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Guide to Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)

Key Words: what is a "drone?"

  • Drone - a term used to describe unmanned aircraft, in use by the US Military since the 1940's 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.
  • UAS - the aircraft, control system, launcher, and any other associated equipment
  • SUAS - small unmanned aircraft system (aircraft under 55 lbs.)

Where we are (for more information see

  • 73,000+ commercial UAS pilots in the U.S (FAA, March 2018)
  • 300,000+ UAS pilots needed by 2022 (FAA, March 2018) 
  • Most common uses include real estate photography, industrial inspection, and agricultural surveys
  • Recreational flight is permitted as long as it doesn't endanger national airspace system (new rules coming soon)

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

 Current Requirements for (Commercial) UAS Operators

  • FAA Remote Pilot Certificate, with the following limitations: 
    • Aircraft must remain within visual line of sight and stay under 400 feet above ground level
    • No flights near airports with a control tower unless authorized