|Written by Ian Feyk|
Military Helicopter Pilot to Civilian Airplane Pilot
By Ian J. Feyk
The purpose of this article is to summarize the procedures and aeronautical requirements needed for military helicopter pilots who wish to earn FAA Single Engine Land Category and Class ratings. This is a subject that is often confusing to both the military applicants and their civilian airplane instructors. All references used are listed, and any opinions will be clearly identified as such.
Since the military pilot already has a commercial certificate, he is not required to add “private privileges” for airplanes to his commercial certificate. He may train and add Airplane Single Engine Land to his existing commercial certificate. (Reference: § 61.123(i), § 61.63)
At no point is the military pilot considered a “Student Pilot.” The military pilot must receive at least an FAA 3rd class medical in order to solo an airplane, but does not require a student pilot certificate. (Reference: § 61.3(c))
III. Aeronautical Experience: Commercial Airplane Single Engine Land
These requirements to add an Airplane Single Engine Land Category and Class rating to your existing commercial certificate are referenced from § 61.129.
Essentially, the military pilot needs a minimum of 70 total hours of airplane time; 20 of that being instruction, 50 of that being solo. The reason a minimum of 70 is needed and not just 50, is that even though the military pilot might be the sole manipulator of the controls, they may not log any instruction as PIC since they are not appropriately rated in the aircraft. (Reference: § 61.51(e)). The rationale for the required aeronautical experience is below:
The above requirements only cover 30 hours – 20 instruction and 10 solo hours. But, the regulation requires a total of 50 hours PIC. The military pilot must fly 40 additional solo hours in a single engine airplane to meet the requirements for the rating.
IV. REQUIRED ENDORSEMENTS: Commercial Airplane Single Engine Land
Since the military pilot isn’t a student pilot, he does not need the solo endorsements that pertain to student pilots per § 61.87, 61.93, 61.95, and 61.131. To solo, the only endorsements needed is per § 61.31(d)(3) – “To act as PIC in an aircraft in solo operations when the pilot does not hold an appropriate category/class rating.”
Additional endorsements may be required from § 61.31 if the airplane is a tailwheel, complex, or high performance aircraft. Be advised though, the instructor may put any limitations on the solo endorsement that they see fit.
The endorsement required for the practical test will be different than a conventional applicant as well. This endorsement is from § 61.63(b).
There must also be an endorsement from § 61.39 stating the applicant has received and logged training time within 60 days of the practical test.
The military pilot will not be required to take a knowledge test per § 61.63(b)(5).
All the above-mentioned endorsements may be found in AC 61-65E.
V. INSTRUMENT RATING: GENERAL
Once the airplane category and class is added to the new commercial certificate will contain the limitation: “The carriage of passengers for hire in airplanes on cross country flights in excess of 50 nautical miles or at night is prohibited.” This limitation will be removed when an instrument rating is earned.
The pilot will not be able to exercise any instrument rating privileges in airplanes because the rating is category, class, and type (if required) specific (§ 61.3(e)). In other words, the instrument rating they hold for helicopters is only valid when flying helicopters.
The military pilot will not be required to take a knowledge test per § 61.65(a)(7).
VI. INSTRUMENT RATING: AERONAUTICAL EXPERIENCE
The military pilot needs a minimum of 15 hours of instruction in simulated or actual instrument conditions for the instrument rating. A minimum of 5 of those hours would have been accomplished during commercial training.
VII. OPINIONS, ADVICES, AND LESSONS LEARNED
A military aviator may, if they so choose, train under the private pilot regulations if they do not desire commercial privileges in airplanes. An example would be an Army helicopter pilot who does not want to become a professional airplane pilot, but who would like to rent airplanes recreationally. In this case, the pilot would still hold a commercial certificate. The new commercial certificate issued would classify “airplane single engine land” under “private privileges.” The aeronautical experience required for this rating is found in part § 61.109. Essentially, the pilot would need a minimum of 30 flight hours in airplanes – 20 instructional, and 10 solo. As with commercial training, at no time would the pilot be considered a “student pilot.”
All the minimum hours listed for the commercial and instrument ratings are just that: minimums. You can expect to train more with an instructor than is required in order to build proficiency. It is highly unlikely you could be prepared for the commercial practical test in just 20 instructional hours.
Many civilian flight instructors are not familiar with the requirements to transition from a commercial helicopter pilot to an airplane pilot. This is the reason I wrote this article. I recommend you spend some time in the FARs to research the requirements for yourself before you discuss your training plan with your instructor. Most instructors are used to training zero-time pilots, or pilots with airplane experience only.
Know what you don’t know: As a military helicopter pilot, you received some of the best and most comprehensive instruction out there. Unfortunately, there’s a world of knowledge you don’t know when it comes to civil aviation and airplanes in general. DO NOT LET YOUR INSTRUCTOR ASSUME YOU ALREADY KNOW IT ALL JUST BECAUSE YOU ARE A MILITARY AND COMMERCIAL PILOT! I can’t stress that enough. Civil aviation is a whole different world, with a different set of rules. Get ready to re-learn some things. As an example – I thought I knew it all about IFR. I came to find out that under FAA rules, the procedures for when to select an alternate, how to select an alternate, and alternate minimums are completely different.
For those aiming for a career with the airlines after the military: Be advised, most airlines do not count your helicopter experience. Your hours in a helicopter are very useful for gaining airplane ratings at a quick pace, but may not help you to land a job. No matter what, you are going to have to add a multi-engine rating to your certificate, and build some multi-engine hours. Research hiring practices at airlines early to avoid being disappointed down the road. The good news is there are plenty of ways to build airplane experience to a hirable level. Some options are:
VIII. ABOUT THE AUTHOR