No question about it—earning the private license is a major accomplishment. Some pilots will never need to seek additional ratings. The private allows pilots to operate in a wide variety of conditions, and many aviators content themselves with the entry-level ticket.
For others, however, even those who don’t aspire to make a living in the left seat, the private is exactly what many say it is—a license to learn. For pilots seeking an airline job, there are at least three more tickets needed to meet minimum requirements. Others realize that challenging themselves to advanced ratings make them better pilots.
Here’s a quick look at basic requirements for the most popular follow-on ratings and licenses. Remember, these are simply bare minimums. To list every necessity for every license and rating would take up most of the magazine’s pages.
Instrument: After the private pilot’s license, there’s little question the instrument rating is by far the most valuable follow-on ticket. If the private allows expanding your horizons, the instrument rating lets you do it pretty much on demand, certainly not in any weather, but in most reasonable conditions.
Instrument flying is a very different skill from VFR operation, however, and accordingly, the FAA requires more experience than for the private. Specifically, the feds proclaim you eligible for an instrument rating after you’ve acquired at least 50 hours of cross-country flight as pilot-in-command and 15 hours of instrument time. You’re also required to have logged 40 hours of actual or simulated instrument time, with no more than 20 hours in a simulator, unless the flight training is conducted under Part-142 rules.
In the real world, expect to need more like 50 to 55 hours of instrument training before you’re ready for the flight test. The written test for the instrument is regarded by many as the toughest of any flight rating, and you’ll be required to pass the written before you can take the oral and the flight test.
Commercial: The commercial license has few advantages if you’re not planning on flying for a living, but it’s a sign of increased proficiency and a credential that may lower insurance rates. Probably because the commercial is regarded as an entry to professional flying, the FAA makes the requirements considerably stiffer than for the private.
In addition to holding a second-class medical, the commercial requires passing an extensive written test and an instrument rating as prerequisites, along with at least 250 hours total time, with no more than 50 hours of that with an instructor in a simulator. You’ll be required to have logged at least 100 hours in powered aircraft (the rest could theoretically be in gliders), 50 hours in airplanes and 10 hours in a complex single with retractable gear, a controllable pitch prop and flaps.
You’ll need at least 20 total hours of instruction, including 10 hours of instrument training and 10 hours in a complex aircraft. Finally, you must have at least 100 hours pilot-in-command time, including 50 hours of cross country.
Multi-Engine: Although anyone who’s qualified can earn a multi-engine rating, it’s only of value to those who have access to a twin or who expect to fly one professionally. Most multi-engine airplanes are prohibitively expensive to rent, and difficult or impossible to qualify for insurance until you have experience. In other words, it’s the old catch-22: You must have experience in order to get experience.
There is no written test for the multi ticket, but three hours of cross country and three hours of night flight in a multi-engine aircraft are required. Most multi students train to proficiency in 10 to 15 hours before they’re ready for the ride. Not too surprisingly, the flight test concentrates heavily on your ability to recognize an engine failure and fly the airplane properly on one mill. Incidentally, if you train in a centerline thrust Cessna 337, your multi rating will be limited to CLT only.
Airline Transport Pilot (ATP): The ATP is the peak of the pyramid, the apex of aviation learning, and standards are appropriately high. The feds demand a first-class medical plus a commercial/instrument and 1,500 hours of total time, with 500 hours of cross country, 100 hours of night and 75 hours of actual or simulated instrument time. You must be at least 23 years old, of good moral character and a high-school graduate.
Type certificate check rides to operate specific types of corporate aircraft are essentially the same as the ATP practical test, so many pilots combine the two, typically getting typed in a Citation and earning the ATP at the same time.
Seaplane: Seaplanes are great fun, and if you have even a little sailor in your blood, the rating will be practically all fun and no work. There are no specific hour requirements and written test for this add-on rating. You simply train until you’re ready, usually in five to 10 hours. Hulled seaplane or floatplane makes no difference; the practical test is the same for both.
It’s an old story with planes that land on the water that insurance companies control who flies and who doesn’t. Most of the time, you’ll have to buy an airplane and self-insure for the first 100 hours before you’re eligible for insurance.
Glider: Some pilots learn gliders before they transition to powered flight, and many go on to become glider snobs, regarding an engine as little more than another accessory. For pilots starting off in gliders without prior powered-plane experience, the FAA requires a minimum of 10 hours in gliders with at least 20 hours of training and 10 solo glider flights, during which 360-degree turns were made.
For pilots with an existing powered license willing to transition to gliders, the FAA requires three hours of glider time, including 10 training flights and 10 solo flights. No written test is required.
Lighter Than Air
Hot-Air Balloon: There was a time when you could “earn” a hot-air balloon rating by simply filling out a form. I have a good friend who did just that and was granted the ticket without ever having set foot in the balloon gondola.
That’s not the case anymore. These days, you need 10 hours in free balloons with at least six flights with a commercial-rated balloon pilot (apparently, there are very few balloon instructors available). Additionally, you’ll need to have logged two flights of at least two hours duration in a gas balloon or one hour in a hot-air balloon and one ascent to 3,000 feet AGL (gas) or 2,000 feet AGL (hot-air) and one solo flight.
Airships: For those aviators who wish to fly what the Navy used to call “Poopy Bags,” the requirement is for at least 25 hours of total time, with three hours of cross country and three hours of flight training at night. Now, go out and try to rent one.
Helicopter: Like the multi-engine rating, the helicopter rating is one of those that is difficult to use after you earn the ticket unless you plan to buy your own helicopter. If you thought multi-engine airplanes were expensive to rent, helicopters elevate rates to a whole new level. Again, a newly rated helicopter pilot will be hard-pressed to find anyone who will allow him to rent at any price because of insurance requirements.
As with the airplane private-pilot rating, the minimum qualification is 40 hours, with 20 hours of flight instruction, including three hours of cross country, three hours of night flying with 10 landings, three hours of test preparation and 10 hours of solo flight. Don’t expect to get away with less than 55 to 60 hours before you’re ready to take the ride.
Gyroplane: One of the toughest requirements for a gyroplane rating is simply finding a place where you can train. There are precious few individuals or schools that offer a gyroplane license.
Requirements for the gyroplane rating are essentially the same as the helicopter ratings. Analogizing gyroplanes with helicopters is a little surprising, considering that gyroplanes fly more like fixed-wing airplanes than helicopters.
Few pilots who have pushed themselves to reach new heights in training find anything to complain about. And there is one thing that we can always rely on: All that extra time training and getting new ratings inevitably leads to new levels of skill.
For pilots who don’t have the time and money to obtain a new rating, there are other ways to explore the world of faster, higher and more complex aircraft. Simple endorsements for certain types of airplanes can do the trick. It won’t only make you a better pilot, but it will also open up new doors for you, especially if you long to fly in the flight levels, rent a Citabria or cruise along in a 200-plus-hp aircraft. Although no time requirements exist for endorsements, the FAA requires that the pilot must receive and log instruction time, and obtain an endorsement in his or her logbook to act as pilot in command. The following is a brief description of different endorsements that are available to those who seek to better their flight skills.
The Complex Endorsement
Pilots need a complex endorsement to fly airplanes with retractable gear, flaps and a constant-speed propeller. When flying such an aircraft, you’ll find that the airspeed gets a significant boost with the gear up because it doesn’t interfere with the relative wind. For example, a 180-hp Cessna 172 RG Cutlass gets 140 knots in cruise, while the comparable fixed-gear version with the same power cruises at only 122 knots. Obtaining this endorsement requires no more than five to 10 hours of training.
The High-Performance Endorsement
Speed is the name of the game for this particular add-on. It’s required of pilots who fly aircraft that run on more than 200 hp. And, like the complex endorsement, the high-performance endorsement requires no more than five to 10 hours of training.
The Tailwheel Endorsement
This is perfect for the pilot who wants to go back in time by flying a conventional-gear airplane. Some say that the controls provide a better feel for the airplane and its environment. Taildgraggers, however, are notorious for groundlooping during landing, which is why a tailwheel endorsement is needed. Expect anywhere from five to 15 hours of training.
The High-Altitude Endorsement
Flying higher into the flight levels means getting to experience a whole new different set of sky. It also means that pilots need to be equipped to handle hypoxia and decompression sickness, which is why the high-altitude endorsement is needed when flying pressurized airplanes with a service ceiling of more than 25,000 feet. Several Air Force bases around the country offer a full day of high-altitude training with an extensive curriculum, which includes altitude-chamber training. This endorsement requires only two to five hours of training.
Better Insurance Rates
Getting advanced ratings won’t just make you a safer, more proficient pilot. It will also give you better insurance rates. In fact, the money you spend on advanced ratings can return to you twofold in the form of insurance premium discounts. The reason for this better deal? Insurance companies see pilots with more training and who fly more complex aircraft as better pilots with greater depth of experience. In other words, in their eyes, pilots with advanced training are less accident-prone.
Although rates may vary from company to company, typically, a 200-hour private pilot who owns an older Cessna 172 worth approximately $50,000 pays $1,000 per year for insurance. If that same 200-hour pilot was to get an instrument rating, he or she will typically get a 5% to 10% discount on the insurance rate. That’s a savings of $50 to $100 a year. Additional ratings, such as a commercial or ATP, also can yield about a 5% to 10% decrease in insurance rates.
Sometimes, flying a more complex aircraft also can get you better insurance rates. A 200-hour private pilot, for example, who owns a Cirrus SR-22 will see a 15% to 20% discount if he or she gets an instrument rating. That’s a $1,500 reduction from the typical 200-hour, Cirrus SR-22 private-pilot rate of $7,500. The underwriters’ reason for this better deal is pretty straightforward: Pilots who fly more complex aircraft have better flying skills and should be rewarded with lower rates.
In fact, expanding your flight skills is such a popular subject among insurance companies that some are encouraging pilots to participate in recurrency programs offered by companies like FlightSafety or Simuflight in exchange for a discount or lower premium. Avemco Insurance Company, for instance, is offering pilots a 5% premium credit if they complete any Avemco-approved recurrency training, some of which include real-world training scenarios with a CFI, the FAA Wings Program, crosswind training, tailwheel training and any other additional ratings or certificates. The company believes that expanding your flight skills through recurrency training will not only result in less accidents, but also create better and safer pilots. So, the bottom line is that obtaining advanced ratings is beneficial for everyone—especially for pilots and their wallets.
|The Practical Test Checklist|
|Before taking your exam, prepare a checklist for any required equipment and paperwork. The following list can help you remember what you might need when you take your check ride. Although some of them might not be applicable to every exam, checking them off the list will give you some peace of mind, which will leave you more time to focus on the test:|
|• A completed and signed 8710 form|
|• A valid picture ID|
|• Money or a check for the designated examiner|
|• A current medical certificate (third-class minimum)|
|• A logbook showing the required endorsements, training and hours|
|• The knowledge test report (if required) that you’ve already passed within the last 24 calendar months|
|• Any other documents required by the examiner (cross-country log, weight-and-balance calculations, etc.)|
|• A headset|
|• A kneeboard|
|• A checklist for the aircraft|
|• Charts (VFR and IFR)|
|• A plotter|
|• A flight computer|
|• A timer|
|• A brain full of knowledge|