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If you watch an airplane flying, you see it is very small. How high do these aircraft fly? If you have this question, you are in the right place.

Most commercial planes travel at a speed of 30,000 feet to 40,000 feet.

However, not all planes maintain the said altitude. Keep reading to know the altitude at which these aircraft fly and much more.

Why Do Planes Fly So High?

Some of the reasons why planes fly at a high altitude are as described below:

Airspeed and Fuel Efficiency – The air is thinner at the altitude at which planes fly than the air at the ground level. This is the reason why the cabin of planes is pressurized.

This is also the reason why the air hostess suggests using oxygen masks if the pressurization in the cabin decreases or if the plane is flying above a safe level.

The air at cruising altitude is so thin that you can breathe oxygen from it like normal air.

However, thin air allows the engines to fly at optimum conditions. Thinner air offers less air resistance to air and hence engines have to produce less thrust than normal.

This increases the speed of airplanes and planes also utilize less fuel at this height.

Weather conditions – Airplanes generally fly above the clouds so they are usually not affected by weather conditions during flying like a strong wind, rain, lightning, etc.

Airplanes – be it commercial aircraft or passenger planes don’t usually get damaged by rain or lightning but strong winds or turbulence may make the ride pretty uncomfortable.

Hence, the altitude at which they fly is decided in real-time depending on the weather conditions.

Obstacles – Another reason is that at that altitude the plane doesn’t have to dodge any obstacles like high-rise buildings, towers, etc.

The height at which the pilots fly the planes is nearly free of birds, insects, microbes, etc.

Safety valve – If there is something wrong with the plane, the plane starts plummeting. So, flying that high gives pilots some more time to think, calculate, and execute whatever is necessary.

Why Aren’t Small Planes and Helicopters Able to Fly As High As Planes?

image of a small private jet and airbus with a backdrop of birds in cloudy sky - how high do planes fly

Commercial airplanes typically fly at around 35,000 feet (6.65 miles or 10,000 meters) to 43,000 feet (8.14 miles or 13,100 meters). But what about private jets, helicopters, etc?

Private jets cannot fly higher than 15,000 feet in most cases as they are not designed to fly at high altitudes. This limitation is due to its piston-powered engine whereas commercial jets have jet engines.

Private jets also don’t have pressurized cabins like airlines, so less oxygen at such high altitudes can cause hypoxia (unavailability of oxygen in sufficient amounts at the tissue level) and can quickly become fatal.

Helicopters cannot go above 10,000 feet. This limitation is because it has blades instead of wings, apart from lacking a powerful engine and absence of pressurized cabins.

FYI: Military aircraft usually fly at a height of 45,000 feet to 51,000 feet. While there are some military planes like F-22 that can fly at altitudes of 65,000 feet.

What Happens if an Airplane Flies Too High?

Passenger airlines run the risk of getting melted if they fly too high. Some of the threats of flying an airplane too high are:

Equipment failure – An airliner has complex computers monitoring the altitude, speed, weight, etc.

When a pilot tries to fly a plane higher and keeps going higher, then there is a risk of either the engine failing or the wings stalling, or in some cases, the entire airframe falling.

Depressurization in the cabin – If a plane keeps on flying high, then the pressure in the cabin may decrease which leads the passengers, crew, and pilot to lose consciousness.

Oxygen supply – The airline companies have altitude limits to ensure that there is enough oxygen that can be supplied to all passengers for the amount of time it takes to descend the plane where the oxygen masks are not necessary.

What Happens if a Plane Flies Too Low?

If you are thinking that flying much lower is a safe option, then you are wrong.

There are many reasons why pilots should not fly planes at low heights like bad weather conditions, aviation traffic, the presence of birds, insects, etc.

What is Cruising Altitude?

It is the altitude at which air has the least resistance to planes so that they can fly faster and that too with less fuel.

In general, the cruising altitude is between 10,000 meters or 32,000 feet to 12,000 meters or 40,000 feet.

What is Maximum Altitude?

Airplane manufacturers certify all airplanes fly up to a maximum altitude.

This height is reached after testing the planes under federal regulations to ensure safety.

What’s The Altitude Record For A Plane?

A Russian test pilot Aleksandr Fedotov reached a height of 123,520 feet or 405,249 feet with his Mikoyan-Gurevich Ye-266 MiG-25 in the year 1977.

Some other aircraft reached higher altitudes but they were launched from the air Fedotov reached this height ascending from the ground.

How High Can Planes Fly in Miles?

Commercial airplanes cruise at around 35,000 feet (6.65 miles or 10,000 meters) to 43,000 feet (8.14 miles or 13,100 meters). 

Sources: 1, 2

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