Unmanned Aircraft Systems

Since the early 1900’s simple unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) have been in operation conducting very basic missions. Nearly a century later unmanned systems have evolved into extremely sophisticated tools and include more than just aircraft. These unmanned systems enable people to operate in all theaters of human environments – in the air, on land and at sea – where it is simply too dangerous for people.

Today, UAS are defined as an aircraft and its associated elements operated with no human operator on board, and capable of flight by means of remote control or autonomous programming.  While most systems have a remote human operator behind the controls, only the most advanced UAS can operate with some autonomy but administrators still serve as a “human-on-the-loop” always ready to intervene. Regardless of control mechanisms UAS are required to abide by airspace restrictions, operator licensing rules and regulations and similar safety and privacy standards as their manned counterpart.

Some of the current applications for UAS include search and rescue, weather forecasting, law enforcement, border patrol, firefighting, disaster response, precision farming, commercial fisheries, scientific research, aerial photography, mail delivery, communications relay, infrastructure monitoring and emergency management. With countless benefits it is not surprising that society is waiting to fully utilize these systems.

As with any emerging technology, public opinion often begins in the imagination and with the proliferation of UAS it is not surprising that these systems sometimes get less that aptly labeled as “drones” (See also our drone myths guide) which does not do a good job of fully explaining these systems. Despite some bad nomenclature, a recently published joint poll from AIA and the Christian Science Monitor illustrates that there is a high level of awareness and support for increased use of UAS.

The full poll results are available below along with other reports detailing additional aspects of UAS including their economic potential, societal benefits, current and potential applications, policy and regulatory challenges and more.


Key Issues