Unmanned aircraft prove popular gifts; Companies urge new users to exercise caution

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- As many rush to finish their Christmas shopping, there's a good chance some of the last-minute gifts flying off the shelves today are unmanned aircraft.

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GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- As many rush to finish their Christmas shopping, there's a good chance some of the last-minute gifts flying off the shelves today are unmanned aircraft.

Also known as drones, the devices are available at several stores in Grand Forks, but they're going fast.

"They're huge for us right now," said Shawn Dvorak, general manager of Best Buy. "We're actually running out of a lot of the drones because I don't think they realized how popular they were going to be."

Aircraft of all price points are being snapped up by shoppers, Dvorak said, including high-end products costing more than $1,200. For those not ready to invest a month's rent in an unmanned aircraft, other options are available, with some products retailing for less than $100.

Outside of electronic stores, shoppers might need to head to the toy section to find similar devices, usually displayed next to remote controlled cars and other vehicles.


Online retailers also offer varying sorts of unmanned aircraft. A quick Internet search retrieves hundreds of models at prices ranging from $10 to nearly $19,000.

Gift guides also centered on the technology have popped up this holiday season. Websites such as National Geographic, Wired, GQ, Market Watch and many others have put together lists to steer the curious toward aircraft models that will align with their needs.

Flying advice

Companies selling the products also are stepping in and offering guidance to those navigating the drone market.

Those just starting out may want to consider a smaller device that could be flown indoors to get a feel for maneuvering a remote controlled aircraft, Best Buy's Drone Buying Guide tells customers.

When it comes to taking flight for the first time, taking it slow is best, said Matt Dunlevy.

Dunlevy is the president of SkySkopes, a Grand Forks company utilizing unmanned aircraft for photography and video purposes.


"It comes down to: fly safe, fly smart, be careful and have caution," Dunlevy said. "After you do all that preparation ...  then have fun."

He recommends reading the user's manual, doing a preflight check to ensure the aircraft is working properly and completing a flight checklist, which usually comes with the product, but examples can be found online as well.

Those with GPS enabled devices should keep the aircraft in sight and lock the GPS to prevent the aircraft from potentially becoming disoriented and veering off course.

If breaking out an aircraft as soon as it's unwrapped, keep the flight indoors. And while the holidays are a time to celebrate, Dunlevy said pilots should hold off on drinking if they plan to fly their aircraft.

"There's going to be a lot of spiked eggnog going around over Christmas so make sure you do those two activities separately," he said.


Once the wrapping paper comes off, new pilots will need to complete a few more steps before they take their gift outdoors for a test flight.


The FAA requires recreational users of unmanned aircraft to register their device with a recently launched online system. The registration system is for aircraft weighing between 0.55 and 55 pounds.

After entering a name, address and email, an owner will receive a certificate of registration and a unique identification number. That number must be marked somewhere on the aircraft.

Aircraft purchased on or after Dec. 21 should be registered before flying outdoors while those bought before that date have until Feb. 19, 2016 to register. Registration is free until Jan. 20, then increases to $5.

Those who do not register their aircraft may face civil or criminal penalties.

"It's all the more reason to fly safe because if something does happen and you're unregistered, it's just another level of liability," Dunlevy said.

And for those who may be expecting an unmanned aircraft from Santa, it's worth noting that an operator must be 13 years or older to register their device with the FAA.

The FAA also encourages those receiving an aircraft as a gift to visit , which has safety guidelines available for reading prior to a flight.

For example, recreational users should not fly higher than 400 feet and at least five miles away from an airport unless prior permission from the airport or control tower is received.

Inexperienced operators can turn to a number of experienced users in town for guidance on how to fly, Dunlevy said.

"If you're just getting your feet wet, this is the city to do it in because there are so many resources around," he said of Grand Forks.

Related Topics: CHRISTMAS
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