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.
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.
While, as I show in this article, you can increase any drone's range pretty easily, it's way harder to do the same for altitude limitations, as because air gets thinner there are mechanical limitations after a point.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
Let's see some more details you should know about high flying drones and their limitations.
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.
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.
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:
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.