The FAA limits the speed of a UAS (unmanned aircraft system), or drone, to 100 MPH. But like speed limits on a road, that doesn’t actually limit how fast a drone can fly. As with any vehicle, there are enthusiasts obsessed with going faster and faster, and Ryan Lademann, a custom drone builder, now holds the Guinness World Record for “Fastest ground speed by a battery-powered remote-controlled (RC) quadcopter.”
The last time we checked in with those trying to push the limits of what a quadcopter can do, it was the Drone Racing League that managed to set a speed record of 163.5 MPH back in 2017. Speeds like that put a tremendous strain on the drone’s electric motors and battery packs, and during testing, one of the DRL’s prototypes actually burst into flames when pushed to its max speed. Imagine a flaming ball of electronics hurdling towards you at 150+ MPH, and you can understand why the FAA has UAS speed limits.
But according to the FAA, “You can request a waiver of most operational restrictions if you can show that your proposed operation can be conducted safely,” so Lademann headed out to the sparse deserts of Arizona with his XLR V3 drone. Utilizing a custom-designed chassis that houses the electric motors and electronics in vertically oriented aerodynamic cones, the XLR V3 weighs in at around 490 grams—almost half the weight of the DRL’s speed demon—but uses off-the-shelf electronics, including batteries, electric motors, a live-streaming camera, and even propellors, which cost around $400 (not including a pair of FPV goggles or the controller).
In order for the speed record to be officially recognized, the Guinness World Records’ rules require the drone to make two runs, flown back and forth in opposite directions during a level flight, with the top speed of both runs averaged together. This approach helps eliminate the benefits of a tailwind while ensuring the drone achieves its recorded speeds under its own power rather than getting a boost from gravity in a dive. So while the official record stands at 224 MPH, the XLR V3 drone actually hit a peak speed of 235.68 MPH.
Given the limitations of battery capacity and the amount of power the drone’s electric motors are drawing, the two flights are incredibly short, and over in mere seconds before the XLR V3 needs to land to avoid running out of power and falling out of the sky. Watching the video of the run from the pilot’s first-person view is anti-climactic given the desert doesn’t provide a good sense of scale and speed. We’d love to see it zipping down a bustling street at incredible speeds, but that’s why the FAA is in charge of safety, and not us.