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Best High Altitude Drones compared in 2021

And how high can they fly
high-altitude-drones-and-how-high-can-drones-fly

If you’re looking to buy a high altitude drone or simply curious what the limits for drones are (both physical as well as legal), this article will guide you through everything you need to know.

Difference between range and height limit

If a drone can fly for let’s say 10 km in range, it doesn’t mean it can fly for 10 km high, but if a drone has a range of 1km, it won’t be able to go beyond 1km in height.

So, distance is limited only by signal strength, while height is limited by 2 factors: signal strength and air pressure (or air density)... and of course regulation.

What is the highest altitude a drone can fly?

The highest altitude a drone can fly is 10 km (33,000 ft), as has been registered with both military drones that can reach these heights as well as youtube videos with daredevils flying close to that height of a couple of KM.

How high can a drone fly Physically?

Drones that work with spinning propellers have a physical height limit of around 10 km (33.000ft). That is mainly because air is increasingly thinner the higher you go, and there’s less and less force that can maintain its weight in the air (pushing against the propeller blades).

You can see the video below where a drone can actually fly to that altitude of 33.000ft:

Keep in mind that this is very dangerous behaviour and you should fly within your local legal height limits.

So, when looking for how high a drone can actually fly (without any software limitations), you need to consider three things:

  1. Absolute Ceiling
    1. Absolute Ceiling is the highest altitude at which an aircraft can sustain level flight.At this altitude , the thrust of the engines is equal to to the total drag so the drone stops climbing
    2. The absolute ceiling isn’t specified by any manufacturer because it usually is too dangerous to test
  2. Max Service Ceiling Above Sea Level
    1. Also recommended as a maximum takeoff altitude
    2. This is the maximum altitude where the drone can still climb with a maximum of 100 ft per minute.
    3. You can still climb after this height, but the ascent speed is quite limited
    4. It is used by manufacturers like DJI to establish the max height a drone is recommended to be launched from
  3. Maximum Range
    1. If the maximum range of the drone (signal wise) is more limited than its ability to fly higher, then the drone will have the same height as width range.
drone-maximum-heights-compared-graphic

How high can a drone fly legally?

Consumer drones are allowed to fly up to 120m (400ft) in both the US and Europe for the safety of incoming planes or helicopters.

However, there is also a software limitation found in most drones ( especially DJI ones) that limits your flight at a certain height for safety reasons.

How high can DJI drones fly?

Most DJI drones these days have a maximum flight limiter in the software of 500m(1600ft) from the takeoff point, which is well over the line of sight and 120m (400ft) limitation of the current regulation.

By default DJI drones come with a basic limitation for 120m, but it can be changed from the app to 500m.

What is the maximum takeoff Altitude (flying from Everest)

If you are to launch the drone from an already high altitude, like Mount Everest, what would the maximum altitude be then?

Most Drone Manufacturers specify a maximum takeoff Altitude, for example, DJI has a maximum takeoff altitude for their drones somewhere between 4-6km (20.000 feet).

Considering Mount Everest is 8.9km in height from sea level, then you would be able to launch the drone from the 6 km point on Mount Everest (considering the weather would allow it) and fly for the legal limit of 120m (or 500m if you max the DJI flight height).

Here are the Maximum takeoff altitudes for DJI Drones:

  • DJI Mini 2 Maximum Altitude is 4 km
  • DJI Spark Maximum Altitude is 4 km
  • Mavic Pro Maximum Altitude is 5 km
  • DJI Air 2 and Air 2s Maximum Altitude is 5 km
  • Phantom 4 series Maximum Altitude is 6km
  • Mavic 2 Pro and Zoom Maximum altitude is 6 km

 

Best high altitude drones in 2021

best-drones-podium-arm

In this section we'll go through the main popular consumer and commercial drones to see how high they can fly normally with software limitation as well as their absolute limit. And of course see what else they can do.

1. HIghest Flying Consumer Drone (Autel Evo 2)

battery-icon-spec
40 min
range-icon-spec
9 km range
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7 km ceiling
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800m software height
PROS
  • Shoots in 6K and 8K
  • 10-bit color log 
  • 2.7K 120 fps slow-motion video capabilities
  • De-fogging mode
  • 20 MP one-inch sensor on the Pro
  • 12 optical cameras on the air frame
CONS
  • Flight was a bit rigid (but a recent update seems to have fixed it)

The highest flying Drone on this list is the Autel Evo 2, with a maximum service ceiling height of 7km, it’s 1 km more than what DJI has to offer.

If you want a high-altitude camera drone, made for professionals, this is it.

However, keep in mind that it’s still limited by the software, but the software limitation is also the highest on the list, recently being extended to a maximum of 800m (2600 ft) which is extremely high already. 

So the Autel Evo 2 is more than a drone that can fly high, it can also be launched from high altitudes, being able to fly almost close to the peak of Mount Everest.

However, the Evo 2 also made it on my list with one of the longest flight distance drones as well as longest battery life, being able to fly for an entire 40 minutes, a feat yet to be achieved by most drones of this size.

It’s made as a photographer and videographer drone, having a 1/2" sensor and a 48MP Quad Bayer, it’s one of the best quality sensors you can get around this price.

2.Unlimited software heigh (Parrot Anafi) - unlimited from software

battery-icon-spec
25 min
range-icon-spec
4 km range
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4.5 km ceiling
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Unlimited height
PROS
  • Really Quiet
  • 4k camera
  • can film 90 degrees up
  • lossless zoom
  • 21mp photos
  • a lot of flight modes
CONS
  • Card slot must be handled carefully

The Parrot Anafi was limited to a mear 150m until like one year ago, yet with a recent update they removed the software limitation entirely.

What you need to do is go under the safety menu, select Geofence to NO and you’re pretty much able to fly as high as you can.

There was a workaround until now, because while using the flight plan you had no altitude limit.

Keep in mind that the drone is still limited to a 4.5 km ceiling, so you can’t really fly it that high off the ground from sea level, if you’re on a mountain for example.

Regarding other aspects, the Anafi is one of the best consumer drones produced in the US, Parrot being a very reliable company and the specs and build quality are quite top-notch.

One differentiating factor is the fact that the camera can turn up too, as the gimbal is specially made.

3.Xiaomi Fimi x8 - 500m height limitation

battery-icon-spec
35 min
range-icon-spec
8 km range
range-icon-spec
4.5 km ceiling
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500 m software height
PROS
  • Cheap for what you get
  • Great 8 km range
  • 35 min battery life
  • Solid camera
  • 3 axis gimbal
  • GPS
  • Foldable design
CONS
  • No sensors

The Fimi x8 is one of the most popular consumer camera drones so I had to include it on this list, especially considering it has a similar altitude limitation as DJI drones.

It can fly up to 500m, limited from the software, and has a maximum ceiling of around 4.5 km, which makes it on par with some of DJIs drones.

The Fimi is a pretty solid competitor for DJI,  being able to fly for quite a long time and I have personally tested it, although an older version and it comes with a very high quality overall build, as expected from Xiaomi.

4.Skydio 2 - Lowest flying professional drone

battery-icon-spec
23 min
range-icon-spec
3.5km range
range-icon-spec
4.5 km ceiling
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130 m software height
PROS
  • Can shoot in slow motion 60fps 4k
  • fast speed of 36mph(58km/h)
  • 6 cameras for obstacle avoidance
  • the best tracking and avoidance on the market (for the price)
CONS
  • Not foldable
  • Limited height

The Skydio 2 is the best follow me drone you can buy for sports, but it’s definitely not a high altitude flyer, because it’s limited from the software to barely 130m (430 ft), yet the 4.5km max altitude ceiling is on par with the others.

However keep in mind that this drone is made for tracking, and if the tracking subject somehow reaches 130m from the initial point it will adapt and go beyond it.

The skydio 2 is made for action sports and tracking, and the camera is more than satisfactory for most uses, coming with both a 2 axis gimbal stabilization as well as EIS (electronic image stabilization).

5. DJI FPV drone - 6km above sea and 500m software

battery-icon-spec
20 min
range-icon-spec
10 km range
range-icon-spec
6 km ceiling
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500m software height
PROS
  • 150km/h max speed
  • Stable GPS
  • Great Image stabilization
  • Return to Home
CONS
  • Prone to crashing (like all FPV drones)

You can indeed create your own FPV drone with no limits to how high you can fly it, but it’s way safer to fly an FPV drone with GPS and automatic return to home at such high heights compared to an analog one.

The 20 min battery life also makes it one of the longest flying FPV drones in the hobby and that means you can reach higher heights more safely and be able to turn back.

The FPV feed is also quite amazing, at a max of 10 km and crystal clear Digital FPV.

The drone can reach 100 km/h in just 2 seconds and fly up to 140 km/h so it’s a different beast altogether compared to a typical camera drone.

6.DJI Mini 2 - Highest flying drone under 250 grams

battery-icon-spec
31 min
range-icon-spec
10 km range
range-icon-spec
4 km ceiling height
drone-icon-spec
500m software height
PROS
  • 4k crisp footage
  • 3 axis stabilized gimbal
  • under 250g
  • stable gps
  • very easy to control
  • return to home
  • flight modes
  • long battery life and range
CONS
  • No follow me option

You know the DJI Mini 2, an incredibly high quality foldable quadcopter under 250 grams that can shoot 4k stabilized footage.

But how high can the DJI Mini 2 fly?

The DJi mini 2 can fly at a maximum of 500m height, limited from the software, while the maximum takeoff altitude is 4km.

This means it can go well beyond most buildings out there, and considering the maximum takeoff altitude is 4km, you can still launch it from some of the tallest mountains without worrying (besides wind maybe).

The Mini 2 is my main travel drone and I simply love the quality footage (that’s indistinguishable from more expensive professional drones).

7.WingtraOne - High altitude fixed wing drone

battery-icon-spec
59 min
range-icon-spec
10 km range
range-icon-spec
5km ceiling
drone-icon-spec
2.5 km software limitation
PROS
  • Modular camera
  • Long range
  • Long battery life
  • Covers long distances fast
  • Professional ground station
CONS
  • An expensive option for pros

The WingtraOne is a VTOL(vertical takeoff drone) with fixed wings that is made for long range industrial flight, as well as high altitude flight.

The WingtraOne has special High-Altitude propellers and a 2.5km software limitation for safety. This means it can fly at some of the highest altitudes right out of the box. Considering this is a fixed wing, it also means it’s not so influenced by thinner air at higher altitudes.

Frequently asked questions

Let's see some more details you should know about high flying drones and their limitations.

Can a drone fly at 3000 feet?

Yes, Drones can fly well above 3000 feet, but most consumer drones are limited to fly at below 1600 ft for safety purposes.The upper limit of drones that aren’t limited can be upwards of a few kilometers, so even well above 10000 feet sometimes.

Can you hear a drone at 400 feet?

Yes, you can definitely hear a drone at 400 feet, even if it has silent propellers. I can hear most DJI drones I tested even above this height. But if there is ambient noise and you’re flying one of the smaller drones like the DJI Mini 2, there is a chance people won’t hear it.

Even so, the sound is quite faint, and not disturbing at that height, unless we’re talking about a bigger drone like a phantom or Inspire drone.

How high can military drones fly?

Military drones can fly at very high altitudes, so they aren’t seen by radars.

The ranges most military drones can fly are between 10,000ft (3 km) altitude and up to 50,000 ft (15 km) reaching suborbital altitudes.

Here are some of the highest flying military drones according to wikipedia:

  •  NATO - can reach 10,00 ft (3km)  and a 50 km range
  • MALE ( medium altitude, long endurance) can reach 30,000 ft (9 km) and 200 km range
  • MALE (high altitude, long endurance) can reach 50,000 ft (15 km) and unlimited range

Conclusion to high altitude drones

While it’s fun to find out how high drones can fly, and especially seeing videos with the highest flying drones, it’s definitely a very dangerous thing to do and in my experience, the best videos are made closer than  the 400 ft limit height, but even so, it’s in human nature to want to explore at the limits of our current technology.


paul posea
Paul Posea
Hi, I'm a long-time drone reviewer and I hope my articles and comparisons on this site as well as Dronesgator's youtube channel are of as much help as possible.

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