Quick Reference Guide of Drone Terminology

What is a drone?

RC DRONESThe terms unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and drone are used interchangeably. According to the FAA, a UAV is an aircraft without an onboard human pilot, controlled either autonomously or by remote control. The term unmanned aircraft system (UAS) refers to the unmanned aircraft and all of its components including, but not limited to: control stations and software, remote controls (if necessary), control links, payloads, launch and recovery equipment.

Alternate Names for Drones:

Hobby Names:

  • Quadcopter: The most popular name for Small UAVs, which has 4 rotors positioned on a horizontal plane like a helicopter. Other names include Quadricopter, Quadrocopter
  • Multicopter: A generic name for a drone with multiple propellers. This covers quadcopters, octocopters, etc.
  • Hexicopter: A multi-rotor aircraft having six rotors in which the beauty and advantage of the hexicopter is that it can lose any single engine and still maintain control to land
  • Octocopters: Has eight blades

The multirotors with a high number of blades are typically larger and designed to carry a heavier payload. For example, Amazon’s recent announcement about using unmanned aerial vehicles to deliver packages shows the company utilizing octocopters, given their increased range, stability, and ability to carry moderate amounts of weight.

Military Names:

  • RPAS – Remotely Piloted Aerial System
  • UAV – Unmanned Aerial Vehicle
  • UAS – Unmanned Aircraft System
  • SUAS: Small Unmanned Aircraft System

Quadcopter Grades:

Toy Grade: Small (nano/micro ) sized quadcopters,   Inexpensive and a good size to start with for most beginners.

Hobby Grade:  Mid-sized Drones, used by novice flyers with some experience. Many have cameras or a way to attach one.

Professional Grade: High end copters with 4 or more propellers, Most have HD cameras for aerial photography and offer more features along with the longest flight times.

Flying Terms:

Yaw: If you were looking down on a drone from above, yaw refers to the movement of the drone clockwise or counterclockwise.

Pitch: Simply describes movement up and down along the vertical axis from the front to the back of the drone.

Roll: Is the rotation of the aircraft from front to back on a copter. Basically it refers to the movement of the drone forward, backward, left and right along a horizontal axis.

Drone Glossary of Terms:

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2.4 Ghz Spread Spectrum: Ghz is short for gigahertz and describes the radio frequency rate used by a drone controller. The 2.4 gigahertz spread spectrum controllers have become the gold standard for low budget drones. Because the spread spectrum is “frequency agile,” it can “hop” to different frequencies to account for any atmospheric or other issues a drone pilot may experience, which means fewer crashes.

5.8GHz: Used in hobby and professional grade RC drones. A live feed sent from a drone’s camera that provides better range and less lag, Very popular in Fpv racing and usually paired with a set of FPV Goggles.

808 Camera: This is a common term for a range of very small cameras, which are often sold as keychain cameras. They are extremely lightweight and are used by hobbyists in order to take pictures from a multi-rotor aircraft.

250 Racer: Term to describe a racing multicopter that’s 250mm diagonally from end to end. Very common type of quadcopter currently among FPV racers.

A

Accelerometer: A device that measures the acceleration forces in a certain direction and helpful in maintaining the Drones orientation. These devices are used to stabilize quadcoptors.

Acro: Short for Acrobatic Mode. Best for doing freestyle tricks and for precise flight control.

Aerial Photography: the hobby of capturing images and video while in the air with a camera mounted to your drone.

AGL: Altitude above ground level

Altitude Hold function: Allows pilot to focus on the camera while the drone hovers steadily in air by itself at a set height. A Onboard barometer is needed to allow Altitude Hold.

Aerial Photography: The capturing of video and images in the air with a camera mounted on a drone.

ARF: Almost ready to fly.  ARF units will many times come without the transmitter, and may require some assembly.

Autopilot: A capability of a drone to conduct a flight without real-time human control. For example, following pre-set GPS coordinates.

Autonomous Flight: There are some SUAVs’s that are managed by internal programming that have instructions on where to fly as guided by an onboard GPS system. This is in opposition to steering mechanisms that are operated by radio control from the ground.

Axis: One plane of potential flight. Most quadcopters have at least 4 axis controls, with 6+ being preferred.

B

Balanced Battery Charger: This is a charger or an internal system for Lipo batteries (or different chemistries) which uses smart technology to charge multiple cells properly that are located within the battery and balances them.

Barometric Pressure Sensor: This device used barometric readings to determine the altitude of the aircraft. It can help drones to be able
to calculate their height above the ground, along with using combinations of other sensors. ( Enables Altitude Hold feature )

Betaflight: Flight controller configuration software.

Bind: This is the process of making the controller (Transmitter) communicate with the quadcopter or the drone.

BNF: Bind N Fly. The unit is ready to bind to your  transmitter and fly.

Brushless Motor: These motors have permanent magnets that rotate around a fixed armature, which eliminates any problems that could be associated with connecting current regarding a moving part. The brushless motors are much more efficient and hardy than brushed motors.

Build: A unit that is build at home as opposed to one that is store bought.

BVLOS: Beyond visual line of sight.

C

Camera gimbal: This is actually the holder of the camera used on drones. It can tilt and swerve, thanks to the servos that power it. The gimbal is strong enough to support even large DSLR cameras.

CF: Short for Carbon Fiber, the composite material used to build most raceing quadcopters. Known for it’s strength and durability.

Cleanflight: Flight controller configuration software.

Commercial Flight: flying a drone for money-making purposes. This is currently restricted by FAA regulations unless you apply for and receive an exemption.

Controller: The handheld device that is used by the drone pilot that is used to control the drone and the quadcopter. Controllers are also called transmitters. Here is a picture of a higher end controller.

D

Drone: UAV capable of autonomous flight.

E

Electronic Speed Control: ESC. The device for controlling an electric aircraft’s motor. It is the connection between the RC receiver and main battery. It usually includes a Battery Elimination Circuit (BEC), which provides the power for the onboard electronics like an autopilot and the RC system.

F

FAA: Federal Aviation Administration A United States Department of Transportation Agency, with the authority to regulate and oversee all aspects of American civil aviation.

Fail Safe: System that helps protect a multicopter in case of some type of error. For example, if a quadcopter loses control signal, a fail safe may be for the quadcopter to return home.

Fat Shark: The leading producer of FPV goggles for racing drones.

First Person View: Also known as FPV, a system in which the drone operator views the camera footage from the drone in real-time. The video stream is either viewed through a pair of special goggles, or to a device like a tablet or smartphone.

Firmware: The sketch or software loaded into the microprocessor based products’ non-volatile memory. The reason it is referred to as firmware is because it remains in non-volatile memory state even when power is removed. Therefore, it is non-volatile. In the autopilots case, it is an application (App for smart phone users) or program that determines how and what the auto pilot does.

Flight Control System: This is a network of controls that is interconnected and allows the pilot to fly the quadcopter or any other multi-rotor airborne vehicle.

Fly Away: Unintended flight outside of operational boundaries (altitude/airspeed/lateral) as the result of a failure of the control element or onboard systems, or both.

Fly-Away Protection System: A system that will return the UAV safely to the surface, or keep it within the intended operational area, when the link between the pilot and the UAV is lost.

FPV: Acronym for “First Person View.” This is also known as “Remote Person View” (RPV). The FPV is situated on a camera (such as GoPro) and is mounted on the Quadcoptor which allows the operator view exactly what the aerial vehicle is viewing in real time.

FPV camera: A special camera used for first-person-view racing, piloting, photography, or videography.

FPV goggles: A special set of goggles used to view what the multirotor’s camera is seeing in real time.

FPV Racing: A sport in which pilots race small quadcopters around a predetermined track.

Frequency: The radio frequency FPV equipment runs on. Can be brand-dependent. Allows for multiple channels so pilots don’t interfere with each other.

 

G

Geofencing : The use of GPS technology to create a virtual geographic boundary, enabling software to trigger a response when a drone enters or flies within a particular area

Gimbal: This is a specialized mount for a camera, giving it the ability to swerve and tilt by utilizing servos. This gives the camera the capability of staying in one position, regardless of the movement of the drone. This allows for a very smooth and stabilized and smooth looking image.

GIS: Geographic Information System designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present spatial or geographic data

GoPro: Top name in high-definition camcorders, often used in extreme-action video photography. It is an HD-quality, waterproof video recording device that is compact, lightweight, rugged. With attachments they can be wearable or mounted on vehicles.

GPS: Global Positioning System that is used to track the position of an object in relation to the global spatial plane, track movement, or cause an airborne vehicle such as a quadcoptor to hold position, such as the advanced Dji Phantom.

Ground Control Station: GCS. This software runs on the ground on a computer. It receives telemetry information via an airborne UAV. It displays its status and progress. This frequently include sensor and video data. It also can be used for transmitting in-flight commands up to the UAV in the air.

Gyroscope: A gyroscope or gyro, measures the rate of rotation of the UAV and helps keep the craft balanced correctly with respect to yaw, pitch and roll. Helps to maintain the orientation of the quadcopter while in flight. In most cases, quadcopters use a triple-axis gyroscope.

H

Head tracking: A feature on some goggles that allows you to maneuver your camera’s angle during flight by moving your head up and down or side to side.

Headless Mode: regardless of the orientation of the craft, the way the front of the craft is pointed, it will follow your stick movements.

Hexicopter: A multi-rotor aircraft having six rotors in which the beauty and advantage of the hexicopter is that it can lose any single engine and still maintain control to land.

Hobby Grade: Better than toy grade, these quads can offer good reliability and operation at a reasonable price. The Syma X8G, JJRC H25G and Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 are a few examples of hobby grade quads.

I

IMU: The Inertial Measurement Unit is a controller which combines an accelerometer and a gyro, with the purpose of helping with the orientation and stabilization of a quad.

Inertial Navigation System: INS. This is a means of calculating position that is based on the initial GPS reading. This is followed by speed and motion sensor readings that use dead reckoning. This is useful when the GPS has lost its signal temporarily or is not available.

IOC:  intelligent orientation control – Usually, the forward direction of a flying multi-rotor is the same as the nose direction. By using Intelligent Orientation Control (IOC), wherever the nose points,the forward direction has nothing to do with nose direction:

J

Jello: Undesired effect of vibration impacting video. Video appears distorted like jello jiggling, caused by the multirotor itself.

K

L

LCD monitor: A screen, usually attached to the controller, used to view what a multirotor’s camera is seeing. Usually used instead of goggles.

LiPo: Short for Lithium Polymer, LiPo is the type of battery favored by most drone manufacturers due to its low weight and maximized charge capacity and power. Although LiPos are safe, be aware overcharging the battery or breaking the flexible polymer case could result in fire.

Lithium Polymer battery: LiPo or LiPoly. The Lithium Ion battery (Li Ion) is a variant. Lighter weight and more power is offered by this battery chemistry compared to NiCad and NiMh batteries.

LOS: Short for Line of Sight, refers to being able to see your drone from your operating position with your naked eye. Your drone should always be within your line of sight.

M

mAh: milli Amp Hours. A unit of measurement that describes how much ‘power’ a battery can provide before it needs to be recharged.

Mobius Camera: Popular lightweight camera model which can shoot video in HD and take intervalometer photos. It was developed mainly to be used with RC drones.

Mod: modifications Drone addicts do to their machines to integrate new functions or cool features. These changes are usually called mods.

Mode 1 transmitters: have throttle on the right stick, and are popular in  the UK.

Mode 2 transmitters: have throttle on the left stick, and are more popular in the USA.

Multicopter: A generic name for a drone with multiple propellers, also known as rotors. Depending on the number of rotors, there are  tricopters, quadcopters, hexacopters, octocopters and so on.

Multi-rotor copters: are referred to by many names, which include: Drone, Quadcopter, Quadricopter or Quadrocopter

N

Nano: an extremely small drone, can fit in the palm of your hand and easy to fly indoors.

NAZA: is a flight controller that is used on the DJI Phantom Drones and it contains the main control chip, an accelerometer, a gyroscope, and a barometric altimeter.

No Fly Zone: Areas where flying a drone is restricted by government regulations. Areas where a drone could interfere with an airplane or record sensitive information make up most of these areas.

O

Octocopter: A drone with 8 horizontal propellers or rotors.

OSD: Abbreviation for “On Screen Display” which shows flight data in text or graphical form. Typically used to show telemetry information such as speed, battery life, heading, etc.

P

Part 107: Refers to CFR Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Regulations for non-hobbyist unmanned aircraft operations in the U.S., which covers a broad spectrum of commercial uses for drones weighing less than 55 pounds.

Payload: The amount of additional weight a drone is able to lift in addition to its own weight and batteries. If you attach a camera and gimbal to your drone, the combined weight is the payload.

PDB: Stands for Power Distribution Board. Component which allows the power from the battery to be distributed to all the various components on a craft.

Pitch: A measure which describes the flight angle along one axis, usually measured from level in case of aerial vehicles. Forward and Backwards motion.

Pre Flight Planning: The activities conducted by the pilot and flight crew prior to takeoff to ensure that the flight will be conducted safely and in accordance with all applicable standards and regulations. The activity includes, but is not limited to, such things as checking weather, route of flight, airspace, equipment configuration, support personnel, terrain and communications requirements.

Power Distribution Board: is the PDB and is a board that is used on the multicopters to help distribute the power to each of the motors to provide proper stabilization of the unit.

Prop: Short for Propeller.

Q

Quadcopter: or Quad that typically has 4 propellers, each with its own motor and propeller, situated in a square formation for smooth and precise flight.

R

Raceband: A set of 5.8ghz frequencies commonly used in Drone racing when multiple pilots are flying.

Radio: also known as a transmitter or Controller, set to broadcast on a specific frequency or channel that sends a signal to control pitch, yaw, roll direction of the drone.

Radio Controller: wireless handheld device used to control flight of the drone.

R/C : Synonym for Radio Controlled.

RC: Shorter way of writing “Radio Controlled – it refers to control of a drone via radio waves.

Receiver: Accepts the camera’s feed and relays it to your screen/goggles of choice.

Return to Home: A GPS feature that returns the drone to the “home” position where it took off.

RTF: Ready to Fly – This means the drone is sold with everything needed in the pack. All you need to do is put it together, add batteries and you are ready to use it. It is possible you may need to buy the batteries separately. This fact is usually mentioned on the box.

Rx: Short for Receiver.

S

Sense And Avoid: The capability of a UAS to remain well clear from and avoid collisions with other airborne traffic. Sense and Avoid provides the functions of self-separation and collision avoidance.

Servo: A shorter name for servomotor or servomechanism. Aerial vehicles use servomotors for various functions such as pan cameras and wing flaps adjustments which can be controlled from the ground.

Spotter: a person that keeps track of your drone by line-of-sight while you fly via FPV. They can let you know about hazards which may be out of your field of view through the goggles.

sUAS:  is short for – small Unmanned Aircraft System

T

Throttle: Control that influences the RPM or the speed of electric motors. Higher throttle generates more thrust.

Thrust: The combined amount of force from a propeller and a motor which generates lift. Lift is what takes you up and into the sky.

Tiny Whoop: Small micro-quadcopters that have been modified to fly FPV. Original versions utilize a modded Blade Inductrix quad, however the term has become commonplace for any FPV enabled microquads.

Toy grade: The basic level of quadcopters, toy grade quads can still offer a wide variety of functions. They can be an excellent way to start for beginners, as they can still provide a lot of fun.

Transmitter: A device that sends commands to the drone from the pilot or a component that relays the camera’s feed to the receiver located on the goggles.

Trim: Setting to adjust the way a drone hovers. Adjusting trim settings can help to keep it in place while hovering.

TX: Short for transmitter or transmit

U

UAV: unmanned aerial vehicle. A device that can propel itself through the air without a pilot onboard. Drones and quadcopters are UAVs.

Ultrasonic sensor: A sensor that uses the ultra sound wavelength to communicate with a transmitter. In aerial vehicles, ultrasonic sensors are used for calculating the distance to the ground by bouncing sound waves back and forth. They don’t work further than a few meters from the ground.

V

Video Latency: Lag in what your camera sees and when it transmits it to your monitor or goggles.

Visual line of sight: is the term that is going to control how the pilot can see the aircraft from the ground without the use of artificial vision.

Visual Observer: A crew member who assists the UAS pilot in the duties associated with collision avoidance. This includes, but is not limited to, avoidance of other traffic, airborne objects, clouds, obstructions, and terrain. Most associated with FPV flying.

VLOS: Abbreviation for Visual Line of Sight.

VRX: video receiver.

VTX: Abbreviation for video transmitter, connected to your camera and transmits the video signal from your drone back to you down on the ground in real time.

W

Waypoint: A set of coordinates which define a point in space. Waypoints are useful in designing various autonomous missions for quadcopters. Mapping out would be impossible without a possibility to define these physical locations.

WiFi FPV: Mostly found on cheaper drones, usually performed by a downloaded APP. which you connect to in order to fetch the live feed. The signal is compatible with most Android/iOS smartphones and tablets.

X

Y

YAW: The describes the quadcopter rotation around it’s center axis on a level plane.

Z


I hope you found this reference guide helpful. If you would like to suggest a term, please leave your suggestions in the comments below.

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