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Editorial Feature


Is it a drone or is it an RPA? What’s really in a name?

Words By: Drone Major

The benefits of using drones are being recognised universally. The White House’s recent announcement of the UAS Integration Pilot Programme is just one example.

They can improve safety in dangerous jobs, save lives in rescue missions, improve marketing, and provide a source of entertainment and challenge for hobbyists. But with such a diverse range of uses, can we justify using a broad-brush, catch-all name for this technology?

The main problem many drone users appear to have with the term “drone” is that it is often associated with the early militaristic use of drones. This aversion seems to be inspiring references to UAVs (Unmanned Air Vehicles) UASs (Unmanned Aerial Systems) and RPAs (Remotely Piloted Aircrafts), to name a few.

Why are we trying so hard to avoid the D word?

But, as it seems that all of these terms are interchangeable, why are we trying so hard to avoid the D word?

Drones used to be equated with military technology but times have changed. The term “drone” is now used to refer to any unmanned vehicle, whether in space, travelling through the air, or even underwater; whether it sets you back £30 on an impulse buy from Maplin or is a more serious investment of £30,000.

Drone users should be entitled to use the terms UAS, UAV, RPA, or any other terms interchangeably. However, before we place a blanket ban on the label ‘Drone’, maybe we should consider that today’s drones bear no more resemblance to military drones than a Boeing 747 does to an F15E Strike Eagle. Similar technology; entirely different uses and functionalities.

And maybe, as drone users struggle to keep up with changing regulations imposed on the drone industry (you can get regulation updates when at SUAS Global), we need one simple, catch-all term in our exciting, chaotic and evolutionary world?

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