Titles, Chapters, Sub-chapters, Parts, Sub-parts Oh My!!!

Rules, Rules and Rules

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and these rules may have changed since this article was published. This article should be considered a helpful guide on where to find the rules you should follow. This article only describes the rules in the United States of America, other countries will have different rules. This article does not discuss the rules that govern ham radio (Part 97). Do your own homework.

I have frequently been asked: “Do you have to register your High Altitude Balloon with the FAA?”.  What rules govern my HAB?, Do I need a license?

The answer to the above questions are “It depends”.  The good news is that if you keep it small, light and safe, most of the rules will not apply to your HAB flight.

Flight rules in the US are governed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). These rules cover most things that take flight, unmanned balloons are no exception.

The rules governing unmanned balloons is a sub section of the larger US Code of federal Regulations (CFR) Part 14. This part it titled “Aeronautics and Space”.  CFR Part 14 as the name indicates, covers pretty much anything that takes flight. Title 14 is further broken down into “Chapters”, “Subchapters”, “Parts”, “subparts” to the parts and finally paragraphs. The relevant section of the rules for unmanned balloons is Title 14 – Part Chapter I – Subchapter F – Part 101 Subpart D., Subpart A also applies. Let’s just call these  parts  101A & 101D for short.

Despite the complexity of CFR document structure there are a few key Parts & Paragraphs you need to look at first to see what rules apply to your situation. If you operate your HAB in a matter that is not a hazard to public safety and you stay below certain weight/size limits most of the rules do not apply.

Start with Part 101.1 a4 . In short if you stay under a payload weight of 4.5 pounds below and the density threshold of 3 oz per square inch on the shortest side, the most of the rules don’t apply to your HAB. You are still subject to the rules in 101.7  which can be summarized as “Don’t create a hazard to public safety and don’t create a hazard by dropping something from the balloon”. That is always a good idea! If you are above this threshold size/weight/density, then study the Subpart D rules.

Even if these rules don’t apply to your HAB, it is still a good idea to study them and adopt as many of the rules as possible for general safety.

At the beginning of the new drone registration rules, it was believed that High Altitude Balloons were also  required to meet the “Drone registration rules” described in Part 107. The FAA has since clarified that if you are covered by Part 101, then Part 107 does not apply to your flight. This is described in Part 107.1 b 2


It is possible to build exciting HAB flight payloads without a lot of regulations to contend with. Flying Squirrels have all been 3-5 Oz in weight range and the shortest sides have been 4-5 inches. Well below the threshold values.

Flying Squirrels have voluntarily complied with rules such as not flying over densely populated (congested) areas, away from local airports. The antenna wires have all been well below a 50 lb breaking strength. These rules are easy to follow, so why not take them into account of your flights?


73s de Don KJ6FO

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