An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), commonly known as a drone, is an aircraft without a human pilot aboard but most often remotely controlled. The drone can have a civilian or military use.
Its size and mass from a few grams to several tons depend on the desired capacities. Autopilot or from the ground allows long flights of several tens of hours compared to the typical two hours of autonomy of a hunter.
Some non-ballistic missiles, especially cruise missiles, have the aerodynamic appearance of drones, but are not reusable because they are destroyed at the end of the mission, unlike the drone that is brought back to its base.
Terminology of ‘Drone’ :
The term drone, more widely used by the public, was invented with reference to the target aircraft used remotely for the practice of firing a battleship. This term was used for the first time with the 1920s aircraft. Both aircraft were followed by Airspeed Queen Wasp and Miles Queen Martinet, before being replaced by GAF Jindivik.
The term Unmanned Aircraft (UAS) was adopted by the United States Department of Defense (DoD) and the US Federal Aviation Administration in 2005, based on their unmanned aircraft system roadmap 2005-2030. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the UK Civil Aviation Authority have adopted this term, which is also used in the European Union Air Traffic Research Roadmap (SESAR) ( SESAR) for 2020.
This term emphasizes the importance of elements other than aircraft. It includes such things as ground control stations, data links and other support equipment. A similar term is an unmanned aerial vehicle system (UAVS), a remotely piloted air vehicle (RPAV), a remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS). Many similar terms are used.
The classification of drones varies by context and country.
Air drones can be classified according to several criteria:
- Altitude and endurance (tactical UAVs, MALE, HALE):
- the altitude considered is the cruising altitude with the following orders of magnitude: medium altitudes 5000 m <h <15 000 m; high altitudes: h> 20,000 m;
- endurance is the time that the aircraft can spend in flight. An order of magnitude of a so-called long endurance is 20 to 40 hours;
- size (length, wingspan, etc.);
- Ability to carry weapons or not (surveillance drones / armed drones / combat drones);
- Stealthiness or not;
- Capacity of participate in high intensity or low intensity missions;
- Wings (fixed, rotating or swinging).
The most widespread ranking is based on altitude and endurance criteria, to which can be added the category of combat drones:
|Tactical Drones or Tactical Unmanned Air Vehicle (TUAV)||RQ-7 Shadow, Sperwer, Hermes, Watchkeeper|
|Medium altitude and long endurance flying drones (MALE)
to use a mission load of up to 500 kg
|Anka-A, Predator A, Reaper, Harfang, Talarion, Mantis / Telemos, Heron TP|
|Drones flying at high altitude and long endurance (HALE)||Anka-A+, Global Hawk, Phantom Eye|
|Combat Drones (UCAV)||Anka-B, X45, X47, nEUROn, Taranis|
The tactical segment breaks down into five sub-segments:
- micro drone or Micro Air Vehicle (MAV), which are more like model cars.
- very short range drones (TCP).
- slow medium-range UAVs (multi-mission multicharges or slow MCMMs).
- fast low altitude drones (fast MCMMs).
- tactical maritime drones (DMT).
Drones can carry:
- a camera, able to relay in real time what is happening on the ground.
- an infrared camera, detecting heat (human, animal, fire, motor, etc.).
- a gyroscope to stabilize the movements of the drone, improving the tracking of a target or the quality of an image.
- The possibility of forming a swarm of collective intelligence UAVs, for civil or military applications.
Drones can move with a greater or lesser load on board (more or less depending on the power and configuration of the drone). The load is often fixed in internal bunkers.
Some companies like Amazon.com, UPS or Allship in France, are considering the delivery of their customers using drones. In December 2013, DHL successfully tested the delivery of a package from one bank to the other of the Rhine in Bonn using a md4-1000 from Microdrones. The United Arab Emirates has designed a drone dedicated to the delivery of official documents and parcels.
Scientific Research :
Drones can explore, penetrate, skirt or overfly dangerous areas or simply inaccessible to humans (eg cliffs, canyons, facades, canopy, water surface, volcanic craters, etc.).
Since 2006, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been using an aerosonde as a hurricane hunter. Drones are increasingly used for mapping and observation of habitats and certain species. Recordings of bird songs made by drones are as well done by experienced ornithologists. In 2017, an altitude record was published (4,900 m) for an ultra-light six-rotor hexacopter drone designed to map tropical glaciers more precisely than satellite cameras, in order to measure their responses to climate change.
Some authors, however, invite to take into account the ethical aspects of remote sensing tools or risks of diversion for poaching in particular, even if drones for example also start to serve for anti-poaching.