What Is a Drone, Anyway?

Are traditional model airplanes “drones”?

In a word, no. Here’s why:

Model airplanes have been around for well over a hundred years and actually predate manned flight. Models have been used for decades to test aircraft design theories and to validate full-scale performance. Some models are small-scale replicas of real airplanes; others are original designs intended for sport or competitive activities. In many cases, they are built to stunningly precise levels of detail. Most, though not all, model airplanes today are flown by radio remote control.

Model aircraft are flown by thousands of enthusiasts with a common interest in aviation and a love for watching their aircraft fly and perform. For this reason, models are largely flown within visual line of sight and in the presence of an operator who watches and maintains control of the airplane during flight. That alone is enough to place model airplanes cleanly outside the boundaries of “drone.”

Click the link below to read John Villasenor’s complete blog on Drones in the April 2012 online edition of Scientific America

What Is a Drone, Anyway?

John Villasenor has written several articles on the issues surrounding the introduction of unmanned aircraft into the national airspace and has espoused the distinction between recreational model aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles dubbed as “drones” by the national media. John is a professor at UCLA and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC. John’s work focuses on the nature and growing impact of digital information. He is particularly interested in the intersection of digital technology with public policy and the law. You can follow John on Twitter (@johndvillasenor).