GEOG 892
Geospatial Applications of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS)

UAS System Overview


The way a pilotless aircraft is controlled determines its categorization. In general, there are three main names for pilotless aircraft:

  1. Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV): a pilotless aircraft that is either manually controlled with a joystick or a mouse or autonomously flown by following a preprogrammed mission. The acronym UAV is the most widely used term in describing a civilian pilotless aircraft.
  2. Remotely Piloted Vehicle (RPV): a pilotless aircraft that is steered or controlled from a remotely located position. Manually controlled pilotless aircraft means manually controlling the aircraft position by manually adjusting its heading, altitude, and speed. In many cases, the terms UAV and RPV are interchangeably used to describe any pilotless aircraft.
  3. Drone: one of the oldest terms used to describe a pilotless aircraft. A drone is defined as a pilotless aircraft controlled by radio signal. Even with the emerging of the UAV and RPV names, the name “drone” is still used even for civilian pilotless aircraft. For the purpose of this course, the word drone is used to describe a pilotless aircraft equipped with a lethal payload. It is usually used by defense apparatus.

Whether it is named a UAV, an RPV, or a drone, at a minimum, the pilotless aircraft should include the following elements:

  • air vehicle
  • mission planning element
  • command and control element
  • communication link
  • launch and recovery element (for some of them)
  • payload

More details will be provided in Lesson 2.

To Read

  1. Pacchioli, D. Penn State, "Programming autonomous vehicles to fly like birds." Last modified January 15, 2014. Accessed February 4, 2014.