What is the maximum height you feel comfortable flying your drone? To answer that question, you have to evaluate a number of factors; where are you flying (what country, state and city), when you are flying (visibility), why are you flying (for hobbyist or commercial purposes), exemptions and certifications you have, and what if any special permission you have asked for, and subsequently received.
For example, in the US, to be a legal, commercial drone pilot, you need a Section 333 Exemption, a Sport Pilot Certificate or better rating and a COA. Many commercial drone pilots that I know try very hard to begrudgingly work within the constraints of the “blanket” COA provided by the FAA. This COA, while available for use by any Section 333 Exempted drone operator, prevents operators from flying above 200 feet.
I said begrudgingly before because this is 200 feet lower then the recommend 400 foot flight ceiling that hobbyist drone operators must fly under. If this seems backwards, it’s actually not, commercial drone operators that need to fly higher must request a custom COA. As I mentioned above, the 200 foot limit is part of the “blanket” COA.
That being said, I think we can all agree that regardless of where, when, why and what exemptions and certifications you may have, that flying your drone to 11,000 feet is dangerous, even if they are capable of it.
A European drone operator, Tollymaster, decided he disagreed, and then used his DJI Phantom 2 to capture a flight straight up, over 2 miles in the air. The video was briefly posted to YouTube, then subsequently removed. Tollymaster’s YouTube account was then subsequently “terminated due to repeated or severe violations of our Terms of Service.”
Hobbyist drones aren’t supposed to fly too far from the ground. In the United States, drones are permitted to go no higher than 400 feet, unless they have special exemptions from the FAA. In the European Union, flights are limited to 500 feet above the ground. No matter the continent, everyone can agree that 11,000 feet is way too high for a quadcopter. Which might be why, shortly after posting a video of his DJI Phantom 2 drone soaring more than 2 miles high on March 3rd, YouTube user Tollymaster removed the video from the internet.
Dutch drone hobbyist blog DroneWatch kept a copy of the video, which you can see here. (Their post is titled “Idiot Brings A Hobby Drone To Height Of 3.4km” or, in the original Dutch, “Idioot brengt Hobbydrone Tot Hoogte Van 3,4 KM.”)
Here is a link to the video at DroneWatch. I’d share it directly, but as I indicated above, it’s no longer available on YouTube. Obviously it’s been removed because they do not want to encourage any copycats.
So what was DJI’s response to this incident?
“DJI encourages safe and appropriate use of our technology and does not condone any improper activities, modifications or unsafe actions. We have long encouraged customers to educate themselves about safe flying practices and be aware of local rules and restrictions and continue to do so.
“Both we and regulators seek the same thing – safer skies. And we work closely with them to ensure rules and regulations are made based on facts and common sense and fairness to all who share the skies.”
This is obviously very, very, very unsafe and shouldn’t be tried. Furthermore, actions like this endanger the entire drone industry, so please think before you plan your next record-breaking flight. Don’t fly stupid, get educated. It’s simple, just follow the Know Before You Fly rules that Drone Universities endorses and you will be fine. Even better than that, get proper drone operator training from a reputable drone college.