While autonomous aircraft may be on the horizon, for now at least UAVs are only unmanned in the sense that there is no-one physically in the aircraft. All decision-making is made by a trained human. (Indeed, as we report in our feature elsewhere this issue, the RAAF”s director of unmanned systems calls RPAs “hyper-manned” because of the personnel requirements to operate a system capable of 24/7 ‘persistent’ operations.)
Where RPA is more of a misnomer is in the world of small drones that can be purchased by the general public. Yes, small drones are ‘piloted’ in the sense they are controlled by a pilot on the ground via remote control, but in the vast majority of cases drones are flown by ‘pilots’ with nothing like the qualifications and aviation knowledge and understanding of a ‘pilot’ in a traditional manned aircraft.