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remotely piloted vehicle,

a pilotless craft guided by remote control. Aircraft, ships, and land vehicles can be designed or outfitted as drones. Underwater vessels—both piloted and pilotless—are often called submersiblessubmersible,
small, mobile undersea research vessel capable of functioning in the ocean depths. Development of a great variety of submersibles during the later 1950s and 1960s came about as a result of improved technology and in response to a demonstrated need for the capability
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, although the term drone may be used for remotely controlled submersible used in espionage. The term is most typically applied to remotely controlled pilotless aircraft. Such drones were originally used largely by the military. Small, relatively inexpensive military drones have served as targets in combat practice since the 1940s, while high-performance models have been used in hazardous reconnaissance missions and to carry and launch missiles against enemy targets without exposing pilots and their far more expensive aircraft to antiaircraft fire.

Depending on the mission, drones can be equipped with armament, radar, video cameras, lasers, or sensors for chemical or biological weapons; drones typically can stay aloft without refueling for much longer periods of time than piloted airplanes. Guidance of the drone can originate from an airplane, a ship, a ground station, or a satellite link; a satellite link enables a drone to be guided by an operator stationed thousands of miles away. Building upon the successful use of drones in the Second Persian Gulf War and in Afghanistan, the Homeland Security Department adopted unmanned aircraft to track drug smugglers, illegal immigrants, and terrorists along the U.S. borders. In the United States and elsewhere, drones are increasingly used by law enforcement and security agencies. As drones have become smaller and increasingly less expensive, they also have employed by criminals (such as smugglers) and by otherwise less technologically sophisticated military forces and armed groups.

Nonpolicing scientific, public safety, and commercial uses include monitoring crops, helping fight forest fires, atmospheric and wildlife research, filmmaking and photography, news and sports reporting, and delivery of medicine, supplies, and products. The drones used for many of these purposes are typically smaller devices that are lifted and propelled by helicopterlike rotors. Such drones are also increasingly popular with recreational hobbyists. The commercial and recreational use of drones has led to significant concern over the aviation and public safety and the privacy issues associated with their more widespread use. The Federal Aviation Administration is responsible for operational and safety regulations governing the commercial use of drones, and now requires that users register drones weighing more that .55 lb (.25 kg). Recreational users are relatively unregulated (compared to commericial users).

Early attempts to use unmanned aerial vehicles are documented as early as the U.S. Civil War. Both Union and Confederate troops launched balloons loaded with explosives in the hope that the balloons would come down inside ammunition or supply depots and explode, but the balloons were at the mercy of the prevailing winds and proved largely ineffective. Toward the end of World War II the Japanese launched similarly ineffective high-altitude balloons loaded with incendiary and other explosives in the hope that winds would carry them to the United States, where they would start forest fires. A U.S. project at about the same time, called "Operation Aphrodite," involved using a modified manned aircraft as a cruise missile. The pilot would take off, get the plane to altitude, pass control to a manned aircraft through a radio link, and then bail out. The somewhat more successful German V-1 was essentially an early cruise missilecruise missile,
low-flying, continuously powered offensive missile designed to evade defense systems. A cruise missile typically uses an aircraft engine rather than a rocket engine to fly at subsonic or supersonic speeds, with a range of 2,000 mi (3,200 km) or more, but often
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, not a remote-controlled drone. By the Vietnam War the technology to launch and control drones had evolved. Initially, pilotless aircraft equipped with video cameras flew over North Vietnam to provide reconnaissance data; drones were later used to drop leaflets, interfere with electronic communications, and locate surface-to-air missile batteries. In the 2020 Azerbaijan offensive against Armenian forces holding Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan's use of small, armed Turkish drones was a vital component of its victory. By the early 21st cent., small, hand-launched drones were used by U.S. ground forces to scout otherwise obscured areas, and very small bird- and insectlike drones had been developed.


See study by N. Friedman (2010).

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(aerospace engineering)
A pilotless aircraft usually subordinated to the controlling influences of a remotely located command station, but occasionally preprogrammed.
(invertebrate zoology)
A haploid male bee or ant; one of the three castes in a colony.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


i. An aerial vehicle that is remotely or automatically controlled. Normally used as a decoy to confuse enemy radars. Also used as a target or tow vehicle for tow bodies that are meant to be used as targets.
ii. The low, monotonous, humming sound of aircraft engines heard from a distance.
An Illustrated Dictionary of Aviation Copyright © 2005 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved


1. a male bee in a colony of social bees, whose sole function is to mate with the queen
2. a pilotless radio-controlled aircraft


1. Music
a. a sustained bass note or chord of unvarying pitch accompanying a melody
b. (as modifier): a drone bass
2. Music one of the single-reed pipes in a set of bagpipes, used for accompanying the melody played on the chanter
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005

gremlin drone

An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) used in the military that is launched from an airplane rather than from the ground. Gremlin drones are designed to provide advance intelligence that is immediately sent back to fighter planes en route. The objective is to target the enemy's initial land defenses more accurately and open a clear path to the destination target. See UAV and gremlin.

insect drone

A tiny unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with a wingspan of a couple centimeters. Used for both clandestine military operations as well as entertainment, the insect drone does not have the travel or video recording time of larger drones. See UAV and personal drone.

An Insect Swarm
A swarm of 20 insect drones are flying in formation at the University of Pennsylvania's GRASP Lab (General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception). (Image courtesy of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, University of Pennsylvania)

personal drone

A small unmanned flying vehicle that is used for entertainment or to take photos or videos from an aerial perspective. Remotely controlled and battery driven, a personal drone's flight duration is measured in minutes. Using at least three propellers, although four are generally the norm (see quadcopter), personal drones operate like a tiny helicopter and lift straight up off the ground. See UAV, insect drone and selfie drone.

Optional GoPro Camera Access
Introduced in 2015, 3DR's Solo drone was designed to access the GoPro's controls remotely and stream live from the camera. A simulated "virtual cable" can be set up between two points that allows the user to pan and tilt the GoPro on a safe flight plan. (Image courtesy of 3DR, www.3drobotics.com)

Tethered to the Ground
With wireless drones, range and connectivity limitations are problems. CyPhy Works' Pocket Flyer is wired to the ground station controller via a 250-foot, ultra-thin microfilament. Tethering provides unlimited flight time and smooth HD video. (Image courtesy of CyPhy Works Inc., www.cyphyworks.com)

Just for Fun
Small "micro" drones such as the QUARK from Rooftop Brands are designed for entertainment. The unit is charged via USB, but the remote control uses two AAA batteries.

The Nixie wraps around the wrist until it is let loose to follow and record the user's adventures. (Image courtesy of Nixie Labs, Inc., www.flynixie.com)

selfie drone

A small, unmanned flying vehicle used to take photos or videos from an aerial perspective. Using at least three propellers and typically less than two feet in diameter, a selfie drone is remote controlled. See selfie, personal drone and UAV.

The Lily Drone Follows You
Introduced in 2015, the three-pound waterproof Lily drone is literally tossed into the air. Flying from five to 50 feet above the person, who wears a tracking device, its battery lasts for about 20 minutes. (Images courtesy of Lily Robotics, www.lily.camera)


(Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) A remotely controlled airplane without a human pilot. Mostly known as a "drone," they are also called an "unmanned aircraft system" (UAS) and "remotely piloted vehicle" (RPV). Used for surveillance and transport in both military and non-military applications, they date back to the early 1900s. UAVs provided meaningful assistance on the battlefield in World War II.

In the 21st century, small "quadcopter" drones have become widely used for aerial photography and just plain fun. They have become so popular that government regulations and licensing are expected in order to prevent collisions. See quadcopter, personal drone, insect drone, selfie drone and gremlin drone.

Military and Industrial UAVs
In the summer of 2005, there was a day long demonstration of military and industrial UAVs at the Naval Air Station Patuxent River in St. Inigoes, Maryland. The picture was taken by Photographers Mate 2nd Class Daniel J. McLain.
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