Determining how high you can fly a drone is often confusing as manufacturers don’t tell us the information we need.
The reason is that it’s hard to tell the exact height a specific drone can reach, as it depends on the drone’s capabilities and the conditions the drone flies in.
Generally, how high can a drone fly?
Drones can fly very high depending on their design. A toy drone won’t reach more than 150 feet. Airspace regulations limit you to approximately 400 feet for commercial drones. Military drones can fly thousands of feet in the air when surveilling.
This article will help you garner a deep understanding of these fantastic tools’ height capabilities.
All aircraft must fulfill airworthiness requirements.
This is an aircraft’s technical and legal aptitude to fly within acceptable operational safety standards.
So, for a drone to fly at high altitudes, it must meet all the requirements to fly safely.
To help, we’ve identified and reviewed the best drone courses for beginners and professionals.
How high can I fly my drone, technically speaking?
Manufacturers design drones to fly in the first layer of the atmosphere or troposphere.
In the troposphere, the higher you go, gases like air decrease in density. So at high tropospheric altitudes, the air pressure is less for the drone.
However, the wind is stronger as the air can move at these altitudes freely. There are no obstacles like mountains or buildings. Also, the temperature decreases abruptly.
The real challenge for manufacturers is for their drones to generate enough lift to maintain the drone stability when facing strong wind gusts and to fly at temperatures near or below 32° F or 0° C.
Most manufacturers design drones to fly up to approximately 20,000 feet or 6,000 meters. At this altitude, temperature and wind conditions are accessible for high-end commercial drones like the DJI Mavic 3.
Does this mean my Mavic 3 can’t go higher?
It can fly higher for sure, but that’s not what the manufacturer has designed the drone to do.
Flying your drone over its max altitude can result in a loss of control. That can potentially harm other people, aircraft, or goods when falling.
How high can I fly my drone, legally speaking?
On the other hand, we have regulations prohibiting hobbyists or commercial pilots from going above certain altitudes with their drones.
The reason is that a drone can easily hit a larger aircraft in the same airspace. Let’s say you’re flying a drone at 4,000 feet.
The drone can interact with a commercial aircraft descending at that altitude to land at the nearest airport.
If that commercial aircraft engine sucks in your drone, it can get destroyed.
An aircraft without a properly working motor can’t fly, so it will cause a catastrophe when it smashes into the surface.
Aviation authorities defined that flying drones up to a specific altitude was safe to prevent potential accidents. That way, drones and aircraft will have divided airspace.
How high can a drone fly depending on where I am?
Drones can reach very high altitudes, but regulations limit the max height.
That height varies depending on where you are.
In first-world zones like the US and UK, the max permissible altitude for recreational and commercial drones is 400 feet or 122 meters.
What is the 400-foot limit for drones?
You’ll notice that most countries’ max flying height is 400 feet or 122 meters.
The reason is only a convention between aviation authorities.
They have agreed that flying at that altitude is sufficient for commercial drone applications such as mapping.
Also, at this altitude, the drone won’t interfere with manned aircraft that fly between 500 and 1,200 feet.
Is my drone limited to 400 feet from the factory?
Manufacturers add special software that inhibits you from going beyond this limit with a drone.
However, you must be careful, as drones can sometimes fly above 400 feet.
The software can fail, allowing your drone to bypass this threshold and getting you into trouble due to a violation of airspace safety.
Civil aviation authorities strictly regulate airspace and will find out when you bypass their regulations.
Can the FAA track your drone?
As of September 16, 2023, the FAA can track any drone, as Remote ID must work for all drones.
Remote ID is a hardware module in your drone that sends GPS coordinates to other aircraft and ATC.
All recent drones come with it working, as drones must have it by that date.
So now the FAA can track your drone easily, knowing exactly where in the US you surpassed the 400-foot barrier.
How do you legally fly a drone above 400 feet?
In some scenarios, your drone must go above 400 feet, such as inspecting a structure or building.
Some rules allow you to fly a drone higher.
In the US, you can fly your drone above a structure that is 400 feet in altitude or more.
You must fly the drone in a radius of 400 feet from the structure and avoid violating the specific airspace max altitude.
Airspace divides into six zones according to aviation regulations.
Some airspace has no-fly restrictions for drones, and you must avoid them at all costs.
The reason is that some manufacturers equip their drones with GPS software that senses these restricted zones.
When flying there, the drone can attempt a sudden landing, or you can lose its control.
The first airspace division you must avoid is Class B. Within this zone, you can find extremely busy airports.
Then you have class C airspace, which covers most domestic airports with high manned aircraft traffic.
Class D airspace consists of any airport with an ATC tower that doesn’t enter Class B or C.
An ATC tower controls all three zones, as abundant manned aircraft are around the zone. These areas are so restrictive that most drones won’t start their engines.
Then you can’t reach 400 feet without authorization.
In this post, we share a complete guide on how to get authorization to fly with your drone in any zone.
The other three zones are special, as only one has no restrictions. The Class A zone is all airspace above 18,000 feet, which means you won’t fly there.
Class E airspace is between the altitude limit of airspace up to 18,000 feet. Better explained, this airspace can start at ground level: 400, 700, or 1,200 feet, or where Class B, C, and D airspace ends.
Here is where everything becomes fun, as Class G airspace is where you fly up to 400, 700, or 1,200 feet unrestricted. It’s uncontrolled airspace.
How high can a drone fly without FAA authorization?
The only way to fly above 400 feet without authorization is in Class G airspace.
Let’s say you want to take a timelapse of an avenue from 1,000 ft. You must fly near a tower with an altitude of 600 feet or more.
Then you can go up 400 feet above that structure, ascending 1,000 feet without breaking the airspace law.
Class E common confusion
There are no restrictions to fly in Class G airspace, meaning you don’t need previous authorization to take off with your drone.
The good news is you don’t need any authorization to go from Class G to E.
For example, the tower you want to fly above measures 600 feet, and the Class G airspace at that location gets up to 400 feet. This means the airspace between 400 and 18,000 feet is Class E.
Even in this scenario, you can go up to 1,000 feet.
The only restriction is when the Class E airspace starts at ground level. Here, you can’t take off with your drone.