A whopping one million civilian UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles, aka drones) will be sold during the 2015 holiday season, a top FAA official predicted in Air Transport World.
Many retailers are anticipating this UAV boon and are actively educating their sales associates and consumers. If you’re one of the million consumers looking to buy or receive a UAV this season, this post will help you cut through some of the noise so you can make an informed purchase.
But first, about that name
Although these vehicles are also called drones, UAV is currently the term preferred by the military as well as most U.S. lawmakers and UAV professionals. Drone was, however, the preferred term between the 1940s and 1970s, but it fell out of favor. Additionally (and to add a bit of confusion to the name game), civilian UAVs are predominantly, if not exclusively, quadcopters.
Brief history of the UAV
While UAVs can trace their lineage to pre-manned aviation, the first true UAV was developed during WWI. Known as the Kettering Bug, it made its first flight in 1918 but never saw combat. UAVs would continued to be used, although somewhat limitedly, during wars over the following 90 years, but they never really took off until the global war on terror.
General Atomics RQ-1 / MQ-1 Predators changed everything and really started the UAV revolution we are currently experiencing. They became operational in 1995 during the Bosnian conflict, but it wasn’t until 2001 that a hellfire missile was fired successfully from a Predator, moving the UAV from an intel role to a combat role.
Once the American public became aware of these somewhat controversial operations, an interest for all things unmanned emerged. The military industrial complex spurred this revolution, but the private sector has brought it to our doorsteps.
UAV buying guide
While consumers are lucky to have numerous UAV choices, finding the right fit can be a daunting task. To help you with your purchase, we’ve picked a few UAVs we like, all of which are available at Cabela’s during the holidays.
Quadrone XLC with Camera. An entry-level quadcopter that will still provide you with a ton of fun, the XLC has a range of 100-ft. and can stay in flight for 45-60 minutes. It retails for $130, making it a good starter UAV for anybody looking to get in on the action.
3D Robotics Iris+ Quadcopter Drone. Another quadcopter, this UAV has four easy-to-control modes that make piloting it easier for the novice. The UAV can be programmed to follow you, which sounds a bit creepy, but gives you the ability to get great video of your adventures. It retails for around $600. The camera is sold separately.
DJI Inspire 1. The most expensive UAV on our list, the DJI Inspire 1is a quadcopter that comes equipped with a 4K-enabled video camera and can take 12 megapixel photos. It has the ability to have dual operator control, so one person can fly the UAV and the other can operate the camera. It retails for nearly $3,500.