Aerial Photography and Drone Glossary

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Initially only existing in the domain of serious hobbyists and professionals, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (or UAVs for short, also colloquially referred to as “drones”), have made a big splash in the consumer-electronics world. With a consumer base ranging from content creators to thrill-seeking individuals, UAVs now come in a strikingly wide variety of shapes, sizes, prices, and applications. While the size of the selection can almost assure that any new customer will find a UAV that will fit their needs, there is a lot that needs to be known before anyone starts sending motorized aircraft up in the air on a whim. Below is a glossary of commonly used terms that will help get you on your way to understanding most basic UAV literature on our website and from other helpful resources.

Glossary

BNF (Bind-N-Fly)  Aircraft dubbed "BNF" do not include a transmitter. They feature a propriety receiver designed to work with select Spektrum transmitters (see the aircraft's receiver specifications for compatibility information).

BVR (Beyond Visual Range)  According to guidelines set by the AMA and FAA, flying a UAV without being able to maintain direct line of sight from the pilot to the UAV is forbidden. Even with aid from FPV systems, the pilot must be able to know where the UAV is at all times to steer the craft and avoid possible obstacles.

Flight Control System  Also known as a Flight Controller, it is basically a computer built into the body of any multi-rotor UAV that allows it to be guided. The Flight Control System makes constant adjustments to the speed of the motors, even when hovering, to allow for precise control of the UAV’s movement. Since multi-rotor UAVs don’t have ailerons, rudders, or elevators like fixed-wing aircraft, small shifts in each computer-controlled propeller compensate to provide control of each of those surfaces.

FPV (First Person View)  Some UAVs have wireless video transmitters built in to transmit video to FPV goggles for an immersive experience that can make you feel like you’re flying inside the aircraft. Hobbyist-oriented UAVs can be modified for this capability with special kits that contain the extra transmitter assembly and a camera.

Gimbal Stabilizer  A computer-controlled, motorized camera mount that can move the camera independently of the UAV. It can compensate for finer camera shake induced by wind or other UAV movement, giving your footage a smooth, professional look. In many drones geared toward filmmakers, the gimbal can be controlled by a second operator for performing more advanced camera movements while the pilot concentrates on directing the UAV.

GPS  (Global Positioning System)  The flight-control systems in many UAVs require GPS location to execute automatic pilot and compensation for air currents while hovering, so the craft can remain in the same place. Most UAVs require a calibration right before liftoff to confirm GPS connection.

LiPo (Lithium-Polymer)  A type of Lithium-Ion high-power-density battery construction, which allows for extremely thin battery cells. This property of LiPo cells provides manufacturers with the ability to build batteries of any shape or size.

Motors  Most UAVs drive their propellers with brushless motors. Each propeller has its own motor, which is independently controlled by the flight computer.

Optical Flow  When flying where no GPS signals are available—indoors, for example—some UAVs have a downward-facing video camera that communicates directly with the flight-control system. This determines positioning.

Propellers  Generally made from plastic, in the case of smaller multi-rotors, many popular UAVs will have at least four propellers to generate lift and steer the craft. On multi-rotor craft, the propellers spin in opposing directions. For example, on a quadcopter (4 propellers) two propellers will spin clockwise, and the other two, counterclockwise, to balance the UAV rotationally when in flight. UAVs with six or more motors can compensate for motor failure, although it is advisable to land the UAV and fix the motor before flying again. Propellers can be replaced and upgraded to achieve higher performance.

Receiver (Rx)  This device receives transmissions from the transmitter and relays instructions to the flight controller to successfully guide the UAV. Receivers will only pair with compatible transmitters that have at least the same number of channels over which to transmit. An increasing number of consumer aircraft use Wi-Fi-enabled smartphones/tablets in lieu of a transmitter.

RTF (Ready-To-Fly) Kit  RTF kits include a transmitter that is already bound to the UAV and will control all of the available functions on that specific UAV. The controller, however, may only work with the UAV to which it is bound.

Telemetry  A two-way digital data stream between the UAV and a ground station to communicate flight data and instructions to control the UAV. This communication relates to autopilot functionality.

Transmitter (Tx)  A handheld radio remote controller that can control your UAV’s flight and other functions. Basic transmitters will control flight; while more advanced transmitters can be programmed to control other functions on the aircraft, as well as display telemetry data from the flight controller. Certain controllers can support more than one UAV, and each one can be saved in a preset on the controller to recall custom settings and binding info. Most transmitters in the USA are set for “Mode 2” operation, where the left stick controls throttle and rudder (yaw) and the right stick controls elevator (pitch) and aileron (roll). “Mode 1” transmitters switch throttle to the right stick and rudder to the left stick. Some controllers can be configured to work in either mode.

The majority of modern transmitters broadcast on the 2.4GHz frequency and can hop frequencies to avoid interference, much like Wi-Fi. Therefore, the presence of other 2.4GHz signals isn't a problem. However, a device such as a Wi-Fi-enabled GoPro mounted on the aircraft may interfere with control signal. Be sure to turn off your camera's Wi-Fi unless yours has been superficially designed to work around the presence of a close-range Wi-Fi signal. For this reason, video transmitters typically operate in the 5.8GHz range.

UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle)  An aircraft piloted by remote control or onboard computers. They can also be referred to with the acronym UAS (Unmanned Aerial System). UAS is often used in official contexts, such as FAA documentation.

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