Drone or Quadcopter – What should we call it?

The media tends to use the term ‘drone’ to refer to what we RC hobbyists call ‘quadcopters’ (actually I should say multicopters as there are many different configurations). Many quadcopter owners would get unconformable or even annoyed, when someone call them ‘drones’.

But there are still people discussing the very same topics on a daily basis, why and should quadcopters be called drones? Does it matter at all? Here I am going to share some of my view.

What is a quadcopter, and what is a drone?

Quadcopter, and other types of multicopters, are generally unmanned aircraft that is controlled by human remotely. (Note that it’s also possible to have it fly autonomously e.g. way-point flights).

Drones, according to Wikipedia, is also known as UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle). In fact it has many technical names, but they can all be defined by this: an aircraft without a human pilot aboard, either remotely controlled by pilot somewhere else, or controlled autonomously by onboard computers. Doesn’t this just sound like the definition of quadcopter?

So there is nothing wrong with the word, I think what upset people is the negative connotation the word ‘drone’ carries.


Why does this matter?

Before I have any knowledge in this hobby, from what I saw on news paper and TV, the word “drone” had always been connected with military surveillance and killings. For example, they were talking about a guy arrested for flying a drone over a stadium, then there was something about the US was using drones for intelligence gathering against terrorists. The general public reading this would have no reason to believe the two were different devices.

This might cause anxiety to people who are not familiar to this hobby. When they know a ‘drone’ is flying near them, they might consider it as dangerous, or someone is spying on them. Therefore I guess it bothers quadcopter owners a lot when people call their multicopters ‘drone’. Although I have had similar discussions with people either inside or outside of RC hobby, majority of them simply don’t care.

I actually started calling it “drone” myself when talking to people. When you say ‘quadcopter’ or ‘multicopter’, most of the times you will just get a blank look. I also tried calling it “a helicopter with 4 rotors”. But drone is just a much easier word to say and remember.


Knifes can be used to kill someone, and it’s dangerous, but we use it in the kitchen everyday.

Quadcopter is drone, it’s a fact. Pretty much like bacon is pork. What really needs to change is people’s mentality, by education. As soon as you change what you’re using them for, perception changes. Just like my perception about drone changed after I flew one myself. (family and friends around me as well)

I stopped caring so much what people call them now. When someone looking for trouble, and ask if my quadcopter is for spying on people, I would say to them, ” you’re talking about military drones, mine is a hobbyist drone (or consumer drone)”.


(picture by Bart Jansen’s Orvillecopter: got the fur flying. Photograph: Stringer/Reuters)

3 thoughts on “Drone or Quadcopter – What should we call it?

  1. X. Yar

    If a qaudcopter is a drone “… like bacon is pork,” that is a reason to not call quadcopters drones. You wouldn’t ask for a pork sandwich if you wanted a bacon sandwich, even though bacon is a type of pork; so why deliberately be less specific and call a quadcopter a drone, even though it is a type of drone.

  2. Martin Budden

    Personally, I don’t like the term drone. My dislike is because the word has many negative connotations, in particular the meaning of “dull monotonous speech”.

    From the OED, the definitions of drone are:

    1 Make a continuous low humming sound: in the far distance a machine droned
    1.1 Speak tediously in a dull monotonous tone: he reached for another beer while Jim droned on
    1.2 [with adverbial of direction] Move with a continuous humming sound: traffic droned up and down the street

    1A continuous low humming sound: he nodded off to the drone of the car engine
    1.1 informal A monotonous speech: only twenty minutes of the hour-long drone had passed

    2A continuous musical note of low pitch: the drone rose by a third to A
    2.1A musical instrument, or part of one, sounding a continuous note of low pitch, in particular (also drone pipe) a pipe in a bagpipe or (also drone string) a string in an instrument such as a hurdy-gurdy or a sitar.

    3A male bee in a colony of social bees, which does no work but can fertilize a queen.
    3.1A person who does no useful work and lives off others: the University takes all the profit and redistributes it to drones like him

    4A remote-controlled pilotless aircraft or missile.

    Origin: Old English drān, drǣn ‘male bee’, from a West Germanic verb meaning ‘resound, boom’; related to Dutch dreunen ‘to drone’, German dröhnen ‘to roar’, and Swedish dröna ‘to drowse’.

    As you can see, many of the meanings of the word drone have negative connotations. So I use “quadcopter” or “copter”, even if I have to take time to explain it.

  3. Geoff (quadcopters.pw)

    For most of us they are quadcopters unless you are using a very sophisticated automation system to navigate and make decisions with almost no human intervention.


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