What is a UAV Drone?
What is a UAV or Drone Aircraft? By definition a UAV is an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. This is a broad category that could include anything from a Remote Control Toy Airplane to a Commercial Pilotless Cargo Transport Plane to a Military Attack or Surveillance Plane. Also called a UAS or Unmanned Aerial System.
Today, in 2013 when you read in the news about a UAV or Drone you are most likely reading about a military aircraft that has no pilot that is flown via remote control. The person (0r pilot) flying the Drone is often thousands of miles away flying the aircraft via satellite link. However, more and more these aircraft are being flown over the Continental United States by government agencies monitoring civilian activities.
This industry is in its infancy. In the future you can expect to see companies like Fed Ex using UAV as transport aircraft flying cargo coast to coast or even internationally.
Why is this field EXPLODING NOW?
Think Gold Rush! Think Internet Early Days! The field of UAV development is exploding on all levels. Why now? UAV aircraft have been around in one form or another since the 1930's. What is different today?
Like dry weather and wind turns a small fire into a raging forest fire, two factors turned UAV development into a rapidly growing industry. First, it is relatively cheap to build or buy the components. Second, flying vehicles are so varied, and the technology will work on all of them. Think of any type of flying vehicle, and you could add these components to make it a UAV Drone. This technology could work on every conceivable size and type of aircraft, from a toy airplane/helicopter to any type and size military aircraft, commercial aircraft, general aviation aircraft or even blimps.
Cockpit advances in automation
Recent technological advances have now made it into the cockpit of modern "piloted" aircraft, reducing pilot requirements and workload. Years ago, a pilot had to have extensive knowledge and experience in all aspects of aircraft navigation and aircraft systems. Today, the requirement for this knowledge and experience is greatly reduced. Glass cockpits with moving maps that have datalink radar images overlaid, make primary navigation almost simple. Auto-start and auto-throttle system manage complex engine parameters. Computers monitor many or all systems and even suggest corrective measures when things go wrong. This same technology that manages the aircraft for the onboard pilot, now, also helps a remote pilot better manage a UAV Drone.
What are the advantages to flying a UAV or Drone aircraft as compared to a conventional aircraft? Let's look at the different categories:
Military - The obvious advantage is a human being is not being put into harm's way. The other advantages are also very important to the military;
Police - The ability to hover undetected over criminal activity for hours or days. And while a criminal may notice a conventional helicopter hovering over his(or her) house, a small remote control helicopter would be unnoticed from even a relatively close distance. The UAV has much lower operating cost than traditional aircraft. The small remote helicopter could pay for itself on the first mission with the fuel cost savings alone.
Commercial Cargo Transport - While a cargo planes purpose is to transport cargo, much of the aircraft design is centered around the onboard human crew. If a cargo plane had no humans onboard, just think about the cost savings. No need for windows, no need for precise climate control or precise pressurization control. Expensive aircraft engines with triple redundancy could be replaced with simple, but reliable automotive engines and components. No cockpits, no expensive glass cockpit displays, no need for any human comforts.
Hobbyist - There are a lot of different types of hobby drone aircraft. Most people would be very surprised to find out the capabilities of these aircraft, and who all might be operating them. High tech, and in wide use around the world. Please see our Hobby Drone page for compete information on the unbelievable modern array of modern radio controlled aircraft.
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