Guard Your Logbook

An instructor weighs in on who writes what—and where—in a pilot’s logbook.

The learner was totaling up his logbook for his private pilot check ride. He was using a paper logbook—and had been doing so for the several years he had been working on his private pilot certificate. The learner had recently moved from California to Washington. One page in his logbook had five consecutive blank lines from flights in California that were dual lessons required for completion of the certificate. 

The learner explained that the California CFI was very busy, rushing from one lesson to another everyday, so he instructed the learner to “fill out the logbook,” saying he would sign it later. The learner wasn’t sure what to write so he left the lines blank—and then left the state before the CFI could sign. There was talk of the CFI flying up to Washington or the learner flying down to California to get the necessary signatures.

The situation inspired much discussion at the flight school. Would it be possible for the California CFI to write out the information, sign it and send it to the learner who would then paste it into his logbook? A call was placed to the local DPE [designated pilot examiner] to see if this was acceptable—then the most seasoned CFI (30-plus years and counting) warned the less experienced CFIs to be wary of the learners who “forgot” to have the CFI sign their logbook or who ask the CFI to help them recreate their logbook if it went missing. 

“Never beyond three years,” he said, then added we should never sign first and have the learner fill in the tasks, because this was akin to giving someone a blank check. “Make the time to fill out, review, and sign the learner’s logbook—even if it makes you late for your next lesson,” he said, because when the lesson is dual, it is the CFI’s responsibility to make sure the logbook is properly filled out and signed.

What Dual Needs To Be Logged

One of the most often asked questions from newly-minted CFIs is: “What do I put in the learner’s logbook?” 

FAR 61.51—which covers the logging of training time and aeronautical experience—states “the following time should be recorded in a manner acceptable to the [FAA] Administrator: training and aeronautical experience used to meet requirements for a certificate, rating or flight review, aeronautical experience required for meeting the recent flight experience requirements of this part, date, time, total lesson or flight time, location departed and arrived or if in full flight simulator, flight training device, or aviation training device, as appropriate. Type of pilot experience or training—solo PIC, flight and ground training received from an authorized instructor, training received in a full flight sim flight training device, or aviation training device from an authorized instructor.”

The short form of that is, if you spend instructional time with the CFI in the air, on the ground, or in an aviation training device, and it is being used to acquire knowledge and or experience for a certificate or rating or a required proficiency check, the training and or instruction should be documented in a manner acceptable to the Administrator. That means the CFI should be notating the time and type of training in your logbook—or reviewing the entry you made then verify that information is correct as they sign your logbook and put their certificate number alongside their signature.

Organize Your Paper Logbook

The logging of flight experience starts in the front of the logbook. Be very careful about totaling up each column—don’t do it when you are distracted, like in front of the television or computer screen. Check your math twice, and write the total once.

Pro-tip: It is a lot easier to total up each page individually rather than having to total up several pages at a time in a rush before a check ride. Totaling up those columns in a hurry can result in precious hours being lost.

The totaled columns at the bottom of the page in a paper logbook should be in ink. If you are using a paper logbook, check the pages (usually in the back) to see if there are preprinted endorsements and which ones are available (more on those later). It is normal to have more than one 90-day endorsement for solo flight.

Some logbooks have a section pre-labeled for recording ground instruction, some even have a section for instruction and experience acquired in an aviation training device.

When instructors do not log ground or ATD [aviation training device] time, it is often because they don’t see this experience as necessary to get you to the airlines. Other instructors take the position that if they are putting in the effort and the learner is putting in the effort, the experience should be logged in a manner acceptable to the Administrator.

If your logbook does not have a pre-printed section set aside for ground instruction or an FTD/AATD [flight training device/ advanced aviation training device] section, it’s easy to create one by going into the flight experience section of the logbook and setting a few pages aside for logging ground and FTD/AATD time. This helps keep your logbook neat.

Logbook Hogwash

There are some CFIs who tell learners they have ruined their logbooks by using an improper color of ink or logging AATD or ground time. This is highly doubtful—the FAA doesn’t have a regulation on where items should be logged within the logbook or if blue ink is verboten. It is more likely tribal knowledge gathered “from a guy” who “heard from a buddy” who “worked at the airlines.” Riiiigggght. Now go make some porridge—Goldilocks and the bear family will be here any minute.

What is true is that if the experience is not logged in a manner acceptable to the Administrator—for example, the CFI does not use the approved language as set forth in Advisory Circular 61-65 for a necessary endorsement—it is highly unlikely the designated pilot examiner will “allow it” toward the experience required for check ride. If that happens, the check ride is called off, and it will be a minimum of 24 hours before the process can begin again, because DPEs have to obtain permission from the Flight Standards District Office to perform check rides and that involves a few hours of paperwork and an application to begin each one.

Many a CFI have learned the hard way to double-check preprinted endorsements found in logbooks. The most recent version of Advisory Circular 61-65 is the guide—as this story was going to press AC 61-65(H) was current.

The First Time

There is a tradition at some flight schools that the first person to write in the learner’s logbook should be the learner—this is where you print your name in the front of the logbook. After that, who writes the details of each lesson in the logbook can come down to school preference. There are some schools that teach the learners to fill out their logbooks on their first flight, then the CFI signs.

Others require the CFIs to fill out the logbook until the logbook owner is ready for solo.

Before you document anything in a logbook, take a look at how the information boxes are labeled: date, type of aircraft, takeoffs/landings, time, experience, PIC [pilot in command], conditions of flight (VFR/IFR), dual given, etc. Note the number of columns differentiating from the ones that are pre-labeled and those left blank. Your CFI will likely walk you through the first few entries.

You may not fill out your own logbook until the day of your first solo—and what a special day that will be.

A first solo usually begins with a lap in the pattern or two with the CFI, then the CFI makes the appropriate endorsements in the learner’s logbook clearing them for solo, then gets out of the airplane and (usually) takes position on the ramp to watch the blessed event. At the end of the three takeoffs and landings the learner returns.

When I solo a learner, I start by recording the part of the lesson that was dual given, sign it, then I do a Shatner Captain Kirk-esq staccato 

“Can’t… finish… writing… hand… cramping… solo… has… happened…” as I slide the logbook back over to the learner.

Solo is the halfway point of private pilot training and unfortunately, it is as far as some learners will get because life gets in the way. I want the event to be as special and memorable as it can be—including their logbook entries.

Protect Those Pages

You have probably heard about pilots who lost their logbooks through theft, fire, or flood and had the difficult task of trying to rebuild their hours. You can protect yourself by taking a digital photograph of each totaled page in your logbook and storing it on your computer or another digital device. 

About Electronic Logbooks

Electronic logbooks are almost too easy to use, in my opinion. Logging time involves opening the proper tab, pulling up a page, and using a keyboard to enter the information. You may want to use an external keyboard for this as fat-finger-foul-ups can happen quite easily. The CFI usually “fingertip signs” each entry. The bonus of electronic logbooks is that totalling up and quantifying your time is done by the algorithm that operates the app.

Make sure you back up the information after each flight, and be prepared to print out the spreadsheet with your experience for your check ride—if that is what the DPE asks for.

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