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What is the Difference Between a Drone, a UAV and a UAS?

The term ‘drone’ has become an increasingly popular way to refer to the small helicopter-like device that are being flown by millions of people around the globe. However, there’s a host of other terms used to describe them, which can make things a bit confusing.

It does seem a bit strange to have the word “drone” used to not only cover a hobby aircraft that a child can fly, but to also describe a high-tech weapon used on a battlefield. Those devices don’t exactly serve the same purpose. So why don’t they have different names?

For starters, every UAV is a drone, but not every drone is a UAV. Confused? Let’s dig further!

Here’s an explanation of the different phrases you’ve likely heard to help you understand what each one means and what the difference (if any) there is between them:


While “Drones” make most people think of “an unmanned aircraft that can fly autonomously—that is, without a human in control.” It can actually be used to describe a wide variety of vehicles. For example, there are seafaring or land based autonomously vehicles that also count under the given definition of drone.

Of course, the most common usage of the term refers to an aircraft that can be remotely or autonomously guided. Unfortunately, the only thing most experts can agree on with this term is that a drone doesn’t have a pilot inside.


A UAV is an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. They are able to fly remotely such as with a controller or tablet or autonomously. So, is UAV a drone? Basically, it is. The two terms are often used interchangeably.

However, many professionals in the industry believe UAVs need to have autonomous flight capabilities, whereas drones do not. Therefore, all UAVs are drones but not vice versa. But for now, go ahead and use the phrase you’re most comfortable with!


A UAS or Unmanned Aircraft Systems includes not only the UAV or Drone but also the person on the ground controlling the flight and the system in place that connects both of them. Basically, the UAV is a component of the UAS, since it refers to only the vehicle itself.


Many pilots prefer the term “Remotely Piloted Aircraft.” This is because flying certain types of UAVs require a lot more skill than anything you could buy in a store. Taking control of an RPA requires more than simple handheld controls.

Regardless what you prefer calling them, most importantly stay safe and happy flying!


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