Companies seeking an NDAA-compliant drone for inspections, mapping or conducting LiDAR surveys are set to get another American-made drone option. California-based Inspired Flight Technologies this month announced their latest product a medium-lift drone called the IF800 Tomcat, and it’s set to ship before the end of the year.
What’s so standout about the IF800 Tomcat drone from Inspired Flight? A few things, but the reason why the IF800 Tomcat is primarily turning heads is because this is the first NDAA-compliant industrial-grade drone to deliver greater than 40-minute flight time while carrying a high-resolution camera or sensors.
Everything to know about the IF800 Tomcat
The IF800 Tomcat has all sorts of interesting features and specs going for it, but it has three specs of sorts that make it stand out: NDAA compliance, 40 minutes of flight time, and ability to fly high-resolution cameras and/or sensors weighing up to 3 kilograms.
While not necessarily a “spec,” a huge highlight is, in fact, NDAA compliance. NDAA compliance means that the drones don’t contain parts that were produced by certain companies that the U.S. government deems unfit to produce products for use by federal agencies — and generally speaking many of the companies on the U.S. government’s NDAA-prohibited list are made in China or Russia.
U.S. government contracts with drone operators only allow pilots to use NDAA-compliant drones, creating a market for products like the IF800 Tomcat (and often even non-government drone jobs require their contracted pilots to fly NDAA-compliant drones only to maintain consistency with the U.S. federal government’s precedent).
Industrial-grade drones with that NDAA-compliant label have found a renaissance of sorts in the U.S. lately, given the strong demand for American-made drones (and general hesitation to purchase Chinese-made drones, as many of the biggest players are).
The U.S. drone industry is estimated to be the largest in the world, already surpassing $11 billion in valuation. And because roughly half of that figure is dominated by military drone applications which demand NDAA-compliant drones, the door has opened for products like the IF800 Tomcat. Other recent entrants include Japanese drone maker ACSL, which joined the U.S. commercial drone market in May 2023 when it opened a subsidiary in Santa Clara, California. And in April 2023, Sony announced new updates for its Airpeak drone that transform what was initially marketed as a darling for Hollywood’s cinematographers to a key tool for enterprise applications like mapping and inspections. The Airpeak is made in Japan (it is made by Japanese camera maker Sony), and all its critical components are NDAA compliant.
3 kg payload capacity
The drone can carry many of the most popular high resolution cameras and sensors, as long as they don’t exceed its maximum payload capacity of 3 kg (that qualifies it as a “medium-lift drone”).
Most operators will mount a camera via a gimbal, which allows for 30-degree upward-angle shooting capability. Plus, an integral FPV (First-Person View) camera allows operators real-time visual feedback and precise control during flights.
40-minute flight time
That long, 40-minute flight time is largely thanks to dual, hot-swappable smart batteries that enable large missions to be completed without system resets. Plus, an easy slide installation ensures minimal downtime during battery swaps.
And in fact, 40-minutes of flight time is a record for drones that are also NDAA-compliant and that can carry high-resolution camera or sensors.
Here’s a list of the other, major existing NDAA compliant systems and their estimated flight times, while carrying a thermal camera comparable to DJI’s Zenmuse H20T payload:
- Freefly’s Astro: 25 min
- Ascent Aerosystem’s Spirit: 36 min
- Inspired Flight’s IF800 Tomcat: 42 min (with reserve)
Of course, exact flight times can vary based on external variables such as wind, so these are estimations.
Who is the IF800 Tomcat for?
This drone, naturally, is for serious pilots looking to power industrial use cases, which might include inspecting infrastructure, mapping terrain, or conducting LiDAR surveys. And all that power comes with a big price tag, as the IF800 Tomcat starts at $18,000.
It’s a competitor to not just the Freefly Astro and Ascent Aerosystem Spirit, but perhaps it’s most notable competitor is the DJI M300 and DJI Matrice 350. The DJI M350 RTK launched in May 2023 as an enterprise king that can carry cameras and sensors from within DJI’s Zenmuse lineup, including zoom cameras, mapping cameras and even a Livox Lidar module.
But the IF800 offers one main feature that the M350 RTK and M300 will likely never be able to offer: NDAA compliance.
“Designed to excel in critical infrastructure and physical asset inspections, the IF800 Tomcat is purpose-built to address the security and regulatory concerns faced by operators of M300 aircraft,” according to an Inspired Flight spokesperson. “With its NDAA compliance, it offers a seamless transition for those operators to continue without compromising on safety or efficiency.”
Of course, the IF800 does fall short of the DJI M350 RTK and DJI M300 in one critical area that seemingly was a standout spec: flight time. The DJI M350 RTK and DJI M300 offered 55 minutes of maximum flight time. For folks who prioritize flight time over NDAA compliance, then DJI’s offering might still win out.
That said, the IF800 does fly very much like DJI’s Matrice lineup of drones, so could be a fit for pilots who were trained on a DJI drone but are looking to switch to an NDAA-compliant drone.
Other important specs of the IF800 Tomcat include:
- Lightweight, foldable frame for compact storage
- 3.5 kg empty weight without batteries
- 10.7 kg maximum gross takeoff weight with batteries and payload
- More intuitive ground control, and overall ease of use (it integrates more seamlessly with ground control than the other NDAA compliant systems out there
Among the payloads it carries are the Workswell Wiris Enterprise Camera (which offers Thermal, 30x Optical Zoom, Wide Angle Optical, and Range Finger & Interchangeable IR Lenses at 640PX). It also can carry the Sony Alpha 7R V 35mm Full-Frame 61 Mega Pixel Camera, which you’d likely mount with a Gremsy T3 gimbal (that gimbal was originally designed for the Sony Airpeak S1 drone).
What to know about Inspired Flight Technologies
Inspired Flight Technologies was founded in 2017 in San Luis Obispo, a California town known for its historic mission, gaudy Madonna Inn and sunshine not far from the beach. But San Luis Obispo also serves as the site not where the company’s drones were designed, but also where they’re manufactured. All Inspired Flight Technologies drones, including the company’s heavy-lift hexacopter, the IF1200A, are manufactured at a facility in San Luis Obispo.
And Inspired Flight already has a robust client list. Its customers include FAA, NASA, NAVFAC, Northrop Grumman, US Army Core of Engineers, MIT, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, University of Michigan, Carnegie Mellon University, National Laboratories (LLNL, Argonne, Fermi), Elbit Systems, First Energy, and Southern Company.
Inspired Flight has a solid lineup oof products for commercial and government applications such as aerial photogrammetry, surveying and thermal inspection. And in May 2023, it launched a plug-and-play product that made it possible to put a Phase One P3 camera on its Inspired Flight IF1200A, putting the first true Mavlink-based P3 integration on the IF1200A.
How to get your hands on the IF800 Tomcat
For now, the drone is in what’s called a limited-time presale, where interested buyers can put their name in between now and June 30, 2023. It’s set to ship in the fourth quarter of 2023, upon which more buyers will likely be able to get in if they missed the June 30 presale deadline.
The IF800 Tomcat has a starting price of $18,000.
Though, you can’t just order this drone anywhere. To place an order you’ll have to call them at (805) 776-3640 or reach them by email.