Written by Ian Feyk   
Transition Guide
Military Helicopter Pilot to Civilian Airplane Pilot
February 2020

By Ian J. Feyk

This is a major revision of the original article first published in 2007, and a minor revision from the update published in 2017.

The purpose of this article is to summarize the procedures and aeronautical requirements 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. This revision includes information on obtaining a commercial multiengine added rating, a restricted ATP, additional opinions and advice, and more information on pilot logbooks.


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 their airplane category.
The military pilot desires to add airplane multiengine class to their airplane category.
The military pilot desires to obtain a restricted ATP, airplane multiengine to their certificate.
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.


Since the military pilot already has a commercial certificate, he or she is not required to add “private privileges” for airplanes to the commercial certificate. Upon further training, “airplane single engine land” may be added to the existing commercial certificate. (Reference: § 61.123 (h),(i), § 61.63)

At no point is the military pilot considered a “Student Pilot.” [Opinion follows]: There is no reference that specifically spells out a student pilot certificate is not required for an existing certificate holder. The go-to reference for all added category and class ratings to an existing certificate is 61.63. Someone going from helicopters to planes would be an added category rating and section (b) outlines the requirements. 61.31 (d) spells out how solo endorsements are done when the applicant already has an existing certificate and is adding on a category or class. AC 61-65H spells out those endorsements.

Given that, doing some "backward" FAR reading, nowhere in 61.63 or 61.31 (or any other part) do the FARs say that one MUST get a Student Pilot Certificate if adding a category or class to a Commercial Certificate. If that were a requirement, it would be listed as number one in 61.63. Added to that the guidance on how one adds a category and how one is endorsed for solo operations in that category without an appropriate rating clearly demonstrates the FAA does not expect pilots in these cases to get a Student Pilot certificate.

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))

FAA Medical Exemption, per § 61.3(c)(2)(xii): An FAA 3rd Class medical is not required if the pilot “is a pilot of the U.S. Armed Forces, has an up-to-date U.S. military medical examination, and holds military pilot flight status.” § 61.23(b)(9) further explains that if using this exemption, the military medical only qualifies as a 3rd Class Medical.

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 hours 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, the solo endorsements that pertain to student pilots per § 61.87, 61.93, 61.95, and 61.131 are not required. To solo, the only endorsement needed is per § 61.31(d)(2) – “Have received training required by this part that is appropriate to the pilot certification level, aircraft category, class, and type rating (if a class or type rating is required) for the aircraft to be flown, and have received an endorsement for solo flight in that aircraft from an authorized instructor.” I’ve received quite a few emails from pilots whose instructors are confused about this endorsement, found verbatim in AC 61.65G, page A-21 as follows:

To act as pilot in command of an aircraft in solo operations when the pilot does not hold an appropriate category/class rating: § 61.31(d)(2). I certify that [First name, MI, Last name] has received the training as required by § 61.31(d)(2) to serve as a pilot in command in a [specific category and class of aircraft]. I have determined that [he or she] is prepared to solo that [M/M] aircraft. Limitations: [optional]. /s/ [date] J. J. Jones 987654321CFI Exp. 12-31-19

Additional endorsements may be required from § 61.31 if the airplane is a tailwheel, complex, or high performance aircraft. Be advised, though, that instructors may put any limitations on the solo endorsement that they see fit.

The endorsement required for the practical test will be different from what is required of a conventional applicant as well. This endorsement is from § 61.63(b)(2).

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)(4).

All the above-mentioned endorsements may be found in AC 61-65H. (“H” is the current version as of August 27, 2018.)


Once the airplane category and class is added to the new commercial certificate, it will contain the following 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)(1)). 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).


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.


Assuming the pilot now has a commercial airplane single engine land with instrument certificate, the requirements to add on an airplane multi-engine class rating are fairly simple. FAR 61.63(c) addresses what is required to add a class to an existing category held. Once the pilot has got his/her commercial license (single or multi as the initial in the airplane category) then they only need to demonstrate competence in the required knowledge and flight skills for the added class without any minimum number of required hours other than, arguably, the three hours in the two months prior to taking the practical test. Below are the only requirements for adding a class rating:

(1) Must have a logbook or training record endorsement from an authorized instructor attesting that the person was found competent in the appropriate aeronautical knowledge areas and proficient in the appropriate areas of operation.

(2) Must pass the practical test.

(3) Need not meet the specified training time requirements prescribed by this part that apply to the pilot certificate for the aircraft class rating sought; unless, the person only holds a lighter-than-air category rating with a balloon class rating and is seeking an airship class rating, then that person must receive the specified training time requirements and possess the appropriate aeronautical experience.

(4) Need not take an additional knowledge test, provided the applicant holds an airplane, rotorcraft, powered-lift, weight-shift-control aircraft, powered parachute, or airship rating at that pilot certificate level.


For those aiming for a career with the airlines after the military: A lot has changed in the way regional airlines view military helicopter experience. Due to the new ATP rules enacted in 2013, Airline First Officers are required to hold an ATP certificate with Airplane Multi-Engine Land privileges. A standard applicant is required to have 1500 total flight hours to apply for an ATP. However, there are multiple exceptions, one of which is found in § 61.160(a), which details how military trained pilots may earn a “Restricted ATP” with a minimum of 750 hours total flight time. A restricted ATP will allow you to fly as a first officer at a regional airline. The restriction (which simply limits you from being a PIC) is removed when you gain the required experience under § 61.159. (1500 hours total time.)

You are required to take the ATP Knowledge Test (commonly known as the ATP written) prior to applying for an ATP certificate. As part of the new ATP rules from 2013, “a person who applies for the knowledge test for an airline transport pilot certificate with an airplane category multiengine class rating must present a graduation certificate from an authorized training provider certifying the applicant has completed training in a course approved by the Administrator.” This course is commonly referred to as the ATP Certification Training Program (ATP CTP). A variety of schools offer this week-long course for about $5,000. Alternatively, most regional airlines offer this course without cost if they hire you. Some will pay you during this training.

The aeronautical experience required for a military pilot desiring a Restricted ATP is (note: this is a broad summary of § 61.159 – there are various exceptions to certain requirements):

750 hours total flight time
§ 61.160 (e) says: A person who applies for an airline transport pilot certificate under the total flight times listed in paragraphs (a), (b), and (c) of this section must otherwise meet the aeronautical experience requirements of §61.159, except that the person may apply for an airline transport pilot certificate with 200 hours of cross-country flight time – this includes:
200 hours of cross-country flight time (not 500 per the above paragraph)
50 hours of flight time in the class of airplane for the rating sought (this means airplane, multi-engine)
75 hours of instrument flight time, in actual or simulated instrument conditions (does not all have to be in airplanes unless simulator time is counted)
250 hours of flight time in an airplane as a pilot in command, or as second in command performing the duties of pilot in command while under the supervision of a pilot in command, or any combination thereof, which includes at least—
100 hours of cross-country flight time; and
25 hours of night flight time.
Bottom line: For a restricted ATP you need 750 hours total, 250 of which must be in airplanes as PIC or supervised PIC (single or multi-engine), and 50 of which must be in multi-engine.

Finally, as of October 2017, many regional airlines are currently offering financial incentives to military helicopter pilots to pay some or all of their fixed wing training. If you desire a career in the airlines, it is possible to pay very little out of pocket to make the transition to airplanes. The flight schools regional airlines send you to may be part 141 schools, whose requirements to add on fixed wing ratings will differ from the part 61 information I’ve detailed in this article. IX. OPINIONS, ADVICE, AND LESSONS LEARNED

Private Privileges

A military aviator may, if they 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. Or, it may be in your best interest to earn private pilot privileges prior to adding on commercial privileges so that most of your commercial training can be logged as pilot in command (since you would be appropriately rated in category and class). In these cases, 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.”

Instructor and flight time expectations

All the minimum hours listed for the commercial and instrument ratings are just that: minimums. You can expect to train with an instructor more 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.


Keep your own logbook. There are a variety of digital logbooks available for purchase. Alternatively, an Excel or a paper version will suffice. However, the more ways you can sort and organize your logbook data, the better off you’ll be when the time comes to fill out airline applications. While military records are pretty good for tracking the basics, they really won’t help you in the future to track cross country time, instrument time, sole manipulator time, etc.

Here are some very basic tips about how to log time (my opinion only):

1. Create a logbook column titled “part 61 PIC.” Log this time for all the time you are the sole manipulator of the flight controls after you are appropriately rated in category and class, and all time you are the actual pilot in command. The PIC column should be used only for the time you are designated the pilot in command. The “sole manipulator” column is useful for applying PIC time toward additional ratings. It is not useful for counting PIC time on airline applications. When are you “appropriately rated in category and class” in the military? You’ll have to use your best judgement, here, as I haven’t found any clear-cut regulations on this. You could argue that you’re rated after primary, or you could argue that you’re rated when you get your wings.

2. Create multiple cross country columns. a. XC – Each flight that includes a landing at a point other than the point of departure. This is all cross country time, including 50NM cross country time. b. 50NM XC – Each flight that includes a point of landing at least 50 NM straight-line distance from the point of departure. This type of cross country is used to satisfy the requirements of adding certificates and ratings. If you read something in the FARs about a 25NM requirement for helicopters, disregard it. That type of cross country only applies when adding helicopter ratings. c. Part 121 XC – Each flight that includes a straight line distance of at least 50NM. A landing greater than 50NM is not required. This XC is applicable to ATP certificate requirements.

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.


§61.51 Pilot logbooks. This is the bible for what’s required in your logbook. Also read FAR Part 1 – Definitions, and §61.51 Subpart A – General for more definitions.

§61.73 Military pilots or former military pilots: Special rules. This regulation is of course what allows us to get a commercial and instrument certificate based on our military training. In addition, in recent years this regulation has expanded to include the ability to receive FAA flight instructor and flight instructor instrument ratings based on your military instructor pilot ratings. Paragraph (g) is the reference. You do not need to be a military instrument examiner in order to get the CFII rating – a regular instructor pilot qualification will qualify you for the CFI and CFII.

§61.23   Medical certificates: Requirement and duration. Paragraph (b)(9) is the reference for using your military flight physical in lieu of an FAA 3rd class medical.


I am a former Active Duty United States Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter pilot. Since leaving active duty, I have flown for a part 135 freight company, worked as a full-time Army National Guard UH-60 Blackhawk instructor pilot, and have flown for a part 121 regional airline. I am currently a First Officer for a legacy airline. I earned all of my airplane ratings through CFI, CFII, and MEI in my spare time while in the Army through a variety of small part 61 flight schools. I can be reached at  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it