What is a Drone?

We keep hearing about drones, but a lot of people are confused about even the definition of a drone. Learn more about what is
a drone and what is not a drone.

1. What Is a Drone? 

A drone can be anything from a paper airplane to a multi-million dollar military drone. Today, the drones that are getting a lot of press are the small consumer quadcopters.

The FAA defines the drone as an aerial vehicle with pre-programmed automation that renders its flight predictable.

2. What is a UAV or UAS?

A UAV is an “Unmanned Aerial Vehicle”. A UAS is an “Unmanned Aerial System”. Both terms are used interchangeably with the word “drone”.

An UAS is the unmanned aircraft (UA) and all of the associated support equipment, control station, data links, telemetry, communications and navigation equipment, etc., necessary to operate the unmanned aircraft.  It also includes the pilot.

A UAV is the drone itself.  Used interchangeably with UA, UAS, and drone.

An Unmanned aircraft (UA).  Flies without the possibility of direct human intervention from within or on the aircraft.  The UA is the flying portion of the system, flown by a pilot via a ground control system, or autonomously through use of an on-board computer, communication links and any additional equipment that is necessary for the UA to operate safely.

3. What is a sUAS?

A sUAS is a small UAS.  It is defined as being less than 55lbs in weight.

4. What are the best know drone quadcopters?

The best known quadcopters today are the DJI (a Chinese manufacturing company) Phantom and DJI Inspire. DJI currently controls over 60% of the market. Companies like 3D Robotics, Horizon and Yuneec are gaining in popularity. Even GoPro has announced that they will soon compete in this space.

Phantom 3

DJI Phantom 3

5. Do I need insurance on my drone?

If you are flying as a hobbyist, we recommend that you become a member of the AMA (the Academy of Model Aeronautics). If you are a business using drones, it obviously makes sense to protect yourself. A few leading insurance companies have started offering drone insurance. You can expect to spend $500-$1200 for a year of liability insurance on a Phantom or Inspire.


6. How should I respond to people watching me fly my drone?

The key to responding to onlookers is knowing the rules and regulations. Don’t become combative or unruly. It is prudent to have a note or something that you can show to someone that lets them know you know what you are doing.  This will allow you to focus on flying and allow them to know that you know the rules.

If you are flying commercially you should already have a NOTAM filed and should have deconflicted the airspace. You need to have your decision and COA on hand because they can be requested by law enforcement and the FAA.  

If you are flying as a hobby again you should know the rules. You should be operating under a community based set of rules and it helps if you have them on hand the AMA has their Academy of Model Aeronautics National Model Aircraft Safety Code.  This is a good example to follow.  The FAA has issued AC 91-57A Model Aircraft Operating Standards.  This circular provides guidance to operators of unmanned aerial systems used for hobby or recreational purposes.

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