Drones were created to fly. Before getting drowned in all the technical stuff and feature, remember that these things were made to take flight. Knowing the exact drone flight capabilities will allow users to properly control them and get the most out of the rest of their other features. It is indicated in the specs of the drone one is interested in.
Keep in mind that there are factors such as battery life and attachment weights that will affect a drone’s flight capability. All of the information contained in this article are mentioned considering optimal conditions for most consumer or commercially available drones.
Before getting started…
Since the topic is all about flying, this would be a good time to mention about the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) rules for flying drones. All the nitty-gritty guidelines list, including commercial drone use, is found here.
Those planning to use drones for personal/recreational use, the aircraft needs to be registered if it weighs more than half a pound (0.23 kilograms) and under 55 pounds (25 kilograms). There is a line-of-sight flight rule, and drones must be flown five miles (eight kilometers) from airports. Advanced notice should be sent to airport control if there are plans to fly them closer.
For those planning to use drones for commercial use, a license is required on top of the drone registration. Here’s a list of testing centers where people can prepare for getting their own remote pilot certificate or license.
Testing centers usually charge around $150 for the initial exam which is required for the pilot certificate application. Applications are validated within 10 days. Applicants then receive instructions for printing a temporary airman certificate with a 120-day validity. The FAA mails a permanent Remote Pilot Certificate within that 120-day window.
On a more serious note, there have been cases of injuries and even deaths due to drone-related use. Please consider everyone’s safety before flying a drone and follow government regulations regarding their use.
How high (z-axis or lift) do drones fly?
Technically speaking, high-altitude drones can fly to as high as 3.73 miles (six kilometers). On the average, they can go to altitudes between 656 feet (200 meters) to around two miles (three kilometers).
Legally speaking, though, due to the line-of-sight rule most drones are flown within 400 feet (121 meters) unless one is flying for commercial use with pilot license. Hobbyists flying their drones higher than this could face fines and/or jail time.
Low altitude drones, on the other hand, can sometimes fly no more than 164 feet (50 meters) due to their size not being enough to withstand stronger elements and transmitter range limitations.
What determines how high a drone can fly?
As mentioned in before in this article and even in the previous one, a drone’s flight performance is greatly affected by the number of attachments (or features, so to speak) it has as well as how much such load consumes power.
Other factors that affect a drone’s flight capability includes the following:
1. Weather Conditions
Here’s how various weather conditions affect a drone in flight:
- Hot Temperature – cause motors to work harder to generate more lift; could potentially lead to overheating and damage
- Cold Temperature – affects efficiency of lithium polymer (LiPo) battery; could cause batteries to experience below critical voltage, cutting off motors
- Rain, Snow, Fog, Humidity – affects the rotor spin or cause water damage to the internal parts
- Wind – affects overall positioning, holds and maneuvering; causes motor to work harder
2. Drone Design
This mainly affects the decision customized drone creators make. One doesn’t need to be an expert in aerodynamics, but the basics need to be understood.
- Number of motors – a separate motor is required for each blade/arm; depends on drone purpose (hovering, exploration, payload carrying, etc.); a slower spinning, higher torque motor is ideal for bulkier models; a faster spinning one is great for racing; more motors allow for better control and performance but require much more power and heavier frame
- Propeller – can be made from plastic or carbon fiber; frame should be match max propeller size and purpose; smaller ones provide faster spins, bigger (and heavier) ones support higher payload
- Battery – measured by kilovolts (kv) or rotor revolutions per minute (RPMs); faster and lighter builds need about 1400kv, while slower and heavier builds need 300-900kv IF the right battery, motors and propellers complement each other; more cells, more power but heavier
- Frame – can be made from plastic or carbon fiber; center supports the most weight; dictates the support and strength of drone; heavier frames provide more support but less lift while lighter ones are easier on the lift but prone to breaking
- Weight – most batteries match the default weight of the drone itself
A combination of all these factors (including all the ones mentioned before) will affect the drone’s overall flight capabilities.
How fast (thrust) do drones fly?
This is where the FAA rules come in to play once more. On the average, most hobbyists fly their drones at five to 10 miles per hour (eight to 16 kilometers per hour) with speeds topping anywhere between 30mph (48kph) – 50mph (80.5kph).
This is also due to all the attachments that most drones have. Depending on the build and purpose, it can go much faster technically but the FAA imposed a legal speed limit of a 100mph (161kph). The official Guinness World Record for the fastest drone belongs to a 1.77-pound (800 gram) racing drone which clocked 163.5mph (263.13kph).
How far (x- and y-axis or range) do drones fly?
Generally, long range drones can fly out from a minimum of 656 feet (200 meters) to a maximum of 4.35 miles (seven kilometers) while short range drones may not get farther than 131.23 feet (40 meters). Keep in mind that drone controls affect its range.
Wi-fi can reach only as far as 300 feet (92 meters) outdoors operating on the 2.4GHz band, considering line-of-sight both technically and legally (FAA requires line-of-sight for flying these, remember).
Obstacles hinder the wi-fi from reaching another device, in this case the drone controller. Consumer drones operating on radio waves, however can operate farther up to about over half a mile (one kilometer).