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How high can drones fly? Exploring Limits & Regulations 2023

Updated in 2023 by Paul Posea
how high drones fly

If you’re a regular drone pilot, you must have asked yourself this question at least once: “How high can I fly my drone?”.

It’s such a common question that we’ve decided to write a full article about it in Dronesgator, the reason being that the answer isn’t a one size fits all kind of answer.

DJI drones for example, such as the DJI Mini 3, have a maximum service ceiling of 19,685 feet (6 km) above sea level.

While for other drones it can be completely different. The world record for the highest drone ever flown is 70,748 feet (21,562 meters) above sea level by the Zephyr, a solar-powered fixed wing developed by Airbus Defence and Space.

Understanding drone altitude limits is not only essential for safety reasons (and also to help you keep your drone safe from crashing) but also to ensure that we’re abiding by the rules and regulations. Because most of them are really touchy about altitude…

In this article, we’ll first cover the common factors that can influence flight altitude, rules and regulations, and how high you can fly your drone in multiple countries as well as how high popular drones can fly – so let’s get into it!

Common factors that influence drone altitude

As I said, there are 4 major factors that come into play when determining just how high a drone can climb. We’ll look into each one in detail:

1. Drone technology and capabilities 

First up, we have the ever-important drone technology and capabilities. Like any other gadget, not all drones are created equal. 

Some are designed to reach impressive heights, while others might not be quite as ambitious. Drones have different motors, propellers, and overall designs that can influence their ability to fly high. Generally, the more advanced and expensive the drone, the higher it can go, but there's always a limit (more on that later). 

If you've got yourself a top-of-the-line model, you're more likely to touch the clouds than if you're flying a budget-friendly drone that's better suited for low-altitude fun!

2. Drone battery & flight time

Next up on our list are battery life and flight time. As much as we'd love for our drones to have unlimited power, that's just not the reality. 

The truth is, the higher a drone flies, the more energy it consumes to fight gravity and maintain its altitude. This means that, eventually, the battery will drain, and your drone will have to come back down to Earth (literally)! 

Typically, most consumer drones have a flight time of around 20 to 30 minutes, so you'll want to plan your high-altitude adventures accordingly. It's also worth noting that as battery technology improves, we may see drones capable of longer flights and higher altitudes in the future. Fingers crossed!

3. Weather conditions

Now, let's talk about weather conditions. Just like you wouldn't want to fly a kite in a thunderstorm, certain weather conditions can seriously impact your drone's ability to reach higher altitudes. 

Wind, in particular, can be a real nuisance, as it can cause your drone to work harder to maintain its position, ultimately using up more battery life. Additionally, extreme temperatures can affect battery performance, making it difficult for your drone to reach its full potential. So, when planning your next high-altitude adventure, be sure to check the weather forecast and make sure the conditions are favorable for your drone.

4. Transmission & radio frequency

Your drone relies on radio signals to communicate with your remote controller, and these signals can only stretch so far. If your drone flies too high, it may venture out of range, causing you to lose control and, in some cases, potentially lose your drone altogether!

Most consumer drones have a maximum range of a few kilometers, so you'll want to keep this in mind when planning your high-altitude flights. Some high-end models may have longer-range capabilities, but always ensure you're flying within the legal altitude limits (which we'll get to in the next section).

And there you have it! These are the four major factors that influence just how high a drone can fly.

It's always important to understand the limits of your drone and the environment around you to ensure you don’t cause your drone to crash. But, of course, we also need to keep in mind the legal altitude limits. 

So, let's continue by exploring the ins and outs of drone altitude regulations in the next section. 


How High Can A Drone Fly Legally?

While drones may be capable of reaching impressive heights, it's essential to stay within the legal altitude limits to ensure everyone's safety.

Legally, a drone can fly up to 400 feet above the ground. But it's important to note that altitude regulations can vary depending on the country you're in. While the 400-foot limit is standard in many places, some countries may have different rules, and it's crucial for drone pilots to familiarize themselves with local regulations before taking to the skies.

This altitude limit is set by most countries around the world and applies to all drone flights. Including both commercial drone pilots and consumer drone flight and is intended to prevent drones from interfering with other aircraft or causing safety hazards.

You can read up more on that by heading over here.

How high can you fly a drone in the U.S.A?

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States has a pretty clear rule when it comes to drone altitude limits…

According to the FAA, you can fly your drone for a maximum of 400 feet above ground level (AGL). 

This magic number applies to both hobbyist and commercial drone pilots, and it's a standard that's been adopted by many other countries as well. 

But why 400 feet, you ask? Well, it's a safety measure to help prevent collisions between drones and manned aircraft, which typically fly at higher altitudes. So, as much as you’d love to see your drone soar like an eagle, it's best to keep it below this limit to ensure everyone's safety.

And also to make sure you aren’t catching any felonies simply because you wanted to have some fun!

Exceptions to drone flight limit in the USA

Of course, there are always exceptions to any rule.

If you're a licensed drone pilot (meaning you've obtained a Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate in the U.S.), you might be able to fly higher in certain situations.

For example, if you're inspecting a tall structure like a tower or a building, you can fly up to 400 feet above the structure's highest point, as long as you stay within 400 feet horizontally of the structure. Pretty neat, huh? But remember, this exception only applies to licensed pilots performing specific tasks, so don't get too carried away!

Different drone models & their maximum altitude limit

Now, let's talk about the different drone models and their maximum altitude limits. 

Most consumer drones, like DJI's popular models, have built-in altitude limits to help you stay within legal boundaries. 

These limits can typically be adjusted within the drone's software, but it's always best to err on the side of caution and stay within the recommended 400 feet. 

FPV (first-person view) drones however, which are often used for drone racing and freestyle flying, might not have the same built-in restrictions, so pilots need to be extra mindful of their altitude to avoid running afoul of the law.

Drone altitude regulations around the world

How high can you fly your drone per country? I’ve got just the table for that! Below is a table of drone altitude limits within each of the countries with the most drone pilots.

CountryFlight Limit
Argentina400 ft
Australia400 ft
Brazil400 ft
Canada400 ft
China400 ft
France400 ft
Germany400 ft
India400 ft
Indonesia400 ft
Italy400 ft
Japan400 ft
Mexico400 ft
Netherlands400 ft
Poland400 ft
Russia400 ft
South Africa400 ft
Spain400 ft
Turkey400 ft
United Kingdom400 ft
United States400 ft

What happens if you violate drone altitude regulations?

Great question! Well, it’s as you’d expect…

Depending on the violation, you could either get charged with a misdemeanor or in some cases even a felony and serve jail time (or pay a huge fine).

The most common violation is exceeding the 400-foot altitude limit. In many countries, including the United States, flying a drone higher than 400 feet AGL can result in fines, penalties, or even the confiscation of your drone. 

The FAA has the authority to impose fines of up to $27,500 for civil violations, while criminal penalties can reach as high as $250,000 and imprisonment for up to three years! Needless to say, it's best to stay within the legal limits and keep your wallet (and freedom) intact.

Another common issue is flying too close to airports, military installations, or other restricted areas. As you may already know, drone pilots must stay at least five miles away from airports and avoid flying in controlled airspace without authorization. 

Violating these rules can result in serious consequences, including hefty fines and even criminal charges. It's also worth noting that flying too close to emergency response efforts, like wildfires or search and rescue operations, can lead to penalties and endanger the lives of responders and the public.

More on that in my previous drone laws article.

The difference between range and height limit

It’s very important to make the distinction because while altitude can be considered part of a drone’s range, it’s not what “drone range” usually means.

If a drone has a range of, let's say, 10 km, it doesn't mean it can fly as high as 10 km. On the flip side, if a drone's range is 1 km, it won't be able to go beyond 1 km in height. Bummer, I know, but that's just how it works.

So, here's the deal: distance is limited only by the strength of the signal, while height has a couple of factors holding it back – signal strength and air pressure (or air density), and, of course, those pesky regulations.

Now, as I mentioned in this article, it's pretty simple to give your drone's range a little boost. But when it comes to altitude limitations, things get a bit trickier. As you climb higher, the air gets thinner, and that eventually leads to some mechanical limitations. 

How high can a drone fly physically?

In a perfect world with no regulations and limits on how high you can fly your drone, you’d wonder about the physical limits on your drone instead of legal ones.

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 behavior 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:

Absolute Ceiling

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 the total drag so the drone stops climbing. It isn’t specified by any manufacturer because it usually is too dangerous to test.

Max Service Ceiling Above Sea Level

Also recommended as a maximum takeoff altitude, this is the maximum altitude where the drone can still climb with a maximum of 100 ft per minute.

You can still climb after this height, but the ascent speed is quite limited. It is used by manufacturers like DJI to establish the max height a drone is

recommended to be launched from.

Maximum Range

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 the width range.

How high can popular drones fly?

Legally speaking all drones have the limit of 400ft that we spoke about, but in theory, each drone has its own physical flight limit. I’ve prepared a comparison for you below so you can get a clear idea of where your favorite drone stands.

SAUrq kSavmTFJNiAsEe12 jPBnzpefe XeUon t4L5HI8EJeil3pUbrll 5J0xd43 ItVi4D6zi0nGCmkRvQ0pmldu1IdOBryvqVRJOsV73n tLh04jPPKQQ2r 1PNg9KLKjJ8sU33wPhGOlI3RaQ

If you’d like to know which drones I recommend that can not only fly the highest but also offer you the best value for your money, head over here to my previous article. 

faq what should you look for in a drone

FAQ (Frequently asked questions)

In this section we're taking a look at some specific questions that people ask me, which might also be useful to you.

How high can DJI drones fly?

This is a pretty common question since most drone pilots usually own a DJI drone or two.

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 of 120m, but they can be changed from the app to 500m.

What is the maximum take-off altitude?

If you are to launch your 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).

What drone can fly the highest?

Usually, it’s the type of drone that is either used in the military or industrially.

The world record for the highest drone ever flown is 70,748 feet (21,562 meters) above sea level by the Zephyr, a solar-powered fixed wing developed by Airbus Defence and Space.

How high do military drones fly?

Military Drones Fly Up To 50,000 ft and can even surpass that. Military drones fly at higher altitudes than commercial drones, with military drones such as The MQ-20 Avenger capable of a maximum allowable altitude of up to 50,000 ft (15,240 meters) above sea level.

How far can a drone fly horizontally?

This is usually referred to as a drone’s range and has many factors that influence it.

A high-end consumer drone can have a range of roughly 2.5 to 4.5 miles (4 to 8 kilometers), whereas a toy drone may only have a range of 20 to 100 yards. A common range for mid-level consumer drones is between 400 meters to three kilometers or 0.25 to 1.5 miles.

Conclusion & Final thoughts

I get it, you get your hands on the remote controller and you don’t even spend 10 minutes flying before you get the urge to soar higher and test out the limits of your drone.

But, if you’ve read the bulk of this article you probably realize by now that regulations around drone altitude are very tight, and for good reason. Besides, I think 400ft (120m) is more than enough to get really stunning footage, you don’t need to go any higher unless you’re a daredevil.

I hope this article gave you a clear idea of how high you can fly your drone, both legally and physically. Remember to fly safe, and always follow the regulations where you’re from!

Hi, I'm Paul.
A big drone enthusiast, reviewing, comparing and writing about drones since 2015. I'm all about helping people enjoy and even monetize their hobby.

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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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