Drone Categories in the UK

If you stop a person in the street and ask them what they know about drones they are likely to mention the use of drones by the military, or perhaps they’ll call to mind their use in surveillance.  However, increasing numbers of people are becoming aware of their many uses in civilian life and for commercial purposes.  The range of drones now in existence is so great that there are many ways in which to categorise them, so in this post we’re going to look at some of those drone categories in the UK.

Drones are categorised according to all kinds of criteria, not just their size.  These criteria might include (not an exhaustive list):

  • MTOW (maximum take-off weight)
  • Endurance
  • Range
  • Engine power source
  • Payload
  • Launch method
  • Control method

The combinations are so many that, added to the countries in which they are used and the number of bodies using them, there is no one, single, globally agreed classification.  Even within the same country there can be different methods of classification.  The USAF for example, categorise drones differently to the US Marine Core, who have similar but not identical methods of classification to that of the US Army.

For example the US Army classifications are:

  • Tier I: Small UAV e.g. the RQ-11B Raven
  • Tier II: Short Range Tactical UAV e.g. the RQ-7B Shadow 200
  • Tier III: Medium Range Tactical UAV e.g. the MQ-1C Gray Eagle

On the other hand, the US Air Force classifications are:

  • Tier N/A: Small/Micro UAV
  • Tier I: Low altitude, long endurance
  • Tier II: Medium altitude, long endurance (MALE)
  • Tier II+: High altitude, long endurance conventional UAV (or HALE UAV)
  • Tier III-: High altitude, long endurance low-observable UAV

For civilian and commercial use in the UK we can turn to the CAA publication CAP 722 for guidance.  In summary this lists the categories as:

  1. Small UA (Unmanned Aircraft) weighing less than 20kg, registered nationally
  2. Light UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems)  weighing between 20kg and 150kg, registered nationally
  3. UAS weighing more than 150kg, registered with the EASA

So the vast majority of UAV operating in UK airspace for civil or commercial use will be Small UA and some will be Light UAS.  You will also see many designated as sUAV.