Asymmetric Dialogue

A Small Hobby Drone Reaches 33,000 Feet


A Russian drone pilot managed to fly his little 2.3 lbs drone close to the cruising altitude of most airliners. As surprising as it sounds, the technology used for this flight is very common.
There is nothing exceptional about the parts used on this drone. All of them can be found at hobby stores and this setup is completely classic. According to the video description, pilot Denis Koryakin used a small drone racing frame equipped for high altitude flight. The powertrain consists of longer than usual propellers (seven inches) mounted on low-speed motors to give enough efficiency and lift at high altitude where the air is thinner. The small aircraft was also loaded with a battery (4S with three packs in parallel) in order to give enough autonomy to reach 33,000 feet. The total duration of the flight was 26 minutes.
A quick look at the On-Screen Display (OSD) shows that the drone drew 6,5 Amperes to reach the maximum altitude but only 1 Ampere to come back to earth in a controlled free-fall descent. The pilot landed with a critical level of battery (below 13 volts). While the initial climb speed is relatively fast at 13 meters per second (MPS) the drone struggles to maintain the accent rate at the end of the flight in thin air (2-3 MPS). The flight shows little horizontal drift as the pilot flew on position hold mode (GPS) during the ascent. Essentially, the drone was constantly flying right over the pilot and didn’t seem much affected by jet winds at high altitude. Perhaps, the pilot picked the right day for the flight without much wind.
It seems that the flight took place in the center of Russia near the Siberian city of Strejevoï. The regulation in Russia doesn’t mention an altitude limit for drones. But if this flight was not illegal, was it dangerous? After all, the drone flew close to most airliners’ cruising altitude. However, the commercial jet traffic in this region is very limited and most transcontinental flights crossing between Europe and Asia fly at higher altitudes to maximize fuel consumption. In any case, don’t try this at home and stay clear of aircraft routes.
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