Keeping The Romance Alive

There are many routes to aeronautical self-improvement. The question isn't whether to add a rating, but which one?

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No matter how many tests I've taken, I still get anxious the night before an exam. In school I never pulled an all-nighter, believing that it was better to get a good night's sleep and that anything I crammed into my cranium late the night before an exam wouldn't stay with me after I'd handed in my bluebook. But, of course, memorizing the names of the 12 cranial nerves by the memory jogger, "On Old Olympus's Towering Top A Finn And German Viewed Some Hops," seems a lot less useful or important to me today than loading the "airspeeds for normal operations" from the Pilot's Operating Handbook (POH) into my random-access memory.

But preparing for an exam and ultimately going one-on-one with an examiner is an excellent way to upgrade the data and make sure it's still retrievable. Periodically exposing yourself to evaluation is a great way to fight off the complacency that is bred by routine.

If you haven't added new ratings or certificates, consider doing it. It's a great way to bring romance back into your relationship with aviation. There's a wide range of ratings you can add to your private certificate. You can get a rotorcraft/helicopter rating, rotorcraft/gyroplane rating, lighter-than-air airship rating, glider rating, free balloon-hot air rating, free balloon-gas rating and a powered lift rating. If you're gun-shy about taking written/computer knowledge exams, you'll be relieved to know that for all these additional ratings, you're not required to take one to add a rating if you already have a pilot certificate. Nevertheless, you can expect the oral portion of the practical test to be pretty comprehensive.

In some ways it's a shame that very few pilots have chosen to embark on their aviation career by earning a recreational pilot certificate. But if you're one of the very few, then the obvious next step, after enjoying the benefits of being able to take a friend along and explore your home territory, is to upgrade your ticket to a private pilot certificate. That way you can literally expand your horizons and range, fly bigger and more powerful airplanes, carry more friends along and operate in and out of controlled airports.

To move up to a private pilot certificate from a recreational certificate is really pretty simple, which is what makes it a reasonable-though oft ignored-first rung on the aviation ladder. For the recreational license you need 30 hours of flight training (at least 15 hours from an instructor) and three hours of solo flight. During the dual instruction you have to have logged two hours en route to an airport more than 25 nautical miles from where you normally train and made three takeoffs and landings at the airport and flown with the instructor for three hours in preparation for the flight test.

To qualify for the private pilot certificate you have to log at least 40 hours of flight time, including at least 20 hours with an instructor and 10 hours of solo flight. If you've been using your recreational license, you shouldn't have any problem meeting the minimum flight time requirements and you've already had 15 hours of training with an instructor. You will need to get three hours of cross-country flight training, three hours of basic instrument training, three hours of training at night, including a cross-country flight of at least 100 nautical miles and 10 takeoffs and landings. You'll have to make three takeoffs and landings at an airport with an operating control tower. During your solo time you'll have to log at least five hours of cross-country, including planning and completing a flight of at least 150 nautical miles (with landings at a minimum of three airports) and with one leg at least 50 nautical miles between the takeoff and landing location. And before you take the practical flight test you'll need to spend three hours with your instructor in preparation for the flight test.

Once you've proudly inserted your private certificate in a place of honor-and high visibility-in your wallet, you can spice up your flying by adding additional certificates and ratings. Perhaps the most useful, both for increasing the utility of your airplane and also as a way to increase the level of your precision, comfort and confidence, is to earn the instrument rating.

To add the instrument rating you'll have to log at least 50 hours of cross-country flight time as pilot in command and a total of 40 hours of actual or simulated instrument flight time that includes at least 15 hours of training from an authorized instructor in the aircraft category for which the instrument rating is sought and three hours of instrument training in preparation for the flight test. You'll have to have flown at least one cross-country flight under instrument flight rules (IFR) that is a distance of at least 250 nautical miles along airways or ATC-directed routing, made an instrument approach at each airport and three different kinds of approaches with the use of navigation systems. Interestingly, the way the rule reads, the long cross-country requirement has to be made under instrument flight rules but seems not to require that it be conducted under simulated or actual instrument conditions. That's the way it reads, but you can be sure the examiner's going to want to see that your view was limited during the flight.

After gaining an instrument rating on your private certificate you can begin to stretch your wings and gain experience in the ATC system. As you move up in ability, you might want to move up in capability as well.

If you want to add maneuverability to your aviation assets, you can qualify for a rotorcraft/helicopter rating. The minimum requirements for the add-on helicopter rating are nine hours of dual instruction (three hours of cross-country, three hours of night training and three hours in preparation for the flight test) and 10 hours of solo practice in helicopters. But don't expect to learn the control inputs that have been compared to rubbing your head and patting your stomach while doing the two-step in the minimum required time. It would be more reasonable to expect your training to take between 15 and 20 hours of instruction. The add-on rating will probably cost on the order of $5,000.

If you think of the private as a Bachelors degree, then the commercial certificate would be analogous to a Masters degree. To qualify for a commercial certificate you'll need 250 hours of flight time, consisting of at least 100 hours in powered aircraft (50 of which must be in airplanes), 100 hours of pilot-in-command flight time, including 50 hours in airplanes and 50 hours in cross-country flight. In addition, you'll need 20 hours of training in the areas of operation listed in Sec. 61.127(b)(1), which includes at least 10 hours of instrument training and 10 hours of training in an airplane that has retractable landing gear, flaps, and a controllable pitch propeller or is turbine powered.

Solo flight requirements for the commercial certificate include 10 hours, which includes at least one cross-country flight of not less than 300 nautical miles total distance, with landings at a minimum of three points, one of which is a straight-line distance of at least 250 nautical miles from the original departure point, and five hours in night VFR conditions with 10 takeoffs and 10 landings (with each landing involving a flight in the traffic pattern) at an airport with an operating control tower.

Once you've added the commercial certificate to your list of operating privileges, you can begin working on your "dissertation" for your aviation "Ph.D.," the airline transport pilot (ATP) certificate. For the ATP you have to be 23 years old, have a total of at least 1,500 hours of flight time (500 hours of cross-country, 100 hours of night flight time, 75 hours of instrument flight time in actual or simulated instrument conditions and 250 hours as pilot in command, which includes 100 hours cross-country and 25 hours of night flight). The rules spell out how much time can be logged on a simulator and provide reductions in night hours based on the number of night takeoffs and landings performed.

If you don't feel up to subjecting yourself to the time and expense needed to acquire advanced degrees, there are a number of ratings you can add to whatever level of certificate you hold. For these ratings you won't be required to take another written/computer knowledge test, but you should be prepared for an extensive oral and a practical flight test that will be designed to be sure you meet the practical test standards (PTS) of the certificate to which you want the rating added. For example, if you hold a commercial certificate you might choose to add a glider rating but only with private pilot privileges.

To add a glider category rating to your private certificate, you'll need to log at least three hours in a glider, including 10 solo flights and three training flights in preparation for the practical flight test.

Other ratings (seaplane, multiengine) don't require a specific number of hours of training. Your instructor need only endorse your logbook or training record, attesting that you've been "found competent in the aeronautical knowledge areas appropriate to the pilot certificate for the aircraft class rating sought."

In addition to the endorsement testifying to your competence in terms of the knowledge areas, the regs also require that your instructor include an endorsement that he's found you "proficient in the areas of operation appropriate to the pilot certificate for the aircraft class rating sought." The regulations for each certificate and rating detail exactly which maneuvers and procedures your instructor will have to have covered during your training, and by his endorsement he testifies that you can competently perform them during the flight test.

The endorsements essentially give you permission to meet with an examiner and demonstrate how successfully you've learned your stuff. The final step in obtaining an additional rating is the requirement to "pass the required practical test that is appropriate to the pilot certificate for the aircraft class rating sought."

The PTS for each certificate include a chart indicating all the tasks necessary for the original certificate and specify those tasks that are required to be evaluated during the flight test for an add-on rating. Don't be surprised if the examiner asks you to accomplish some tasks that aren't required for the add-on rating. At his discretion, the examiner is entitled to evaluate your competence in any task.

If you want to go faster and carry more passengers and add the redundancy of a second engine-or more-you can tack a multiengine rating onto your certificate. Most schools that offer the multiengine add-on rating recommend that you do a high-performance checkout and stretch your wings with some single-engine experience before presenting yourself for the multiengine training. Typically a VFR multiengine rating can be accomplished in three or four days; an IFR multiengine rating would likely require a couple of additional days of training. During training you'll find you're doing more flying on one engine than you will with both of them contributing. You can expect the oral-and flight test-to concentrate on one-engine-out procedures, emergency procedures and weight and balance considerations. If you're applying for IFR privileges you'll need to do some approaches, including at least one with one of the engines in an uncooperative mood. Typical cost for an add-on multiengine rating is about $2,000 for the basic VFR rating and about $3,000 for the VFR/IFR rating.

We've all seen the ads showing pilots and passengers drifting along on a floatplane casting for fish. It's a fun rating to get and will rekindle your infatuation with flying. Typically it takes between six to 10 hours to become competent enough for your instructor to sign you off to take the flight test. During training you'll learn how to handle an airplane on the water (a seaplane is always in motion on the water and the brakes don't work real well). You'll practice glassy water landings and rough water operations, learn to verify the suitability of a landing area, learn docking, ramping and mooring and learn to recognize and take advantage of the wind, a critical skill for seaplane flying. Insurance costs prevent some seaplane flight schools from letting students solo their airplanes or rent them after they get their ratings. You might want to check with your flight school.

There are several other upgrades that are accomplished by an endorsement from an instructor and will keep your flying proficient and increase your capability. Spin or upset training-or you can get serious and go all out and take a full aerobatic course-won't add any privileges on your certificate, but it will add to your confidence and may help reduce your insurance costs. Other endorsements you can add to your logbook include tailwheel training, high altitude training, complex airplane and high performance airplane signoffs.

And finally, there's the flight instructor certificate. Again, there's no set flight time required to qualify for the certificate, but there are two knowledge exams. One is on fundamentals of instruction and covers things such as the learning process, elements of effective teaching, lesson planning, student evaluation and testing and classroom training techniques. The second exam evaluates your aeronautical knowledge. The areas of operation that have to be covered during the flight training are spelled out in the FARs and essentially cover everything you've learned during your training for other certificates and ratings. For many applicants, flying from the right seat with the left hand on the throttle and the right hand on the wheel is the most difficult adjustment.

Adding ratings and certificates can be a real ego boost-and give a pilot hangar-flying bragging rights-and there's nothing wrong with that. But what's even more important is that each increase in your experience, every exposure to an instructor, each effort to satisfy an examiner, is another opportunity to hone your skills and make you a better, smoother and safer pilot.