A drone is technically referred to as an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). Any unmanned aircraft or spacecraft which may be controlled by a radio transmitter or a mobile device is considered a drone. But just how high can a drone fly?
While drones have only become popular for personal and commercial use, they have been around for more than a century.
The first known unmanned aerial vehicle was launched in 1839, during the attack on the city of Venice by Austrian soldiers. These were unmanned balloons filled with explosives.
How High Can a Drone Fly?
The height a drone can fly depends on the type of drone you are flying. If we’re talking about altitude in terms of physical limitations, the high-flying drones can reach up to about 5,000 meters. Anything beyond this height can cause the reduced air density to affect the drone’s propellers.
Other models have lower capabilities when it comes to altitude, depending on the model and manufacturer specifications.
There are also regulations and restrictions set by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on how high can a drone fly for recreational or commercial use.
This covers drones that are used for aerial photography and videography or for roof inspections, surveying and mapping, agriculture, aerial remote sensing, product delivery, and modeling tasks.
What Are the Different Types of Drones?
To gain a better understanding of how high can a drone fly in terms of physical limitations and limitations in altitude, let’s take a look at the different types of drones.
1. Military Drones
Military drones are also called UAVs or Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems (RPAS). They are typically used in situations where manning a flight can be dangerous or difficult.
Military drones serve as surveillance tools 24/7 with each UAV capable of staying in the air for up to 17 hours at a time to send back real-time images of activity.
The United States Air Force makes use of a wide range of drones, from small intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance craft to medium-sized ones as well as large spy planes. How high can a drone fly in military terms? It would be safe to say that the sky’s the limit.
Some drones that the US Air Force have used in the past include:
1. MQ-1B Predator
2. MQ-9 Reaper
3. Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk
2. Space-Borne Drones
Space-borne drones are unpiloted aircraft or spacecraft which include cargo spacecraft, and satellites. Technically, space drones are not classified as drones because they operate beyond the earth’s atmosphere; so for space-borne drones, “how high can a drone fly” is really an irrelevant question.
The best example of a space UAV is the X-37B which resembles the space shuttle as a miniature version.
3. Commercial Drones
The limited use of commercial drones has been allowed since 2016. Construction work, agriculture, public safety, aerial photography, and videography are some industries that have been using commercial drones.
Popular high-altitude commercial drones being sold in the market include:
1. DJI Phantom 4 Pro
2. Autel X-Star Premium
3. Yuneec Typhoon H
4. Hubsan X4 H502S
5. Ionic Stratus
4. Recreational Drones
Recreational drones are used mainly for enjoyment, personal interests, and hobbies. Some top-rated recreational drones include:
DJI Mavic Air
The DJI Mavic Air is a foldable drone that can easily fit in your backpack or jacket pocket. It has a camera resolution of 12MP, is capable of capturing 4K video at 60 frames per second, and a battery life of 21 minutes. This drone is capable of tracking moving objects and taking spherical video.
DJI Mavic 2 Pro
The DJI Mavic 2 Pro is also foldable, with a camera resolution of 20MP. However, it’s incapable of shooting 4K at 60 frames per second.
The DJI Spark is ultra-light and has controller-free gesture controls and automatic quick shot modes. This drone can be controlled using your smartphone. However, being so lightweight affects its stability when in flight.
DJI Phantom 4
The DJI Phantom 4 has a sturdy construction, object-avoidance technology, and a dedicated remote control that connects to a smartphone app. It has a camera resolution of 12.4 MP and stable 4K video recording capabilities. The only issue is battery life (which is around 15 to 20 minutes).
Parrot Bebop 2
The Parrot Bebop 2 is a mid-range drone with a wide range of features like shake-free video recording, 14MP camera resolution, a fisheye lens, and stabilization software. However, battery life is relatively short so it would be worth getting a spare.
Other FAA Regulations On The Use Of Commercial And Recreational Drones
Besides the 400-feet maximum altitude regulation, there are other rules set by the FAA regarding the legal and safe use of drones.
- Maintaining A Visual Line Of Sight
- No Flying Over People And Vehicles
- No Flying At Night And During Inclement Weather
- New Regulations
- No-Fly Zones
- Flight Exam
In discussing the matter of how high can a drone fly, we’ve tackled two very important aspects: the physical maximum altitude limitations of drones and the maximum altitude allowed by FAA regulations for commercial and recreational drones.
These regulations are in place for a reason: to ensure individual safety as well as national security, especially in controlled airspaces. Flying a drone is just like flying a plane so always adhere to these rules whenever you have a drone in flight.