Welcome to PhantomPilots.com

Sign up for a weekly email of the latest drone news & information

How low "can" helicopters fly?

Discussion in 'Rules and Regulations' started by mschore, Feb 13, 2018.

  1. mschore

    Sep 11, 2014
    Likes Received:
    Apex, NC
    My home sits on a line from the local airport (where there is a Natl. Guard helicopter unit) and a nearby nuclear power plant. Recently, on two occasions, military helicopters flew at below 400 feet over my house. I know this because I fly my DJI P4P at 400 feet all the time and know what that looks like.

    Anyone familiar with helicopter operations in the US have an opinion on this?
  2. barefootbeachcombing

    Nov 2, 2014
    Likes Received:
    As low as they want. Seriously. So always be on the look out. See and avoid at all times.
  3. GMack

    Jul 26, 2016
    Likes Received:
    Yep. They can fly as low as they want. Sheriff's helicopter lands in lot near a restaurant to eat, and when school is out they land on the playground to use the restroom. When something happens at night, they are really low with their spotlight circling some scene. Forest Service also flies low and lands to eat. Air ambulance flies pretty low at times too and circles the hospital prior to landing.

    North of Griffith Park in Hollywood, two copters tend to the high-tension towers where some guy in a Faraday suit gets put onto the wires to fix and clean them. Maybe 100 feet up and they hover a long while there (I think one operates behind the one closest to the wires as a spotter for the one who puts the guy out onto the wires. Cool spark though when he hits the wires with some wand!). The TV copters in LA fly pretty low too over freeways at times.

    Military can pretty much do as they feel like. They buzz a lake nearby at maybe 50 feet and are maybe 200-300 yards from a public airport's end of runway. They like to hit the afterburners and climb up and out of there quick. Don't know if they have radar for local aircraft control, but they are loud and you can hear them coming.
    MotorCycle-Man likes this.
  4. MotorCycle-Man

    Sep 30, 2017
    Likes Received:
    They all have working Transponders to id them and show their low flyn locations on the Air traffic control scopes !
  5. With The Birds

    Jan 4, 2016
    Likes Received:
    You can’t judge height reliably from the ground by comparing it to your phantom. It may well be below 400ft however. Best you find somewhere else to fly the they pass over frequently.
  6. BigAl07

    BigAl07 Moderator
    Staff Member

    Jan 5, 2015
    Likes Received:
    Western North Carolina
    Well said @With The Birds ^^^^^^^^^^

    @mschore as stated above it's VERY difficult to "Guestimate" an aircraft height from the ground unless you have objects in the air of a known altitude and scale so you can work out the math. Often times a manned aircraft operating at 1000'AGL will "appear" very low (dangerously low) to the untrained eye and people will even call and REPORT them. The statement "I know this because I fly my DJI P4P at 400 feet all the time and know what that looks like." only emphasizes this because you're now comparing the scale of 400' of your Phantom to the scale of 400' to a large manned aircraft. That math doesn't work out.

    Several years back we were doing some "Demonstration Flights" in Maggie Valley NC with the NC National Guard. They were simulating a Disaster MediVac situation and the aircraft were circling our field at 1,500'AGL. We got a call on the radio from the AirBoss that someone in the area had called the local tower (some 40 miles away mind you) and reported that helicopters were flying around the area at 200' or less and creating havoc on the ground.

    In reference to your original question:

    § 91.119 Minimum safe altitudes: General.

    Except when necessary for takeoff or landing, no person may operate an aircraft below the following altitudes:

    a. Anywhere. An altitude allowing, if a power unit fails, an emergency landing without undue hazard to persons or property on the surface.

    b. Over congested areas. Over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement, or over any open air assembly of persons, an altitude of 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft.

    c. Over other than congested areas. An altitude of 500 feet above the surface, except over open water or sparsely populated areas. In those cases, the aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.

    d. Helicopters. Helicopters may be operated at less than the minimums prescribed in paragraph B or C of this section if the operation is conducted without hazard to persons or property on the surface. In addition, each person operating a helicopter shall comply with any routes or altitudes specifically prescribed for helicopters by the Administrator.

    Pay special attention to section (d.) above. They can operate at pretty much ANY altitude so long as they do it safely and by the book. That's the caveat that most people don't get when they start talking about Min Alti for helo operations. Here is a brief snipper from the FAA as to why helo get this special allowance:
    "Helicopter operations may be conducted below the minimum altitudes set for fixed-wing aircraft. The reason? The helicopter's unique operating characteristics, the most important of which is its ability to execute pinpoint emergency landings during power failure. Further, the helicopter's increased use by law enforcement and emergency medical service agencies requires added flexibility in the application of many FAA provisions."

    Also keep in mind that if you're near an airport (5 miles or less) you'll need to be making notification (if operating as hobbyist) to the facility. If you're operating under Part 107 it depends on what the airspace is as to what you'll need to do for each flight.

    Regardless you'll always want to keep your head on a swivel and your ears to the air so you can maintain See-And-Avoid at all costs. It's your responsibility to always give right of way to any manned aircraft in the air without exception. The burden rests solely and legally on your shoulders.

    Safe Flights
    FLYBOYJ likes this.
Similar Threads - low helicopters fly Forum Date
CA Bay Area Low-Flying Helicopters Testing for Radiation News Sep 2, 2015
Be careful of helicopters even when below 400 feet General Discussion Mar 26, 2016
Gwinnett County - Looking for fellow Phantom pilots Southeast USA Yesterday at 10:20 AM
FS: Phantom 4 Pro with 3 batteries, backpack and extras - very low hours. Classifieds Monday at 12:09 PM
DJI’s Response to the Follow-Me Intelligent Flight Mode Not Working on the P4P+ General Discussion Saturday at 8:06 PM