Written by Ian Feyk   

Transition Guide

 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. 

I. ASSUMPTIONS

  • The military pilot currently has an FAA commercial pilot’s license with Rotorcraft Category, Helicopter Class ratings with an Instrument rating
  • The military pilot desires to add an Airplane Single Engine Land Category and class rating to his existing commercial certificate.
  • The military pilot desires to add an instrument rating to his airplane category
  • The military pilot is receiving training under part 61 of the Federal Aviation Regulations. The information in this article does not apply to pilots receiving training under part 141. Please note, military aviators who desire to use their VA benefits to pay for flight training must train under part 141.

II. GENERAL

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:

Requirements per § 61.129

Explanation

(a) For an airplane single-engine rating. Except as provided in paragraph (i) of this section, a person who applies for a commercial pilot certificate with an airplane category and single-engine class rating must log at least 250 hours of flight time as a pilot that consists of at least:

  • Even though the military pilot has already probably logged at least 250 hours, this requirement does not apply. Since they already have a commercial certificate, and their previous experience was in a powered aircraft, they must only be concerned with requirements that specify airplane.

(1) 100 hours in powered aircraft, of which 50 hours must be in airplanes.

  • The only pertinent item here is 50 hours in airplanes

(2) 100 hours of pilot-in-command flight time, which includes at least—

  • Again, though the military pilot probably meets this requirement, it is unnecessary because it does not specify “airplane.”

(i) 50 hours in airplanes; and

  • The military pilot needs 50 hours of PIC time in airplanes

(ii) 50 hours in cross-country flight of which at least 10 hours must be in airplanes.

  • The military pilot needs 10 hours of cross country PIC time in airplanes
  • This cross country time must be to a point which includes a landing at least 50NM from the point of departure. (§ 61.1(b)(3)(ii))

(3) 20 hours of training on the areas of operation listed in §61.127(b)(1) of this part that includes at least—

  • The military pilot needs at least 20 hours of instruction in airplanes. This time does not count as PIC.

(i) 10 hours of instrument training of which at least 5 hours must be in a single-engine airplane;

  • At least 5 hours of the 20 listed above must be in simulated or actual instrument conditions in an airplane.
  • This 5 hours may be credited towards the instrument rating, as long as the instructor has an instrument rating on their instructor certificate

(ii) 10 hours of training in an airplane that has a retractable landing gear, flaps, and a controllable pitch propeller, or is turbine-powered, or for an applicant seeking a single-engine seaplane rating, 10 hours of training in a seaplane that has flaps and a controllable pitch propeller;

  • At least 10 of the 20 hours listed above must be in a complex airplane.

(iii) One cross-country flight of at least 2 hours in a single-engine airplane in day VFR conditions, consisting of a total straight-line distance of more than 100 nautical miles from the original point of departure;

  • Included in the 20 training hours

(iv) One cross-country flight of at least 2 hours in a single-engine airplane in night VFR conditions, consisting of a total straight-line distance of more than 100 nautical miles from the original point of departure; and

  • Included in the 20 training hours

(v) 3 hours in a single-engine airplane in preparation for the practical test within the 60-day period preceding the date of the test.

  • Included in the 20 training hours

(4) 10 hours of solo flight in a single-engine airplane on the areas of operation listed in §61.127(b)(1) of this part, which includes at least—

  • This will count towards the 50 hours of PIC required
  • (Reference: § 61.31(d)(3))

(i) 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. However, if this requirement is being met in Hawaii, the longest segment need only have a straight-line distance of at least 150 nautical miles; and

  • This will count towards the 50 hours of PIC required
  • (Reference: 61.31(d)(3))

(ii) 5 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.

  • This will count towards the 50 hours of PIC required
  • (Reference: 61.31(d)(3))

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.

Requirements per § 61.129

Explanation

(1) At least 50 hours of cross-country flight time as pilot in command, of which at least 10 hours must be in airplanes for an instrument—airplane rating; and

  • The pilot will accumulate the 10 hours of cross country time needed during commercial training

(2) A total of 40 hours of actual or simulated instrument time on the areas of operation of this section, to include—

  • The military pilot will have already met the general 40-hour requirement through their military training

(i) At least 15 hours of instrument flight training from an authorized instructor in the aircraft category for which the instrument rating is sought;

  • A minimum of five hours of this requirement will have been accomplished during commercial training

(ii) At least 3 hours of instrument training that is appropriate to the instrument rating sought from an authorized instructor in preparation for the practical test within the 60 days preceding the date of the test;

  • Included in the required 15 hours

(iii) For an instrument—airplane rating, instrument training on cross- country flight procedures specific to airplanes that includes at least one cross-country flight in an airplane that is performed under IFR, and consists of—
(A) A distance of at least 250 nautical miles along airways or ATC-directed routing;
(B) An instrument approach at each airport; and
(C) Three different kinds of approaches with the use of navigation systems;

  • Included in the required 15 hours

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:

  • Earn certified flight instructor certificates. Flight instruct until you have the required experience for your airline of choice.
  • After you earn your multi-engine rating, apply to a Part 135 Air-Freight company. These companies require higher flight times than the regional airlines (1200 hours total time), but most generally will accept your helicopter time.

VIII. ABOUT THE AUTHOR

           

I am a former Active Duty United States Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter pilot and a current full-time Army National Guard UH-60 Blackhawk instructor pilot. I earned all my airplane rating through CFI, CFII, and MEI in my spare time while in the Army through as variety of small, part 61 flight schools. I gave over 250 hours of instruction by instructing part time my last year and a half in the Active Duty Army. After I separated from the military I was flew at a part 135 air-freight company before joining the National Guard. I can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .