Basic drone vocabulary

The use of drones, also called unmanned aircraft systems, whether used for recreation or for business, is a highly regulated activity in the United States. The following definitions are often used by the US government and by airlines when discussing how drones may be flown, or how they may be carried carried as baggage on aircraft flights or how they may be shipped as cargo.

  • Above Ground Level (AGL): Refers to the altitude at which an aircraft, including a drone, is flying. Under current Part 107 limits, a drone (sUAS) may operate no higher than 400 feet (121.9 meters) above the ground, but may operate within 400 feet of a structure (including above that structure) even if the structure is higher than 400 feet.
  • Airman: In the context of FAA pilot certification for flying a small UAS (drone), an airman is a person, regardless of sex or gender, who has satisfied the Part 107 remote pilot certification requirements.
  • AMA (Academy of Model Aeronautics): A nonprofit organization devoted to the safe operation of model aircraft, including radio controlled aircraft such as drones. This organization published the National Model Aircraft Safety Code, a set of safety and operational guidelines that the FAA encourages sUAS pilots to follow if they are flying for recreational or non-commercial purposes. Membership in the AMA is free for anyone aged 19 or younger.
  • Anemometer: A device used for measuring wind speed.
  • ATC: Air Traffic Control.
  • Authorization: A permission granted by the FAA that allows an aircraft operator to deviate from a specific regulation. This permission is typically allowed for a specific operation, or for a limited number of operations, and for specific periods of time.
  • Certificate of Authorization or Waiver (COA): An approval made by the FAA based on a request made for relief from the requirements of a current regulation.
  • Controller: Also called a control station (CS) or flight controller, this is an interface used to control the flight of a drone. For many common recreational and commercial drones, this be a dedicated device, a software application within a mobile phone or other electronic device, or a component of a more elaborate system.
  • Drone: A generic term for any aircraft or rotorcraft that is designed to be operated remotely and without the possibility of direct human intervention from within or on the aircraft. Those that are commonly used by consumers for recreational flying typically are of limited size and range and are flown at altitudes lower than the altitudes typically flown by general aviation and airliner aircraft.
  • Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs): The portion of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), specifically Title 14, which contains 68 different parts. In FAA documentation, a specific portion of the FARs may be referred to as "14 CFR Part XX," where the "XX" refers to a specific category of regulation. A particular part number may broken into smaller sections that cover a more narrow range of regulatory topics.
  • Flight Controller: See controller.
  • FPV (First-Person View): A method used to control a radio-controlled vehicle by allowing the operator to see what is happening from the point of view of the vehicle. This is typically done using either by looking at a screen or by using a wearable viewer.
  • Flyaway: A situation involving either interruption or loss of the link between the UAS and the controller, or an unwillingness or inability of remote pilot in command to control the aircraft, that results in the drone not operating in a predictable or planned manner. If not corrected or resolved, this situation may lead to the loss of the drone.
  • FSDO: The acronym, which is commonly pronounced as fizz-dough, stands for Flight Standards District Office, a field office of the FAA that performs a variety of services for the aviation community, including enforcing regulations. These offices are in all but a handful of states and perform a variety of functions, including providing guidance on how to comply with regulations and conducting safety seminars.
  • Geofencing: A software feature that uses GPS or some other navigational system to define a virtual geographical barrier. Drones that include some kind of navigational or positioning system, a geofencing feature may be used to prevent a drone from taking off while in a restricted area, or may prevent the drone from flying into a restricted area.
  • Gimbal: A camera mount commonly used on drones that allow the camera to maintain a steady attitude even as the drone rolls, pitches, or yaws.
  • Global Positioning System (GPS): A satellite-based navigational system, that provides location information anywhere on Earth. Signals are broadcast by multiple satellites, and are received and processed by receivers in the drone. While GPS is a system that is maintained by the US government, there are other satellite-based systems, in particular the Russian system GLONASS, that may be used in parallel with GPS.
  • GPS: See Global Positioning System.
  • GLONASS: A global navigation satellite system, developed by the Russian government, that has capabilities similar to the GPS system.
  • Knot: A unit of speed equal to one nautical mile per hour. Because a nautical mile is equal to 1.15 miles, 100 mph is approximately equal to 87 knots.
  • Lithium Ion (Lion) Battery: A type of rechargeable battery that uses a lithium compound as one electrode material. This type of battery is commonly used to power smaller drone aircraft, and faces significant restrictions when they are carried as baggage or cargo on airline aircraft.
  • Lithium Metal Battery: These are non-rechargeable batteries that are commonly used in personal electronic devices and small consumer electronics such as cameras, LED flashlights, watches, and calculators.
  • Lithium Polymer (LiPo) Battery: A type of rechargeable battery that uses the same underlying technology as as lithium ion (Lion) battery, but has a a polymer based external casing. This type of battery is commonly used to power smaller drone aircraft, and faces significant restrictions when they are carried as baggage or cargo on airline aircraft.
  • Manned:This term is a descriptor used by the FAA and other aviation organizations to specify aviation-related technologies or activities that include or require the physical presence of one or crew members. This term is used regardless of the sex or gender of any crew member. Example uses include manned aircraft, manned free ballon, and manned spaceflight.
  • Model Aircraft: As defined within the federal aviation regulations, this is and aircraft that is capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere, is flown within visual line-of-sight of the operator, and is flown for hobby or recreational purposes. This definition also includes sophisticated sUAS (drone) aircraft that are flown for commercial purposes. Model aircraft, including drones, are regulated by a different body of regulations (see Part 101) from aircraft flown for commercial purposes (see Part 107). It is possible for the same aircraft to be flown under either set of regulations, but only an operator or pilot in command who possesses a remote pilot certificate can operate a sUAS aircraft under Part 107.
  • Mile: Depending on the context, this could be referring either to a statue mile, which is unit of linear measure equal to 5,280 feet, or 1,760 yards, or approximately 1.609 kilometers; or a nautical mile, which is equal to 1.15 statue miles.
  • Notice to Airmen (NOTAM): A notice published by the FAA that provides details of any changes or conditions at an airport or in any part of the airspace system that may affect flight operations. For sUAS (drone) operators, a NOTAM may include a temporary flight restriction (TFR) due to events such as major sports events or security events such as a presidential visit.
  • Personal Electronic Device (PED): Any electronic device, including smaller drones, that passengers may have in checked or carry-on baggage. The FAA prohibits the use of drones and other PEDs in the cabin that uses radio receivers and transmitters.
  • Part 101: Shorthand for the portion of the United States Code of Federal Regulations (14 USC Part 101, Section 336) that regulates moored ballons, kites, amateur rockets, unmanned free ballons, and certain model aircraft, including some types of sUAS aircraft (drones) that may also be regulated under Part 107. A remote pilot who is certified to operate a sUAS under Part 107 has the option of operating that aircraft under Part 101.
  • Part 107: Shorthand for the portion of the United States Code of Federal Regulations (14 USC Part 107) that regulates commercial use of small UAS aircraft (drones) that weigh less than 55 pounds (25 kg).
  • Person Manipulating the Controls: A person other than the remote pilot in command (remote PIC) who is controlling the flight of an sUAS under the supervision of the remote PIC. This is a formal role defined by the FAA when the small UA is being operated for commercial purposes under the Part 107 regulations. The person manipulating the controls is not required to possess a Remote PIC certificate.
  • Pilot in Command: The person who has the responsibility for the operation of an aircraft. This is a generic term applied to all types of aircraft. This person may or may not be the person manipulating the controls. In in the case of remotely controlled aircraft, this person may not be on board the aircraft. When it comes to sUAS (drone) aircraft operating under Part 107 regulations, the term used by the FAA to describe a pilot in command is remote pilot in command.
  • Pitch: The upward or downward movement of the nose of a conventional aircraft or the front of a quadcopter or other multirotor sUAS. This kind of movement occurs around the lateral axis, which would run from the nose and through the wingtips of a conventional aircraft, and the left and right side of a quadcopter or other multirotor sUAS.
  • Prosumer: A term used to describe sUAS aircraft such as drones which are commonly used for recreational flying as well as commercial flight operations. Most drones in this category have the capability to take aerial videos and photos, use satellite based navigation systems such as GPS, and have limited autonomous flight capabilities.
  • Quadcopter: Common term for a rotorcraft or helicopter that is propelled by four rotors. Many of the more commonly available recreational drones use this rotor configuration for both lift and directional control.
  • Ready to Fly (RTF): A type of drone that can be purchased with all the system components needed to fly. The owner may have to first prepare the drone for flight by charging batteries used in the drone or in the controller, and possibly also installing propellors or other accessories on the drone.
  • Remote Pilot Certificate: A pilot certificate granted by the FAA which allows the certificate holder to operate a small UAS (drone) for commercial or recreational purposes under the Part 107 regulations of the FAA.
  • Remote Pilot in Command (remote PIC or Remote Pilot): A person who holds an FAA-issued remote pilot certificate with an sUAS rating and who is allow to directly control an unmanned aircraft (drone) that is being flown for commercial purposes under Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Regulations. A remote pilot is directly or indirectly responsible for the flight of a sUAS (drone) aircraft is also acting as a pilot in command.
  • Roll: The left or right rotational movement of an aircraft about its longitudinal axis. The longitudinal axis would run from the nose and through the tail of a conventional aircraft, and from the front to the back of a quadcopter or other multirotor sUAS.
  • Section 333 exemption: This refers to an exemption from a US requirement for an operator of a sUAS (drone) to have an airworthiness certificate in order to operate in US national airspace. This refers to a specific section of a law (FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012) that allowed operation of drones within US airsspace prior to the implementation of Part 107. While most operators who have followed the requirements of Part 107 no longer have a need to apply for a Section 333 exemption, those operators who have an active Section 333 exemption may choose to continue to fly under that exemption until it expires. Also, there may be some situations, for example operators of UAS systems that weigh more than 55 pounds (25 kg), who can't operate under Part 107 and may need to acquire or maintain a Section 333 exemption.
  • Small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS): An unmanned aircraft system consisting of both some kind of control device or mechanism and an unmanned aircraft (drone). The FAA defines a system as a small unmanned aircraft system when the unmanned aircraft, when fully loaded, weighs less than 55 pounds (25 kg). Aircraft that are below this weight can be operated for commercial purposes under Part 107 of the FAA regulations.
  • State of charge (SOC): This term refers to the percentage of the electrical stored capacity in a rechargeable cell or battery (e.g. lithium ion cells or batteries) that is available for use. A fully charged lithium ion battery has a 100% state of charge (SOC). Effective 1 April 2016, all lithium ion batteries shipped by air without equipment must not exceed 30% SOC. Section 333 exemption
  • Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR): A temporary FAA restriction of flying activities in a particular geographic area and altitude range.
  • Throttle: The control input that changes the speed of a drone's motors. The typical sUAS (drone) aircraft has fixed pitch propellors, so thrust changes occur due to changes in propellor RPMs.
  • Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV): A term that means the same as drone or unmanned aircraft. This is not a term used by the FAA, but it is a term commonly used by drone manufacturers.
  • Unmanned Aircraft (UA): An FAA term for an aircraft operated without the possibility of direct human intervention from within or on the aircraft. This is a term that the FAA frequently uses instead of the word drone. If the unmanned aircraft, including including everything that is onboard or otherwise attached to the aircraft, weighs less than 55 lbs (25 kg), then this is the type of aircraft that can be operated under FAA Part 107, when are the regulations related to commercial use of drones.
  • Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS): A combination of an unmanned aircraft (UA), a ground-based controller for the aircraft, and the communications system that connects the two. Drones that are commonly used for recreational purposes and for commercial operations under Part 107 typically uses line-of-sight radio communications to link the controller and the aircraft, and this link may be compromised or lost due to distance, intervening obstacles, or electromagnetic interference.
  • Visual line-of-sight (VLOS): Term related to the FAA requirement that anyone formally involved in the operation of a small UAS being flown under Part 107 regulations for commercial operation of a small UAS must maintain visual contact with the aircraft at all times maintained with unaided vision, except vision that is corrected by the use of eyeglasses (spectacles) or contact lenses. Under Part 107 operations, a remote pilot in command (remote PIC) is required, and there may also be a combination of at most one person manipulating the controls in place fo the remote PIC, and one or more visual observers.
  • Visual Observer (VO): A person acting as a flightcrew member who assists the small UA remote PIC and the person manipulating the controls to see and avoid other air traffic or objects aloft or on the ground. This is a formal role defined by the FAA when the small UA is being operated for commercial purposes under the Part 107 regulations. A VO is not required to possess a Remote PIC certificate, and there can be more than one visual observer.
  • Waiver: A permission granted by the FAA that allows an aircraft operator to deviate from a specific regulation. This permission is typically granted for multiple operations an extended, but not unlimited, period of time.
  • Watt hours (Wh) rating: A battery rating that is determined by multiplying the voltage and ampere hours (amp hours) values for a battery. You may not be allowed to bring batteries with a Wh rating higher than 100 on some airlines, and batteries with a Wh rating above 160 are not allowed on aircraft at all.
  • Yaw: The left or right rotational movement of an aircraft about its vertical axis.

Other drone resources

Basic drone vocabulary
http://airsafe.com/issues/drones/vocabulary.htm -- Revised 22 November 2016