Basic Drone Terminology

New to drone technology? Don’t worry. We made this article to help you learn and understand the the basic drone terminology.

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New to drone technology? Don’t worry. We made this article to help you learn and understand the basic drone terminology. We used definitions that will give you an understanding of each term rather than a dictionary definition. Knowing drone terminology is something that will help you in great measure whether you decide to buy or to build a drone. For better understanding, we divided up all the terms you need to know by category.

Types of Drones

Almost Ready to Fly (ARF)

Almost Ready to Fly (ARF) is a drone mounted with almost all the parts necessary to fly. Components like the controller and receiver don’t have to be included.

Bind and Fly (BNF)

Bind and Fly (BNF) is a fully assembled drone including a receiver. All you need is to choose a compatible transmittertransmitter and “bind” it to the receiver.

Do It Yourself (DIY)

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Do It Yourself (DIY), which is now generally used to mean “custom”. This normally involves using parts from a variety of different suppliers and creating or modifying parts.

Drone, UAV, and Quadcopter

“Drone” term is imprecise and wrong, but regardless, it is commonly used. In other words, this is the term for unmanned aircraft, specific type undefined, but a blind flying robot of some sort.

UAV or unmanned aircraft are almost the same as manned aircraft, but without the bodies inside. The only real difference is that they are remotely directed to their destination, which for unmanned aircraft requires an electronic datalink. So, unmanned aircraft might be fixed-wing airplanes, helicopters, lighter-than-air blimps, or some very creative hybrids.

A “quadcopter” is a universal term for a rotary-wing aircraft with four main rotor systems and no tail rotor.  The term doesn’t specify if the machine has to be unmanned, but common usage of the term these days has given it that implied qualifier.  “Quadcopters” are also flown for hobby or recreational use (but certainly not for business, because that's not provided for in aviation rules yet) pretty much all come down at the small end of the size spectrum.

Regardless of all mentioned above, it isn't a mistake to call almost any kind of remotely or self-directed vehicle a “drone”, as all unmanned aircraft can be considered “drones” and in fact it’s almost impossible to come up with a currently flying example of a quadcopter that isn't an unmanned aircraft  or part of an “unmanned aircraft system.”

Hexacopter

Hexacopter is UAV with six motors / propellers.

Multirotor

“Multirotor” is an expression for an aircraft with multiple rotors.

Octocopter

Octocopter is the drone with eight motors / propellers included.

Ready To Fly (RTF)

RTF is the drone fully assembled with all necessary parts. All you need is to charge the battery and fly.

Drone mechanics

Frame

The frame is the “skeleton” of the drone that has the purpose to hold all of the parts together. Simple frames have motors connected to aluminum or other lightweight extrusions (“arms”) which then connect to a central body.

Frame Types

Frame types are also one of the ways the drones are categorized. That is why you saw them in the section “Types of drones.”

Tricopter

Tricopters have three arms, each connected to one motor. The front of the drone tends to be between two of the arms (Y3). The angle between the arms can vary, but tends to be 120 degrees. In order to move, the rear motor normally needs to be able to rotate (using a normal RC servo motor) in order to counteract the gyroscopic effect of an uneven number of rotors, as well as to change the yaw angle. A Y4 is slightly different in that it uses two motors mounted on the rear arm, which takes care of any gyroscopic effects – no servo is therefore needed.

Quadcopter

A “quadcopter” drone has four arms, each connected to one motor. The front of the drone tends to be between two arms (x configuration), but can also be along an arm (+ configuration).

Hexacopter

Hexacopter has six arms, each connected to one motor. The front of the drone tends to be between two arms, but can also be along one arm.

Y6

Y6 is a type of hexacopter but rather than six arms, it has three support arms, with a motor connected to either side of the arm (for a total of six motors). We want to highlight that the propellers mounted to the underside still project the thrust downward.

Octocopter

Octocopter comes with eight arms, each connected to one motor. The front of the drone tends to be between two arms.

X8

X8 is still an octocopter, but with four support arms, each with a motor connected to either side of each arm, for a total of 8 motors.

Center of Gravity (CG)

Central Gravity is the point on the drone where there is equal weight distributed on all sides.

Clamp

Clamp or a “tube clamp” is a device normally used on a round tube with the purpose to connect it to another device (such as a motor mount or a UAV’s body).

Connectors

Connectors are used at the ends of wires with the purpose to plug and unplug wires. Common connectors for batteries are Deans & XT60, while connectors for the flight controller and sensors are 0.1″ spaced.

Dampeners

Dampeners are molded rubber parts used to minimize vibration transmitted throughout a drone.

G10

G10 is a material generally used instead of carbon fiber to make a drone’s frame since it is very rigid and lightweight, but significantly less expensive.

Landing Gear

Landing gear doesn’t have wheels, like. The reason for this is to prevent it from moving when on the ground and reduce overall weight.

Light Emitting Diode (LED)

Light Emitting Diode has the role to make the drone visible, primarily at night or low lighting conditions.

Propeller Guards

Propeller guards surround a propeller to prevent it from contacting other objects. These drone parts are implemented as a safety feature and a way to minimize damage to the drone.

Retract

Retractable generally refers to landing gear which has two positions: one for landing and takeoff, and another, which takes up less room or improves visibility during flight.

Shell

The shell is an aesthetic and functional cover that  improves resistance to the elements and sometimes improves aerodynamics. Some production drones only have a plastic shell which also acts as the “frame”.

Propulsion

Battery Eliminator Circuit (BEC)

The Battery Eliminator Circuit is a voltage regulator integrated into the ESC which can provide regulated 5V DC power to any electronics that need it.

Blades

Blades are the aerodynamic surfaces that generate lift. A propeller generally has two to four blades that can be fixed or folded.

CW / CCW

CW means clockwise rotation and CCW indicates counter-clockwise rotation. On a multi-rotor drone, you normally use pairs of counter-rotating propellers.

Electronic Speed Controller (ESC)

Electronic Speed Controller is the device which connects to the battery, motor, and flight controller and controls the speed at which the motor rotates.

Lithium Polymer (LiPo)

Lithium Polymer is the battery mostly used in drones because of its light weight (versus storage capacity) and high current discharge rates.
There are other types of Lithium-based batteries available on the market as well (LiFe, LiMn etc.)

Motor

The motor is the part of the drone used to rotate the propellers. Brushed motors are used in small drones, and in larger UAVs, a “brushless” motor is used.

Printed Circuit Board (PCB)

A “Printed Circuit Board” is the flat fiberglass part with many components soldered to it. Many electronic products have a PCB.

Power Distribution

The power distribution board or cable splits the battery to power the different devices used in the drone. It takes the single positive and negative terminals on the battery and creates more terminals and connection points, sort of like a power strip you might use in your home.

Propeller

Propeller provides the thrust and is more similar to the one used in airplanes rather than on helicopters.

Prop Adapter

The Prop Adapter connects the propeller to the motor.

Prop Saver

Prop saver is a type of hub mounted on top of your motor and replaces the prop adapter. In the event of a crash, a part of the prop saver is lost in an attempt to save the propeller.

Servo

Servo is a type of actuator that with the help of the right signal, can move to a specific angular position.

Thrust

Thrust is the force which a specific motor and propeller can provide (at a certain voltage). It is usually measured in kilograms (Kg) or pounds (Lbs).

Control

Control Station

The Control Station includes the transmitter, antenna(e), video receiver, monitor, battery, computer and other devices.

Binding

Binding is the term for configuring a handheld transmitter in order to let it communicate with a receiver. For the case that a transmitter came with a receiver, it should have been done at the factory.

Channel

The number of channels on a transmitter indicates the number of separate signals it can send.

Flight Controller

The Flight Controller is the “brain” of a drone that handles all of the data processing, calculations, and signals. The heart of a flight controller is often a programmable “microcontroller”. It may have multiple sensors onboard, including an accelerometer, gyroscope, barometer, compass, GPS, etc. The flight controller has the ability to control the aircraft on its own (for example to navigate to specific GPS coordinates) and it may be considered an “autopilot”.

Harness

Harness means the “Wiring Harness” which are the wires that connect the receiver to the flight controller (and sometimes other devices).

HF/ UHF / VHF

“High Frequency“; “Very High Frequency” and “Ultra High Frequency” radio waves. They are measured in Hz (Hertz).

Receiver

The receiver is the component that processes the information received wirelessly.

Sketch / Code

Sketch/Code is the program uploaded to drone’s flight controller (similar to a “thought process”).

Transmitter / Radio

The Transmitter or radio is the component that generates the control signal(s) wirelessly to the receiver.

Sensors / Orientation

Accelerometer

The accelerometer measures linear acceleration in one to three axes. Units are normally in ‘g’ or gravity. An accelerometer is able to provide your drone’s orientation with respect to ground.

Antenna

The antenna has the role to receive or send a signal to and from a drone (the signal itself having been generated by a transmitter unit). Antennas come in a variety of different types and include directional (strongest in one direction) and omnidirectional

Barometer / Pressure Altimeter

The barometer gives feedback as to the altitude of the drones. Barometer measures pressure, and since pressure changes with altitude, your aircraft can “know” its height.

Compass

The compass is the drone component providing your compass heading (north / south / east / west).

Flight Recorder

The flight recorder’s purpose is to record sensor values from your UAV. This feature can sometimes be integrated into the flight controller.

Global Positioning System (GPS)

The Global Positioning System is satellites orbiting the planet send out signals which are picked up by the GPS antenna and are sent to be processed by the GPS receiver to provide geographic coordinates.

Gyroscope

The gyroscope measures angular acceleration in one or three axes.

Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU)

An Inertial Measurement Unit combines an accelerometer and a gyroscope.

Magnetometer

When it comes to low-cost robotics, magnetometers are sometimes used to provide compass direction.

Pitch

Pitch indicates the angle of the nose to tail with respect to the ground, or in other words, the rotation of an aircraft about the axis from wing to wing.

Pitot Tube

The Pitot Tube is a device with a role to measure air speed.

Roll

Roll is the rotation of the drone.

Yaw

Yaw is the rotation of the drone about an axis perpendicular (90 degrees) to the plane formed between the nose / tail and wing tips.

Video

First Person View (FPV)

First Person View is the drone with a camera and the operator having a live video feed displayed on either a monitor or virtual reality glasses.

Gimbal

The Gimbal is a device with the role to carry a camera and is normally actuated using either a servo motor or a brushless DC motor. It can stabilize a camera in flight.

Liquid Crystal Display (LCD)

Liquid Crystal Display is a type of screen / monitor used to display the image received by the receiver.

On Screen Display (OSD)

On Screen Display shows text on the monitor / screen, sent from the drone (can include altitude, GPS location etc.).

Virtual Reality (VR)

Virtual Reality glasses or goggles can create a more impressive experience for the operator.

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Carter

Carter is a lead product reviewer and content producer at LemonDrone. Send him products to test or content to publish via the Facebook page!

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