In Focus

Glossary: Know your drone

Baffled by the difference between a UAV, UAS, drone or RPAS? Here, Australian Aviation presents your cheat sheet to multicopter mumbo-jumbo.


A device that measures acceleration. More practically, it works in tandem with the gyroscope to keep a drone stable.

ATTI mode

This mode maintains the altitude of the aircraft, but without using GPS. This means it’s susceptible to the wind and needs to be manually controlled by a pilot. It’s often advised that pilots should learn to fly in this mode.


This refers to a drone that can fly without direct human input – that is, controlled by AI. In particular, this type of technology is often necessary for perimeter patrol (say, guarding prisons) that require them to be active in dangerous locations or for long periods of time.

Black Hornet

A famous military nanodrone, just 10 × 2.5cm, used to spy around corners. It was notably used by the British armed forces.

Boeing Airpower Teaming System

The ground-breaking prototype, designed and made in Australia, is not a remotely controlled drone but instead uses AI to help both manned and unmanned aircraft in mid-air, hence the Australian project name ‘Loyal Wingman’.

BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight)

This refers to the ability to fly an unmanned aircraft beyond the pilot’s literal line of sight. This is crucial as some countries, such as Australia, ban drones being used beyond this point.


This refers to technology to stop a drone colliding with something else and is a crucial next step to allow large amounts of autonomous drones to deliver packages.


Dà-Jiāng Innovations, a Chinese company based in Shenzhen, China, known as the largest manufacturer of drones in the world – accounting for about 70 per cent of the market. Dà-Jiāng, in Chinese, means ‘Great Frontier’.

Drone in a box

This is a colloquial term for a drone that deploys to carry out a specific mission, and then returns to its base, often to recharge.


You’ll likely know that ‘drones’ is a catch-all, colloquial term that can relate to all manner of remote-controlled aircraft without a pilot. However, the word is thought to have originated in 1946 when basic ‘remotely piloted vehicles’ were used for target practice for anti-aircraft guns. The word itself was thought to be picked for its resemblance to the “monotonous, sustained sound” of a bee.


YouTube it. A dronie is a self-portrait, taken by a drone that flies backwards and upwards.

Electromagnetic interference

Can render your drone useless. This is often caused by being close to metal, magnets, power lines, or cell towers.

Field of view (FOV)

Describes the area visible by the drone camera. Simply, the larger your field of vision, the more information your camera will process and convert into a photo.


The software in your drone that controls everything from batteries to flight input and stabilisation.

Fixed-wing drones

UAVs that resemble planes, rather than helicopters, due to having a literal fixed-wing. Their advantage is they can usually carry heavier payloads for longer distances on less power.

Flight controller

This is the circuit board that translates input from the remote control into movement of the drone.

FPV (first person view) drone

This is a system where the pilot controls the drone from a first-person perspective, effectively as if they were in the ‘cockpit’.


This tech creates invisible boundaries that stop drones from flying into no-fly zones such as airports or power plants.


This allows a drone to rotate on its axis, and for the camera to remain level even when moved about.


You may be familiar with the acronym, but you may not know the Global Positioning System, a satellite navigation system, is actually owned by the US government and operated by the US Air Force.


A device that helps keep a drone stable. Often works in conjunction with an accelerometer.


A drone with six rotors, as opposed to the more standard quadcopter with four.


Stands for light detection and ranging, which means measuring, mapping or surveying, with a laser.

Micro air vehicle (MAV)

This is a UAV that weighs less than one kilogram.


A rotorcraft, including a drone, with two or more propellers.


A multirotor aircraft with eight propellers.

Parrot AR Drone

This was the first ready-to-fly drone controlled entirely via Wi-Fi and using a smartphone.

P mode

This is the standard flight mode, where most sensors are active. Available on all DJI aircraft, it requires a strong GPS signal.


First flying in 1994, the Predator drone was initially used by the US Air Force for surveillance and resonance but later adapted to fire missiles.


This is the use of photography in surveying and mapping, often captured by drones. The best example of this is in Microsoft Flight Simulator, which recreated the world in 3D based on aerial mapping.

Phantom 4

DJI’s Phantom 4 was a milestone moment for mass consumer drone tech because it introduced machine learning to avoid obstacles and track and phonograph objects, rather than being tied to just a GPS signal.

Prime Air

The name of Amazon’s much-talked-about ambition to use drones to deliver parcels, first unveiled in 2013. Earlier this year, the tech was finally granted FAA approval in the US, paving the way for their rollout.


A multirotor aircraft that uses four rotors, often the standard.

Racing drone

A small quadcopter designed for racing, and usually controlled in the first person. YouTube it.

Return to home (RTH)

This function lets the drone return to its launch point, and is often triggered automatically when the power runs low.


The first true “hunter-killer” drone, the Reaper is used by the US Air Force for both surveillance and missile strike. It’s known as the spiritual successor to the Predator.

Remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS)

This is the preferred term by CASA in Australia and the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) worldwide. It can be used interchangeably with UAS.

Ruston Proctor Aerial Target

The first pilotless winged aircraft in history was launched in 1917. It was radio-controlled and based on RA tech invented by Nikola Tesla.


This is a rotary-wing aircraft that generates lift using rotor blades. This term also includes traditional helicopters.

sUAS (small unmanned aircraft system)

A drone that typically weighs less than 25 kilograms.

S mode

Sports mode is available in most modern DJI drones and maximises speed – however, that’s at a cost of disabling most of its crash avoidance technologies.


The name for the two-way digital data stream between the UAV in the air and a ground station used to communicate messages.


Unmanned aircraft system differs from UAV because it includes elements other than the vehicle itself. Think of this as being the main umbrella term, which all others feed into.


Unmanned aircraft vehicle differs from UAS, above, because it relates only to the aircraft flying in the air.


An electrical vertical take-off and landing vehicle is what is often known as a flying car or taxi, and resembles a huge drone.

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