How To Earn a Complex Aircraft Endorsement

The endorsement has no corresponding check ride or minimum number of flight or ground hours to be completed.

complex aircraft endorsement

One popular complex aircraft is the Cessna’s Cardinal RG. [FLYING Archive]

For both recreational and professional pilots, the desire to fly larger and more capable aircraft frequently pushes them to seek additional training and endorsements. That’s where the complex endorsement comes into the picture. 

It allows airplane-rated pilots of all levels to operate aircraft with retractable landing gear, in general. Whether utilized alone or combined with other endorsements, the complex aircraft endorsement allows pilots far more opportunities in their choice of aircraft.

What Is a Complex Aircraft Endorsement? 

The complex endorsement applies to all airplane classes, including single and multi-engine as well as land and sea. It allows the pilot to act as pilot in command, or PIC, of seaplanes with flaps and a controllable-pitch propeller. In the case of airplanes, pilots with complex endorsement can operate aircraft with retractable landing gear, flaps, and a controllable-pitch propeller. It should be noted that the presence of flaps in an airplane or seaplane does not require a pilot to have the complex endorsement in order to fly that aircraft. 

As the endorsement name would suggest, complex aircraft generally come with a greater workload for pilots. Therefore, obtaining the complex aircraft endorsement requires that the pilots go through specific training, all culminating in the logbook endorsement.

How Does a Complex Aircraft Endorsement Work? 

Unlike a pilot certificate or rating, the endorsement has no corresponding check ride or minimum number of flight or ground hours that must be completed. Training is completed at a pace that is comfortable for the student and to accommodate the amount of training required. Plus, the duration and the cost of training will depend heavily on the pilot’s proficiency level. 

Since the requirements detailed in 14 CFR 61.31(e) are very open-ended, the course can vary extensively depending on your school or your instructor. For airplane pilots, an airplane with retractable landing gear, a controllable-pitch propeller, and flaps are required. 

Ironically, advances in aircraft design have led most general aviation manufacturers away from equipping light aircraft with retractable landing gear, so a majority of the training fleet utilizes classic aircraft such as the Piper Arrow and Cessna 172RG or 182RG. For seaplane pilots, retractable landing gear, like that found on an amphibious aircraft, are not required, making it much easier to find a usable trainer. 

Three Steps for How To Earn a Complex Aircraft Endorsement

Training for the complex endorsement is straightforward and while the time requirements will vary depending on your proficiency, there is a clear path to completion.

Step 1: Ground Training

Ground training will focus heavily on the systems of your training aircraft along with general complex aircraft theory. Though most pilots are quite familiar with flaps at this point, expect a deep dive on the workings of a controllable-pitch propeller along with the landing gear system whether they are actuated electrically, hydraulically, manually, or by some combination of means.

Step 2: Flight Training

After completing ground training you will move on to flight training either in a complex airplane or a full motion simulator or flight training device (FTD) representing one. Flight training will focus heavily on the operation of the various systems. 

They should also expose the pilot to high-workload situations where they can become task saturated and be forced to prioritize and utilize single-pilot resource management to prevent errors. Flight training could be relatively brief, such as a seaplane pilot just adding the use of a controllable pitch propeller, or it could take substantial time. Two to four hours is typical.

Step 3: Logbook Endorsement

Once you’ve covered the ground material and gained proficiency in flight, your instructor will issue the complex endorsement. Though the endorsement will specify the make and model of aircraft used for training, it is valid for all complex aircraft and does not expire.

It is not uncommon for complex aircraft to also feature a powerplant with more than 200 horsepower and thus qualify as high-performance aircraft as well, allowing both endorsements to be accomplished at once. 

Exceptions to Earning a Complex Endorsement

Prior to August 4, 1997, the FAA did not require pilots to have a complex endorsement. It was included in the high-performance training and endorsement. As such, if you logged time as a pilot in command in a complex aircraft or simulator or FTD-representing one prior to this date, then a complex endorsement is not required.

Additionally, pilots who train and complete a check ride under 14 CFR 135.293 in a complex aircraft or a Part 135 air carrier do not require a standalone endorsement. This exclusion does not apply to Part 121 airline pilots nor pilots with FAA certificates issued on the basis of military competency unless they meet the date waiver above.

Complex Flying Doesn’t Have To Be Complicated 

Obtaining a complex endorsement is a natural progression of pilot training, allowing you to expand your skills and knowledge. FLYING provides resources for pilots in all stages of flight training and flying. To stay informed on all of the latest in aviation, subscribe to the FLYING Magazine today.



How long does it take to get a complex endorsement?

A: Training duration is heavily dependent on your proficiency and there is no specific FAA minimum. If you, your instructor, and the aircraft have the availability it can generally be accomplished in one day.

How many hours are needed in a complex aircraft with an instructor to get a complex endorsement?

A: Anywhere from two to four hours of flight training is typical, but a pilot who has been out of flying for a period of time should expect additional time to be endorsed.

Is a complex aircraft required for the commercial checkride?

Until April 2018 a complex aircraft was required for both the commercial and certified flight instructor (CFI) check rides. Because the fleet of complex aircraft is dwindling, the FAA relaxed this requirement by instead requiring initial commercial-pilot applicants to log at least 10 hours of time in a complex, turbine, and/or technologically advanced aircraft (TAA) prior to the check ride

Valerie Smith is a Certified Flight Instructor, commercial pilot, FAA licensed aircraft Dispatcher, and freelance writer. She is an Aviation Specialist for a public utility in San Diego, CA.

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