An unmanned aerial vehicle
) or uncrewed aerial vehicle
commonly known as a drone
, is an aircraft
without a human pilot
on board. UAVs are a component of an unmanned aircraft system (UAS)
, which include additionally a ground-based controller and a system of communications with the UAV.
The flight of UAVs may operate under remote control by a human operator ― remotely-piloted aircraft
― or with various degrees of autonomy
, such as autopilot
assistance, up to fully autonomous aircraft that does not allow human intervention.
A DeltaQuad VTOL fixed wing surveillance UAV
Compared to crewed aircraft, UAVs were originally used for missions too "dull, dirty or dangerous"
for humans. While drones originated mostly in military applications, their use is rapidly finding many more applications including aerial photography
, product deliveries
, policing and surveillance, infrastructure inspections, science,
and drone racing
Multiple terms are used for unmanned aerial vehicles, generally referring to the same concept.
A UAV is defined as a "powered, aerial vehicle that does not carry a human operator, uses aerodynamic forces
to provide vehicle lift, can fly autonomously or be piloted remotely, can be expendable or recoverable, and can carry a lethal or nonlethal payload".
are not considered UAVs because the vehicle itself is a weapon that is not reused, though it is also uncrewed and in some cases remotely guided. That being said, UAV is a term that is commonly applied to military use cases.
The terms autonomous drone and UAV are often wrongfully used interchangeably. This could stem from the fact that many UAVs are automated, i.e. they carry out automated missions but still rely on human operators. However, an autonomous drone is a "UAV that can operate without any human intervention".
In other words, autonomous drones take off, carry out missions, and land completely autonomously. Thus, an autonomous drone is a type of UAV but a UAV is not necessarily an autonomous drone.
Fully autonomous Percepto drone landing in strong winds without any human intervention.
As autonomous drones are not piloted by humans, a ground control system, or communications management software, plays a major role in their operations, and thus they are also considered part of a UAS. In addition to the software, autonomous drones also employ a host of advanced technologies that allow them to carry out their missions without human intervention, such as cloud computing, computer vision, artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning, and thermal sensors.
In recent years, autonomous drones have begun to transform various commercial industries as they can fly beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS)
while maximizing production, reducing costs and risks, ensuring site safety, security and regulatory compliance,
and protecting the human workforce in times of a pandemic.
They can also be used for consumer-related missions like package delivery, as demonstrated by Amazon Prime Air
, and critical deliveries of health supplies.
(DIB) is an autonomous drone that deploys to carry out a pre-programmed list of missions from and returns to a self-contained landing box that also functions as the drone's charging base.
Under new regulations which came into effect 1 June 2019, the term RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aircraft System) has been adopted by the Canadian Government to mean "a set of configurable elements consisting of a remotely piloted aircraft, its control station, the command and control links and any other system elements required during flight operation".
The relation of UAVs to remote controlled model aircraft
is unclear.
UAVs may or may not include model aircraft. Some jurisdictions base their definition on size or weight; however, the US FAA defines any uncrewed flying craft as a UAV regardless of size. For recreational uses, a drone (as opposed to a UAV) is a model aircraft that has first-person video, autonomous capabilities, or both.
Last preparations before the first tactical UAV mission across the Suez canal (1969). Standing: Major Shabtai Brill from the Israeli intelligence corps, the innovator of the tactical UAV.
The Israeli Tadiran Mastiff
, which first flew in 1975, is seen by many as the first modern battlefield UAV, due to its data-link system, endurance-loitering, and live video streaming.
The earliest recorded use of an unmanned aerial vehicle for warfighting occurred in July 1849,
serving as a balloon carrier
(the precursor to the aircraft carrier
in the first offensive use of air power
in naval aviation
Austrian forces besieging Venice attempted to launch some 200 incendiary balloons
at the besieged city. The balloons were launched mainly from land; however, some were also launched from the Austrian ship SMS Vulcano
. At least one bomb fell in the city; however, due to the wind changing after launch, most of the balloons missed their target, and some drifted back over Austrian lines and the launching ship Vulcano
The earliest attempt at a powered UAV was A. M. Low
's "Aerial Target" in 1916.
Low confirmed that Geoffrey de Havilland’s monoplane was the one that flew under control on 21 March 1917 using his radio system.
Other British unmanned developments
followed during and after World War I leading to the fleet of over 400 de Havilland 82 Queen Bee
aerial targets that went into service in 1935.
During the War of Attrition
(1967–1970) the first tactical UAVs installed with reconnaissance
cameras were first tested by the Israeli intelligence, successfully bringing photos from across the Suez canal. This was the first time that tactical UAVs that could be launched and landed on any short runway (unlike the heavier jet-based UAVs) were developed and tested in battle.
In the 1973 Yom Kippur War
used UAVs as decoys to spur opposing forces into wasting expensive anti-aircraft missiles.
After the 1973 Yom Kippur war, a few key people from the team that developed this early UAV joined a small startup company that aimed to develop UAVs into a commercial product, eventually purchased by Tadiran and leading to the development of the first Israeli UAV.[pages needed]
In 1973, the U.S. military officially confirmed that they had been using UAVs in Southeast Asia (Vietnam).
Over 5,000 U.S. airmen had been killed and over 1,000 more were missing
. The USAF 100th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing
flew about 3,435 UAV missions during the war
at a cost of about 554 UAVs lost to all causes. In the words of USAF General George S. Brown
, Commander, Air Force Systems Command
, in 1972, "The only reason we need (UAVs) is that we don't want to needlessly expend the man in the cockpit."
Later that year, General John C. Meyer
, Commander in Chief, Strategic Air Command
, stated, "we let the drone do the high-risk flying ... the loss rate is high, but we are willing to risk more of them ...they save lives!"
During the 1973 Yom Kippur War
, Soviet-supplied surface-to-air missile
batteries in Egypt
caused heavy damage to Israeli fighter jets
. As a result, Israel developed the IAI Scout
as the first UAV with real-time surveillance.
The images and radar decoys provided by these UAVs helped Israel to completely neutralize
the Syrian air defenses
at the start of the 1982 Lebanon War
, resulting in no pilots downed.
In Israel in 1987, UAVs were first used as proof-of-concept of super-agility, post-stall controlled flight in combat-flight simulations that involved tailless, stealth technology-based, three-dimensional thrust vectoring flight control, and jet-steering.
With the maturing and miniaturization of applicable technologies in the 1980s and 1990s, interest in UAVs grew within the higher echelons of the U.S. military. In the 1990s, the U.S. DoD gave a contract to AAI Corporation
along with Israeli company Malat. The U.S. Navy bought the AAI Pioneer UAV that AAI and Malat developed jointly. Many of these UAVs saw service in the 1991 Gulf War
. UAVs demonstrated the possibility of cheaper, more capable fighting machines, deployable without risk to aircrews. Initial generations primarily involved surveillance aircraft
, but some carried armaments
, such as the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator
, that launched AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-ground missiles
In 2013 at least 50 countries used UAVs. China, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, Turkey, and others[which?]
designed and built their own varieties.
Consumer and commercial drones
On February 14, 2012, the United States enacted a law to legalize drones for commercial uses by 2015. Until then, consumer drones could only be used for recreational purposes at low altitudes.
In late 2013, the FAA announced a plan to test new standards for safety, pilot training and certification, and procedures for collision avoidance and loss of radio signal.
By late 2014, the price of consumer drones fell to $500, with technological advances allowing them to fly for 45 minutes with a range of 10,000 feet.
In late 2015, the FAA announced that owners of recreational drones with a size of 250 grams or more have to be registered.
In June 2016, the FAA allowed commercial drones under 25 kg to be used at low altitude, away from airports, and during the day.
In late 2016, a drone racing
championship was broadcast in the US and Europe, and small drones sold for $100 as Christmas toys.
In mid 2017, the UK required owners of drones with a size of 250 grams or more to be registered and take a competency test.
UAVs typically fall into one of six functional categories (although multi-role airframe platforms are becoming more prevalent):
- Combat – providing attack capability for high-risk missions (see: unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) and loitering munition aka suicide drone).
- Reconnaissance – Unmanned reconnaissance aerial vehicle providing battlefield intelligence.
- Target and decoy – providing ground and aerial gunnery a target that simulates an enemy aircraft or missile.
- Logistics – delivering cargo.
- Civil and commercial UAVs – agriculture, aerial photography, data collection.
- Research and development – improve UAV technologies.
Northrop Grumman Bat
carrying EO/IR and SAR sensors, laser range finders, laser designators, infra-red cameras
Vehicles can be categorized in terms of range/altitude. The following has been advanced[by whom?]
as relevant at industry events such as ParcAberporth
Unmanned Systems forum:
- Hand-held 2,000 ft (600 m) altitude, about 2 km range
- Close 5,000 ft (1,500 m) altitude, up to 10 km range
- NATO type 10,000 ft (3,000 m) altitude, up to 50 km range
- Tactical 18,000 ft (5,500 m) altitude, about 160 km range
- MALE (medium altitude, long endurance) up to 30,000 ft (9,000 m) and range over 200 km
- HALE (high altitude, long endurance) over 30,000 ft (9,100 m) and indefinite range
- Hypersonic high-speed, supersonic (Mach 1–5) or hypersonic (Mach 5+) 50,000 ft (15,200 m) or suborbital altitude, range over 200 km
- Orbital low earth orbit (Mach 25+)
- CIS Lunar Earth-Moon transfer
- Computer Assisted Carrier Guidance System (CACGS) for UAVs
U.S. UAV demonstrators in 2005
- Hobbyist UAVs – which can be further divided into
- Ready-to-fly (RTF)/Commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS)
- Bind-and-fly (BNF) – require minimum knowledge to fly the platform
- Almost-ready-to-fly (ARF)/Do-it-yourself (DIY) – require significant knowledge to get in the air
- Bare frame – requires significant knowledge and your own parts to get it in the air
- Midsize military and commercial UAVs
- Large military-specific UAVs
- Stealth combat UAVs
- Crewed aircraft transformed into uncrewed (and Optionally Piloted UAVS or OPVs)
Classifications according to aircraft weight are quite simpler:
- Micro air vehicle (MAV) – the smallest UAVs that can weigh less than 1g
- Miniature UAV (also called SUAS) – approximately less than 25 kg
- Heavier UAVs
General physical structure of an UAV
Crewed and uncrewed aircraft of the same type generally have recognizably similar physical components. The main exceptions are the cockpit
and environmental control system
or life support systems
. Some UAVs carry payloads (such as a camera) that weigh considerably less than an adult human, and as a result, can be considerably smaller. Though they carry heavy payloads, weaponized military UAVs are lighter than their crewed counterparts with comparable armaments.
Small civilian UAVs have no life-critical systems
, and can thus be built out of lighter but less sturdy materials and shapes, and can use less robustly tested electronic control systems. For small UAVs, the quadcopter
design has become popular, though this layout is rarely used for crewed aircraft. Miniaturization means that less-powerful propulsion technologies can be used that are not feasible for crewed aircraft, such as small electric motors and batteries.
Control systems for UAVs are often different than crewed craft. For remote human control, a camera and video link almost always replace the cockpit windows; radio-transmitted digital commands replace physical cockpit controls. Autopilot
software is used on both crewed and uncrewed aircraft, with varying feature sets.
The primary difference for planes is the absence of the cockpit area and its windows. Tailless quadcopters are a common form factor for rotary wing UAVs while tailed mono- and bi-copters are common for crewed platforms.
Power supply and platform
Small UAVs mostly use lithium-polymer batteries
(Li-Po), while larger vehicles often rely on conventional airplane engines or a hydrogen fuel cell
. Scale or size of aircraft is not the defining or limiting characteristic of energy supply for a UAV. The energy density of modern Li-Po batteries is far less than gasoline or hydrogen. The record of travel for a UAV (built from balsa wood and mylar skin) across the North Atlantic Ocean is held by a gasoline model airplane or UAV. Manard Hill in "in 2003 when one of his creations flew 1,882 miles across the Atlantic Ocean on less than a gallon of fuel" holds this record. See:
Electric power is used as less work is required for a flight and electric motors are quieter. Also, properly designed, the thrust to weight ratio for an electric or gasoline motor driving a propeller can hover or climb vertically. Botmite airplane is an example of an electric UAV that can climb vertically.
UAV computing capability followed the advances of computing technology, beginning with analog controls and evolving into microcontrollers, then system-on-a-chip
(SOC) and single-board computers
System hardware for small UAVs is often called the flight controller (FC), flight controller board (FCB) or autopilot.
Position and movement sensors give information about the aircraft state. Exteroceptive sensors deal with external information like distance measurements, while exproprioceptive ones correlate internal and external states.
Non-cooperative sensors are able to detect targets autonomously so they are used for separation assurance and collision avoidance.
Degrees of freedom (DOF) refers to both the amount and quality of sensors on board: 6 DOF implies 3-axis gyroscopes and accelerometers (a typical inertial measurement unit
– IMU), 9 DOF refers to an IMU plus a compass, 10 DOF adds a barometer and 11 DOF usually adds a GPS receiver.
UAV software called the flight stack or autopilot. The purpose of the flight stack is to obtain data from sensors, control motors to ensure UAV stability, and facilitate ground control and mission planning communication.
Flight stack overview
Civil-use open-source stacks include:
Due to the open-source nature of UAV software, they can be customized to fit specific applications. For example, researchers from the Technical University of Košice have replaced the default control algorithm of the PX4 autopilot.
This flexibility and collaborative effort has led to a large number of different open-source stacks, some of which are forked from others, such as CleanFlight, which is forked from BaseFlight and from which three other stacks are forked from.
Typical flight-control loops for a multirotor
UAVs employ open-loop, closed-loop or hybrid control architectures.
- Open loop – This type provides a positive control signal (faster, slower, left, right, up, down) without incorporating feedback from sensor data.
- Closed loop – This type incorporates sensor feedback to adjust behavior (reduce speed to reflect tailwind, move to altitude 300 feet). The PID controller is common. Sometimes, feedforward is employed, transferring the need to close the loop further.
UAVs can be programmed to perform aggressive maneuvers or landing/perching on inclined surfaces,
and then to climb toward better communication spots.
Some UAVs can control flight with varying flight modelisation,
such as VTOL designs.
UAVs can also implement perching on a flat vertical surface.
Most UAVs use a radio
for remote control and exchange of video and other data
. Early UAVs had only narrowband
uplink. Downlinks came later. These bi-directional narrowband radio links carried command and control (C&C) and telemetry
data about the status of aircraft systems to the remote operator. For very long range flights, military UAVs also use satellite
receivers as part of satellite navigation
systems. In cases when video transmission was required, the UAVs will implement a separate analog video radio link.
In most modern UAV applications, video transmission is required. So instead of having 2 separate links for C&C, telemetry and video traffic, a broadband
link is used to carry all types of data on a single radio link. These broadband links can leverage quality of service
techniques to optimize the C&C traffic for low latency. Usually, these broadband links carry TCP/IP
traffic that can be routed over the Internet.
The radio signal from the operator side can be issued from either:
- Ground control – a human operating a radio transmitter/receiver, a smartphone, a tablet, a computer, or the original meaning of a military ground control station (GCS). Recently control from wearable devices, human movement recognition, human brain waves was also demonstrated.
- Remote network system, such as satellite duplex data links for some military powers. Downstream digital video over mobile networks has also entered consumer markets, while direct UAV control uplink over the cellular mesh and LTE have been demonstrated and are in trials.
- Another aircraft, serving as a relay or mobile control station – military manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T).
- A protocol MAVLink is increasingly becoming popular to carry command and control data between the ground control and the vehicle
As mobile networks have increased in performance and reliability over the years, drones have begun to use mobile networks for communication. Mobile networks can be used for drone tracking, remote piloting, over the air updates,
and cloud computing.
Channel 4 subtone 4 of PMR446
(walkie-talkie) is reserved for voice communication among pilots.
Modern networking standards have explicitly considered drones and therefore include optimizations. The 5G standard has mandated reduced user plane latency to 1ms while using ultra-reliable and low-latency communications.
Autonomous control basics
ICAO classifies uncrewed aircraft as either remotely piloted aircraft or fully autonomous.
Actual UAVs may offer intermediate degrees of autonomy. E.g., a vehicle that is remotely piloted in most contexts may have an autonomous return-to-base operation.
Basic autonomy comes from proprioceptive sensors. Advanced autonomy calls for situational awareness, knowledge about the environment surrounding the aircraft from exterioceptive sensors: sensor fusion
integrates information from multiple sensors.
One way to achieve autonomous control employs multiple control-loop layers, as in hierarchical control systems
. As of 2016 the low-layer loops (i.e. for flight control) tick as fast as 32,000 times per second, while higher-level loops may cycle once per second. The principle is to decompose the aircraft's behavior into manageable "chunks", or states, with known transitions. Hierarchical control system types range from simple scripts
to finite state machines
, behavior trees
and hierarchical task planners
. The most common control mechanism used in these layers is the PID controller
which can be used to achieve hover for a quadcopter
by using data from the IMU
to calculate precise inputs for the electronic speed controllers and motors.
Examples of mid-layer algorithms:
- Path planning: determining an optimal path for vehicle to follow while meeting mission objectives and constraints, such as obstacles or fuel requirements
- Trajectory generation (motion planning): determining control maneuvers to take in order to follow a given path or to go from one location to another
- Trajectory regulation: constraining a vehicle within some tolerance to a trajectory
UAV's degrees of autonomy
UAV manufacturers often build in specific autonomous operations, such as:
- Self-level: attitude stabilization on the pitch and roll axes.
- Altitude hold: The aircraft maintains its altitude using barometric pressure and/or GPS data.
- Hover/position hold: Keep level pitch and roll, stable yaw heading and altitude while maintaining position using GNSS or inertal sensors.
- Headless mode: Pitch control relative to the position of the pilot rather than relative to the vehicle's axes.
- Care-free: automatic roll and yaw control while moving horizontally
- Take-off and landing (using a variety of aircraft or ground-based sensors and systems; see also:Autoland)
- Failsafe: automatic landing or return-to-home upon loss of control signal
- Return-to-home: Fly back to the point of takeoff (often gaining altitude first to avoid possible intervening obstructions such as trees or buildings).
- Follow-me: Maintain relative position to a moving pilot or other object using GNSS, image recognition or homing beacon.
- GPS waypoint navigation: Using GNSS to navigate to an intermediate location on a travel path.
- Orbit around an object: Similar to Follow-me but continuously circle a target.
- Pre-programmed aerobatics (such as rolls and loops)
Full autonomy is available for specific tasks, such as airborne refueling
or ground-based battery switching; but higher-level tasks call for greater computing, sensing and actuating capabilities. One approach to quantifying autonomous capabilities is based on OODA
terminology, as suggested by a 2002 US Air Force Research Laboratory
, and used in the table below:
United States Autonomous control levels chart
Medium levels of autonomy, such as reactive autonomy and high levels using cognitive autonomy, have already been achieved to some extent and are very active research fields.
Most range sensors analyze electromagnetic radiation, reflected off the environment and coming to the sensor. The cameras (for visual flow) act as simple receivers. Lidars, radars and sonars (with sound mechanical waves) emit and receive waves, measuring the round-trip transit time. UAV cameras do not require emitting power, reducing total consumption.
Radars and sonars are mostly used for military applications.
Reactive autonomy has in some forms already reached consumer markets: it may be widely available in less than a decade.
Cutting-edge (2013) autonomous levels for existing systems
Simultaneous localization and mapping
and external data to represent the world and the position of the UAV in it in three dimensions. High-altitude outdoor navigation does not require large vertical fields-of-view and can rely on GPS coordinates (which makes it simple mapping rather than SLAM).
Two related research fields are photogrammetry
and LIDAR, especially in low-altitude and indoor 3D environments.
refers to networks of agents able to dynamically reconfigure as elements leave or enter the network. They provide greater flexibility than multi-agent cooperation. Swarming may open the path to data fusion. Some bio-inspired
flight swarms use steering behaviors and flocking.[clarification needed]
Future military potential
In the military sector, American Predators
are made for counterterrorism
operations and in war zones in which the enemy lacks sufficient firepower to shoot them down. They are not designed to withstand antiaircraft defenses
or air-to-air combat
. In September 2013, the chief of the US Air Combat Command
stated that current UAVs were "useless in a contested environment" unless crewed aircraft were there to protect them. A 2012 Congressional Research Service
(CRS) report speculated that in the future, UAVs may be able to perform tasks beyond intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and strikes; the CRS report listed air-to-air combat ("a more difficult future task") as possible future undertakings. The Department of Defense's Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap FY2013-2038 foresees a more important place for UAVs in combat. Issues include extended capabilities, human-UAV interaction, managing increased information flux, increased autonomy and developing UAV-specific munitions. DARPA
's project of systems of systems,
or General Atomics
work may augur future warfare scenarios, the latter disclosing Avenger
swarms equipped with High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System
As of 2020, seventeen countries have armed UAVs, and more than 100 countries use UAVs in a military capacity.
The global military UAV market is dominated by companies based in the United States and Israel. By sale numbers, The US held over 60% military-market share in 2017. Four of top five military UAV manufactures are American including General Atomics
, Lockheed Martin
, Northrop Grumman
, followed by the Chinese company CASC
Israel companies mainly focus on small surveillance UAV system and by quantity of drones, Israel exported 60.7% (2014) of UAV on the market while the United States export 23.9% (2014); top importers of military UAV are The United Kingdom (33.9%) and India (13.2%). United States alone operated over 9,000 military UAVs in 2014.
General Atomics is the dominant manufacturer with the Global Hawk and Predator/Mariner systems product-line.
The civilian drone market is dominated by Chinese companies. Chinese drone manufacturer DJI
alone had 74% of civilian-market share in 2018, with no other company accounting for more than 5%, and with $11 billion forecast global sales in 2020.
Following increased scrutiny of its activities, the US Interior Department grounded its fleet of DJI drones in 2020, while the Justice Department prohibited the use of federal funds for the purchase of DJI and other foreign made UAVs.
DJI is followed by Chinese company Yuneec
, US company 3D Robotics
and French company Parrot
with a significant gap in market share.
As of March 2018, more than one million UAVs (878,000 hobbyist and 122,000 commercial) were registered with the U.S. FAA. 2018 NPD point to consumers increasingly purchasing drones with more advanced features with 33 percent growth in both the $500+ and $1000+ market segments.
The civilian UAV market is relatively new compared to the military one. Companies are emerging in both developed and developing nations at the same time. Many early stage startups have received support and funding from investors as is the case in the United States and by government agencies as is the case in India.
Some universities offer research and training programs or degrees.
Private entities also provide online and in-person training programs for both recreational and commercial UAV use.
Consumer drones are also widely used by military organizations worldwide because of the cost-effective nature of consumer product. In 2018, Israeli military started to use DJI Mavic
and Matrice series of UAV for light reconnaissance mission since the civilian drones are easier to use and have higher reliability. DJI drones is also the most widely used commercial unmanned aerial system that the US Army has employed.
DJI surveillance drones have also been used by Chinese police in Xinjiang
The global UAV market will reach US$21.47 billion, with the Indian market touching the US$885.7 million mark, by 2021.
Lighted drones are beginning to be used in nighttime displays
for artistic and advertising purposes.
reports large cargo and passengers drones should be certified and introduced over the next 20 years. Sensor-carrying large drones are expected from 2018; short-haul
, low altitude freighters outside cities from 2025; long-haul
cargo flights by the mid-2030s and then passenger flights by 2040.Spending should rise from a few hundred million dollars on research and development
in 2018 to $4 billion by 2028 and $30 billion by 2036.
As global demand for food production grows exponentially, resources are depleted, farmland is reduced, and agricultural labor is increasingly in short supply, there is an urgent need for more convenient and smarter agricultural solutions than traditional methods, and the agricultural drone and robotics industry is expected to make progress.
Agricultural drones have been used in areas such as Africa to help build sustainable agriculture.
Animal imitation – ethology
, imitating birds or insects, are a research field in microUAVs
. Their inherent stealth recommends them for spy missions.
The Nano Hummingbird is commercially available, while sub-1g microUAVs inspired by flies, albeit using a power tether, can "land" on vertical surfaces.
Other projects include uncrewed "beetles" and other insects.
Research is exploring miniature optic-flow sensors, called ocellis
, mimicking the compound insect eyes formed from multiple facets, which can transmit data to neuromorphic chips
able to treat optic flow as well as light intensity discrepancies.
UEL UAV-741 Wankel engine for UAV operations
Flight time against mass of small (less than 1 kg) drones
UAV endurance is not constrained by the physiological capabilities of a human pilot.
Because of their small size, low weight, low vibration and high power to weight ratio, Wankel rotary engines
are used in many large UAVs. Their engine rotors cannot seize; the engine is not susceptible to shock-cooling during descent and it does not require an enriched fuel mixture for cooling at high power. These attributes reduce fuel usage, increasing range or payload.
Proper drone cooling is essential for long-term drone endurance. Overheating and subsequent engine failure is the most common cause of drone failure.
Micro air vehicles endurance is so far best achieved with flapping-wing UAVs, followed by planes and multirotors standing last, due to lower Reynolds number
Solar-electric UAVs, a concept originally championed by the AstroFlight Sunrise in 1974, have achieved flight times of several weeks.
Solar-powered atmospheric satellites ("atmosats") designed for operating at altitudes exceeding 20 km (12 miles, or 60,000 feet) for as long as five years could potentially perform duties more economically and with more versatility than low earth orbit
satellites. Likely applications include weather monitoring
, disaster recovery
, earth imaging
Electric UAVs powered by microwave power transmission or laser power beaming are other potential endurance solutions.
Another application for a high endurance UAV would be to "stare" at a battlefield for a long interval (ARGUS-IS, Gorgon Stare, Integrated Sensor Is Structure) to record events that could then be played backwards to track battlefield activities.
Lengthy endurance flights
Individual reliability covers robustness of flight controllers, to ensure safety without excessive redundancy to minimize cost and weight.
Besides, dynamic assessment of flight envelope
allows damage-resilient UAVs, using non-linear analysis
with ad hoc designed loops or neural networks.
UAV software liability is bending toward the design and certifications of crewed avionics software
Swarm resilience involves maintaining operational capabilities and reconfiguring tasks given unit failures.
There are numerous civilian, commercial, military, and aerospace applications for UAVs. These include:
, Disaster relief
, conservation of biodiversity
, law enforcement
, and terrorism
, scientific research
, cargo transport
, solar farming
, thermal energy
, and target practice
UAVs are being developed and deployed by many countries around the world. Due to their wide proliferation, no comprehensive list of UAV systems exists.
Safety and security
US Department of Agriculture poster warning about the risks of flying UAVs near wildfires
UAVs can threaten airspace security in numerous ways, including unintentional collisions or other interference with other aircraft, deliberate attacks or by distracting pilots or flight controllers. The first incident of a drone-airplane collision occurred in mid-October 2017 in Quebec City, Canada.
The first recorded instance of a drone collision with a hot air balloon
occurred on 10 August 2018 in Driggs, Idaho
, United States; although there was no significant damage to the balloon nor any injuries to its 3 occupants, the balloon pilot reported the incident to the NTSB
, stating that "I hope this incident helps create a conversation of respect for nature, the airspace, and rules and regulations".
In recent events UAVs flying into or near airports shutting them down for long periods of time.
UAVs could be loaded with dangerous payloads, and crashed into vulnerable targets. Payloads could include explosives, chemical, radiologial or biological hazards. UAVs with generally non-lethal payloads could possibly be hacked and put to malicious purposes. Anti-UAV systems are being developed by states to counter this threat. This is, however, proving difficult. As Dr J. Rogers stated in an interview to A&T "There is a big debate out there at the moment about what the best way is to counter these small UAVs, whether they are used by hobbyists causing a bit of a nuisance or in a more sinister manner by a terrorist actor".
Counter unmanned air system
soldiers of the 17th Anti-aircraft Artillery Regiment "Sforzesca" with a portable 
CPM-Drone Jammer in Rome
The malicious use of UAVs has led to the development of counter unmanned air system
(C-UAS) technologies such as the Aaronia AARTOS
which have been installed on major international airports.
Anti-aircraft missile systems, such as the Iron Dome
are also being enhanced with C-UAS technologies.
The interest in UAVs cyber security has been raised greatly after the Predator UAV video stream hijacking incident in 2009,
where Islamic militants used cheap, off-the-shelf equipment to stream video feeds from a UAV. Another risk is the possibility of hijacking or jamming a UAV in flight. Several security researchers have made public some vulnerabilities in commercial UAVs, in some cases even providing full source code or tools to reproduce their attacks.
At a workshop on UAVs and privacy in October 2016, researchers from the Federal Trade Commission
showed they were able to hack into three different consumer quadcopters
and noted that UAV manufacturers can make their UAVs more secure by the basic security measures of encrypting the Wi-Fi signal and adding password protection.
In the United States, flying close to a wildfire is punishable by a maximum $25,000 fine. Nonetheless, in 2014 and 2015, firefighting air support in California was hindered on several occasions, including at the Lake Fire
and the North Fire
In response, California legislators introduced a bill that would allow firefighters to disable UAVs which invaded restricted airspace.
The FAA later required registration of most UAVs.
The use of UAVs is also being investigated to help detect and fight wildfires, whether through observation or launching pyrotechnic devices to start backfires
Ethical concerns and UAV-related accidents have driven nations to regulate the use of UAVs.
the National Civil Aviation Agency (ANAC) regulated the operation of drones through the Brazilian Special Civil Aviation Regulation No. 94/2017 (RBAC-E No. 94/2017). ANAC's regulation complements the drone operating rules established by the Airspace Control Department (DECEA) and the National Telecommunications Agency (ANATEL).
In 2016, Transport Canada
proposed the implementation of new regulations that would require all UAVs over 250 grams to be registered and insured and that operators would be required to be a minimum age and pass an exam in order to get a license.
Revised regulations are in effect as of June 2019.
The ENAC (Ente Nazionale per l'Aviazione Civile), that is, the Italian Civil Aviation Authority
for technical regulation, certification, supervision and control in the field of civil aviation, issued on 31 May 2016 a very detailed regulation for all UAV, determining which types of vehicles can be used, where, for which purposes, and who can control them. The regulation deals with the usage of UAV for either commercial and recreational use. The last version was published on 22 December 2016.
In 2015, Civil Aviation Bureau
announced that "UA/Drone" (refers to any airplane, rotorcraft, glider or airship which cannot accommodate any person on board and can be remotely or automatically piloted) should (A) not fly near or above airports, (B) not fly over 150 meter above ground/water surface, (C) not fly over urban area
(so only rural area
is allowed.) UA/drone should be operated manually and at Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) and so on. UA/drone should not fly near any important buildings or facilities of the country including nuclear facilities. UA/drone must follow the Japan Radio Act exactly.
In April 2014, the South African Civil Aviation Authority
announced that it would clamp down on the illegal flying of UAVs in South African airspace.
"Hobby drones" with a weight of less than 7 kg at altitudes up to 500m with restricted visual line-of-sight below the height of the highest obstacle within 300m of the UAV are allowed. No license is required for such vehicles.
United Arab Emirates
In order to fly a drone in Dubai, citizens have to obtain a no objection certificate from Dubai Civil Aviation Authority (DCAA). This certificate can be obtained online.
As of December 2018, UAVs of 20 kilograms (44 lb) or less must fly within the operator's eyesight. In built up areas, UAVs must be 150 feet (46 m) away from people and cannot be flown over large crowds or built up areas.
In July 2018, it became illegal to fly a UAV over 400 feet (120 m) and to fly within 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) of aircraft, airports and airfields.
As of 30 November 2019, anyone flying a drone between 250 grams and 20 kilograms in weight is required to register with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Pilots require a Flyer ID, and those in control of the drone require an Operator ID. Regulations apply to both hobbyist and professional users.
From 21 December 2015, all hobby type UAVs between 250 grams and 25 kilograms needed to be registered with FAA
no later than 19 February 2016.
The new FAA UAV registration process includes requirements for:
- All drones must be registered, except those that weigh .55 pounds or less (less than 250 grams) and are flown exclusively under the Exception for Recreational Flyers.
- If the owner is less than 13 years old, a parent or other responsible person must do the FAA registration.
- UAVs must be marked with the FAA-issued registration number.
- The registration fee is $5. The registration is good for 3 years and can be renewed for an additional 3 years at the $5 rate.
- A single registration applies to all UAVs owned by an individual. Failure to register can result in civil penalties of up to $27,500 and criminal penalties of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment for up to three years.
On 21 June 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration announced regulations for commercial operation of small UAS craft (sUAS), those between 0.55 and 55 pounds (about 250 gm to 25 kg) including payload. The rules, which exclude hobbyists, require the presence at all operations of a licensed Remote Pilot in Command. Certification of this position, available to any citizen at least 16 years of age, is obtained solely by passing a written test and then submitting an application. For those holding a sport pilot license or higher, and with a current flight review, a rule-specific exam can be taken at no charge online at the faasafety.gov website. Other applicants must take a more comprehensive examination at an aeronautical testing center. All licensees are required to take a review course every two years. At this time no ratings for heavier UAS are available.
Commercial operation by right was restricted to daylight, line-of-sight, under 100 mph, under 400 feet, and Class G airspace
only, and may not fly over people or be operated from a moving vehicle.
Some organizations have obtained a waiver or Certificate of Authorization that allows them to exceed these rules.
On 20 September 2018, State Farm Insurance
, in partnership with the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership
and FAA Integration Pilot Program, became the first in the United States to fly a UAV 'Beyond-Visual-Line-Of-Sight' (BVLOS) and over people under an FAA Part 107 Waiver. The flight was made at the Virginia Tech Kentland Farms outside the Blacksburg campus with an SenseFly eBee vehicle, Pilot-In-Command was Christian Kang, a State Farm Weather Catastrophe Claims Services employee (Part 107 & 61 pilot).
Additionally, CNN's waiver for UAVs modified for injury prevention to fly over people, while other waivers allow night flying with special lighting, or non-line-of-sight operations for agriculture or railroad track inspection.
This, in short, means Part 107 operators will be able to operate drones commercially over people and at night without obtaining a waiver from the FAA.
Previous to this announcement, any commercial use required a full pilot's license and an FAA waiver, of which hundreds had been granted.
In preparation for higher volumes of drone traffic, the FAA finalized the Remote ID
regulation in December 2020, giving manufacturers 18 months and operators 30 months to comply with the requirement for self-identification transmissions outside of designated areas. At the same time, the FAA added a Operations Over People and at Night rule to Part 107. Nighttime operations require anti-collision lights and additional pilot training. For flight over people or moving vehicles, drones are put into four categories depending on capability of injury to people, with the least restricted category having a full Part 21 airworthiness certificate.
The use of UAVs for law-enforcement purposes is regulated at a state level.
In Oregon, law enforcement is allowed to operate non-weaponized drones without a warrant if there is enough reason to believe that the current environment poses imminent danger to which the drone can acquire information or assist individuals. Otherwise, a warrant, with a maximum period of 30 days of interaction, must be acquired.
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Wagner, William (1982), Lightning Bugs and other Reconnaissance Drones; The can-do story of Ryan's unmanned spy planes
, Armed Forces Journal International : Aero Publishers, ISBN 978-0-8168-6654-0
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