Answers for Pilots: A Ticket to Learn

August 21, 2013

When I got my private pilot certificate in 1992, my examiner handed it to me with the statement, “Congratulations! You have earned your certificate. Consider it a ticket to learn.” The years since then have proven to me he was certainly correct.

As summer comes to a close, many of us help our kids prepare for school. And when high school is finished, more than 30 million Americans walk the campuses of colleges and graduate schools – and not just recent high school grads. The National Center for Education Statistics expects the number of students age 25 and older to rise more than 20 percent in upcoming years.

Pilots can train, too! That ticket to learn is still in your wallet. Have you always wanted an instrument rating, but have hesitated until now? Or perhaps you’ve eyed a Piper Cub at your FBO but need a tailwheel endorsement to fly it. Make this the year to add a new rating or endorsement.

Whether it's your favorite seaplane, tailwheel, complex, high-performance or multiengine airplane that you hope to someday fly as pilot in command, the FAA requires training and testing, or an endorsement by an authorized instructor, to have an additional category, class, or operating privilege added to your credentials.

Instrument rating

Deciding to add this rating is a big commitment. But it’s worth it to expand your flying options as well as improve your capability as a pilot. There are different ways to obtain training for your instrument rating. Should you enroll in a highly regimented FAR Part 141 school? Perhaps a full-time or part-time instructor at your local airport could do the job. Then, there are the accelerated courses. Some of these come to your location and provide intense training in your own airplane. Others require that you travel to their location. These accelerated courses usually have you finished up in 10 to 12 days. What's the best? That depends on you and your schedule.

Multiengine rating

I flew in bush Alaska this past summer with a multi-engine pilot in a Piper Aztec. What a sweet airplane! Compared to a Cessna 172, which is the airplane I have most of my time in, this twin rocketed through the mountain passes, hauling full loads of passengers and baggage without complaint, and was as capable taking off and landing on a backcountry grass strip as it was at Fairbanks International Airport. Of course, the trade-off is cost. Compared to the familiar Skyhawk, it’s expensive to operate with its two Lycoming 250-hp engines gulping 27 or 28 gallons an hour.  The Aztec holds a whopping 144 gallons of fuel – 36 gallons of fuel in each of its four fuel tanks – so filling it up puts a hefty balance on your credit card. Still, when time mattered and we needed both capacity and versatile capability, this airplane had it all. I may have to add a multiengine rating this year so I can fly it by myself.

Tailwheel endorsement

The tailwheel endorsement does not require a minimum number of flight hours to obtain, and can often be accomplished in just a few hours of flight training.  The regulations do require at least certain maneuvers and procedures be performed, including normal and crosswind takeoffs and landings, wheel landings (landing on the main gear while holding the tail off the ground — check for manufacturer recommendations against such landings), and go-around procedures. Your instructor might require additional maneuvers or procedures be performed in order for you to demonstrate proficiency in a tailwheel airplane. These maneuvers might include stalls, steep turns, and emergency procedures.

Complex airplane endorsement

A complex airplane is an airplane that has retractable landing gear, flaps, and a controllable pitch propeller, (for seaplanes — just flaps and a controllable pitch propeller). Prior to August 1997, a separate requirement to operate as pilot in command in a "complex" airplane didn't exist under Part 61 and was considered to be part of the high-performance criteria. Today, a separate endorsement is required for each operating privilege. There are no minimum number of flight hours required to obtain a complex endorsement, although you will be required to receive and log ground and flight training from a flight instructor.

High-Performance Endorsement

Here's one that often draws attention from AOPA members due to the historical changes of its definition.  14 CFR 61.31(f) presently defines a high-performance airplane as one having an engine of more than 200 horsepower. Notice the emphasis on the engine, not the airplane, and the fact that the engine must exceed 200 hp, not just meet it. This means that aircraft having engines of only 200 hp do not qualify under this definition. In order to join the ranks of qualified pilots flying Bonanzas, Cessna 182s, Piper 6s, and other high-performance airplanes, you will need to receive and log ground and flight training from an authorized instructor in a high-performance airplane.

See all the possibilities there are! If you are interested in finding out more about any of these ratings or endorsements, you can read more in AOPA’s subject report. If you have questions, give AOPA’s Pilot Information Center a call, 800-USA-AOPA (872-2672) Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time.