What is the name of the maximum altitude at which a helicopter can fly?

I recall it as "vertical limit", but I can't find a Wikipedia page for it other than a movie of the same title, which seems to concern mountain climbing altitudes.


3 Answers 3


Like with fixed wing aircraft, it is called the ceiling. Usually two ceilings are distinguished;

  • service ceiling, where the aircraft can still achieve a positive rate of climb of either 100 fpm (propeller) or 500 fpm (jet).

  • absolute ceiling, the theoretical altitude at which no positive rate of climb can be achieved. In other words: the maximum altitude at which the aircraft theoretically can fly under maximum engine power.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ So does that imply there's a sort of "certified ceiling," the maximum altitude the helicopter is certified to be safe (i.e. not have a retreating blade stall?) $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 4, 2015 at 23:49

Helicopters also have a stat you might have seen called In Ground Effect (IGE) and Out of Ground Effect (OGE) Hover altitudes. This is the maximum altitude (MSL) the helicopter can hover at when it is in or out of ground effect. Essentially, when IGE, a helicopter can hover at higher Mean Sea Level (MSL) altitudes because they get a little help from the proximity of the ground, which reduces the rotor tip vortices (reduces the drag on the rotor). This site has some good info on ground effect as it relates to helicopters.

  • $\begingroup$ Also consider that "hover" means no forward airspeed. If you are trying to land on top of a mountain it's unlikely you will have calm air, you will have 20-50kt forward airspeed against zero groundspeed. $\endgroup$
    – paul
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 13:16
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ 'hover' means 'no forward ground speed.' The ASI is nearly always active in a hover. $\endgroup$
    – rbp
    Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 20:53

Under 14 CFR Part 29.1527, the Maximum operating altitude for a transport-category helicopter is:

§ 29.1527 Maximum operating altitude. The maximum altitude up to which operation is allowed, as limited by flight, structural, powerplant, functional, or equipment characteristics, must be established.

So its not just a matter of power or thrust, or even just retreating blade stall, but rather the entire design envelope for the helicopter must be taken into consideration for maximum altitude.

For example, the Robinson R-66 has a number of operating limitations that pertain to factors other than maximum thrust:

enter image description here

And there is a Vne chart which limits forward speed to prevent retreating blade stall at high density altitude:

enter image description here


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .