Drone Definitions: Learning the Lingo of UAS

Although DRONELIFE makes it easy for first-time UAV buyers to select the best drone for their needs, choosing a drone also requires understanding the basic terms the market uses in order to reach the best buying decision.

Here’s a quick and handy guide to help fly through the sometimes-murky skies of drone terminology.

Drones, UAVs and UAS

What is a drone?

The terms unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and drone are used interchangeably. According to the FAA, a UAV is an aircraft without an onboard human pilot, controlled either autonomously or by remote control. The term unmanned aircraft system (UAS) refers to the unmanned aircraft and all of its components including, but not limited to: control stations and software, remote controls (if necessary), control links, payloads, launch and recovery equipment.

Is a Remote control airplane a drone?

Great question! The official FAA answer is “No, but sort of. In some cases. Maybe. It depends. Let me transfer you… Sorry, what was the question?”

So while the feds try to find difference that satisfies the lawyers, allow us to offer this as an answer: One is a tool and one is a toy. A drone is designed to be capable of autonomous flight and to complete a secondary task (i.e. data collection or delivery). An RC plane is designed to be flown for fun.

The Golden Three:


Yaw is simply defined as the rotation of a UAV with respect to the center axis. If you were looking down on a drone from above, yaw refers to the movement of the drone clockwise or counterclockwise. In short, if your drone is spinning round-and-round like a Tilt-a-Whirl, you may have a problem (unless you’re into aerial acrobatics, of course) as a yaw spin often precedes a crash with regard to copters.


Another aerial flight term, pitch simply describes movement up and down along the vertical axis from the front to the back of the drone (or nose to tail in an airplane config).


The final aerial movement term, roll is exactly what it sounds like, the rotation of the aircraft from nose to tail (front to back on a copter). Basically roll refers to the movement of the drone forward, backward, left and right along a horizontal axis. Unless you’re an advanced, acrobatic UAV pilot (and why would you be reading this article if you were?), you will want to keep yaw, pitch and roll in as stable a position as possible.

Tech Terms

2.4 Ghz Spread Spectrum

Ghz is short for gigahertz and describes the radio frequency rate used by a drone controller. The 2.4 gigahertz spread spectrum controllers have become the gold standard for drone RCs. Because the spread spectrum is “frequency agile,” it can “hop” to different frequencies to account for any atmospheric or other issues a drone pilot may experience, which means fewer crashes.


As the name implies, the accelerometer quantifies your drone’s acceleration and can be helpful in maintaining the UAV’s orientation relative to Terra Firma.


A gimbal is the mount upon which a drone’s camera sits, usually allowing the camera to move along multiple axes by remote control. This allows the UAV photographer a diversity of shooting angles. Many gimbals make use of servo motors to move the camera about but a recent breakthrough in “brushless” gimbals employs what many experts call a simpler and less maintenance-intensive design.


A gyroscope (usually shortened to gyro – not the yummy Greek wrap) is like the inner ear of your drone. That is, it measures the rate of rotation of the UAV and helps keep the craft balanced correctly with respect to yaw, pitch and roll.


Short for Lithium Polymer, LiPo is the type of battery favored by most drone manufacturers due to its low weight and maximized charge capacity and power. Although LiPos are safe, be aware overcharging the battery or breaking the flexible polymer case could result in fire.

As with any activity, taking time to do your research is a worthy investment. We here at Dronelife will do our best to provide you with the answers to your questions and provide the easiest access to all the drone related info you could want.

So if there is a term or concept you keep coming across but can’t quite grasp, let us know in the comments and we will add it to this list!

And, yes, these terms WILL be on your final exam.

Read the original post by Jason Reagan, here.