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What are the regulations on flying UAVs (commercial or experimental) above FL600, i.e. in class E airspace above class A? I want to make a HAPS (High Altitude Pseudo Satellite) and operate it in the higher altitudes.

Is there a way to do this without a pilot's license (I don't know if I can pass TSA background checks)? How high do I have to fly to be above class A and in the class E airspace? Would you recommend launching from international waters? And how high should I fly to be in space or in completely unregulated and uncontrolled airspace?

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Aviation.SE we generally prefer that you keep your posts to a single question (there are a few in the body here). You may want to split them into different questions to avoid this being closed. You can find a tour of our site here $\endgroup$ – Dave May 6 '18 at 2:16
  • $\begingroup$ For your final question about where space begins, see this question on space.SE $\endgroup$ – Pondlife May 6 '18 at 16:07
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The FAA limits drone operations to 400 Ft. so getting to FL600 is not really possible.

Cannot be flown higher than 400 feet above ground level (AGL), unless flown within a 400-foot radius of a structure and does not fly higher than 400 feet above the structure’s immediate uppermost limit;

The FAA does offer a waiver process for flying drones beyond the regular part 107 rules. You can find all the info on that here. The request to operate in controlled airspace form does ask for a max altitude so its possible it can be requested.


However someone in Russia appears to have flown their drone up to FL330 so it may be allowed there.

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  • $\begingroup$ Can unmanned aircraft be flown higher than 400 ft when accompanied by a chase plane? Not that there are many options for a chase at FL 600, but 400 ft is very restrictive. $\endgroup$ – Peter Kämpf May 6 '18 at 18:47
  • $\begingroup$ @PeterKämpf It seems you can fly them 400 feet off a structure but I dont know of anything that reaches up to 400ft from FL600. I would think you can fly them off a chase plane with approval from the FAA as they can generally offer special approval for most things if you ask. $\endgroup$ – Dave May 6 '18 at 18:55
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    $\begingroup$ @PeterKämpf according to this it looks like Government UAS's can apply for a waiver to fly with a chase plane that must remain in visual contact with the UAS. $\endgroup$ – Dave May 6 '18 at 18:58
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    $\begingroup$ I guess I should be specific I want to operate it autonomously with ADS-B avoidance and above 72,000 ft. Thanks for the tip on Russia and I also want to have the craft airborne for 3-6 months at a time at least and outfit it with SDR, RF transceiver and high powered telescope. I don't know if this can be accommodated here so I may he looking for other countries to operate in or experiment over international waters above 400ft agl. I'm more looking for a way to sell survaillence via an API, and become an ISP for sea vessels. Would be nice to service land as well but maybe hard legally. $\endgroup$ – user9742946 May 7 '18 at 20:47
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    $\begingroup$ @user9742946, as far as I can think of no aircraft technology is currently in existence will keep a high powered telescope aloft at 72,000ft. for 3-6 months. The closest thing to those parameters is the SR-71 which had 2 high powered cameras on it and needed constant refueling to stay aloft and was quite pricy per flight hour.... $\endgroup$ – Dave May 7 '18 at 20:55
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To fly your own Unmanned Vehicle in national airspace without a chase plane you need a Certificate of Authorization for that UAV. See this article here about the Global Hawk which flies above 60,000 feet. I have no idea how you would go about getting that authorization but I am sure that it won't be trivial. Global Hawk was tested in restricted military airspace before approval was granted to fly in national airspace. And yes you would need a remote pilot certificate to operate the UAV see details from the AOPA here. So you need two things to fly in national airspace: To certify the aircraft and to get a remote pilot certificate to pilot it.

Testing in International waters would be feasible since international waters is unregulated airspace but you still need to be careful to avoid any international traffic. The best thing to do is contact the FAA and see what they say about it. The FAA can be very flexible on accommodating experimental aircraft so it never hurts to ask.

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