RPAS, UAS and UAV: What are they and how do they differ?

You probably already know what a drone is and what it is used for, but… have you heard about other terms used to refer to these and other aircraft? In the field of drones, it is common to use different words to refer to these aircraft that are increasingly used for different applications. Therefore, terms such as UAS, UAV, RPA, and RPAS can be found when talking about drones as such.

However, it is important to make a distinction between each of them to avoid making incorrect references when talking about the different variations and systems that are used to control this type of aircraft, which are popularly known as drones.

RPA, RPAS, UAV and UAS, what are the differences?

Although these terms are often used indistinctly due to their similar meanings, it is necessary to highlight the differences between RPA, RPAS, UAV and UAS. Otherwise, confusion may arise when trying to understand information related to drones.

These differences are noticeable, as some of these terms are used to refer to aircraft as such; but others refer to complete systems that are put in place to fly a drone.

What is an RPA?

Es decir, un RPA es cualquier tipo de aeronave no tripulada, que es controlada de manera remota por un piloto a cierta distancia.

The term RPA comes from the phrase Remotely Piloted Aircraft. This characteristic is what mainly distinguishes these types of drones, since it is required to be an unmanned aircraft that is controlled from a remote station, unlike other drones that can be programmable and that execute their actions autonomously.

In other words, an RPA is any type of unmanned aircraft, which is controlled remotely by a pilot at a certain distance.

What is RPA?

What does RPAS mean in drones?

The word RPAS can be related to a variation of the term RPA. However, it should be emphasized that it is a system and not a drone as such. The term RPAS comes from the phrase “Remotely Piloted Aircraft System”.

Therefore, the meaning of RPAS includes both the aircraft, the communications link and the ground station from which the drone is controlled. This means that you must have very clear what an RPAS is and not to confuse it with RPA if you want to work as a drone pilot after doing our drone pilot course.

We must also make a distinction between the terms RPAS and RPAs in drones, that even when they seem very similar, they do not refer to precisely the same thing. As we have previously pointed out, RPAS (with a capital ‘S’), refers to the system formed by the different elements that interfere in the flight of an RPA. While the term RPAs (with a lowercase ‘S’), is used as a way of referring to the drone or RPA in the plural sense.

What is a UAV?

The acronym UAV stands for any “Unmanned Aerial Vehicle” that is controlled by a pilot or by a computer program. Undoubtedly, it is one of the most common terms to refer to drones.

This is a more global term, which can be used to refer to the different varieties of drones, because it includes both programmable unmanned vehicles and RPAs. In other words, both remotely piloted and non-remote piloted aircraft can be included in the meaning of UAV. So it can be said that RPAs are UAVs, but not all UAVs are RPAs.

What is an UAV?

What is the meaning of UAS in drones?

It is important to understand what UAS means and how it differs from other terms.

Just as RPAS refers to the flight system of RPAs, UAS refers to the system used for the flight of an unmanned aerial vehicle; that is, the flight system of a UAV. So even though there is a relationship between the terms UAV and UAS, it cannot be said that they mean the same thing.

What are the acronyms UAS in drones?

The acronym comes from the phrase “Unmanned Aerial System“. And if you are wondering «What is UAS in aviation? », we can say that these acronyms mean exactly the same thing, both in the aircraft and drone sectors. In both cases, they refer to an unmanned aircraft and all its related elements that operate without having a pilot on board.

What are the differences between RPA UAV RPAS UAS and drones?

If you are still not clear about the difference between drone and UAV or any other of the terms, we invite you to read this short summary by way of conclusion, where we will summarize the main differences between all of them in a concrete way:

  • RPA: stands for “Remotely Piloted Aircraft” and refers to drones or aircraft that are operated by remote control by a human pilot from a remote location, rather than being manned by a person on board. In other words, a drone would be an RPA and a piloted commercial airliner would not.
  • UAV: stands for “Unmanned Aerial Vehicle” and refers to any of them that is controlled by a human pilot or by a computer with preconfigured commands.
  • RPAS: RPAS in drones stands for “Remotely Piloted Aircraft System” and refers to the complete system that makes up everything related to the unmanned aircraft. That is, it not only includes the UAV, but also the ground control system and the communication between both.
  • UAS: stands for “Unmanned Aircraft System” and is a more generic term that includes RPAS and UAV.
  • Drone: is a colloquial term often used when referring to any type of unmanned aircraft, be it an RPAS, UAV or any other type of system. The term drone is more frequently used, although its meaning is the same.

Remember that the main difference between RPA and RPAS is that the first term refers to a vehicle and the second to the complete system that allows to operate such vehicle. And you should not confuse the latter with UAS which stands for «Unmanned Aircraft System».

Now that you know the difference between RPA, RPAS, UAV and UAS, you can specialize in each of the branches of training that we have for you in UMILES with our drone courses. And if you are not yet registered in our courses, you can start by learning the differences between drone pilot and drone operator, which are other terms that are commonly confused among beginners in this exciting world of drone flight.

Remember that to perform flight operations with some of these UAVs, a drone license is required, so you should be prepared to meet the requirements of the AESA according to the current drone regulations in Spain.

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