Daredevil 'Mad' Mike Hughes died after his homemade rocket crashed on 22 February 2020. The cause appears to be the premature deployment of the parachute used for a safe return. He was hoping to reach 5000ft.

In the U.S., Title 14, Code of Federal Regulations, Subchapter F, Part 91.7 states:

"No person may operate an aircraft unless it is in an airworthy condition"

The FAA defines an aircraft as "A device that is used or intended to be used for flight in the air" and has extensive information on certifying home-built or experimental aircraft. The original rationale, I presume, being that an aircraft is a danger not only to its occupants but people on the ground too.

They also say

the owner or operator of an aircraft is primarily responsible for maintaining that aircraft in an airworthy condition

... but what is not made clear is whether it is an offence to operate fly your own aircraft without FAA airworthiness certification.

With regard to Hughes' home-built rocket, the FAA definition of aircraft surely qualifies this device as an aircraft, (although, owing to its speed, not an ultralight which have their own waivers). Further, there was no intent or pretence to go to space, so the SpaceX / NASA rules don't seem to apply here.

It seems to carry no registration, nor the mandated "EXPERIMENTAL" marking one would expect if it were - however, it is noted that in the US an aircraft does not have to be registered to be certified airworthy (although they usually are).

Should this sort of aircraft fly with an airworthiness certification? And if it didn't, why not?

NOTE - this is neither the place nor the time for a discussion of the wisdom of Mr Hughes' venture.

enter image description here



  • $\begingroup$ "With regard to Hughes' home-built rocket, it surely qualifies as an aircraft" In what sense of the word? I know of no aircraft that takeoff vertically and land via parachute. In my readings of the FAR/AIM (Federal Aviation Regulations / Aeronautical Information Manual) over the years, I don't ever recall seeing Rocket mentioned except as a hazard to flight. $\endgroup$
    – CrossRoads
    Commented Feb 25, 2020 at 13:33
  • $\begingroup$ Hi, as I say in the question, this (non-space) rocket qualifies as an aircraft because the FAA definition of an aircraft is "A device that is used or intended to be used for flight in the air". There's a separate definition for airplane, which obviously this isn't. Clarified in the question, thanks. $\endgroup$
    – Party Ark
    Commented Feb 25, 2020 at 13:36
  • $\begingroup$ I think perhaps this craft would fall into this category instead faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/ast/… Experimental Permits for Reusable Suborbital Rockets. The Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004 (CSLAA), ... directs the Secretary of Transportation and, through delegations, FAA, to establish an experimental permit regime for developmental reusable suborbital rockets. Under the CSLAA, FAA can issue experimental permits rather than licenses for the launch of and reentry of reusable suborbital rockets. $\endgroup$
    – CrossRoads
    Commented Feb 25, 2020 at 13:48
  • $\begingroup$ @CrossRoads it’s a nice link but inapplicable as this is a private venture carrying only one flight crew member and not for compensation or hire. As such commercial space laws authorized by the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution would not have an effect here, though the recommendations on the FAA’s website are pretty sound. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 25, 2020 at 14:17
  • $\begingroup$ related "in space": Is there some fundamental limitation that would prevent steam-powered rockets from reaching space? and also Latest Mad Mike Launch $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Feb 25, 2020 at 14:58

1 Answer 1


Interesting topic. Rockets and spacecraft are still highly experimental vehicles and are recognized as such under 14 CFR §1200. The laws, liabilities, and regulations for private spaceflight are largely uncharted territory at this point, though §1266.102 requires all participants aboard the ISS and NASA launch vehicles to sign a liability waiver prior to flight. Essentially, in the eyes of the law, you’re on your own in doing this and if your injured or killed, neither you nor your estate can hold any participants in your cosmic ordeal liable. Given that many flat earthers view NASA as the enemy of their efforts, any laws in regards to spacecraft certification would probably be viewed in a negative light and disregarded.

Using §91.7 here is pretty nebulous as there is no definition or standard here for airworthiness of such a craft. These guys were testing an experimental vehicle at a remote site far away from other persons or property and flying only a single flight crewmember. There’s really no law saying you can’t take a risk like that under those conditions.

  • $\begingroup$ So this is the reason why a rocket is used rather than a balloon? Because it's legally easier? $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 25, 2020 at 13:00
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @user3528438 A rocket was used because the balloon's days as a "daredevil" craft expired in the 1870s. A Part 103 ultralight would have gotten Mad Mike to his 5000 ft AGL target, slower and safer and cheaper, and allowed staying there long enough for photographic "proof" to be obtained -- but slower and safer weren't the goals; launching himself by rocket was the goal. $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Feb 25, 2020 at 13:13
  • $\begingroup$ I've clarified the question a bit; surely this wouldn't be considered as any sort of 'space' rocket, the intention was to go to 5000 feet, and as such seems to me governed as any other aircraft, despite its unconventional power-plant. $\endgroup$
    – Party Ark
    Commented Feb 25, 2020 at 13:44
  • $\begingroup$ I’m leaving the flat earth comment in there as it is relevant to compliance by a third party in such a matter. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 25, 2020 at 14:11
  • $\begingroup$ @CarloFelicione Was he still sponsored by the Flat Earth Society or a subgroup for this last flight? I know the previous one was, but I understood his sponsorship had changed. $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Feb 25, 2020 at 14:40

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .