Drones: What Are UAVs, UAS, and RPAs?

When discussing any form of unmanned or remote-controlled aircraft, many are all too quick to label them as a aircraft drone. While the term “drone” has now been widely adopted, it can become confusing when the same term used to describe a simple hobbyist option is also used to refer to a high-tech military weapon used on the battlefield. Each of these varying “drones” has its own name, and such aircraft may come in the form of a UAV, UAS, RPA, and more. In this blog, we will provide a brief overview of the most common types of aircraft that fall under the drone umbrella, allowing you to better understand the differences between each.

One of the most popular forms of drone is the UAV, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. These aircraft are able to fly autonomously or with the help of a remote controller or tablet that is governed by an individual. While UAVs are the primary aircraft type that are referred to as drones, there are some distinct differences between them. For example, UAVs must have the ability to be autonomously flown to a degree to be considered an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, while drones do not. As such, all UAVs can be considered drones, but not all drones are a UAV.

A UAS, or Unmanned Aircraft System, is somewhat similar to a UAV, though the description also accounts for a person on the ground controlling the flight. As such, one could consider the UAS category as an umbrella containing UAVs, and UAVs are simply a component of a UAS, while the UAV only refers to the aircraft itself. Alongside the aircraft and the pilot controlling it, the UAS category also includes the system that connects the two together.

Remotely Piloted Aircraft, or RPAs, are the final major types of drone. While UAVs are considered much more autonomous in their ability for flight, RPAs require a more hands-on approach. Despite this, RPAs are not simply flown with handheld controls, as their management can be as complex as a standard airliner in some cases. As such, RPAs do not require the same level of skill and piloting that UAVs do, but they are not a hobbyist option by any means. As of the present, there is low consensus on what truly divides RPAs and UAVs, and many argue that two should be interchangeable due to their various overlapping qualities and small differentiators.

If you are discussing a simplistic aircraft that is used for small-scale operations like photography, filming, research, or various hobbies, you can simply use the term “drone” as this is widely accepted. Many times, these aircraft models are controlled through hand-held devices while the pilot maintains visuals on the drone, though some may be more advanced with other various features and capabilities.

At Plane Parts 360, we can help you procure all the UAS, UAV, and RPA parts that you need to effectively carry out your operations. With our AS9120B, ISO 9001:2015, and FAA AC 00-56B accreditation, we go above and beyond industry expectations to deliver the best products with each purchase. We invite you to explore our expansive database as you see fit, and we are always ready to assist you through the purchasing process to ensure that each and every one of your needs is thoroughly and efficiently met. If you find items of interest, submit an RFQ form at your earliest convenience, and a team member will reach out to you in 15 minutes or less with a customized quote for your comparisons. Get in contact with a team member to kickstart the procurement process today!


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