White Star Balloon Information for FAA/ATC



We are complying with 14 CFR PART 101 applying to unmanned free balloons. Our flights do not exceed any of the provisions listed in Section 101.1 (a) (4), thereby our flights are exempted from all other FAR 101 provisions, except 101.7. However, in the interest of aviation and public safety, we will voluntarily comply with most of the exempted provisions anyway.


We are complying with ICAO Rules of the Air Annex 2, 3.19 and Appendix 4: Unmanned Free Balloons.1). The SpeedBall constant-altitude balloon is ICAO classified at launch as a medium unmanned free balloon. Before arriving at another continent or landmass, the balloon will have dropped enough weight to be classified as light unmanned free balloon. Being in the light class removes the legal requirement to secure permission to enter other nations airspace. However, in the interest of safety and courtesy, before entry into airspace of other countries we will begin full communication with relevant air traffic control authority for the airspace occupied.

SpeedBall Balloon Flights Purpose

The purpose of these flights is long duration balloon flight performance research of small constant-altitude balloons between 300mb and 250mb. Additional goals to facilitate fund-raising for the scientific goal are to safely surpass the existing distance record for amateur balloons, 3300 miles, and attempting to perform the 'first' amateur unmanned free balloon full trans-Atlantic flight. Entry into European and/or African airspace is expected.

Flight Plan

Two balloon flights will be launched between in early 2012, on separate dates determind by favorable wind forecast between 1800 and 2100 Eastern time (2300z to 0200z).

The balloon will lift off of from the launch site and climb at a rate of approximately +1000 fpm. It will transition to level flight between FL280 and FL350. The balloon will travel at the same speed and direction as the winds aloft at altitude, generally eastbound. The launch date will be carefully selected to have winds able get the balloon out of US airspace many hours before sunrise. For the remainder of the flight, approximately 24-72 hours, the balloon should remain between FL250 and FL390. Estimated maximum possible flight range is to Western Europe or Western Africa.

FAA Coordination

This is the proposed method of coordination with the FAA/ATC. Will modify as requested.

Communications with ATC

Regular telephone contact will be maintained to the current controlling ARTCC. Will request handoff to, and contact info for, the next ARTCC as needed.


A local US NOTAM will be filed 12-24 hours before every launch. NOTAMs will be filed for the appropriate Oceanic control areas as well.

Direct Communication with ATC

  1. T-24h: Call Indianapolis Center, and KBAK Tower to notify of launch intent.
  2. T-1h: Call Indianapolis Center, KBAK Tower, Indy Center Ops with 1 hour pre-launch notification. Will specify predicted flight path and type: sounding (quick up-and-down) or long duration float
  3. T-15m: Radio KBAK Tower
  4. T-1m: Ready to Launch: Radio KBAK Tower, delay for traffic as requested by tower
  5. T-0m: Launch: Call Indianapolis Center with launch notification
  6. T+30m (+/- 10min): Balloon transitions to float altitude: Call Center Ops or local ATC if below 10,000ft
  7. Interval Requested by ATC: Give position report and forecast trajectory

Position Reporting

While over North America, and internationally, we will provide ATC with current position and forecast trajectory information primarily by position reporting via telephone. We will provide the following information:

  • Position fix: Latitude/longitude/Altitude/Heading/Speed
  • Predicted Future Positions, at any times requested by ATC

Air Safety Procedures

Safety though Flight Planning

Launch dates/times will be selected based on the forecast balloon trajectory. Trajectory performance considerations are:

  • Minimize time spent over continental USA.
  • Forecast flight path must not go through any US Class-B airspace
  • Forecast flight path must not go through any US Class-C airspace without prior ATC clearance and coordination.

Safety by Design

  • Strobe light, visible for 5 miles, at a rate of approximately 40 flashes per minute
  • Remote controlled flight termination device, as well as automatic time-based termination device for payload and envelope.
  • GPS for determining location
  • Two-way satellite datalink for position reporting to our control team, as well as to remotely command flight termination

Safety Communications Link

White Star Mission Control control can terminate a flight by remote command. The flight will automatically terminate if it loses satellite communication with Mission Control. Automatic flight termination is triggered by a “deadman timer”. The timer tracks how long it's been since the flight received any human-initiated control message from Mission Control. When a set amount of time has gone by without hearing from Mission Control operators, it is assumed that communications have failed. To prevent a derelict balloon state (no position reporting or remote control), the cutdown device empties most of the lift gas, helium, from the balloon, initiating a rapid descent to the surface.

The deadman timer duration will be adjusted via remote command to accommodate varying satellite network command latency. By explicit design, it is not possible to set the timer duration to longer than 255 minutes (4 hours 15 minutes ). The deadman timer duration will be provided along with the regular position reports to ATC.

Project Background

The White Star Balloon program is an amateur scientific exploration program based in Louisville, KY. While the team is all volunteers, an extreme amount of attention has been paid to safety training and experience. The ATC Liaison team has been hand recruited to include private pilots, commercial pilots, and others trained in aviation communications. The ATC Liaison team has studied the ICAO and FAA regulations and procedures for our balloon type, and performed many training simulations to prepare for fast, efficient and safe communications with ATC. The team has also been familiarized with the typical MNPS airspace procedures for powered aircraft clearance, entry, separation procedures, position reporting and other important items required for trans-atlantic airspace. For any concerns or questions, please contact us at info@whitestarballoon.org or our ATC contact telephone number:

Project Leader

The project is led by Dan Bowen, who has managed more than 30 weather balloon research flights in the last 6 years. His past flights have ranged from ceiling balloons to multi-day constant-altitude flights. His prior long duration trans-atlantic flights, known as the “Spirit of Knoxville” flights, were conducted out of KDKX airport, in coordination with the Knoxville Metro Airport Authority, KTYS Tower, and Atlanta ARTCC.

faa/general_info.txt · Last modified: 2018/07/29 17:58 (external edit)
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