I was watching 4th of July fireworks tonight, and I noticed a very low plane circling the fireworks display.

I'm wasn't sure of its altitude, but I would estimate around 1000 ft or no higher than 1500 ft.

I'm thinking, "that's pretty low around here", and "it would be cool to be in that plane, with that view."

The plane then turns sharper toward the fireworks, then flies right through the middle of it, as fireworks are going off around the plane.

The plane then circles around again and flies just above display this time.

Is this even allowed?

If not, how would this pilot be held accountable/caught?

If so, how is this safe?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Depends on if the fireworks took out a TFR or not. Either way it isn't smart. It isn't unheard of for aircraft to be the source of the fireworks, EAA has done some pretty amazing glider shows with fireworks. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 5:28
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ Fireworks don't typically get up to 1,000'. Some can, but most are a few hundred. If the plane is at 1,500' then it is probably WELL above the fireworks, even though at times it will appear to fly through a burst. I've landed when fireworks have been going off nearby (mile or three away), and you're pretty low on final before you're level with the bursts. Even at 1,000' it's all still below you. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 6:14
  • $\begingroup$ It's pretty hard to estimate the altitude of an aircraft flying overhead, unless you're very familiar with that specific aircraft type and it's size at different distances. Living under an approach to a major airport and knowing the altitudes used well, I know the airliners are coming over at 7000ft, but if you don't know that they appear to be almost level with the treetops sometimes. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 9:27
  • $\begingroup$ Related $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 13:47
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The fireworks are not very interesting from the seat of a plane. They are usually not shot off in unpopulated areas, therefore the minimum altitudes apply. It might be legal in this case, but not worth it. The answers explain why it might be difficult for the almighty ATC to catch you if you are illegal. Sweeping searchlights are fun though. $\endgroup$
    – Mike Brass
    Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 4:38

2 Answers 2


Most fireworks go no higher than 1200 ft and consumer sized stuff is more around 500ft and below. which is fairly low for most regimes of flight for all but general aviation planes and planes taking off/landing. With this in mind your main point of concern would be shooting them off near an airport, or people flying low and slow near your display.

I cant find any regulation explicitly forbidding it although its unwise and it most likely would be considered "careless or reckless operation as per §91.31" if you flew directly (and deliberately) into a display at low altitude, Fireworks are noted in the NOTAM's and it is the pilots responsibility to make themselves aware of all flight risks and en-route information as per § 91.103 Preflight action. You can see a good example here in todays NOTAMs listing various firework displays and their locations.

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Its also the responsibility of the launcher to file the NOTAM in the first place.


I'd imagine it's illegal based on the info found in these articles:



I know that these articles refer to drones, but an out of control manned aircraft is a bigger threat than a tiny drone.

As for holding the pilot accountable, I'm pretty sure ATC in the area has information on the aircraft which could probably be used to figure who was flying the aircraft at the time.

  • 7
    $\begingroup$ This really isn't applicable, the rules for drones and piloted airplanes are fundamentally different. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 7:52
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ You also assume that there is ATC in the area, or that the aircraft is identifiable to ATC which isn't always the case. If the aircraft does not have ADS-B, has the transponder turned off, or just has Mode-C with 1200 punched in then it just shows up as a contact on ATC radar, if there is radar coverage in that area. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 14:36

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