How High Can Drones Fly?

David Lemay16 Jan 2022

Drones can fly pretty high, depending on their power and the capacity of their battery. They can reach altitudes of up to 20,000 feet, but for safety reasons, the legal limit for drones is 400 feet in the United States and 500 feet in the European Union.

Different drones have different capabilities, which is why there are different limits on how high they can fly. Regardless of your drone's ability to fly at high altitudes, it is important to know that the law requires that your drone be kept below 400 feet in height. This applies regardless of your drone's capabilities.   

Does the FAA have restrictions on how high you may fly? 

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has set some pretty important rules when it comes to flying drones. The height rule is the most important one to remember, as you should never fly your drone higher than 400 feet above the ground. However, commercial drone pilots may apply for a waiver to exceed that limitation in certain defined situations.

 The 400-feet rule exists to ensure the safety of manned aircraft. Planes and helicopters typically take off from closer to the ground, but this shouldn't be a problem for drone operators, as drones are not allowed to fly near airports. The aeroplane or helicopter should be far away from the airport where drones are allowed to fly, at least 500 feet in the air.  

To prevent any close encounters between manned aircraft or drones, a buffer of 100 feet between 500 and 400 feet was created. In the UK, the drone limit is 500 feet. This is because they didn't put in a buffer between drones' maximum limits and the altitude at which most manned planes begin their activities.

Five Tips to remember when Flying High Altitude

It is important to remember that the drone will start at 400 feet above the ground and not 400 feet as you can see in its altimeter. If you are 100 feet above the ground and your drone takes off, but you're on top of a building, it will still start at zero feet. The drone's altimeter records at the point of takeoff, not how high you are.

Before you take stunning panoramic photos from the skies, here are some things you should consider.

  •  Gain flight experience before you fly at high altitudes
  •  Always check your battery before you take off
  •  Be ready for strong winds when you climb higher
  •  Avoid restricted areas like military, stations and crowded area
  • Avoid flying near airports

If you fly in a mountainous area you can climb more than 400ft from your takeoff point as long as you don't rise more than 400ft above the ground. While passing, manned aircraft might push their limits and get closer to a mountaintop. Even if your legal limits are met, don't risk a collision.

You will need to have special permission if your flight takes you above 400 feet. This is not the case for commercial drone pilots. They are the ones most likely to fly over 400 feet when inspecting tall buildings with their drones.

Ensure you don't exceed the height limits…

 Although you may be granted permission to fly above 400 feet, drones today have a limiter that prevents them from flying over 400 feet. They can't fly above 400 feet, but this is because of their firmware. Some drones allow you to disable the limit, while others won't. If you need to fly above 400 feet, you might need to buy a commercial drone.

Know the technology limitations regarding drone altitude

We now know the legal limits for drone flight. Let's take a look at the technology limitations regarding the drone altitude. Most drones have a limit built in that prohibits them from flying higher than 400 feet because of the legal limitations. These are not the drone's actual limits, as drones that do not have a built-in limit can fly over 400 feet. This is quite a high limit and can be difficult to achieve if you don't have special authorization. If you didn't get that authorization, however, the maximum drone height, regardless of its power, should be 400 feet.

Military Drones

The skies are buzzing with military drones! Not only are they being used to fight wars, but they are also in use for tasks such as security and traffic control over non-warring territories. They are also powerful tools to help fight forest fires. There are many innovative uses for these amazing machines, and we’re happy to report that they’re not all just killing machines! Particularly the ones equipped for life-saving efforts.

Nano and micro-drones

The Black Hornet, a tiny drone that British soldiers use to spy on enemies in Afghanistan, is just one example of the many nano- and micro-drones that have been hovering over actual battlefields for many years. With a 1-inch-by-4 inch size, the Black Hornet can hover for as long as 25 minutes on a single charge. The digital data link to the terminal has a range up to 1 mile (1.6 km).

Small tactical drones

The FULMAR is a lightweight surveillance drone that can fly for up to 12 hours and has a range of up to 120 kilometres. It is perfect for reconnaissance and intelligence gathering, as well as other tactical operations. Another drone of this class is Aladin, which is made by EMT in Germany, but it only has a range limit of 15 km.

Medium-sized Reconnaissance Drones

The Heron is a medium-sized drone that is used for tactical and reconnaissance purposes by the US, Canada, and Australia. It is made by Israeli Aerospace Industries and can fly up to 52 hours from a height of 10,000 m. The LUNA is also used by the German company EMT Penzberg. The Heron is more expensive than this reconnaissance drone but it has a range of only 100 km. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have also purchased LUNAs.

Large combat and surveillance drones

The Reapers are one of the most advanced and lethal large combat drones in the world. They are armed with air-to-surface missiles and laser-guided bombs, have a range exceeding 1,000 miles and can fly for up to 14 hours without stopping. They are used by many NATO air forces for reconnaissance and combat operations.

The Global Hawk can fly at an altitude up to 18,000 metres above sea level, and its main mission is signals surveillance.

To wrap it up…

Despite seeming like an absolute limit, the 400-foot rule for drones is quite flexible. Drones can take off from higher altitudes if they're flying near a large structure, and pilots can request a waiver to fly above 400 feet AGL. Ultimately, though, safety is the number one priority, so always give way to manned aircraft.

David Lemay

David Lemay

I'm David Lemay, a lover of tech and have had an interest in drones for years. Bought my first few drones, before I started building my own. I want to share my passion with others, so I started this site to help others who want to get into the hobby.

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