Pilot Counsel

Makes and models

January 1, 2005

Aviation attorney John S. Yodice has been flying for 34 years and owns a Cessna 310.

In this column in the past few months we have been reviewing many of the most important regulations that would apply to a pilot starting out on a typical private (noncommercial) flight. For example, we reviewed the requirements related to seat belts and shoulder harnesses (October 2004 Pilot), the requirements for recent experience (November 2004 Pilot), and last month, the specifics of the requirement for a "biennial" flight review (December 2004 Pilot). Going forward, this month we will review the specific requirements for pilots transitioning to other makes and models of light general aviation airplanes: the requirements for training and endorsement in "complex airplanes," "high-performance airplanes," and "tailwheel airplanes."

Complex and high-performance airplanes

Let's try to demystify the additional requirements for acting as pilot in command (PIC) of a "complex airplane" and a "high-performance airplane." An earlier version of these regulatory requirements tended to blend these two classifications. That is no longer the case. These two terms are separately and specifically defined in the current regulations. A complex airplane is defined as one that has a retractable landing gear, flaps, and a controllable-pitch propeller. Or, in the case of a seaplane, flaps and a controllable-pitch propeller. A high-performance airplane, on the other hand, is defined by only one parameter; it is an airplane with an engine of more than 200 horsepower. (The definition of high performance could be tricky if not carefully read. For example, clearly a multiengine airplane with any engine having more than 200 horsepower is high performance. However, a multiengine airplane with not one of its engines having more than 200 horsepower is not, even though the sum total of the horsepower of all of its engines is more than 200.)

Obviously, there are makes and models of airplanes in common usage that are both complex and high performance. For example, a Beechcraft Bonanza is both, just as a Cessna 210 is both. Just as obviously, there are makes and models that fit one classification but not the other. For example, a Piper Cherokee Six is high performance but not complex because its gear is not retractable. Many of the Mooney models are complex but not high performance because the single engine is 200 horsepower or fewer. A Twin Comanche, because each of its engines is 200 horsepower or fewer, is not high performance. The difference is important because, even though the training requirements are similar for both classifications, meeting the requirements with respect to one classification does not meet the requirements with respect to the other classification.

With respect to a complex airplane, FAR 61.31(e) requires both training and a logbook endorsement. A person may not act as pilot in command of a complex airplane unless that person "received and logged ground and flight training from an authorized instructor in a complex airplane." No minimum amount of time is specified for either ground or flight training. The instructor must endorse the pilot's logbook certifying that the person is proficient to operate a complex airplane. So, practically speaking, the minimum amount of time required is whatever it takes to satisfy the instructor of the pilot's proficiency. This is a one-time endorsement that is good indefinitely. The training is most usually given in an airplane, but, within the discretion of the instructor, the requirement also can be met in a flight simulator or flight training device that is representative of a complex airplane.

Similarly for a high-performance airplane, subsection (f) of FAR 61.31 says that in order to act as pilot in command of a high-performance airplane a person must have received and logged ground and flight training from an authorized instructor in a high-performance airplane. And there is also the requirement for an instructor endorsement in the pilot's logbook that the person is proficient to operate a high-performance airplane. Again, the requirement can be met in a flight simulator or flight training device that is representative of a high-performance airplane.

There is a grandfather clause that waives these requirements if a person has logged, prior to August 4, 1997, flight time as pilot in command of a complex or high-performance airplane or in a flight simulator or flight training device that is representative of a complex or high performance airplane. That date is the effective date of the first version of these regulatory requirements. Be especially careful to notice that being grandfathered in one of the two classifications does not satisfy the requirements for the other classification.

Tailwheel airplanes

There are also additional training requirements for operating tailwheel airplanes. FAR 61.31(i) provides: "No person may act as pilot in command of a tailwheel airplane unless that person has received and logged flight training from an authorized instructor in a tailwheel airplane and received an endorsement in the person's logbook from an authorized instructor who found the person proficient in the operation of a tailwheel airplane."

This requirement has a grandfather provision. The training and endorsement are not required if the person logged pilot-in-command time in a tailwheel airplane before April 15, 1991.

One-time requirements

The instruction and endorsement requirements for "complex airplanes," "high-performance airplanes," and "tailwheel airplanes" are one-time-only requirements. An endorsement is good indefinitely. For example, the requirements need not be met for each make and model of high-performance (or complex, or tailwheel) airplane in which a person plans to act as pilot in command. However, with respect to tailwheel airplanes, the FAA does recommend that pilots get transition training and a checkout for each make and model to be flown, because often there will be significantly different flight characteristics for each.

Logging PIC time

Here is a subtle legal concept for you "hangar-flying lawyers." Did you know that there is a difference between acting as pilot in command and logging time as pilot in command? Our discussion of these requirements presents a classic case that illustrates the difference. Let's assume that we have a private pilot with a single-engine land rating who is getting training in a complex (or high-performance, or tailwheel) airplane. May the pilot log the time as pilot in command? The answer is yes, as long as the pilot is the sole manipulator of the controls. That's because FAR 61.51(e) provides that a pilot may log PIC time of an aircraft for which the pilot is rated as long as the pilot is the sole manipulator of the controls. However, from our discussion above, it is clear that the pilot may not act as pilot in command of that very same airplane until the pilot completes the training and gets the instructor endorsement required by FAR 61.31. As I say, subtle. But if you are getting the training we have talked about you may log the time as pilot in command assuming you are rated for that aircraft. The flight instructor is actually pilot in command.

John S. Yodice