What exactly is a drone?

This question – “what exactly is a drone?” – is a popular question that needs some explanation. In fact, a drone has several definitions.

Cambridge dictionary defines drone in 4 ways.

  • a low continuous noise that does not change its note
  • an aircraft that does not have a pilot but is controlled by someone on the ground, used especially for dropping bombs or for surveillance
  • an aircraft without a pilot that is controlled by someone on the ground, used especially as a hobby


  • a male bee.

So what exactly is a drone again?

What exactly are drones?

But first, what pops into your mind when you first hear the word “drone”? Do you take it as an aircraft that flies over your roof? If you see it this way then you are getting it all wrong.

A drone is way more than what you think and can sometimes be confusing when trying to differentiate it from other aircraft. A drone is said to be an aircraft that is controlled through remote to perform a specific task. The word drone is popularly used for an aircraft.

A simpler answer for “what exactly is a drone?”

A drone is a flying quadcopter without a human pilot abroad. It is controlled by a pilot on the ground using a controller. Formerly, they were called an Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or UAVs.

Where was the word drone originated from?

What exactly are dronesDrones were first used during the early 1920s when the U.S military was introduced to unmanned flying vehicles. Controlling them for a far distance was a problem so the first drones operated off an internal navigation system and could make flight along pre-set paths.

Any machine which was capable of doing this, that is, flying without being controlled by a human were called drones by servicemen back then.

What is the technical definition of a drone? What exactly is a drone?

A drone can be defined as an aircraft whose flight is capable of being operated with different levels of autonomy. It can either be controlled autonomously by computers onboard or by a human operator if it falls under remote control.

You are actually right to say that a drone is an aircraft that functions properly without the presence of a human pilot onboard.

Drones are often regarded as UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicle) and this falls under UAS (unmanned aircraft system) as a component. This system consists of a ground-based controller, a UAV and a communications system between the UAV and the controller. This is what leads to a successful drone operation.

Basically, any aircraft will fall under the drone category if it can be referred to as an unmanned or remotely piloted flying craft which can range from a little radio-controlled toy helicopter to the Global Hawk which weighs 32,000 pounds and costs an estimated amount of $104 million. It will fall under the everyday-language definition of drone if it is controlled by a pilot on the ground and can fly.

This doesn’t mean all drones are expensive. There are some drones available for sale at an affordable price.

Are model airplanes drones? What exactly is a drone?

Model airplanes are not drones. They can’t be considered as drones because they are capable of predating a manned flight and have been in existence for so many decades.

These models were used to legalize full-scale performance of airplanes and test different aircraft design theories. Many enthusiasts who love to watch aircraft fly, perform and have the same interest in aviation loves to fly model airplanes. It is normally flown within a line of sight that is visual and requires the presence of an operator to ensure it functions properly and carries out the required task.

Drones are flown way beyond a visual line of sight and in most cases; they do not require the presence of an operator. For this reason, model airplanes can’t be referred to as drones. A majority of these models are little replicas of real airplanes. They can be the original design but will be used for something else such as sports.

What are the various terms used by the military?

Types of military drones

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), Remotely Piloted Vehicles (RPVs), Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs), and Remotely Piloted Systems are all various terms used by the military to describe drones.  There is a difference between UAV/RPV and UAS/RPS.

UAV/RPV is used to describe the object itself, the vehicle, while UAS/RPS describes both the vehicle and the team controlling it. These are not meant for civilians, strictly for military personnel.

Can an unmanned aircraft which uses GPS to navigate be called a drone?

It falls under the category of drones.  As long as it flies autonomously and uses GPS for its navigation without being under the control of a human, it can be considered as a drone.

Types of drones the military uses?

We are all aware that the United States military is classified into three different sections namely; the Air Force, Army, and Marines.

The Air Force classifies drones into five different ranks, while the Army and the Marines classify drones into three ranks, and it appears that none of these ranks overlap each other. Overlapping of definitions is one of the confusions encountered in drone terminology. The following are the most commonly used drones in the U.S military:

  • RQ-11 Raven

what are drones

Like above seen in the picture, the RQ-11 Raven is launched with a throw because it does not weigh much; it just weighs 4 pounds only. A whopping sum of 19,000 pieces has been built over the years making it the drone with the highest amount of usage. A person wielding a hand-held device that is shaped like a video game controller is the pilot of the RQ-11 raven. Troops use it for surveillance when moving through an unknown city.

These drones are referred to as the most iconic drones in the military. Anywhere you see the news about drones, there is a high chance that a picture of one of these will be displayed. They are mainly used for what the military likes to call drone strikes because they are capable of wielding heavy armory that can cause damage to a certain location.

  • Rq-4 Global Hawk

What exactly are droneThe drone fleet has a leviathan and it is the Rq-4 Global Hawk. This drone is capable of flying for more than 24 hours, equipped with a 130-foot wingspan and weighs more than 32,000 pounds.

It is mostly used for tracking and detecting moving objects, it is also capable of taking high-resolution images of the ground when flying at a height of 60,000 feet above sea level.

OK! OK! But, why do people fly a drone?

Drones are used for different purposes both by the military and civilians. The following are various uses of drones by members of the military and civilian community, they are;

  • Bomb detection
  • Air strikes
  • Surveillance
  • Shipping and delivery
  • Rescue operations
  • Archeological surveys
  • Geographical mapping
  • Safety inspections
  • Wildlife monitoring
  • Agriculture
  • Aerial photography
  • Weather forecasting and so on.

Drones are being applied to various sectors; it is not meant for military use alone. Drones are now implemented by many businesses to enhance growth and provide a better customer experience.

Well, we hope we answered your question – what exactly is a drone?. For any additional questions regarding this, feel free to drop a comment below.

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