Unmanned aerial vehicle

An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV; also known as a remotely piloted vehicle or RPV, or Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS)) is an aircraft that flies without a human crew on board the aircraft. Their largest uses are in military applications.

There are a wide variety of UAV shapes, sizes, configurations, and characteristics. Historically, UAVs were simple drones (remotely piloted aircraft), but autonomous control is increasingly being employed in UAVs. UAVs come in two varieties: some are controlled from a remote location, and others fly autonomously based on pre-programmed flight plans using more complex dynamic automation systems.

Currently, military UAVs perform reconnaissance as well as attack missions. UAVs are also used in a small but growing number of civil applications, such as firefighting or nonmilitary security work, such as surveillance of pipelines. UAVs are often preferred for missions that are too "dull, dirty, or dangerous" for manned aircraft.

UAV classification

UAVs typically fall into one of six functional categories (although multi-role airframe platforms are becoming more prevalent):

  • Target and decoy - providing ground and aerial gunnery a target that simulates an enemy aircraft or missile

  • Reconnaissance - providing battlefield intelligence

  • Combat - providing attack capability for high-risk missions

  • Logistics - UAVs specifically designed for cargo and logistics operation

  • Research and development - used to further develop UAV technologies to be integrated into field deployed UAV aircraft

  • Civil and Commercial UAVs - UAVs specifically designed for civil and commercial applications

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