The whole reason why drones are so awesome is because they allow us to push the boundaries and explore as far as the eye can see. Unfortunately, rules and regulations limit this dream a bit. So how far can you fly a drone legally?
According to the FAA, your drone must always be within line of sight, (which can be up to 3 miles.) That means if you fly your drone far enough that you lose sight of it, you would technically be flying your drone illegally. However, this does depend on a few things.
What would it depend on? Well, some states and counties have their own laws. It also depends on visibility, and if there are any no-fly zones or geofences in the area.
But before we get into that, how far exactly is “Line of Sight”
How Far is “Line Of Sight”?
Because the FAA didn’t give us an actual distance, this is all we have to go off of. So the only way we can know how far we can fly our drones is by finding out of far “line of sight” is. So how far is it?
Before I can answer that question, first let’s look into what line of sight actually means. According to the oxford dictionary, it means;
A straight line along which an observer has an unobstructed vision.Oxford Dictionary
So as long as there is nothing between you and your drone, technically you can fly out as far as the horizon.
So you’re still pushing for an exact answer? Consider this. The curve of the earth begins to become noticeable at around 3 miles. So if you wanted a direct answer, I would say that you can legally fly your drone out for as far as 3 miles.
Now before you get too excited, there are a few things you need to consider. Make sure you know your country, state, and even county drone laws.
Some common areas to keep your drone away from:
- Don’t fly over or close to airports, military bases, and helipads.
- Don’t take off or land in national parks and state parks.
- Don’t take-off or land in district lands.
- Don’t fly over or near to crowds of people.
- Don’t fly over, or take off/land in urban Areas.
INSIDER TIP: Want to fly out as far as possible? Increase your line of sight. You can do this by launching your drone from the top of a steep hill or mountain. Sorry Floridians, I can’t help you out here!
The Highest You Can Fly Your Drone
Does all this mean you can fly your drone as high as possible into space? I mean technically you can’t lose “line of sight” if you go up. Unfortunately for us keen explorers, the FAA actually thought of this and gave us a limit here to keep us from flying our drones out into space.
Here are the laws according to the FAA:
- In the United States, you can legally fly your drone 400 feet above ground level high.
- In the United Kingdom, you can legally fly your drone 500 feet above ground level high.
However, there is one exception to this rule. If you’re within a 400 ft radius of a structure, and if you have permission and the right certifications to inspect it, you can fly the drone 400 feet above the maximum altitude of the structure.
So for example; If the structure is 1200 feet high, your new maximum altitude for the drone is 1600 feet. But remember, only if you stay within a radius of 400 feet around the structure.
So why are we limited to 400 feet? The reason is simple. It’s all about safety! The law is designed to keep us out of controlled airspace. The last thing air traffic control, (ATC,) needs are thousands of drones flying around the aircraft that they are trying to direct safely.
What happens if you fly your drone above 400 feet?
Well, chances are that nothing will happen. However, as always it’s up to you to determine the risk.
If you do get caught, you could get arrested. And if not, you’ll definitely get hit with quite a big fine. The fine amount will vary depending on a few factors. But I’ve heard of a few cases where people breaking drone laws have been fined for up to $27,000. That alone is enough to stop me dead in my tracks.
And if you do crash your drone into another aircraft and it costs lives, the charges will be a lot more severe. So just don’t do it! It’s not worth risking the lives of other people.
If you’re going to ignore me and the risks, then please at least make sure you do it safely. Here’s how:
- Have a spotter keeping an eye out for other aircraft in the vicinity. If you spot any bring your drone back down immediately.
- Fly early in the morning or late at night. This makes spotting other aircraft a lot easier.
- Try FlightRadar24.com. If you clearly see that you’re in an active flight path, then move to another location. IMPORTANT: This app doesn’t show helicopters.
- On that note, be especially cautious for helicopters. They tend to fly a lot lower than other aircraft.
And again, this is worth repeating because it’s important. If you do decide to fly over 400 feet, just be aware that you are risking the lives of other people.
The Longest Range Drones?
Ok, so you’re ready to explore as far as the eye can see. It’s an exciting thought, isn’t it? Since you can explore up to 3 miles, the only thing holding you back now is the drone you decide on getting.
What affects how far a drone can fly? Well apart from the law, most of the time a drones battery life affects how far you can travel. For example, the DJI Mavic Air in the table below only has a lifetime of around 18min to 20min long.
On the other hand, a DJI Mavic 2 Pro has a battery life of around 30 min. So the longer your battery lasts, the further you’ll be able to fly.
NOTE: Speed and range of the receiver also need to be taken into consideration. The table below ranks drones based on their ranges. So a drone with the longest battery life, and furthers range will obviously travel the longest distance in real life.
To help make your decision easier, we researched and compiled some of the best drones you can use to fly the furthest.
Here’s a list of the longest range Drones with prices included:
|DJI Mavic Air||6.2 miles||20min||$1,198|
|DJI Mavic 2 Pro||4.9 miles||31min||$1,599|
|DJI Phantom 4 Pro & Pro+||4.3 miles||22min||$1,595|
|DJI Mavic Pro||4.3 miles||27min||$1,199|
|DJI Phantom 4||4.3 miles||22min||$1,595|
|DJI Phantom 3 4K||0.74 miles||22min||$899|
|Hubsan H501S||0.19 miles||8min||$99|
Fly out to some of these distances can be quite scary. Especially since you’re spending up to $1,600 on a drone. The last thing you want is for it to go missing.
So what happens if a drone flies out of range?
Most of the time your camera will go out of range before the drone goes out of range. In this case, nothing will happen. You’ll just lose your video. All you would need to do is press the “return home” button on your controller, and your drone will find it’s own way back.
Once the drone gets back into range your video should start streaming. At this point, you can safely take over the drone again.
INSIDER TIP: When flying your drone away into the distance, make sure you account for the wind direction and speed. A lot of people don’t account for this and end up running out of battery before the drone makes it home.
Can you fly a drone in residential areas? Your town, city, county and even state may have its own laws. However, as a rule of thumb, you can not fly a drone in a residential area.