The Difference Between Drones, Quadcopters, UAV and UAS

Quadcopter Drone UAS UAV


What makes a Drone a Drone ?


What is the difference between UAV and UAS ?


Is there a difference between a Quadcopter and a Helicopter, and is a Quadcopter really a Drone ?


You have probably heard or seen the terms Drones, Quadcopters, UAV and UAS before, but what is the difference between them all ? 


What do the acronyms UAV and UAS actually stand for and are they just simply different names for exactly the same thing?


Fear not, the answers are coming…..


A Short History Lesson – Where does the term “Drone” come from?


It’s probably helpful to start with the origins of the term “Drone” as this is the most common name or term used currently although some people disagree with its broad use.


The story of how the term came about comes from military historian Steven Zaloga,  who is the author of the book Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: Robotic Air Warfare 1917–2007.


In a letter to the publication Defense News titled “A Word With History” he explains further;


“Drone is one of the oldest official designations for remotely controlled aircraft in the American military lexicon. in 1935, when the chief of naval operations  Adm. William Standley, visited Britain, he was given a demonstration of the Royal Navy’s new DH 82B Queen Bee remotely controlled aircraft that was used for anti-aircraft gunnery practice. On his return, Standley assigned an officer, Cmdr. Delmer Fahrney at the Radion Division of the Naval Research Laboratory, to develop a similar system for US Navy gunnery training. Fahrney adopted the name drone to refer to these aircraft in homage to the Queen Bee. Drone became the official US Navy designation for target drones for many decades.”



Unmanned Aerial Vehicle


So what’s the Difference Between a Drone and Quadcopter?


Let’s start with some definitions from the Oxford English Dictionary;


Helicopter – A type of aircraft which derives both lift and propulsion from one or more sets of horizontally revolving overhead rotors. It is capable of moving vertically and horizontally, the direction of motion being controlled by the pitch of the rotor blades.


Quadcopter An unmanned helicopter having four rotors.



DJI Phantom 4 Quadcopter



Drones are identified in our perceptions as either;


  • A military killing machine, dealing death and destruction without risking pilots and crews lives, or


  • Recreational and commercial vehicles which are growing in popularity and uses.


A Quadcopter is just one particular style or type of Drone or UAV.


So we could say that a Drone is a high level generic common term and a Quadcopter is the specific type of UAV being a four rotor aircraft or aerial vehicle.


So what does UAV and UAS actually mean?


UAV stands for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.


So basically a UAV is essentially the same as a Drone – an aircraft without a human pilot actually aboard the aircraft flying it.


The aircraft is piloted remotely from the ground or can fly autonomously – navigated and maneuvered by a computer, without need for human control or intervention.


As you saw the name Drone started out its life as a military term, but as their uses became more commercial and recreational the name made the transition as well.


UAV is a more technically accurate description preferred by experts and professionals.


So is a UAV the same as a missile ?


No there is a key distinction between a UAV and a missile because a UAV is designed to be recoverable and reusable, whereas a missile is programmed to destroy a target and cannot be reused.


UAS stands for Unmanned Aerial Systems.


So what’s the difference between UAS and UAV – are they the same ?  Well, not exactly….


Whilst this does describe a UAV, it goes much further as it is not just the vehicle itself, but the complete system as a whole which includes everything needed to run an advanced operation – the ground control and pilot, communications, hardware/software support equipment, etc.


This term is more likely to be used by the government and military authorities.


Unmanned Aerial System


Because of the technicality of the above, for the average layperson it’s much easier for the media to use the term Drone because it’s easily recognizable and understandable if you are not familiar with these descriptions.


So in Summary….


Take the generic word “Truck”.


It applies to many different makes, models, specifications, shapes and sizes.


It also can be used in military, recreational or commercial ways.


The term Drone is just like that.


It has become an accepted term and moved into common usage by the media and the general population to easily label any kind of unmanned vehicle regardless of its usage – military, recreational or commercial.


We hope you found this guide useful, If you have any questions or comments please let us know below.

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  1. Hi,

    It’s funny how people always like to generalize large groups of products. In this case drones. However, it probably originates from the fact that it is impossible for everyone to educated about all forms of specific products. Add to this that people love convenience and simplicity. The end result can be confusing at times. Thank you for the education!

    1. Thank you very much for the comments Scott,

      Yes it’s easy to generalize, but the media have a lot to do with it !

      Glad you found this useful,

      Best Wishes, Nigel

  2. Thanks for pointing out that UAV stands for unmanned aerial vehicle. I have heard some of my friends talking about wanting to get a UAV, and I had no idea what they were talking about! It’s crazy that they have been able to come up with so much cool technology for these drones and vehicles. I have a friend that is really into photography so I wonder if he would be interested in one of these UAV systems.

    1. Hi Jen,
      Thanks for the comment, yes they are so cool aren’t they and getting better all the time! UAVs take photography to a whole new level so I’m sure your friend would find it really interesting. They could pick up very cheap starter model with a HD camera easily and give it a try – I’m sure they will love it!!
      Best wishes, Nigel

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