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There are a few different words that are used to describe aircraft that are designed to fly without a human being on board, including "unmanned," "uncrewed" and "unpiloted." All three words are considered unsatisfactory to some.

What, if anything, should we do about these terms? The options that come to mind are:

  • Replace "unmanned" with "uncrewed" or "unpiloted" if we're editing a post.
  • Discourage "unmanned" in favor of "uncrewed" or "unpiloted," but don't change others' choice of word.
  • No standard preference.
  • Discourage "uncrewed" and "unpiloted" in favor of "unmanned," but don't change others' choice of word.
  • Replace "uncrewed" and "unpiloted" with "unmanned" if we're editing a post.

(Of course, the same goes for the words "manned," "crewed" and "piloted.")

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    $\begingroup$ What problem are you trying to solve? $\endgroup$ – AEhere supports Monica Mar 3 '20 at 14:51
  • $\begingroup$ @AEheresupportsMonica Well, I'm asking if there is a problem. $\endgroup$ – Terran Swett Mar 3 '20 at 15:44
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Here's my own opinion:

"Unmanned" is totally fine. It does kind of sound gender-specific, but everyone knows that the actual meaning of the word "unmanned" isn't gender-specific at all, so I don't think that's a problem. (I could be wrong.)

"Unpiloted" sounds confusing to me; that word seems like it would mean autonomous, rather than "not having a pilot on board." Remote-controlled aircraft do have people flying them, so surely they're piloted.

So I would prefer to write and read "unmanned" rather than "unpiloted." But I also don't think it's necessary to change other people's choice of words.

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The industry standard term is "unmanned". We don't create global policy here, just follow the conventions as they are.

"Uncrewed" currently shows 500k hits on Google, half of which are about a game and the other half about spacecraft - in which human crew is the exception, not the rule.

"Unpiloted" shows 125k hits, and generally refers to the lack of a pilot, where one is required, rather than to the lack of a need for one.

"Unmanned" shows 25 million hits, with the image gallery entirely filled with aircraft and the first search page being half UAV and half other unmanned-by-design vehicles.

The established convention is clear as day. "Unmanned" is the term, "uncrewed" is an acceptable (mostly for spacecraft) but less clear alternative, and "unpiloted" is an unrelated term referring specifically to a craft missing its required pilot or pilot-equivalent input.

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Just some food for thought.

On Space.SE, all the [manned-xxx] tags have been made synonyms of [crewed-xxx] tags, e.g. [manned-spaceflight] has become synonym with [crewed-spaceflight], with the [crewed-xxx] tags being the main tags and the other ones redirecting to them.

This follows a movement in the spaceflight community and industry to prefer the term "crewed". You can also see this in the media, the term "crewed spaceflight" has become more and more prevalent. You can see it in new titles like "SpaceX optimistic about May crewed mission [...]".

Yes, technically "manned" refers to all genders. For a long time I thought nothing of it and dismissed criticism of the term with the same arguments brought in some answers here (that it includes all genders, so there is no problem). But inclusive language starts small.

Wikipedia has also moved away from the term "manned spaceflight" and uses "human spaceflight" and "crewed spaceflight" or "crewed spacecraft" instead of "manned spacecraft".

NASA has changed their language in 2012, and now has this to say in their style guide:

Gender-Specific Language (e.g., Manned Space Program vs. Human Space Program)

In general, all references to the space program should be non-gender-specific (e.g., human, piloted, unpiloted, robotic, as opposed to manned or unmanned). The exception to the rule is when referring to the Manned Spaceflight Center (also known as the Manned Spacecraft Center), the predecessor of Johnson Space Center in Houston, or to any other historical program name or official title that included “manned” (e.g., Associate Administrator for Manned Spaceflight).

I realize Aviation.SE is not Space.SE. But there is a reason why it is called the aerospace industry, the fields have certainly a lot of overlap. And I realize that changing ones way to speak without seeing a problem oneself isn't something one wants to do. But on the other hand, using a more neutral term doesn't hurt, either.

The argument of Google showing more results for "manned" then for "crewed" is also not a good one. The term "manned" has been used for a long time, so historic documents will still use it, and it will obviously take a while to become completely obsolete.

So my plea would be that it doesn't hurt to be mindful of inclusive and gender-neutral language and phase out "manned" and "unmanned". For "manned", "crewed", "human" or "piloted" (if applicable) can be used, for "unmanned" good alternatives are "uncrewed", "robotic", "remote-controlled" or "autonomous", depending on context.

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"Uncrewed" sounds really awkward in the context of a single-seat aircraft or an aircraft that would likely have only one on-board pilot if it had one at all. (Example-- Grumman F6F Hellcat fighters modified into target drones.) I think it's very clear that "unmanned" is not intended to be gender-specific, and I think we ought to keep it, because all other alternatives sound extremely awkward or have some other unwanted connotations.

About the only time it make things more clear to use "crew" or "crewed" is to make it explicitly clear that you are talking about everyone crewing the plane including people who are not stationed in the cockpit (example-- "Crew Resource Management" replacing "Cockpit Resource Management".)

To me an "uncrewed" aircraft suggests an airliner where the entire cockpit crew and cabin crew have bailed out but the passengers may still be on board.

I also agree that "unpiloted" seems inappropriate in the case of UAV that is being flown at least part of the time by a remotely located human pilot.

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