An ARHAB flight consists of a balloon, a recovery parachute, and a payload of one or more packages. The payload normally contains an amateur radio transmitter that permits tracking of the flight to its landing for recovery. Most flights use an Automatic Position Reporting System (APRS) tracker which gets its position from a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver and converts it to a digital radio transmission. Other flights may use an analog beacon and track the payload using radio direction finding techniques. Use of amateur radio transmitters on an ARHAB flight requires an amateur radio license.
In addition to the tracking equipment, other payload components may include sensors, data loggers, cameras, amateur television (ATV) transmitters or other scientific experiments. Some ARHAB flights carry one or more simplified packages called BalloonSats.
A typical ARHAB flight using a standard latex weather balloon lasts around 2-3 hours and reaches 25 to 35 km in altitude. Experiments with zero-pressure balloons, superpressure balloons, and valved latex balloons have extended flight times to more than 24 hours. A flight by the University of Tennessee Amateur Radio Club (UTARC) in March 2008 lasted over 80 hours and is presumed to have landed off the coast of Ireland over 5400 km from its launch point.
The largest annual gathering of ARHAB groups is called the Great Plains Super Launch (GPSL) and usually occurs near the Fourth of July weekend.