Difference between Drone and UAV

Key Difference: A Drone is also known as an Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV). Drones are semi-autonomous vehicles that are attached to a larger spacecraft, and are designed to expand the ship's launching capabilities. UAV, short for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or Unmanned Aircraft systems are capable of operating without an internal pilot.

Drone and UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) can be used interchangeably. People can easily use both the terms alternatively. Drones were used in the older times, whereas, UAV in a new term used to describe a cutting-edge aircraft.

According to Dictionary.com, a ‘Drone’ is:

  • The male of the honeybee and other bees, stingless and making no honey.
  • An unmanned aircraft or ship that can navigate autonomously, without human control or beyond line of sight.
  • (Loosely) any unmanned aircraft or ship that is guided remotely: a radio-controlled drone.
  • A person who lives on the labor of others; parasitic loafer.
  • A drudge.

Drone is commonly known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). It is an aircraft without a human pilot on plank. The vehicle is controlled automatically by computers, or it can also be operated by the remote control. The use of drones has grown quickly in recent years because unlike manned aircraft they can stay aloft for many hours. Compared to a military aircraft, they are much cheaper; and are flown remotely so there is no danger to the flight crew.

There are different types of armed and surveillance drones in Iraq and Afghanistan; the US have two separate ‘squardron’ of armed drones – one run by the US Air Force and one run by the CIA; the UK has several types of surveillance drones, the most popular is Watchkeeper, and many more drones are available in many other countries. Recently, in the news, it has been announced that the Amazon.com is testing delivering packages using drones. The idea is not finalized, but the process is going on. Drones may also be used in many other contexts, as mentioned above in the Dictionary.com definition.

Drones have mostly been used by the U.S. military to shoot missiles at enemy combatants in countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, the cost of these unmanned aircraft has dropped precipitously in recent years, making them more accessible to commercial users, such as companies, small businesses and entrepreneurs.

UAV, short for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or Unmanned Aircraft systems come in many different sizes and shapes. Most of the aircrafts have been designed for specific roles and application, but almost all of them can be reconfigured just though a pay load interchange to perform a variety of other tasks. According to MSN Encarta an "uncrewed reconnaissance vehicle: an uncrewed aerial vehicle that can fly over combat zones and staging areas, dropping supplies to troops, releasing bombs, carrying out reconnaissance on enemy forces."  This definition would have everyone believe that UAVs are only used in military scenarios.

Comparison between Drone and UAV:





Drones are semi-autonomous vehicles that are attached to a larger spacecraft, and are designed to expand the ship's launching capabilities. 

UAVs are capable of operating without an internal pilot; are tethered by a radio control link; and can be preprogrammed for both flight and payload operations prior to launch.

Also known as

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle

Unmanned Aircraft Systems


  • Has successfully struck militants of Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups
  • Intelligence gathered by surveillance drones contributed to the assassination of Osama Bin Laden
  • Helps detect forest fires
  • Monitor environmental data (i.e. populations of animals)
  • Can seek missing children and felons

According to uavs.org:

  • Does not contain, or need, a qualified pilot on board
  • Can enter environments that are dangerous to human life
  • Reduces the exposure risk of the aircraft operator
  • Can stay in the air for up to 30 hours, performing a precise, repetitive raster scan of a region, day-after-day, night-after-night in complete darkness, or, in fog, under computer control:
  • Performing a geological survey
  • Performing visual or thermal imaging of a region
  • Measuring cell phone, radio, or, TV coverage over any terrain
  • Can be programmed to complete the mission autonomously even when contact with its GCS is lost.



  • Domestic drones violate right to privacy.
  • Some drones are lethal and not just used for surveillance.
  • People feel paranoid like they're being watched by the government.
  • With drones being unmanned flying machines, less aviation jobs are needed.
  • They're very expensive and a rarity among the world.

According to indiandefencereview.com, the disadvantages of UAVs include –


  • Programming Limitations: UAVs may not be able to compensate for the changing battlefield environment such as being able to attack a new more desirable target that appeared after the aircraft was launched or changing course to avoid enemy defences.
  • Limitations of Payload: As UAVs are typically smaller than a manned plane, they cannot carry as large a payload. However, as compared to manned aircraft, their payload to total weight ratio is higher.
  • Limited Range: UAVs may not be able to carry as much fuel as manned aircraft and therefore, may have a shorter range, a limitation which is now being overcome.
  • Less Versatile: UAVs are tailored to specific types of missions. These machines are not as versatile as a modern multi-role combat aircraft.
  • Loss of Contact: If contact is lost with the ground station, the vehicle may be lost.

Image Courtesy: robotliving.com, mil-aero.analog.com

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