From ‘unmanned’ to ‘uncrewed’: DroneDJ adopts gender-neutral language

If you’re a regular reader, you may have noticed that we’ve been making a style change in some of our recent posts. We’re moving from using the term “unmanned” to “uncrewed” – and that change will be permanent. Let’s look at why.

Gendered terms have been used in the aerospace world for decades. The term “manned” aircraft has been around since people started to fly — despite the fact there were plenty of women pioneers in the early days of aviation and even more women in the field today. This shift is long overdue.

And we’re not the only ones supporting this change.

The FAA and gender-neutrality

In late June, the FAA’s Drone Advisory Committee approved four recommendations for more egalitarian, gender-neutral language. Colleague Bruce Crumley wrote about this at the time, so if you’d like some more background, you’ll find a great wrap-up here. It’s not just “uncrewed” vs. “unmanned.”

At the moment, the FAA is considering the recommendations and — we believe — will likely adopt them. The regulator is certainly aware the aerospace industry is not as inclusive as it could be. FAA Deputy Administrator A. Bradley Mims noted this earlier in the year:

As you all know, infrastructure is also jobs. A big part of my job here at the FAA is to make sure we get the infrastructure support that we need, as well as to remove any barriers from recruiting the next
generation of aerospace workers who will operate that infrastructure. We want the best, brightest, and most diverse group of people from all walks of life, and I look forward to working with everyone here to make sure that we recruit more women, minorities, and people from underserved communities for
the aerospace workforce.

And one way of helping to promote a more inclusive drone and aerospace community is by switching to more gender-neutral language.

A huge imbalance

At the moment, only 6.7% of licensed drone pilots in the US are female. It’s an imbalance that some in the field have been trying to address for years. If the industry wants more #womenindrones, it needs more than a hashtag.

One of the early champions here is Romeo Durscher, Vice President of Public Safety at Auterion and former Senior Director of Public Safety Integration at DJI. He offered his thoughts to DroneDJ:

It’s imperative that we as a society adjust our vocabulary to put the needed emphasis on equality. STEAM areas, which are Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math are still very male-dominated and entry into these fields for a female is not easy. Even the vocabulary and terms can often already set the tone that “this is for men only”. Adjusting terms sends a strong signal. And while some may not be happy, we in the drone industry have helped this effort and are in full support.

Recognition of the barriers

Durscher and others could see the problem in the emerging drone industry and began creating piloting and aerial photography events with the goal of attracting more women to the field. Here’s a photo Romeo supplied from September 2014 (the early Phantom days), from an event believed to be the very first all-female aerial drone photography group:

That’s Romeo pointing skyward. Aerial photography ace Stacy M. Garlington is seen standing.

Plus, says Durscher, women tend to approach drone flight and learning in a more methodical way than many men:

In general a new male drone operator buys the drone, charges the battery and immediately flies. While a female drone operator takes a much more educated approach; she reads the manual, checks for rules and regulations and often times asks somebody for help in the beginning. This current approach will hopefully set a new tone and encourage the younger generation to get into fields which before were very male dominated. I am happy about these developments.

Skydio, others on board

Since those early days, there have thankfully been more initiatives to get more women into the drone space. One of the more recent was at Skydio, which has been encouraging female employees to obtain their Part 107 Certification through internal classes. It kicked off the program with a Women Take Flight event, where 24 female Skydio employees (who call themselves “Skydiennes”) went flying:

The Director of Flight Testing at Skydio — and host of the popular Skydio Flight School series on its YouTube channel — is Nicole Bonk.

Nicole has a BSc degree in Unmanned Aircraft Systems from the prestigious Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona and is also a commercial pilot with multi-engine rating and instrument landing. She agrees the industry is hugely male-dominated and, in an earlier interview, encouraged women interested in careers in the drone/aviation space to simply pursue it (just as she clearly did).

DroneDJ’s take

We could wait around for the FAA to accept the Drone Advisory Committee’s recommendations (we really can’t imagine them being rejected). Or we could simply do the right thing now. And so, from this point on, we’ll be using gender-neutral terms. Expect to see more use of “uncrewed” instead of “unmanned,” etc., going forward.

And, btw, we’re not doing this out of political correctness.

We’re doing it because it’s right and is long overdue. We, too, want to see more #womenindrones. And while this may just be one small step for a website, we hope it’s the beginning of a giant leap for the industry.

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