What is a drone?

What is a Drone?Atlanta Hobby / UAV Experts

Industry Terms – What is a Drone?

Let’s start off by understanding that the terms drone, UAV, and UAS are interchangeable terms. The FAA defines UAS, or unmanned aerial system, as an aircraft without a human pilot onboard – instead, the UAS is controlled by an operator on the ground.  There are two main types of drones, fixed-wing and multi-rotor.


Fixed-wing aircraft use a wing, similar to an airplane, which provides the lift rather than vertical lift rotors. The simple design features one rigid wing across the top of the body, which allows for high speeds and long distances. This type of drone is ideal for covering large areas, for uses that include mapping, data collection, and surveillance.


Multi-rotor is a helicopter or rotorcraft, consisting of more than two rotors, typically one designed for unmanned flight. The term “multi-rotor” is a very general term, some other popular terms  include

  • Multicopter – Multi-Rotor, Multirotor – A general term for any unmanned aerial system.
  • TriCopter – A multirotor helicopter system that uses 3 rotors in a “Y” or “T” shape.
  • Quadcopter – A multirotor helicopter system that uses 4 rotors.
  • Hexacopter –  A multirotor helicopter system that uses 6 rotors. The advantage of this system is that it can still function if it loses an engine.
  • Octocopter – A multirotor helicopter system that uses 8 rotors.

FAA: Model Aircraft vs. Non-Model Aircraft

The FAA uses two main classifications when referring to unmanned equipment, model aircraft, and non-model aircraft. These terms describe specifically how the equipment is used.

Model Aircraft

The term “model aircraft” is a term used to describe the use of a drone for recreational and hobby purposes only.  General model aircraft terms include

  • Multicopter
  • Multi-Rotor
  • Multirotor
  • TriCopter
  • Quad
  • Quadcopter
  • Hexacopter
  • Octocopter

Non-Model Aircraft

The term “non-model aircraft” is a term used to describe the use of a drone for commercial or money-making purposes. This type of usage requires registration and certification from the FAA and includes both professional and military uses. Commercial operators are also less likely to use the term “drone”. When referring to their equipment and are more likely to use

  • RPAS – Remotely Piloted Aerial System
  • sUAS – Small Unmanned Aircraft System
  • UAS – Unmanned Aircraft System
  • UAV – Unmanned Aerial Vehicle

Applications & Uses:

Drone uses and applications include the following and more.

  • Aerial Photography
  • Commercial
  • Construction
  • Delivery
  • Drone Racing
  • Emergency Response
  • Inspection
  • Law Enforcement
  • Mapping
  • Medical
  • Military
  • Real Estate
  • Recreational
  • Research
  • Scientific
  • Search and Rescue
  • Surveying

Written by 

Kelley stumbled her way into the UAV/ drone industry 4 years ago. With a background in business and marketing, she's hoping to leave her mark on the industry by changing the way the world views drones.

2 thoughts on “What is a drone?

  1. Robert Hoag

    I think the word Aircraft can be used to refer to one or several. Aircrafts is not a word.

    The FAA looks at all unmanned flying objects as UAS, and you have mentioned multirotor type but did not mention fixed wing type aircraft.

    1. Press

      Hey Robert, Thank you for your feedback! We made the suggested changes and hope you’ll check it out!

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