The Great Debate: UAV vs UAS

As
far as unmanned aviation has come in the last decade, it remains the
rare niche aviation market that can’t agree on what to call its
signature product.

As an acronym, do we call them a UAV, UA or UAS? As a word, should we describe them as unmanned, uninhabited or unpiloted?

Never
one to join the crowd, the US Air Force has coined its own new term:
Remotely Operated Aircraft (ROA, anyone? Frankly, we think that’s
already DOA, or should be).

Now, the US Department of Defense is proposing to settle this nomenclature madness once and for all. Here is DOD’s new and long-awaited Unmanned Aircraft Systems Roadmap. Among other things, it decrees the term UAV is passé.

Henceforth,
the DOD will recognize two terms: an unmanned aircraft (UA) and an
unmanned aircraft system (UAS). The UA is to be used when referring to
the flying component of a UAS, which refers to a ground station linked
with one or more UAs.

“This
change in terminology more clearly emphasizes that the aircraft is only
one component of the system, and is in line with the Federal Aviation
Administration’s decision to treat ‘UAVs’ as aircraft for regulatory
purposes,” a footnote reads.

There
may be some logic to this. It reflects the fact that unmanned flight
requires more than just an aircraft to work – and, thus, for
governments to regulate. And it substitutes the smoother word,
“aircraft”, for the clunky and possibly anachronistic term,”air
vehicle.” (Who came up with “unmanned air vehicle” anyway? Any
theories?)

But
there is a catch. Even if the aim is to clarify, it doesn’t do you any
favours if few others in the English-speaking world know the difference
between a UAS and a UA. Or, for that matter, a UAS and a UAV.

It
is something we’re thinking about among our editorial team. Flight
International uses the term UAV, which has its flaws but at least is
commonly understood. This may have to be discarded at some point, but
we are asking two questions: when? and with what?

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