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The Drone Index: A Glossary

March 11, 2015

US soldier launching RQ-11 Raven

Unmanned aircraft are an ancient breed, soaring skyward long before humans eventually became pilots.

The modern UAV market and its big data underpinnings, however, possesses an irresistible allure for the various institutions that have a need for unmanned systems.

The camera-and-sensor equipped drones buzzing in the sky cuts costs, gathers critical information, maps any type of terrain, and can even target enemies.

And when it comes to hard power, drones are a big deal. No wonder the experts and analysts tend to valuate the “market” for drones in the multibillions of dollars.

Unmanned aircraft aren’t just about pilot-less flight or a hobbyist pursuit for civilians. They’re about security and dominance. This is why the Drone Index keeps growing and growing. The tools for controlling every cubic foot of airspace are very much in demand.

US UAVs c.1945

US Navy drones circa 1945. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Soon it’s corporations who will have a profound need to maintain fleets of drones. More than ever, this critical spectrum of dual-use technology must be understood.

This is why the world needs a glossary for flying drones. What follows is an alphabetical listing of terms specifically related to unmanned aircraft.


2.4 GHz/gigahertz -A radio frequency for remote control aircraft that’s popular among UAV hobbyists.


Accelerometer – A device that monitors a UAV’s acceleration during flight.

AGL – Acronym for Above Ground Level.

Altitude – The heigh of an aircraft in relation to the Earth’s surface.

Arduino – An open source interactive electronics platform, often a custom circuit board for activating the subsystems among hobbyist UAVs.

ARF – Acronym for Almost Ready to Fly.

ATARS – Acronym for Advanced Tactical Airborne Radar System.

ATC – Acronym for Air Traffic Control.

ATM – Acronym for Air Traffic Management.

AUVSI – Acronym for Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International.

Avionics – A term that encompasses the electronics found within an aircraft, usually in the cockpit. For UAVs, avionics are housed in a nose blister.


Barometric Pressure Sensor – A device that measures atmospheric pressure.

BDA – Acronym for Battle Damage Assessment.

Binding – When a transmitter signals a receiver.

Blister – A bulbous container usually found near the nose of an aircraft or UAV containning radar and other subsystems.

BLOS – Acronym for Beyond Line of Sight.

BRLOS – Acronym for Beyond Radio Line of Sight.

BVLOS – Acronym for Beyond Visual Line of Sight.

BVR – Acronym for Beyond Visual Range.

Bluetooth – A method for wireless connection between devices.


C2 – Acronym for Command and Control.

C4ISR – Acronym for Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance. Alternately referred to as C4I.

Canard – A smaller pair of wings or fins near a UAVs nose. A desig feature for high performance aircraft that have to execute tight turns in midair.

CCI – Acronym for Command and Control Interface.

Ceiling – The highest altitude an aircraft can reach.

Center of Gravity – The exact point where the UAV’s airframe would be balanced perfectly.

CNS – Acronym for Communication, Navigation, and Surveillance.


DEM – Acronym for Digital Elevation Model.

DSM – Acronym for Digital Surface Model.

Display – An interactive screen for monitoring a UAV’s subsystems and imagery.

Doppler Radar – A radar that uses the Doppler Effect to determine an object’s velocity.

Drone – Colloquial term for unmanned aircraft.


ECM – Acronym for Electronic Counter Measures, also known as deployed systems to foil hostile tracking, jamming, and targeting.

ESC –  Acronym for Electronic Speed Control. Is often a connector between a battery and a receiver.


FMS – Acronym for Flight Management System.

FOPEN – Acronym for Foliage Penetration.

FTIR – Acronym for Fourier Transform Infrared.

FPV – Acronym for First Person View.


GCS – Acronym for Ground Control Station. A manned station occupied by a pilot and other technicians responsible for flying a UAV.

Geospatial – A particular approach to mapping an area with a UAV, often with an emphasis on multilayered media compressed into a single file for analysis.

Gimbal – The mount for a camera. Usually underneath the nose of a UAV.

GIS – Acronym for Geographic Information Systems. A mapping tool for UAVs.

GLONAS – The Russian Federation’s equivalent to GPS, roughly translate as Global Navigation Satellite System.

GPS – Acronym for Global Positioning System. A popular satellite-based navigation system developed by the US Air Force.

Gyroscope – A device that keeps a UAV’s flight balanced while in midair.


HALE – Acronym for High Altitude Long Endurance.

Hellfire – Name for the AGM-114 anti-tank missile produced by Lockheed Martin, a leading defense contractor. A weapon of choice for US MALE drones.

Hexacopter – A type of aircraft propelled by six rotors.


ICAO – Acronym for International Civil Aviation Organization.

IMU – Acronym for Inertial Measurement Unit. A device that tracks an aircraft’s movements when GPS is unable to pinpoint it.

Infrared – The electromagnetic radiation emanating from an object. Usually detected using an infrared lens.

ISR – Acronym for Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance.

Intervalometer – A device for spacing photographic shots into intervals for more accurate 3D rendering.



Karem, Abraham – An Israeli aircraft engineer and designer, credited for advancing UAV production techniques that were successfully employed by General Atomics, the manufacturer of the Predator UAV.


Landing Gear – A set of wheels attached to a fuselage for transporting a UAV.

LiPo – Abbreviation for Lithium Polymer, a lightweight battery type suited for UAVs.

LIDAR – Acronym for Light Detection and Ranging. A process of geospatial mapping using a laser beam.

LZ – Acronym for Landing Zone.


MALE – Acronym for Medium Altitude Long Endurance, a type of UAV ideal for reconnaissance and intelligence gathering.

MAPR – Acronym for Multiple Antenna Profiler Radar.

Maximum Takeoff Weight – The total amount of weight an aircraft can support as it launches.

Multi-Spectral Imagery – The resulting composite image taken from several monochrome stills in different bands. Often used for mapping salient features in a geographical target area.


NAVAID – Abbreviation for Radio Navigation Aid.


Orthophoto – Accurate, true-to-scale imagery of the Earth’s surface.


Pitch – The vertical direction an aircraft’s nose points towards.

POI – Acronym for Point of Interest.

Predator – A MALE UAV model manufactured by the defense contractor General Atomics.

Propeller-Driven – Refers to a type of engine powered by propeller blades.


Quadcopter – A type of aircraft propelled by four rotors.


Radar – Abbreviation for Radar Detection and Ranging. A device that detects objects from the echo of transmitted radio waves.

RIM – Acronym for Range Imaging.

RTL – Acronym for Return to Launch.


SAR – Acronym for Synthetic Aperture Radar.

SATCOM – Abbreviation for Satellite Communications.

Sense and Avoid – A UAVs capability to remain clear from other flying aircraft.

SIGINT – Abbreviation for Signals Intelligence.

Sonar – Abbreviation for Sound and Navigation Reading. A device that detects objects using the echo from released sound waves set at specific frequencies or pitches.

Stabilizers – An additional pair of fins for a UAV often found attached to the tail section.

SUAS – Acronym for Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems.

SWIM – Acronym for System Wide Information Management.


TARPS – Acronym for Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance Pod System.

TARS – Acronym for Tethered Aerostat Radar System.

TDWR – Acronym for Terminal Doppler Weather Radar.

Telemetry – The transmission of measurements and data from inaccessible points to another location.

TFM – Acronym for Traffic Flow Management.

Topographic – The process of mapping the contours on a surface.

Transponder – A device that receives signals which track an aircraft’s movements.

TRL – Acronym for Technology Readiness Level.

TRUST – Acronym for Tactical Radio Unified System Transport.

Twin boom – A pair of longitudinal booms in the rear of an aircraft. A common design feature for airframes that need to support additional weight.


UAS – Acronym for Unmanned Aircraft System. Often refers to the variety of gear needed for flying a UAV.

Ultrasonic Sensor – A device for detecting objects using radio and sound waves.

UCAV – Acronym for Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle.


VAMS – Acronym for Virtual Airspace Modelling and Simulation.

VFR – Acronym for Visual Flight Rules.

VHF – Acronym for Very High Frequency.

VNAV – Acronym for Vertical Navigation.

VNC – Acronym for Visual Navigation Chart.

VOR – Acronym for VHF Omnidirectional Ranges.

VTOL – Acronym for Vertical Takeoff and Landing.


Waypoint – A reference point in physical space that aids aircraft navigation.





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