Decoding the Acronyms: Understanding Aerial Photography Drones

When you first get into drone photography, you will find out that it is an activity full of jargon and unfamiliar terms. Even drones themselves have several names. They can be referred to as unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or a remotely piloted aircraft (RPA). Navigating these terms can be confusing at first, but in a short amount of time, this lingo will cease to perplex you.

Technical Terms for Drones

The name ‘drone’ originated when the British Navy had an unmanned aircraft they called Queen Bee. When the U.S. Navy decided to have their own unmanned aircraft, they decided to name them after male bees, hence the term “drone”.

The term‘drone’is still used to refer to an unmanned military aircraft.Nowadays, the term, ‘drone’,is also used to refer to any amateur or commercial level unmanned aircraft.

A drone may be called an unmanned aircraft system or UAS for short. The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) uses this term. The FAA defines UAS by the operator on the ground. Any plane where the human controller is not onboard is a UAS. From that term, we have sUAS, which refers to a small-unmanned aircraft system. Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) uses the term remotely piloted aircraft (RPA). This alludes more to the fact that a human pilot is remotely piloting the aircraft.

Other terms you may see are non-model aircraft and model aircraft. This is determined by the use of the drone. If you plan to use the drone for commercial purposes, it is a non-model aircraft. If you plan to fly the drone as a hobby, it is a model aircraft.

Out of the Box Terms

A drone can be either RTF, BNF or ARTF when you first acquire it.

An RTF or Ready-to-fly drone is a fully assembled drone, which is ready to fly straight out of the box.

BNF or Bind-and-fly drones come without a transmitter or controller. This allows you to get a controller of your choice, preferably, one with a wide range.

ARTF or Almost-Ready-to-Fly drones, also called ARF drones,are not shipped complete. They are parts excluded parts that you will need before you can finally fly them.

You might also notice terms such as octocopter, quadcopter, and multicopter. This tells you the number of rotors on the drone. Quadcopter means the UAV has four rotors, while octocopter refers to a drone with eight rotors.

Flying the Drone

A drone is capable of several movements. Here are the terms used in reference to the movement patterns of the drone.

YAW refers to the rotational movement of the drone around its central axis.

PITCH, also ELEV, refers to the up and down movement of the drone along a vertical plane. That is the drone’s change in attitude/height.

ROLL, also AIL (Ailerons), refers to the movement along the horizontal plane. This refers to left, right, forward and backward movements of the drone.

Other Terms

The flight controller is the CPU that controls the drone’s flight and ensures all aspects of the flight is going as it must.

The transmitter or RC controller is the device that tells the drone what to do through radio frequency (RF). It is the device you see the pilots holding.

ESC or Electronic Speed Controllers enable the drone to vary the power going to the motors.

GPS refers to Global Positioning System.This system allows drones to triangulate and determine their position on the earth’s surfaceby communicating with several satellites (at least four) orbiting the earth from space.

IMU refers to inertial measurement unit. This tells the flight controller the velocity, orientation, and g-force of the drone.

LiPo refers to Lithium-Polymer battery, which is an energy source most modern drones use.

OSD means On Screen Display and it refers to the view screen that displays data such as speed, attitude, and so on. It may be displayed on an FPV. FPV refers to a real-time video feed, which gives the pilot a first-person view of the flight.

RTH is a Return to Home function that allows the drone to return to the pilot if for instance the drone loses communication with the RC controller or it is low on power.