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How High Can RC Planes and Helicopters Go?

RC planes and helicopters have been popular for years, but as technology has advanced, their features have continued to improve. RC planes and helicopters now have bigger batteries that run more efficiently, giving users many more possibilities than before. Since these devices can now fly much higher, some may wonder how high they can operate their RC aircraft.

How high can RC planes and helicopters fly? The maximum altitude allowed for flying RC planes and helicopters is 400 feet above ground level in the United States. Planes and helicopters can go much higher than that but they would be breaking the law.  Other countries may have different restrictions, so it is always best to check regulations on RC aircraft flight before flying your device in another country.

This article will explain various laws regarding the flight of RC aircraft, give advice on how to fly your devices, and discuss how to be safe when operating RC planes and helicopters.

How High Can RC Planes and Helicopters Go?

While you may be tempted to fly your RC aircraft as high as you can out of curiosity, you must stop to consider any legal restrictions on how high you can fly them. Since RC vehicles have advanced significantly over the years, aviation authorities have had to make laws limiting how high they can fly to protect human-crewed aircraft.

As of July 2018, the following restrictions have been placed on RC aircraft flight by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA):

  • You cannot fly your RC plane or helicopter more than 400 feet above the ground in any Class G airspace.
    • Class G airspace is the name given to any airspace where there is no manned air traffic, such as commercial airplanes and helicopters.
  • You cannot fly your RC vehicle at all in areas that are considered controlled airspaces, like airports and the areas around them.
  • You cannot fly your RC aircraft over people that are not participating in the activity.
  • You cannot fly your RC vehicle within a covered structure or inside of an unmoving vehicle.
  • You cannot fly your RC aircraft from a moving vehicle unless you are in an unpopulated area.

Other notable regulations on the flight of RC planes and helicopters include:

  • You can only fly during daylight, which is 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset.
  • You can fly your craft during dusk if you have proper anti-collision lighting.
  • You must be able to see three miles in front of you to be able to fly your RC plane or helicopter.
  • You cannot fly your RC aircraft faster than 100 miles per hour.

Note: These are the official rules for RC aircraft flight in the United States. It may vary in other countries and the FAA could certainly change these rules in the future. 

Are There Other FAA Regulations for RC Aircraft?

Even though RC planes and helicopters are small in size, they can interfere with things in the sky. That’s why they fall into a specific category of FAA regulations that govern what they can and can’t do. There are also many things you must do before you can fly your radio-controlled device.

Before flying your RC vehicle, you must be aware of the following:

  • The aircraft must be registered. You can register it online on the FAA website.
  • If recreational flyers intentionally violate any safety rules, they will be liable for criminal and civil penalties.
  • The flyer needs to fill in a notarized affidavit that gives all the information about the device and themselves, including details like the device serial number, engine type, and much more.
  • A bill of sale or information on how the device was obtained is required.
  • If the aircraft is being registered in the U.S., the owner needs to be a U.S. citizen.
  • An N-number will be given to the aircraft at the point of registration.
  • Registration is needed for all RC aircraft that weigh between 8.82 oz (250 grams) and 55.12 lbs (25 kilograms).

Are Changes Coming in the Future to the FAA Regulations of RC Aircraft?

According to the FAA, RC aircraft operators will be required to pass an online aeronautical course, which will prove the individual knows how to fly their vehicle correctly and safely. There will also be guidelines released by the FAA for community-based RC aircraft organizations. These changes are being gradually rolled out.

When these devices first came out, regulations were relaxed because the power of them was not truly known, but they have continued to advance. The laws will only continue to evolve as these devices become more powerful and used.

What if the Device was Registered in Another Country?

It’s not uncommon for people to move to a new country. However, if their RC plane or helicopter has been registered in another country, it must be registered in the U.S. before flying.

This is done by contacting the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to obtain a statement that will tell the FAA that the device is no longer registered in the original country. You cannot have the device registered in two countries, so if you will be going back and forth between the countries, it would be wise to think about where you would use the device the most before choosing where you register it.

As stated by the Federal Aviation Administration, you must include the following words in your registration request:

“I affirm the information and statements provided herein are correct, the aircraft is not registered under the laws of any foreign country, and I am the owner.”

Be aware that this needs to be officially signed and make sure all the information you are including is correct so that there are no problems down the line.

What Is An N-Number?

The N-number is like a vehicle registration plate. The RC aircraft receives its N-Number when it is registered. If there are any issues and the device is involved, it will be easy to contact the person responsible for the machine.

This number is a requirement under FAA guidelines, and much like vehicle registration numbers, they can be changed. The FAA charges $10 for users to request a specific number. A random number is assigned for free, so it all comes down to the preference of the flyer.

What Happens If I Fail to Register My Device?

Registering an RC aircraft is the law. Failure to do so could result in regulatory and criminal penalties. The FAA issues regulatory penalties up to $27,500, but the criminal penalties could result in fines of up to $250,000 and imprisonment for up to three years. To be on the right side of the law, register your device, and fly legally and safely.

Safety Tips for Flying RC Planes and Helicopters

Radio-controlled devices can cause injury if they are not used correctly. The person flying the machine should be an adult, or at the very least, an older child accompanied by an adult.

Some safety tips to keep yourself and others safe while flying an RC plane or helicopter include:

  • Never fly over 400 feet.
  • Make sure the device is always in your line of sight.
  • Be aware of all FAA regulations.
  • Keep the device away from public events, groups of people, and stadium events.
  • Do not fly near emergency areas, such as fires or hurricane relief efforts.
  • Be of sound mind while flying, which means you cannot be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Respect the safety of the people around you.
  • Busy public parks are not a good place for RC flying vehicles, especially with the number of people that will be below where you are trying to fly.
  • Bustling cities are not a good place for flying because many things can go wrong.
  • The best place to fly an RC aircraft is away from a city in a clear, low-populated area.
  • Make sure to pay attention to the battery remaining in the device before flying.
  • If your device has a camera, keep it away from residential or commercial properties.

What can go wrong?

The higher your plane or helicopter goes the more likely there are to be issues. In the below video someone flew there DJI F550 approximately ½ mile into the air and then began to have issues because of the wind.

This video is a perfect example of why the FAA put laws into effect with height restrictions. At about the 9 minute mark the operator loses control of the drone and it drops on its own which could easily be a very dangerous situation. 

The views are amazing but the risk just isn’t worth it! 

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In Conclusion

RC planes and helicopters have many rules in place to ensure safety is always practiced while flying. If the individual is aware of them and adheres to the rules, there should be no issue. The 400 feet height restriction is there for a reason. When flying your device, remember that safety comes first!