Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) are aircraft flown without a human pilot aboard, hence unmanned, which means that their flight is not limited by human physiology. UAVs go by several different names, including Drone, UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle), & UAS (Unmanned Aircraft System) and fit into a variety of classes. The onboard computers or remote controls are used by a pilot on the ground or another vehicle to control the flight pattern and altitude.
Before the recent boom in UAVs being used in civilian applications, they were predominantly found in military and special operation applications. This technology was first developed in the early 1900s and was originally focused on providing training for military personnel. The equipment advanced during and after World War-1; they were then produced and used by Nazi Germany during World War-ll. By 2013, at least 50 countries were using UAV for military purposes.
Today, UAV technology is continually developing and has moved into the civilian and commercial sectors. The operation of non-military UAVs is highly regulated at the federal and state level. A Certificate of Authorization and a Section 333 Exemption must be obtained to operate any unmanned vehicle. The section 333 exemption states that the flight of a UAV may be used to perform commercial operations in low-risk, controlled environments.
With the increase in commercial and hobby/recreational UAV operation, the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) has created severe and much needed regulations for their flight. These regulations include:
- Aircraft must fly below 400 feet while remaining clear of surrounding obstacles
- Aircraft must be within visual line of sight at all times
- Aircraft must remain clear of and not interfere with manned aircraft operations
- Aircraft must not fly within 5 miles of an airport (Unless you have contacted the airport and control tower before flying)
- Aircraft must not fly near large groups of people and/or stadiums
- Aircraft must not weigh more than 55 pounds
- Special Airworthiness Certificate (SAC) – must describe how the system is designed, constructed, and manufactured - including engineering processes, software development and control, configuration management, and quality assurance procedures used, as well as how and where the aircraft is intended to fly –
SAC in the Experimental Category – civilian aircraft used to perform research and development, crew training, and market surveys
UAVs fall into one of six functional categories:
- Target and Decoy – providing ground and aerial gunnery a target that simulates an enemy aircraft or missile
- Reconnaissance – providing battlefield intelligence
- Combat – providing attack capability for high-risk missions
- Logistics – specifically designed for cargo and logistics operation
- Research & Development – used to further develop UAV technologies to be integrated into field-deployed UAV aircraft
- Civil & Commercial UAV – specifically designed for civil and commercial applications
UAVs can also be put into categories by their range/altitude
- Hand-held – 2,000 ft altitude, < 2km range
- Close – 5,000 ft altitude, up to 10km range
- NATO type – 10,000 ft altitude, up to 50km range
- Tactical – 18,000 ft altitude, about 160km range
- MALE (medium altitude, long endurance) – up to 30,000 ft, over 200km range
- HALE (high altitude, long endurance) – up to 30,000 ft, indefinite range
- SUPERSONIC/HYPERSONIC (high speed, supersonic (Mach 1-5) or hypersonic (Mach 5+) – 50,000 ft or suborbital altitude, range over 200km
- Orbital – low earth orbit (Mach 25+)
- CIS Lunar Earth-Moon transfer
- CACGS – Computer Assisted Carrier Guidance System for UAV
UAVs have many civil aviation uses including, aerial surveying, monitoring crops, acrobatic aerial footage in film-making, search and rescue missions, inspecting power lines and pipelines, counting wildlife, and delivering medical supplies to remote or otherwise inaccessible regions, just to name a few.
The United States and Israel were the early pioneers in UAV technology, with the US controlling over 60% of the market share. As UAV technology continues to develop worldwide, we are sure to see advancements in flight duration, power, and size.