Guide to Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems

Guide to Remotely-Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS)

Key Words: what is a “drone?”

  • Drone – a term used to describe unmanned aircraft, in use by the US Military since the 1940s to describe unmanned target planes. Now commonly used to describe any unmanned/remotely-piloted aircraft. While drones can be programmed to fly automatically, they still need operators and technicians to fly and service them.
  • RPAS – the aircraft, control system, launcher, and any other associated equipment
  • SUAS – small unmanned aircraft system (aircraft under 55 lbs.)


Why use a drone?

  • Drones can be used to do anything dull, dirty, dangerous; more safely and efficiently than a manned aircraft
    • Dull – tedious, monotonous, time-consuming
    • Dirty – risk to pilot
    • Dangerous – risk to pilot, aircraft, and people on the ground
  • Current industry: mainly SUAS companies, expect growth in USA up to ~$10 billion by 2020
    • Film – TV shows, movies, Super Bowl commercials, X Games, Winter Olympics
    • First responders – search and rescue, accident investigation
    • Aerial photography – make maps and photograph real estate properties
    • Inspection – inspect antenna towers, bridges, construction sites, pipelines
    • Agriculture – track growth of crops and apply seeds and fertilizers
    • Research – collect samples of seawater, air, pollution, patrol wildlife areas
    • Military – used for Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR)
  • Future jobs: larger aircraft, higher altitudes
    • Delivery – deliver packages, medical supplies, water
    • Traffic – monitor traffic flows, highway and railway conditions
    • Ranching – monitor herds, track animal health


Where we are (for more information see www.faa.gov/uas)

  • Public (government) organizations are able to fly RPAS with FAA permit under specific conditions
  • Recreational flight is permitted as long as it doesn’t endanger national airspace system
  • Commercial flight is not yet permitted without applying for an exemption from the rules
  • FAA has released a draft rule for commercial flights, expect final rule in 2017
  • All flights are limited to daytime hours, visual line of sight, 400’ above ground level


Current Requirements for (Commercial) RPAS Operators

  • US Citizen
  • Private Pilot License, medical certificate
  • Experience with RPA type (fixed-wing, multicopter, or helicopter)