Drones and other Unmanned Aerial Systems

Drones, rockets and weather balloons are important tools in research and STEM education activities. Whether you're a novice pilot or have many years of aviation experience, regulations, rules and safety guidance exist to help you fly safely in the National Airspace System (NAS).  In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulates aspects of civil aviation. Anyone flying a drone, launching a rocket or releasing a weather balloon is responsible for flying within Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) guidelines and regulations. 

Prior to conducting aerial activities outdoors for non-recreational use (i.e., educational use, research activities and university business operations) over or on campus property, the individual, campus unit, or other group must obtain approval from the Division of Public Safety by submitting a request to dpscomments@illinois.edu.

Prior to conducting aerial activities inside campus property, the individual, campus unit, or other group must obtain approval from Code Compliance & Fire Safety, at (217) 300-9645, in addition to obtaining facility approval.

Check the weather in Urbana for the upcoming week here:  National Weather Service IDSS Forecast Points

More detailed guidance is available below.

Guidance for UAS (drone) Operations

FAA requirements for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) or drone operations must be met for all flights. Additionally, if flying on campus property, the University policy FO-05 should be followed. 

UAS or drones under 55 pounds (25kg) in the NAS are regulated by the Code of Federal Regulations 14 CFR Part 107, referred to as the Small UAS Rule. Personnel flying under these regulations are commonly referred to as Part 107 or Commercial Flyers.

If you are flying a drone for purely recreational (for enjoyment), or for educational and research purposes, there is a limited statutory exception that provides a basic set of requirements. Personnel flying under these regulations are commonly referred to as Recreational or TRUST Flyers.

In summary, all UAS flights require certification through one of the following options: 
- Part 107 License.
- Exception for Recreational Flyers (TRUST Program).
- Part 61 License holders (those holding a pilots license for manned aircraft), can complete a special course to become certified for drone flights. 

Campus Specific Requirements

To maintain the safety of our entire campus community, university policy (FO-05) requires that all remote pilots first obtain permission from the Division of Public Safety before conducting a drone flight on campus property. 
Submit a request now.

If you are conducting aerial activities inside campus property, you must obtain approval from Code Compliance & Fire Safety, in addition to obtaining facility approval (facility contacts).

Researchers must maintain Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) related to use of drones; i.e., flight, calibration, and bench testing. All incidents and near-misses involving drones in a research setting should be reported to the Division of Research Safety at 217-333-2755 or drs@illinois.edu.

Bodily injury or property damage as a result of using a University-owned UAV (Drone) for University purposes should be reported to the Office of Claims Management

FAA Requirements

All UAS flights, aircraft, and Student Hobbyists and/or Remote Pilots must meet current FAA requirements for the type of flight, purpose of the flight, flight operator requirements, and flight conditions.  This means you must know your flight plans and the type of flyer (recreational or commercial) you are before deciding which FAA requirements apply to you. If needed, use the FAA User Identification Tool to assist you in determining what type of flyer you are.

Beginning September 16, 2023, all drone pilots who are required to register their UAS must operate in accordance with the rule on Remote ID. More information on Remote ID can be found in this FAA webpage and in this document.  Safety and security are top priorities for the FAA and Remote ID for drones is crucial.  

The Recreational Flyer (TRUST) exception also includes flights for Educational and research purposes by an institution of higher education.

The term 'education or research purposes', with respect to the operation of an unmanned aircraft system by an institution of higher education, includes:
•    instruction of students at the institution;
•    academic or research related uses of unmanned aircraft systems that have been approved by the institution, including Federal research;
•    activities undertaken by the institution as part of research projects, including research projects sponsored by the Federal Government; and
•    other academic activities approved by the institution.

A couple examples of NOT operating as a Recreational Flyer (TRUST) under the exemptions for institution of higher education for educational or research purposes include:
•    Drone flights for inspection or photography of architectural structures related to campus construction projects.
•    Drone flights for purposes of obtaining pictures to be posted on a campus website

The default regulation for drones weighing under 55 pounds (25kg) is Part 107. When in doubt, fly under Part 107.

Unless specifically authorized by the FAA, recreational drone flying is limited to no more than 400ft above ground level in uncontrolled airspace and is limited to UAS Facility Map (UASFM) altitudes in controlled airspace.

TRUST flyers must keep their drone in their visual line of sight at all times. Using a visual observer does not allow a recreational flyer to fly a drone beyond their visual line of sight.

  • Anyone flying their drone in the United States as a recreational flyer needs to pass the The Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST) exam and keep the certificate on their person to legally fly.
  • Register your drone through the FAA Drone Zone before you fly if it weighs more than .55lbs (250g). Drones weighing more than 55 lbs (25kg) must use the paper (N-number) registration process.
  • Know your airspace! Most of UIUC is under controlled airspace, as is most of the Champaign-Urbana area. 
  • All TRUST flyers need airspace authorization in controlled airspace before they fly. This authorization could be obtained using the B4UFLY app (iOS / Android).
  • Have a plan and check your airspace before flight. Special events (i.e. Illini Football) can create additional flight restrictions. Use the B4UFLY app to see all applicable restrictions in real-time.

 If you are not flying for recreational, or educational and research purposes you must comply with the guidelines in Part 107.

  • This means you must understand what is and is not allowed under Part 107 rules and become an FAA-Certified Drone Pilot by passing the knowledge test.
  • Study material could be found on the FAA website.
  • Learners can attend a course online, or in-person at Parkland College (Search: UAS Certification Exam Prep), but it is not required.
  • The exam could be taken locally at Parkland College.
  • Register your drone through the FAA Drone Zone before you fly if it weighs more than .55lbs (250g). Drones weighing more than 55 lbs (25kg) must use the paper (N-number) registration process.
  • After certification, information about airspace and LAANC approvals could be obtained using the B4UFLY app (iOS / Android).

Guidance for a Weather Balloon Launch

High altitude balloons (colloquially referred to as "weather balloons") are important tools in atmospheric science research and STEM education activities. Although High Altitude Balloon (HAB) launches can be fun and educational, care must be taken to abide by the governing laws and regulations to ensure the safety of aircraft flying in the same airspace and those that may be impacted by the launch and landing of HABs.

Campus Specific Requirements

To maintain the safety of our entire campus community, university policy (FO-05) requires that all HAB operators first obtain permission from the Division of Public Safety before launching them on campus property. 
Submit a request now.

Researchers must maintain Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) specific to their HAB operation. All incidents and near-misses involving HABs in a research setting should be reported to the Division of Research Safety at 217-333-2755 or drs@illinois.edu.

Bodily injury or property damage resulting from the use of a University-owned HAB being utilized for University purposes should be reported to the Office of Claims Management

FAA Requirements

The relevant FAA regulation for weather balloons is section 14 CFR Part 101.
PART 101—MOORED BALLOONS, KITES, AMATEUR ROCKETS, AND UNMANNED FREE BALLOONS

In the Federal Aviation regulations, weather balloons are referred to as Unmanned Free Balloons or UFBs. UFB launch operators are responsible for the safety of any airspace in the trajectory of their UFB.  Winds can take UFBs into controlled airspace. Bear in mind that the university is within 5 miles of an airport (Willard Airport/CMI).

Prior to launching a UFB, launch operators must contact the FAA Part 101 team and inform them of your intent to launch at least 15 days before launch. The FAA Part 101 team have air traffic specialists that are in the best position to advise launch operators, and so contacting the FAA ahead of time is critical.  They will typically ask UFB operators to perform one or more of the following:

  • Fill out a form called a HIBAL worksheet, provided by the FAA Part 101 team. On this form, it is critical to designate a knowledgeable point-of-contact and provide an e-mail address and cellphone number so Part 101 specialists or air traffic control can reach them. The form also asks for launch date, site, balloon and payload information.
  • Submit an estimated trajectory map. As UFB trajectory is wind-dependent, FAA will ask for updated maps as the launch date approaches. Here is a tool to predict the flight path and landing location of latex sounding balloons: https://predict.sondehub.org/
  • Call-in a NOTAM (Notice to Air Missions).  FAA Part 101 team will provide instructions on filing a NOTAM if necessary.
  • Coordinate with airports in the vicinity of launch, and other airports in the trajectory of the UFB. FAA will inform the point-of-contact of air-traffic facilities that need to be coordinated with by providing their email addresses or phone numbers.

Important contacts:
FAA Part 101 team
Willard Airport Air Traffic Control: Jim Melchior

Guidance for Model Rocket Launches

Model rocket launches may be a part of special events and STEM education activities. Although model rocket launches can be fun and educational, care must be taken to abide by the governing laws and regulations to ensure the safety of  those that may be impacted by the launch and landing of model rockets.

Campus Specific Requirements

To maintain the safety of our entire campus community, university policy requires that all model rocket launchers obtain permission from Campus Code Compliance & Fire Safety (CCC&FS) and facility location approval before launching on campus property. 

Model Rocket Launching Application (CCC&FS)
Reserve an Outdoor Space

Model rocket launchers must maintain Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) specific to their launch operation.  SOPs should describe how you will ensure you will meet all of the relevant campus requirements and relevant regulations and standards.

Standards and Regulations

The relevant FAA regulation for model rockets is 14 CFR Part 101 Subpart C. Here you will find the definition of a Class 1—Model Rocket, the only type of model rocket that will be considered for approval and general operating limitations for Class 1 model rockets.
The relevant National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards are NFPA 1122 Code for Model Rocketry. NPFA 1122 includes information about model rocket construction, launch, and recovery as well as launch site selection, launch conditions, and spectator safety. 

Prior to launching a model rocket you must review, understand, and plan to comply with the relevant standards and regulations. 

Last Updated: 5/21/2024 8:47:25 AM