Do you find it objectionable to have to abandon perfectly good words because a social group or social engineering faction chooses to high jack one every so often and assign a new meaning? Occasionally having to ply myself as a wordsmith of sorts it is perplexing to know what word is to conjure. Drone is certainly a word in this category of morphed terms.
Drones for entomologists or behavioral scientists are a segment of insect social structure. To a musician or a bored family member a drone is an endless monotonic sound. The meanings of long used words often have their meanings morphed through colloquial usage to take on new connotations that in the blink of an eye can transition to universal definitions. Today the word drone has a taken on the imagery of an unmanned flying vehicle. But not just any unmanned vehicle. They are a class of vehicles that serve non-specific purposes and are remotely operated, or worse yet are totally autonomous. Who is to say whether at some point they may become self-aware and lose the unmanned portion of the definition – or would it? Hmm. But I digress.
As of yet the word drone as ascribed to man-less machines has yet to accrue legal status even though the term appears in the legal synopsis of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 as well as in the monikers of countless companies. Instead, it is more correct to describe this flying iteration as an unmanned aerial system or an UAS. This is totally non-specific so, for a bit of differentiation the small UAS or sUAS has been conjured as well. Nonetheless, drone ascribes the description of a vehicle that is mindless and hence unmanned. Linking the mindless portion to a missing human element could be debated. Also, it need not be ascribed to an aerial system at all as there are many remote or autonomous systems that are land and water borne. Not being able to speak for the rest of the world’s current view of the terms, but with the communication as rapid as it is today (not to be confused with accurate) the term drone referenced as a relatively small flying machines may take on a global acceptance. Working in the industry of unmanned aerial systems, the term drone is already nearly ubiquitous to these flying vehicles. Would it not be better to ascribe “drone” to a category of flight, perhaps micro-aviation, which conjures the concept of – too small for people. This would also allow an accurate description of unmanned aerial vehicles to those of a size capable of but lacking manned payloads. This idea probably makes too much sense to catch on.
In all this assignment of terminology to what amounts to a category of aircraft that are for the most part physically small, the purists of the model aircraft edge of aviation, the remote-control enthusiasts who pre-date the modern drone concept by dozens of years, is very reluctant to call his unmanned flying vehicle, remote controlled or autonomous, a drone. In the case of the large-scale enthusiasts, sUAS or an UAS is equally unacceptable. They prefer “RC airframe” to their purpose of aeronautical modeling. Likely so to distance perceptions of the RC modeler and his aircraft from the regulatory apparatus that is engulfing the “drone”. Who can blame them for wanting to keep their apple cart on its wheels? With the help of the Federal acceptance, AMA members act as a CBO (community based organization) that happily and successfully has been self-regulatory for a long time.
So, where was I going with this? Yes. What is a drone? It appears to resolve as this, a mash-up of perceptions depending on who you are. To the average Joe on the street, it is an amusing toy or a pernicious invasion of privacy (if the average Joe is a lawyer). To the entrepreneur, it is a potential venture. To the professional aviator it is a damned hazard. To the hard-core RC enthusiast, it is an abominable distortion of a right to enjoy an academic freedom. To the FAA it’s a nightmare. To governments it is a potential tax generating basis. To you and me, it is a tool. And to an entomologist it is still an Apis social structure. At the risk of droning on, I’ll end on this mono-tone, hmmm.