaining the drone’s stability

  • Controlling its movement

The flight controller is essentially the drone’s brain, ensuring smooth and controlled flight.

The sensors, on the other hand, are the drone’s eyes and ears. They monitor everything from the drone’s altitude and position to its speed and orientation. These sensors like the accelerometer provide crucial data for flight control, stability, navigation, and safety.

Fundamentally, the flight controller and sensors collaborate to facilitate smooth and safe drone flight, respond to pilot commands, and effectively navigate its environment using flight data.

Next, we’ll focus on the components that fuel the drone’s power and movement.

Propulsion and Steering: Motors and ESCs

The motors and Electronic Speed Controllers (ESCs) are crucial components that give life to drones. They are responsible for the drone’s propulsion and steering, receiving instructions on thrust and RPM (revolutions per monite).

Drones typically use two types of motors: brushless and brushed.

Brushless motors are known for their efficiency and durability, making them a popular choice for most drone manufacturers. These motors operate by generating a magnetic field that drives the rotor, producing the necessary thrust for flight.

On the other hand, the electronic speed control (ESC) is an electronic circuit that links the motor to the battery and flight controller. It regulates the flow of current, thus controlling motor speed and affecting the drone’s propulsion and steering. Having covered propulsion and steering mechanisms, we’ll proceed to discuss drone control.

Command and Control: GCS and Radio Signals

Mastering drone flight involves understanding how drones are controlled. The Ground Control Station (GCS) and radio signals are critical elements in drone command and control. The GCS is essentially the drone’s cockpit on the ground, managing the launch, flight, and recovery of the drone, as well as processing the data.

The GCS (Ground Control System) comprises:

  • Control systems like joysticks and throttle controllers

  • Capabilities for mission planning

  • Aircraft position monitoring

  • Map display

  • Payload data display/control

In essence, it facilitates communication between the operator and the drone through its notification capability system.

Radio signals, on the other hand, facilitate the exchange of information between the drone and its operator through a data link that uses radio-frequency (RF) transmission. The range of these signals can vary based on the frequency employed, with common frequencies for drone communication including 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz for FPV quadcopters, while long-range telemetry often uses 400 MHz and 900 MHz frequencies.

Having discussed the anatomy of a drone, we’ll now explore the technology that enables drones to see.

The Drone's Eye: Camera and Sensory Technology

A photo of a high-quality drone camera capturing scenic landscapes

One of the most fascinating aspects of drones is their ability to capture stunning aerial footage, thanks to advanced camera and sensory technology. Drones employ a variety of cameras, like low-resolution cameras for real-time streaming, GoPro cameras for aerial filming, and RGB cameras for color imagery and video capture. The quality of images and videos produced by drone cameras is influenced by factors such as the camera’s resolution, frame rate, sensor size, and its suitability for the intended application. This makes selecting the right camera crucial for achieving your desired results.

Sensors also play a key role in drone photography and videography by providing vital data for:

  • Flight control

  • Stability

  • Navigation

  • Safety

This data enables the drone camera to capture high-resolution images and videos. Recent developments in drone camera and sensory technology include enhancements in camera sensors, the integration of LiDAR and thermal sensors, and the incorporation of gas, chemical, and proximity sensors.

Next, we’ll delve into the movement and operation of drones.

Flight Modes and Movements

An illustration showing different drone flight modes and movements

Understanding drone flight modes and movements can significantly enhance your piloting skills. Drones have various flight modes, including GPS, Atti, and Sport Modes, each offering unique capabilities.

GPS mode utilizes satellite positioning to enable functions such as position hold and autonomous flight. Atti Mode maintains altitude but requires manual control for positioning. Sport Mode increases responsiveness and speed, allowing for more agile maneuvers.

Autonomous flight refers to the drone’s ability to execute a predetermined flight path or actions based on pre-programmed instructions, without the need for manual control. Manual flight mode, on the other hand, gives the pilot complete control over the drone’s movement. Understanding these modes is crucial for mastering drone flight.

Next, we’ll shift our focus to understanding airspace, including temporary flight restriction.

Understanding Airspace: Controlled, National, and Beyond

Navigating the skies involves understanding the airspace in which drones operate. There are various types of airspace, including:

  • Controlled airspace: typically located around specific airports and at designated altitudes where air traffic controllers are in constant communication with aircraft.

  • Uncontrolled airspace: areas where there is no air traffic control, but pilots are still required to follow certain rules and regulations.

  • Special use airspace: areas that are designated for specific purposes, such as military training or aerial firefighting.

  • National airspace: encompasses both controlled and uncontrolled airspace, including domestic and oceanic areas, along with air navigation facilities.

The type of airspace can significantly affect drone operations, necessitating approval from air traffic controllers and imposing limitations on drone flights. Understanding airspace types and their regulations is crucial for safe and legal drone operations. Next, we’ll dive into safety considerations for drone flights.

Safety First: Ensuring Secure Flights

A photo of a drone pilot conducting pre-flight safety checks

Safety is paramount when operating drones. Adhering to best practices and safety measures can prevent accidents and disruptions in the airspace. These practices involve:

  • Understanding the capabilities and limitations of your drone

  • Maintaining visual contact with the drone

  • Assessing weather conditions

  • Adhering to local regulations

Moreover, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) establishes rules and regulations to safeguard both the airspace and individuals on the ground. Adhering to these regulations is not just a legal requirement but also a responsibility of every drone pilot.

In conclusion, safety measures and responsible operation are as important as mastering the technical aspects of drone flight. Next up, we’ll explore the future of drone flight.

The Future of Flight: UTM and Beyond

Looking ahead, the future of drone flight seems exciting, especially with developments like Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management (UTM). UTM is a comprehensive system designed to facilitate the safe and efficient integration of drones into air traffic.

UTM oversees airspace to support numerous drone operations beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS), fostering a collaborative interaction between drone operators and the FAA for real-time communication of airspace status. This system has the potential to improve safety, efficiency, and the integration of drones into the airspace.

However, the implementation of UTM also comes with challenges, such as uncertainties regarding its architecture, vulnerability to security threats, and intricate temporary activation of airspaces for particular drone operations. Despite these challenges, the potential benefits of UTM make it an exciting development in the future of drone flight.


We have journeyed through the vast world of drone terminology, explored the anatomy of drones, understood their modes of operation, and even glimpsed into their future. From UAV to UTM, understanding these terms and concepts is crucial for anyone looking to master the art of drone piloting. As drone technology continues to evolve, so too will the language of this fascinating industry. So keep learning, keep flying, and enjoy the breathtaking views from above!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the vocabulary of drone?

The vocabulary of a drone includes terms such as "drone," "multirotor," "tricopter," "quadcopter," and "hexacopter." These terms are used to describe different types of unmanned aerial vehicles.

What is the technical term for a drone?

The technical term for a drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or unmanned aircraft system. These terms refer to aircraft without any human pilot, crew, or passengers on board.

What is drone flying called?

Drone flying is also called unmanned aircraft system (UAS) or remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS). These terms emphasize the broader elements beyond just the aircraft itself.

What is the difference between UAV, UAS, and RPAS?

In conclusion, the main difference lies in their scope: UAV refers to the drone, UAS encompasses the whole system, and RPAS emphasizes remote piloting.

What is the significance of VLOS in drone operations?

The significance of VLOS in drone operations is that it requires the pilot to always have the drone in sight, ensuring safe and controlled flight operations. This is crucial for maintaining regulatory compliance and avoiding potential hazards.

Meet the tester

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Benjamin Wilson
Benjamin, with a background in naval architecture, is passionate about RC boats. From sailboats to speedboats, he's sailed them all. Based in Florida, he's our anchor when it comes to all things aquatic in the RC world.
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