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An unmanned aircraft (UA) is

a device that is used, or is intended to be used, for flight in the air with no onboard pilot. These devices may be as simple as a light, hand launched aircraft flown within line of sight of the operator or as complex as a high altitude surveillance aircraft patrolling our nation's borders. They may be flown using a data link to transmit commands to the aircraft. They may perform a variety of public services, including: surveillance, collection of air samples to determine levels of pollution, or rescue and recovery missions in crisis situations. They currently range in size from wingspans of six inches to over 240 feet; and can weigh from approximately four ounces to over 32,000 pounds. The one thing they have in common is that their numbers and uses are growing dramatically.[1]
[a]n aircraft which is intended to operate with no human pilot on board, as part of an Unmanned Aircraft System. Moreover a UA:
- is capable of sustained flight by aerodynamic means;
- is remotely piloted or capable of autonomous operation;
- is reusable; and
- is not classified as a guided weapon or similar one-shot device designed for the delivery of munitions.[2]
an aircraft or balloon that does not carry a human operator and is capable of flight under remote control or autonomous programming.[3]
an aircraft operated without the possibility of direct human intervention from within or on the aircraft.[4]


"Note: RPA is considered a subset of UA."[5]

"This device excludes missiles, weapons, or exploding warheads, but includes all classes of airplanes, helicopters, airships, and powered-lift aircraft without an onboard pilot. Unmanned aircraft do not include traditional balloons (see 14 CFR Part 101), rockets, tethered aircraft and un-powered gliders."[6]

"In Administrator v. Pirker,[7] the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) unanimously affirmed this understanding, finding that an unmanned aircraft is an aircraft for purposes of the FAA's statutes and regulations."[8]


  1. Unmanned Aircraft System Test Sites, 77 Fed. Reg. 14319 (Mar. 9, 2012) (full-text).
  2. Unmanned Aircraft System Operations in UK Airspace–Guidance, at 5.
  3. Department of Defense, Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms (JP 1-02) (Nov. 2010), as amended, Apr. 15, 2013) (full-text).
  4. FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, Pub. L. No. 112-95, ¶331(8).
  5. Department of Defense, Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms (JP 1-02) (Nov. 2010), as amended, Apr. 15, 2013) (full-text).
  6. Autonomy Research for Civil Aviation: Toward a New Era of Flight, at 3.
  7. NTSB Order No. EA-5730 (Nov. 17, 2014) (full-text).
  8. Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule (Part 107), at 19.

See also[]