Understanding FAA Regulations
In the latest rules, the FAA has defined three classes of amateur rockets in regards to our hobby. The Class 1 and Class 2 categories are the most relevant to NAR members and will be the focus of this article. You can read the complete regulations for additional information, including details on the Class 3 rocket category.
Class 1 Model Rockets
Class 1 rockets include what used to be known as model and large model rockets. They are defined at 14 CFR 101.22 (a) of the regulations and are listed as:
Class 1- Model Rocket means an amateur rocket that:
(1) Uses no more than 125 grams (4.4 ounces) of propellant;
(2) Uses a slow-burning propellant;
(3) Is made of paper, wood, or breakable plastic;
(4) Contains no substantial metal parts; and
(5) Weighs no more than 1,500 grams (53 ounces), including the propellant.
Launching large model rockets used to require providing prior notification to the FAA. Now, no such notification is required. So long as the general operating limitations at 14 CFR 101.23 as listed below are followed, they can be launched freely.
(a) You must operate an amateur rocket in such a manner that it:
(1) Is launched on a suborbital trajectory;
(2) When launched, must not cross into the territory of a foreign country unless an agreement is in place between the United States and the country of concern;
(3) Is unmanned; and
(4) Does not create a hazard to persons, property, or other aircraft.
(b) The FAA may specify additional operating limitations necessary to ensure that air traffic is not adversely affected, and public safety is not jeopardized.
Class 2 High Power Rockets
The Class 2 rocket category covers high power rockets and is defined at 14 CFR 101.22 (b) and is listed as:
Class 2 – High-Power Rocket means an amateur rocket other than a model rocket that is propelled by a motor or motors having a combined total impulse of 40,960 Newton-seconds (9,208 pound-seconds) or less.
While the older rules prohibited flying unmanned rockets into controlled airspace, the latest rules do not. The newer rules do however, require prior authorization before launching. This is part of the operating limitations for Class 2 High Power Rockets found at 14 CFR 101.25 and stating:
When operating Class 2-High Power Rockets or Class 3-Advanced High Power Rockets, you must comply with the General Operating Limitations of §101.23. In addition, you must not operate Class 2-High Power Rockets or Class 3-Advanced High Power Rockets—
(a) At any altitude where clouds or obscuring phenomena of more than five tenths coverage prevails;
(b) At any altitude where the horizontal visibility is less than five miles;
(c) Into any cloud;
(d) Between sunset and sunrise without prior authorization from the FAA;
(e) Within 9.26 kilometers (5 nautical miles) of any airport boundary without prior authorization from the FAA;
(f) In controlled airspace without prior authorization from the FAA;
(g) Unless you observe the greater of the following separation distances from any person or property that is not associated with the operations applies:
(1) Not less than one quarter the maximum expected altitude;
(2) 457 meters (1,500 ft.);
(h) Unless a person at least eighteen years old is present, is charged with ensuring the safety of the operation, and has final approval authority for initiating high-power rocket flight; and
(i) Unless reasonable precautions are provided to report and control a fire caused by rocket activities.
Prior authorization from the FAA, as mentioned in 14 CFR 101.25, items (d), (e), and (f), pertain to having an approved Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) issued by the FAA. To get approval to make Class 2 rocket flights at a certain location, you must first apply for the COA using FAA Form 7711-2. You can find help with filling out this form at the link located at the end of this article. Once the application and other required information has been received, the FAA will conduct an airspace review to determine the compatibility of launching Class 2 rockets with other uses within the designated airspace.
Airspace Review For Class 2 Rockets
The FAA is charged with ensuring the safe use of a public resource: the airspace above all our heads. The primary way they do their job is by making sure that airplanes work as they were designed and have adequate operational limits, ensuring that pilots and other airspace professionals (like controllers) have been adequately trained and receive recurrent training, and by separating airspace users in operation by adequate distances. It is the latter which will have the most bearing on your rocketry activities.
To get an idea of what the FAA looks at during this review, it’s helpful to view an aviation map for the next steps. The easiest method is to view VFR Sectional Charts online via a website such as SkyVector or iFlightPlanner. Both of these will allow you to enter GPS coordinates to locate your potential site on the map. You can also download digital versions from the FAA website, just keep in mind that these are fairly large files and can be difficult to work with. They also do not provide the ability to plot locations automatically so if you go this route, you will have to locate your site manually.
Once you’re looking at the Sectional Chart, locate your launch site and then consider the following:
- Are there any airports within 5 nautical miles? If so, you will also need to request authorization in accordance with 14 CFR 101.25(e).
- You may see a variety of wide straight blue lines on the map with arrows on them and letters like “V321″ on the lines. These are airways, connections between radio navigation aids for airplanes under positive airspace control. Having any of these near your launch site makes the FAA nervous and may affect the ability for them to provide authorization.
- Around larger airports, particularly larger cities, you may see airports marked with a variety of dark blue circles surrounding them. These larger airports frequently have high volumes of jet traffic and these circles represent a class of airspace strictly controlled by the FAA. Obtaining authorization under these terminal control areas (TCA’s) is not impossible, however, be prepared to accept lower altitude ceilings in this case.
- Other things to look out for include large blue hashed areas marked with something like “P-405″ (representing Prohibited Airspace, e.g. the White House, portions of the Grand Canyon, etc.) and “MOA” or Military Operations Areas (practice areas for armed forces pilot training). The military operates MOA’s independent of the FAA, only telling the FAA when they’re using the area. The FAA cannot control access to these areas, and while the military doesn’t always allow other uses of “their” airspace, they don’t always deny it either.
The presence of any of these things should not discourage you from applying for authorization. Most current NAR certificate holders report that the FAA personnel with whom they interacted with were courteous, helpful, and professional. Don’t go into the process thinking of it as an adversarial proceeding; it shouldn’t be. You will have a better chance of having your request approved if you make your application in a professional manner, and conduct your activities likewise. Don’t hesitate to ask questions but keep in mind that those working on your application are people, and as such they respond to being treated courteously and professionally. Working with the FAA personnel you contact in a cooperative spirit will often bring fruit and establish long term working relationships.
For help with filling out the FAA Form 7711-2, Application for Certificate of Waiver or Authorization as well as other required information, visit the Filing for FAA Launch Authorization page.
Questions / Comments?
If you have any questions or comments about the article, please contact the High Power Rocketry Services Committee.