Drone Glossary of Terms

Like many high-tech hobbies, there exists a lot of jargon and abbreviations in the drone industry. To a beginner, this can be intimidating and confusing. To help you out, we’ve made a reference guide of drone terminology.

Drone Glossary

UAV – unmanned aerial vehicle. A device that can propel itself through the air without a pilot onboard. Drones and quadcopters are UAVs.

Drone – UAV capable of autonomous flight.

QuadcopterUAV with 4 propellers, typically situated in a square formation for smooth and precise flight.

Multicopter – A generic name for a drone with multiple propellers. This covers quadcopters, octocopters, etc.

Aerial Photography – the hobby of capturing images and video while in the air with a camera mounted to your drone.

Autopilot – A capability of a drone to conduct a flight without real-time human control. For example, following pre-set GPS coordinates.

Axis – One plane of potential flight. Most quadcopters have at least 4 axis controls, with 6+ being preferred.

Gimbal – An attachment for a drone that keeps another mounted device (most often a camera) level and stable.

DJI – A leading UAV technology company widely respected in the drone community for making quality drones, gimbals, and other components.

FPV – FPV refers to first person view. This refers to a quadcopter feature that streams the video from the camera directly to your controller or to your smart phone. When it streams to your smart phone, it is usually sent through the use of a drone-specific app that may also allow you to do things such as edit the video or share the video with friends and family. FPV is desirable because it improves the flight experience and because it can make it easier to fly the drone if the drone is out of sight.

Line of Sight – Also known as LOS, refers to being able to see your drone from your operating position with your naked eye. Your drone should always be within your line of sight.

Payload – The amount of additional weight a drone can carry. If you attach a camera and gimbal to your drone, the combined weight is the payload.

Headless Mode – Headless mode refers to flying the drone without regard for where its front and back are. In regular mode, the drone moves forward where its head is pointing and backward where its tail is pointing. In headless mode, it moves forward toward the controller and backward away from the controller, no matter where its head and tail are.

Radio Controller – The controller, as its name suggests, is responsible for controlling the flight of the quadcopter. Typically, this is a small device that fits in your hands. It usually contains two joysticks. One joystick on the right controls where the drone tilts (forward, backward, side to side). The one on the left controls the direction the drone turns and controls the take off and the landing of the drone. On more expensive drones, the controller often comes with a screen that allows you to view FPV, or even control the drone by tapping the screen.

Transmitter – Another name for the controller.

Ultrasonic Sensor – An ultrasonic sensor is a sensor that bounces sound waves off the ground. The drone can use these waves to determine how far off the ground it is and whether there are obstacles in its way. More expensive drones use these sensors to fly indoors, as well as to fly around obstacles in the air.

mAH – This term stands for milliampere-hour. It refers to how much electrical charge a battery can produce. The larger the mAH, the stronger the battery is, the more features it can power, and the longer it can run. Typically, drone batteries are 50-6000 mAH, with the strength of the battery increasing according to the size and cost of the quadcopter.

LiPo Battery – Almost all quadcopter batteries are LiPo batteries. This term refers to lithium polymer batteries. They are preferable for drone flying because they weigh less than regular batteries.

RTF – RTF stands for “ready to fly.” It is used to refer to quadcopters that come with everything you need to fly them in one package. For example, they may come with minimal assembly required, a battery, battery charger, propeller guards, camera, controller, and more.

Commercial Flight – flying a drone for money-making purposes. This is currently restricted by FAA regulations unless you apply for and receive an exemption.

No Fly Zone – Areas where flying a drone is restricted by government regulations. Areas where a drone could interfere with an airplane or record sensitive information make up most of these areas.

Ultrasonic Sensor – An ultrasonic sensor is a sensor that bounces sound waves off the ground. The drone can use these waves to determine how far off the ground it is and whether there are obstacles in its way. More expensive drones use these sensors to fly indoors, as well as to fly around obstacles in the air.

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