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Complete Drone Glossary - A guide to UAV terminology in 2023

Updated in 2023 by Paul Posea
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Whether you're looking to learn the basics of what drones are or if there's any difference between the terms drone, UAV, or quadcopter, this video is the perfect place to start.

If you're looking to buy a drone instead, you can check my top cheap drones sorted by price. 

Drone definition: What is a Drone?

A drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that can be remotely controlled or operated autonomously through pre-programmed flight plans. Drones come in all shapes and sizes, from tiny drones that fit in the palm of your hand to large military drones capable of carrying heavy payloads.

You can use them for various tasks, such as photography and videography, surveillance, delivery, search and rescue operations, and even scientific research. Cool!

What does UAV stand for? Is a drone a UAV?

Yes, a drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). UAVs fly without a pilot, controlled remotely or by computer programs.

Other names for the familiar drone include RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aircraft System) or SUAS (Small Unmanned Aircraft system).

What is a UAS?

UAS, or Unmanned Aerial System, combines an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with additional components and payloads. 

What's the Difference Between a UAV and UAS?

Unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are used when you need something to fly without a human at the helm. UAVs are like remote-controlled planes—they can be directed from the ground or pre-programmed for their mission.

On the other hand, UASs use that same UAV but also have additional components, like sensors or tools, to carry out specific objectives like surveillance or firefighting. In short, UAVs are just for flying, while UASs have extra capabilities!

Are there any drone synonyms?

There are several synonyms for the term "drone," including UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle), remotely piloted aircraft, robotic plane, and unmanned flying vehicle. In addition, they can also be referred to as unmanned aerial systems or remotely operated aircraft. No one-word synonyms, though!

drone terminology

Drone Terminology Glossary (Drone terms)

In this section, I'm going over the main drone terms you might stumble upon and what you need to know to be a successful pilot. In addition, this list will include some FAA terminology necessary for any test anywhere in the world.

After this section, we'll go more in-depth about some of the terms on this list, including drone acronyms. While doing this, I'll also try to help you pick the best drone for your money.

A

The accelerometer measures the acceleration of a drone in a specific direction and allows the drone to maintain orientation. It is used to stabilize quadcopters.

Aerial photography is a type of photography where drones with mounted cameras are used to capture images and video footage from a height. 

The Altitude Hold function helps the drone hover steadily in the air at a specific height.

"Almost Ready to Fly" refers to a drone that isn't fully equipped for flight out of the package. It usually means that you need extra equipment to fly the drone (Controller, Batteries, etc.)

The Autopilot function helps maintain the drone in flight without human intervention, usually using a pre-defined GPS path or coordinates.

Some UAVs are controlled by pre-set internal programming containing instructions or paths using the built-in GPS system

A plan of flight. Most drones, typically quadcopters, have four-axis controls. High-end types have more than six-axis controls.

B

This sensor measures barometric readings to detect the drone's altitude and helps drones calculate their height from the ground.

Binding is the initial process of making the drone communicate with the controller or the transmitter.

Bind-N-Fly basically means that the drone unit is ready to bind to the controller and fly.

Brushless motors are a type of drone motor with permanent magnets that rotate around an armature. This helps by eliminating potential issues associated with motors with moving parts. Brushless motors are considered more efficient and resilient than other types of motors. 

A build is simply a drone unit built and assembled at home.

Beyond Visual Line of Sight. A term used by the FAA and new European guidelines.

C

The Camera gimbal holds third-party cameras on drones. It also can tilt and swerve using servos and is strong enough to support large DSLR cameras.

A drone equipped with a camera capable of taking videos and photos with a unique perspective.

Carbon Fiber is a type of composite material typically used for racing drones. Famous for its durability and strength.

Cleanflight is a software that will allow you to configure your drone using a graphical user interface.

The act of flying a drone for money-making purposes. Depending on the area or country, it is limited to specific licenses such as a Remote Pilot Certificate by FAA regulations. 

The controller is used to steer and control the drone, and it is usually handheld. It is also called radio or transmitter. 

D, E

A drone is a type of aircraft that does not require a human pilot onboard; typically controlled using a remote control or onboard computer. See unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)

A professional drone racing league that holds and operates international drone races.

A self-portrait photograph (selfie) or video captured using a camera drone.

A device that connects the RC receiver and the main battery. It controls the aircraft's motor.

F

Part of the US Department of Transportation Agency that regulates and oversees all civil aviation in the country.

A feature that protects a drone from mistakes like losing the signal from the controller and furnishing the capability to return to its point of departure.

First Person View lets you see live footage from the drone in real-time, usually through VR goggles, a smartphone, or a tablet screen.

A type of program that is loaded into microprocessors' non-volatile memory. For example, it determines what the autopilot does.

A network or system of interconnected controllers allows the pilot to control the drone.

A device that collects data from the gyroscope, accelerometer, GPS, vision sensors and ultrasonic sensors, as well as the remote controller of the drone, and sends it to the electronic speed controls and motors for navigation.

Functionality that will automatically return the drone to the surface or within the control boundaries. 

A specially-made camera for the first-person view capabilities of the drone. Typically found in racing drones or camera drones.

FPV goggles are a special type of goggles used to view a live feed from the drone's camera in real time.

FPV Racing is an emerging sport where special types of drones, usually small racing UAVs, race around a predetermined track.

G

A virtual geographic boundary is created using GPS technology that allows specific control software to respond when a drone flies within the area. Find out more about Geofencing for drones in my guide.

A unique camera mount that allows movement, such as tilts and swerves, using servos. It will enable stable camera footage regardless of the drone's movements resulting in sharp and smooth images or videos.

A system created to collect, store, analyze, manage, and display geographic or spatial data. 

A popular brand of high-definition camera usually used in high-action photography and videography. These cameras are generally lightweight, compact, and waterproof. Additionally, they can be mounted on moving craft or wearable devices.

A system that tracks and identifies the position of an object with respect to the global spatial plane. Usually used to track the movement or hold the position of a drone. 

A program that runs on the ground control receives telemetry data from a UAV. The data usually includes video and sensor information. It can also be used to transmit commands to the drone in flight.

Also called a gyro. A device that measures the rotation of the drone and allows the craft to maintain a correct balance with respect to roll, pitch, and yaw. It also allows the drone to maintain the proper orientation of the drone during its flight. Most quadcopters have a triple-axis gyroscope. 

H

Some VR goggles can feature head tracking, which is the ability to modify the camera angles of the drone during its flight. It does this by detecting and following the head movements of the user, such as tilting up and down or from side to side.

The drone will follow your control stick's movement regardless of the position of the drone's front end. See IOC.

A drone with six propellers.

A mid-sized drone for beginner hobbyists, typically with built-in cameras or can carry payloads.

A step above toy-grade drones. These types of quadcopters are reliable at a reasonable price. Examples are Syma X8G and MJX Bugs.

I, J

A type of controller that combines a gyro and an accelerometer and enhances the drone's stability and orientation.

A method of calculating the drone's position based on the initial GPS data. It is usually complemented by readings from the motion and speed sensors. The data is useful when the drone loses its GPS signal.

A method of control where the drone follows the control stick's directions regardless of the position of the drone's front end.

The IP Rating classifies the degree of protection an electrical device has against water and dust.

The distortion in video feeds caused by the vibration of the drone is called Jello. Typically, drones without a quality gimbal suffer from jello effect.

L

"Leaks" happen when products are close to releasing, and unofficial photos and videos of them appear online. Some examples are the DJI Mavic 3 or the DJI FPV Drone

An application developed by the drone industry provides UAV operators with real-time processing of airspace notifications. It also automatically approves the flight requests of eligible drones in controlled airspace. 

Also called active laser scanning. A technology that uses a pulsing laser that plots an object's three-dimensional topography in maps. It is usually mounted on GPS-enabled drones to collect geographical data.

Lithium Polymer (LiPo) is a type of battery technology favored by many drone manufacturers because of its lightweight and high-capacity charging. While it is generally safe, LiPo's can burst in flames when overcharged or the polymer case is broken.

The ability to see a drone that you are operating from your position with just your naked eye.

An abbreviation for Light Detection and Ranging, LiDAR is a process for recognizing, measuring and charting by utilizing a laser. LiDAR is generally utilized in circumstances where customary survey strategies are difficult.

M

The main measuring unit for battery power is Milliamp Hour or mAh. It is usually used to indicate how much power a battery can provide.

Mini drones are inexpensive drones without camera attachments or payloads; they are suitable for beginners or children.

A popular type of camera that is lightweight and can take video footage in high-definition. It can also take intervalometer photos. The camera is mainly used in RC drones. 

Short for modifications. Custom changes made by drone owners into their crafts to add features and functionalities that are not usually commercially available

Controllers with the throttle stick positioned on the right. Usually more popular in the United Kingdom (UK).

Controllers with the throttle stick positioned on the left. Usually more popular in the United States (US).

A drone with multiple propellers; an umbrella term.

See multicopter.

An international drone racing league that manages and governs various radio-controlled racing. 

N, O

See Mini Drone.

A type of controller that is used in DJI Phantom drones. It includes the main control chip, a gyroscope, an accelerometer, and a barometric altimeter.

Areas where it is prohibited to fly drones as per the government's mandate or any local governing body. Typically, No-Fly Zones include airports and other private areas. 

A system developed to provide immediate alerts and notifications to the pilot when an aircraft is about to run into an obstacle.

A drone with 8 propellers or rotors.

A graphical user interface that shows drone flight data such as speed, heading, battery life, and more.

P, Q

Refers to the CFR Part 107 of the FAA Regulations that covers non-hobbyist UAVs weighing less than 55 pounds (24.9 kg) used for commercial purposes. This applies to drone flying in the United States.

The payload is the additional weight a drone can lift on top of its own weight. For example, a third-party camera and gimbal attached to the drone are considered payloads.

A component of a drone that distributes the power from the battery to the other parts of the device.

Refers to the forward and backward motion of the drone. A flight angle along an axis measures against level.

Pre-Flight Planning refers to any activities or preparations that are conducted by the pilot or the drone operator before take-off. This may include, but is not limited to, safety measures, checking the weather, flight path, equipment, support staff, and more.

A high-end drone with four or more propellers; often has a built-in high-definition camera for photographs and videos.

Refers to the Propeller.

A drone with four propellers (known as quadricopter or quadrocopter).

R

A frequency (5.8 GHz) that is typically used in drone racing, especially when multiple pilots are flying.

A drone relatively smaller and more agile developed for drone racing; it includes a built-in camera for a cockpit view.

A device that broadcasts in a specific channel or frequency to the drone during a flight to send instructions or control signals. See Controller or Transmitter.

A device that accepts the signal of the camera's feed and displays it on a goggle or screen. 

An official name of drones. See drone.

See unmanned aerial vehicle systems (UAVs). 

Return to Home is a popular function that uses GPS technology to return the drone to the position where it took off.

Refers to drone packages available in the market where everything needed for flying is included. The device is ready to fly without any assembly required.

S

A functionality of some UAS to avoid collisions with obstacles and other aircraft.

Also known as a servomechanism. A mechanism used in an aircraft to perform various functions, such as flap wings or pan cameras.

See Unmanned Aerial Vehicle System (UAVs) 

A Spotter is another person that keeps your drone within line-of-sight when the pilot is in FPV. They usually identify obstacles and hazards that you might not see in FPV.

T

The Throttle controls the speed of the motors. As such, the higher the throttle, the more thrust.

Thrust is the force that powers a drone. It is produced by spinning rotor blades, usually four or six in number, at high speeds which generates lift and moves the drone forward.

Toy-grade drones are made for beginners or children, and they usually have very basic features.

See Radio Controller

A way to adjust the drone while it hovers allows the craft to stay in place.

See Mini drone.

U

A type of device that uses ultrasound wavelength to communicate with a transmitter. On some drones it is used to measure the distance between the craft and the ground. Usually works only for a few meters from the ground.

The official term for drones. See drone.

A system that includes UAVs, land-based control systems, communication systems, launch mechanisms, and more. See unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

Coined by NASA to integrate unmanned and manned crafts into low-altitude space. A cloud-based system that manages air traffic to avoid collision, especially with a limited line of sight. 

V, W, Y

Refers to the discrepancy between what you observe on your monitor or goggles and what your camera records.

Refers to the pilot's view from the ground to the drone without the use of any artificial vision such as goggles or displays. 

The Visual Observer is tasked to assist the drone pilot in avoiding obstacles, clouds, other aircraft, and more. They are usually needed when flying on FPV.

A device that is connected to the camera. It transmits a signal to the device on the ground that displays the video feed.

VR headset for drones is made so it can come with advanced features like head tracking or be used for more immersion.

A point in space represented by coordinates typically used in designing paths for drones in autonomous flights.

A technology on low-end drones that connects a mobile device to the drone using an application that captures the video feed.

Yaw refers to the movement or rotation of a drone around its center axis on a specific plane.

While there are many terms associated with drone technology, knowing the essential drone vocabulary is key to understanding the basics of how drones work. With this knowledge, you can purchase or fix your drone with confidence and stay ahead of the average person who has just entered the drone world. What other popular technology items would you like to see a list of essential terms for?

manual price where to buy

Drone Design - What does a drone look like?

A drone can look very different depending on how many motors it has, whether it has a camera or not, how big it is, etc.

We'll also go a bit into what the new app features of the Mini 2 are and how you can use them.

There's a recent trend in consumer drones that started with the DJI Mavic lineup of drones that are called foldable drones, and they're very popular thanks to their portability.

Mini Drones

First of all, there are mini drones that are small in size, made for indoor and beginners mainly. They can be considered toy drones, but some can be quite advanced, despite their size. A drone that's small in size is the Mavic Mini which also is a great camera drone with a fantastic camera... so size is no longer such an important factor.

  • Brushed motors usually
  • very cheap
  • can be flown indoors
  • great for beginners
  • They can be separated into 3 categories:
  • Mini Drones ( can be flown outdoors too)
  • Micro Drones (intermediate small size)
  • Nano Drones (Smallest drones you can buy)

Hobby Drones

Hobby drones are mid-sized drones popular among beginner hobbyists who want to take flying a drone more seriously. These types of multicopters are ideal for those with experience handling drones. Many hobby drones come with cameras or have mechanisms for camera attachments. 

One of the most unique ways to use a drone to complement another hobby is by rigging up a fishing drone (more straightforward than you might think).

These are usually under $200 or so, and although much progress has been made, they're still not on the professional level required for making money with them.

  • Usually have GPS
  • Flight modes
  • Can be under $200
  • Can't be flown inside that easily

Professional Drones

Professional drones are high-end aircraft with four or more propellers or rotors. Many of these drones are used for professional aerial photography and videography. As such, they already have built-in high-definition cameras. They often have a better range and longer flight times.

These drones come with impeccable 3-axis stabilization gimbals, brushless motors and automatic flight modes. The barrier of "entry-level" has lowered substantially in the past years. Now, you can get one for around $500. But of course there are advantages of paying more for one.

  • Manual camera settings
  • Brushless motors
  • Well stabilized gimbal
  • Automatic flight modes

Racing Drones

Racing drones are relatively smaller types of quadcopters. These are built to be faster and more agile than the typical hobby or professional drone. They also include a built-in camera that provides first-person view video feeds that provide a cockpit view as the craft flies through courses and obstacles.

  • Speeds of up to 170km/h
  • Powerful Lipo Batteries
  • Low Latency FPV Cameras
  • First Person View Goggles
faq what should you look for in a drone

Frequently Asked Questions

Now, let's take a look at some of the terms and questions people have about drones, like what's the difference between a drone and a quadcopter?

What's the difference between drones and quadcopters?

People tend to confuse these two because most drones out there are quadcopters. The difference between a drone and a quadcopter is that the quadcopter HAS to have 4 motors. In contrast, "drone" refers mainly to any category of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, even if it has 3, 4, 6 or however many motors.

How do drones work?

If we talk about standard motorized drones like quadcopters that you can frequently find in the sky (ex DJI), then you need to know that it is propelled by fast spinning rotors that push air under the drone and lift it up.

You require a pilot to fly the drone and control it through a transmitter that sends the signals to a mainboard, which controls each motor's speed.

For example, if the motors in front spin slower than the ones in the back, the quadcopter(in this case) tilts forward and, therefore, advances forward.

The more a drone is tilted, the less power is used for helping it stay in the air and the more it is used for propelling it forward (or laterally).

Certain drones come with a camera that can livestream video directly on a controller screen or even your smartphone.

What is the difference between brushed and Brushless motors?

I know I talked about things like Brushless motors and 3-axis what? There's the glossary with the terms in the description, but let's go over them quickly.

Brushless motors are superior to Brushed motors in every way but are also more expensive.

Brushes inside electric motors are used to deliver current to the motor; brushless motors don't have these commutators. Unfortunately, this means that the Brushed motors are in perpetual physical contact with the shaft and brushes, and they wear out. This also makes them noisier.

You can usually find brushed motors in cheaper beginner drones, under $100, while brushless motors are found in more expensive drones.

What's a 3 axis gimbal?

Gimbals are usually found in professional camera drones and are a series of motors that help stabilize the camera, independent of how the drone moves or vibrates. This is what creates those silky-smooth videos you see on youtube.

A 3 axis gimbal has 3 motors that stabilize the image in all the 3 axis; a 2 axis gimbal doesn't usually have side stabilization and tends to be slightly cheaper.

Because this is quite a sophisticated system, they're not that cheap, so expect to add at least $100 to $200 to the drone price if it has one of these (especially good ones).

What is electronic image stabilization?

Electronic image stabilization is an alternative or addition to the 3 axis gimbal stabilization and means that the image is stabilized through software inside the drone. This is usually a compromise, as it has to cut down from the final image size, to compensate for all the movement.

Although EIS has made colossal progress lately, nothing can compare with a good 3 axis gimbal.

What is obstacle Avoidance System?

Another term used more recently is obstacle avoidance system, thanks to the largest drone manufacturing company, DJI.

They have included cameras on their drones to provide alerts for objects in proximity and even calculate a new trajectory for the drone.

Drones usually have these either in front of them or, lately in the back, sides, up and down.

What is RTF(Ready to Fly) and BNF (Bind to Fly)?

The term Ready To Fly mainly comes from hobby drone enthusiasts and makes a difference in how a drone can be bought from the store.

You can get it fully functional from the box, like most commercial drones (DJI, for example)

What is a LiPo battery?

A type of battery technology that is favored by many drone manufacturers because of its lightweight and high-capacity charging. While it is generally safe, LiPo's can burst in flames when overcharged or the polymer case is broken.

I tried to cover the most critical aspects of a drone as much as possible, but there's only as much as I can cover in a video. If you want to check out dozens of terms that will make you understand things better, check the description. 

You'll learn what things like throttle, jello and Geofencing are and much more.

How far can drones fly?

There is a wide range of drones and flight distances depending on price, transmission technology, etc.

A drone can fly anywhere between 50m to 10km or more. I have made a list of my top long-range drones this year and more about the range and what you should know about it.

Keep in mind that you should follow drone regulations in your country, which usually means flying in line of sight.

Conclusion: why are drone terms important?

Drone terms are essential because they help us understand the capabilities and risks associated with drone technology. Drones can be incredibly powerful tools, but if we don't understand the terms used to describe them, we can find ourselves in dangerous territory. With a better grasp of these keywords, we can make wiser decisions when using drones for our benefit—whether that's for fun, work or something else entirely. Plus, it's just plain cool to know your stuff!

To sum it all up, you don't have to feel lost in the dark when it comes to drones and the terminology associated with them. With this article's breakdown of the many terms used for drones, you can rest assured that you won't be flying blind anymore! So now go out there and show off your new drone wisdom.

author-paul-posea-picture
Hi, I'm Paul.
A big drone enthusiast, reviewing, comparing and writing about drones since 2015. I'm all about helping people enjoy and even monetize their hobby.
paul posea
Paul Posea
Hi, I'm a long-time drone reviewer and I hope my articles and comparisons on this site as well as Dronesgator's youtube channel are of as much help as possible.
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