When looking over the specifications for a drone we usually care most about things like speed, range, endurance and camera quality. Most people don’t really care how high their drone can fly. To be honest, it’s not a subject I’ve given much thought to either. That is, until I saw this video of a guy flying his drone up to an insane 33 000 feet.
That got me wondering, just how high altitude can some commercial drones go? Which drones have the highest ambitions? Can any of them make it to space? OK, the last one is almost definitely not going to happen, but I’m still going to try and find the commercial drones with the highest altitude rating.
|Drone Model||Flight Time||Range||Camera||Max Service Ceiling Above Sea Level||Max Wind Speed Resistance|
|DJI Mavic 3 Pro||46 minutes||15 km||Tri-camera system.|
Hasselblad Camera 5.1K/50fps, 48 MP
|6000 m||10.5 m/s|
|DJI Mini 3 Pro||34 minutes||10 km||48 MP, 4K video||4000 m||8 m/s|
|DJI Air 2S||31 minutes||12 km||1" CMOS 20 MP 5.4K video||5000 m||10.7 m/s|
|Autel Robotics EVO 2 Pro||40 minutes||9 km||Sony 1"CMOS Sensor 6K HDR video||7000 m||17 m/s|
If you want to fly on Mount Everest, you might want to check out the DJI Mavic 3:
By that I mean these drones are not purpose-built, custom or otherwise physically modified products. It’s off-the-shelf altitude numbers we care about here, albeit with a software hack here and there.
The relatively new drone DJI Air 2S can reach altitudes of 16000 feet (based on experimental data I believe).
- Best Buy 2023 According to DroneGuru
- 31 minutes flight time
- Follow Me Features, 4-Directional Obstacle Sensing and more
- 1″ CMOS Sensor 5.4K Video
I managed to get my DJI Mini SE to 1600 feet, which is also pretty good for such a small drone.
Tips for Flying at High Altitude
Getting an aircraft to go higher and higher is not simply a case of mashing the throttle. There are plenty of factors that limit how high any flying machine can go. For one thing, it might be relatively calm near the ground, but as you go up winds can become much stronger than a rotorcraft can handle.
The air is also getting thinner and thinner, which means the rotors aren’t working as effectively. The temperature also goes down rapidly the higher you get. Lithium ion batteries lose performance as the temperature drops. Basically the further away from the Earth you get, the more determined nature is to bring you back down. So drones that can hit high altitude numbers are actually pretty impressive from a design perspective. Respect!
Also keep in mind that there’s a difference between max altitude above ground and above sea level (ASL). Many drones have high sea level altitudes, but will only go a set limited distance above ground. The numbers quoted here are meant to represent above ground altitudes, but in many cases it’s not clear which it’s meant to be. Where I can confirm it’s an ASL number I’ve noted it. Feel free to correct the figures in the comments if you have more info.
High Altitude Flying and Safety
Just because a drone is rated to reach a certain height, doesn’t mean it’s safe! The higher you go, the better the chances something will go wrong. You could lose the radio link or have a fly away thanks to strong winds. Usually users who want high altitudes usually have a specific purpose in mind, such as filming a structure that needs that sort of height. If you go up into the blue yonder you have to do it with the full knowledge that your drone might be going bye-bye.
Also keep in mind that the quoted altitudes are usually only achievable by removing software limiters. In some cases this might involve some hacking, which could invalidate your warranty.
High Altitude Drones and the Law
The video I included at the top of the article was made in Siberia, which apparently does not have much in the way of drone laws. So it was a perfectly-legal thing to try. However, in other parts of the world things are not so lax. In the USA under FAA laws you can’t fly your drone above 400 feet (about 120 meters) without special permission. So how high a drone can fly might not be very relevant to you if you’re not someone who can get that permission (such as a research scientist) and therefore will never need that ability. If you are in a profession that requires some height from your drone or live in a part of the world where it is legal to push the ceiling a bit, read on for the top contenders.
Factors to Consider When Buying a High-Altitude Drone
When it comes to purchasing a high-altitude drone, there are several key factors that you should consider to ensure you’re making the best choice for your needs. These factors will not only influence the drone’s performance but also its ability to meet your specific requirements. Let’s delve into these factors:
1. Flight Time: This is one of the most critical factors to consider. The flight time of a drone refers to how long it can stay in the air on a single charge. High-altitude drones often require more power to maintain stability and fight against wind resistance, which can reduce flight time. Therefore, look for a drone with robust battery life to ensure you can capture all the footage you need without having to land for a recharge.
2. Controller Range: The controller range is the maximum distance that the drone can travel from the controller while maintaining a stable connection. For high-altitude drones, a longer controller range is essential. This is because as the drone ascends, the distance from the controller increases, and a weak connection could lead to loss of control. Therefore, a drone with a long controller range will provide you with more freedom to explore and capture stunning aerial views.
3. Camera: If you’re buying a drone, chances are you’re interested in aerial photography or videography. The quality of the camera is paramount. Look for a drone that has a high-resolution camera with good low-light performance. Additionally, features like gimbal stabilization can help ensure smooth and clear footage, even at high altitudes where wind speeds can be higher.
4. Max Service Ceiling Above Sea Level: This refers to the maximum altitude that a drone can reach. If you’re specifically looking for a high-altitude drone, this factor is crucial. The higher the maximum service ceiling, the higher the drone can fly. However, remember to always abide by local drone regulations regarding maximum flight altitudes.
5. Max Wind Speed Resistance: High altitudes often come with higher wind speeds. A drone with a high max wind speed resistance will be able to maintain stability and control even in windy conditions. This is particularly important for capturing clear and steady footage at high altitudes.
Traxxas Aton (+-400 ft)
Traxxas isn’t the most well-known brand, but I’ve actually had more than a few run ins with their drones over the last few years and have come away generally impressed. They make some really fun racing drones and other non-autonomous quadcopters. With a strong sense of style, cool fuselages and strong performance there’s a lot to like here.
The Aton is no exception to this brand image. It looks like a flying race car and is decked out in bold colours and shapes. It looks every bit the racer and when you take of the limiter and switch it to sports mode, this thing really moves. Aton says it will exceed 50 mph, which is more than 80kph. It might not sound all that fast, but it’s 30% faster than, for example, the DJI Spark.
This also makes the Aton purpose-built for acrobatics and insane aerial stunts. The frame is made from composite material, which is one of the reasons it has a pretty steep price for a relatively basic drone. That doesn’t mean it can’t be used for some filming as well. It has a stable flight mode to take better footage and you can also get an Aton with the optional gimbal.
There’s no camera included either way, so you can simply attach the sports action camera compatible with the mount.
So why is the Aton on this high-altitude list? It’s because this drone tops out at just under the 400 foot mark. Which means no matter how high you push it, you’ll still be on the right side of the law in the USA. Make no mistake, 400 feet is still pretty darn high. The Aton just frees you from having to check how high you’re going to begin with.
The drone has an app interface and GPS system. Allowing for features such as position hold and return-to-home. Overall, this is one badass sports drone.
Here are our favorite high altitude drones:
The Blade Chroma’s design is clearly riffing pretty strongly on the DJI Phantom. At least at first glance. If you look a bit closer you’ll notice this drone hasn’t gone for the all-white, all-smooth look. Instead there are plenty of little accents and details which I quite like.
It has a 1080p/60fps camera with a three-axis gimbal and a price tag that puts it in the same ballpark as similar drones from well-known brands. Blade says you’ll get 30 minutes of flight time from the Chroma, which is pretty good at this price point.
Similar to a Phantom, the Chroma has tracking modes, automated flight patterns and various safety features that mean even a novice pilot won’t be wrecking it. The included transmitter also has a large 5.5” touch screen built in. Really it has a lot of bang for buck. You can also buy versions of this drone with no camera or a different model of camera.
In terms of altitude, the Chroma is software-limited to 400 feet, but I’ve seen account of people hitting altitude of more than 1000 feet. This drone is getting on in years and isn’t even listed on the Blade home page as far as I can see, but might still be a viable mid-range option. Even if you have to pick up a used one.
I have never heard of Autel Robotics, to be honest. Looking up their website yields some very interesting drones. The X-Star Premium is an upgraded model of their X-Star. It improves on the original in several ways, particularly when it comes to video transmission range.
The X-Star comes with a 4K camera and 1.2 mile video transmission range. It’s autonomous and supports both GPS and GLONASS. This premium bundle also comes with a 64GB memory card as standard. A small thing, but nice to have in the box. Also, if you’re taking 4K footage 64GB isn’t all that much.
It uses the Starlink App, which lets you fiddle with all the different setting as you expect, while also acting as the live feed monitor. The transmitter has a phone/tablet clamp for that very purpose.
In terms of altitude the X-Star is limited to the regulation 400 feet altitude, but I have ready several people claiming it can be pushed up to 3300 ft with the software limitation removed. The thing is, I can’t find any solid instructions on how that’s supposed to work and the official documentation doesn’t mention anything I could find. So take this particular altitude figure with a grain of salt.
Yuneec has been making a real name for itself and is a truly viable alternative to DJI and its range of class-leading drones.
The Q500 in question here is an absolute beast and incredibly well-priced for what you get. The onboard camera on this model will do 4K/30fps or 1080/120fps.
The Q500 has been widely praised as a solid aircraft that provides a stable platform for amateur videographers and photographers. This comes with the ST10+ ground station, which has a built-in screen. The same basic unit we saw with the Blade Chroma.
If you are dropping several thousand dollars on a drone rather than several hundred, you expect great things from it. The Inspire 2 is a professional drone meant for Hollywood productions and super-serious projects.
The Inspire 2 can be equipped with a 5.2K camera. Incredibly solid intelligent flight modes and really cool landing gear that lifts completely out of the camera’s view. It has a respectable flight endurance too, given the hefty payload and technological density. DJI says you’ll get between 25 and 27 minutes depending on which camera you choose.
Does the Phantom 4 even need an introduction? This is the latest iteration of the drone model series that launched DJI into the market leader it is today.
Like other high-end drones in the DJI stable, the Phantom 4 benefits from advanced vision systems and high levels of autonomous flight capability.
You get a 4K/30fps camera with a very effective gimbal. This produces footage that certainly looks pretty professional, although DJI doesn’t market the Phantom as anything beyond “enthusiast”. You’ll have to look to the Inspire for Hollywood aspirations.
At this point DJI have refined just about everything about their software to the small details of the design have been polished to a shine. This is one of the most mature drone platforms on the market.
It also has the highest ASL altitude rating here. While the stock drone is limited to 400 feet above ground, it can operate almost 20 000 feet above sea level!
What Drones Reaches the Highest Altitude?
It’s surprisingly tricky to get a straight answer when looking for drones that can climb to the highest heights.
There also seems to be a rather one-sided decision by drone makers to limit their drone in the factory to FAA specifications, despite having enormous service ceilings. It’s particularly irksome when there are plenty of places on Earth where it is neither dangerous nor illegal to go much higher than the US government feels comfortable with.
Hopefully that nanny-like attitude will change eventually to giving the pilot the responsibility to obey their local laws. Still, I can’t help but be amazed at how far the actual flight capabilities of consumer drones has come.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is the best high altitude drone available in 2023?
Right now, the best choice for a high-altitude drone is likely to be the DJI Mavic 3. It just performs so well at these altitudes. It can reach a maximum altitude of up to 5,000 meters and comes with a 5.1k Hasselblad camera for capturing stunning aerial footage. Other competitive options in the market include the Autel Evo 2, DJI Air 2s and the Anafi.
2. Can the Dji mini 3 pro handle high altitudes?
The Dji Mini 3 pro is a capable consumer drone designed for aerial photography, videography, and casual drone flying. While it has a decent maximum altitude of 4,000 meters, its performance in high-altitude regions might be affected due to its small size. If you plan to fly your drone primarily at high altitudes, you might want to consider a larger and more powerful drone like the DJI Mavics 2 or 3, or Autel Evo
3. How do high altitudes affect the sensor performance of a drone?
At high altitudes, atmospheric conditions can have an impact on the sensor performance of a drone. Low air pressure and temperature might lead to reduced sensitivity in sensors like cameras and obstacle detection systems. This can make it difficult for the drone to accurately capture aerial footage or avoid obstacles. To mitigate these effects, opt for a drone that is specifically designed to handle high-altitude environments.
4. What are considered high altitudes for drones?
High altitudes for drones typically refer to altitudes above 3000m above sea level. However, some drones like the Autel Evo 2 and Anafi can fly up to 6000m.
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