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An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is a

system[] such as the Raven and Pointer small unmanned systems that do not operate under positive air traffic control and may not require rated operators.[1]
powered aerial vehicles sustained in flight by aerodynamic lift over most of their flight path and guided without an onboard crew. They may be expendable or recoverable and can fly autonomously or piloted remotely.[2]
[a] powered, aerial vehicle that does not carry a human operator, uses aerodynamic forces to provide vehicle lift, can fly autonomously or be piloted remotely, can be expendable or recoverable, and can carry a lethal or non-lethal payload. Ballistic or semi-ballistic vehicles, cruise missiles, and artillery projectiles are not considered unmanned aerial vehicles.[3]


UAVs are a key element within the concept of information dominance. Historically the greatest use of UAVs have been in the areas of intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance.[4]

The term "unmanned aircraft system" includes the ground element (control stations, launchers, etc.) in addition to the vehicle itself and is more accurate than "unmanned aerial vehicles"; however, the term "unmanned aerial vehicles" is more commonplace.[5]

"The main elements of a UAV are

UAVs are constructed of various materials including aluminum and composites, which make them lightweight and durable, two factors that enable them to withstand outdoor environments and the impact of rough landings.

The UAV's skin provides much of the strength to the vehicle; multiple layers can be added to provide greater strength to specific parts. Resins, which bond the outer skin to the core materials, are used in UAV construction because they provide high strength and harden irreversibly when cured."[6]

FAA regulation of civil and commercial UAVs[]

"Operations that do not meet the statutory criteria for a public (i.e., governmental) aircraft operation are considered a civil aircraft operation, and must be conducted in accordance with all applicable FAA regulations. There are presently two methods of gaining FAA authorization to fly civil (nongovernmental) UAS:

  • Section 333 Exemption: a grant of exemption in accordance with Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 and a civil Certificate of Waiver or Certificate of Authorization (COA). This process may be used to perform commercial operations in low-risk, controlled environments.
  • Special Airworthiness Certificate (SAC): applicants must be able to describe how their system is designed, constructed, and manufactured, including engineering processes, software development and control, configuration management, and quality assurance procedures used, along with how and where they intend to fly.[7]

In addition to these procedures for commercial operation of UAS, FAA announced a notice of proposed rulemaking in February 2015 that would permit UAS weighing less than 55 pounds to fly in limited circumstances and locations during the daytime, as long as there is a Visual line-of-sight between the UAS and its operator. This rulemaking is still pending."


  1. U.S. Air Force, The U.S. Air Force Remotely Piloted Aircraft and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Strategic Vision 32 n.1 (2005) (full-text).
  2. U.S. Department of Defense, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (full-text).
  3. NATO Standardization Agency, NATO Glossary of Terms and Definitions 2-U-2 (2008) (full-text).
  4. Id.
  5. U.S. Air Force, The U.S. Air Force Remotely Piloted Aircraft and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Strategic Vision 32 n.1 (2005) (full-text).
  6. Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS): Commercial Outlook for a New Industry, at 2-3.
  7. Summarized and excerpted from Federal Aviation Administration, "Unmanned Aircraft Systems," Civil Operations (Non-Governmental) (full-text).

See also[]