Logbook entries
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Pilots are always judged by their flight time. It is erroneously concluded that the pilot with the most flight time is the best, most experienced, safest, and so on. Pilots with lower hours want more. Pilots with an equal number of flight hours will value hours differently, i.e., cross country, actual instrument, pilot in command. Pilot in command sounds impressive, until one realizes that most aircraft only require one pilot.

Air carriers, that is to say people in the business of flying, also define flight time differently. I once applied to PSA, whose application had a space for helicopter flight time and yet PSA had no helicopters of course. This time was subtracted from the total number of flight hours, so this form produced a negative number of hours for some of our brethren. I have no idea how to log negative flight hours.

Logbook entries

Not all flight time is equal.

I can imagination some pilot on his interview with the chief pilot would go something like this…

“Well son,” the chief pilot would say, “What are your qualifications to be a pilot for this airline?”

“Well sir, I have been in aviation for two years and, by your standards, I have accumulated 1500 hours in the negative. I expect to have no flight time at all by this time next year.”

This requirement—and PSA—have declined over the years.

Local environments produce interesting flying hours, especially if other pilots are not likely to obtain the “correct” time a local pilot may enjoy. I was informed that I could never obtain true pilot-hood until I had logged the following.

Over water flying time, which is flying over water. Note, if you will, the actual size of the water one is flying over is never actually defined. FAR 91.509 defines “overwater operations” as flight more than 50 nautical miles from the nearest shore, and states you must have flotation gear if you’re a large turbine powered airplane. If you’re not, best to have your rubber ducky handy so you can be around to log it if you are 49 miles out and need to swim for it.

Mountain time or flying over lumpy ground. Notice that we do log flight time over flat lands, hills, lakes, cows, or swimming pools (does that count as over water time?) How about desert flight time (defined as the absence of water I would assume)?

Night time, which is defined as a flight that occurs between one hour after sunset and one hour before sunrise (at least this is the definition for when you need to be night current to carry passengers). As for what is logged during those two hours, it is not defined. Curious that we do not log daytime separately, is it not?

Well maybe not. The Brits, God bless them, log their flight time and the time it occurred (in Zulu time), so their time only counts when it is logged in local time in England, not where the flight occurred.

What about those requirements for FAR 61.57, recent flight experience?

Sorry. While 61.57 states you must have made the required three takeoffs and landings within the preceding 90 days, Part 61 talks about the landings, not the flight time. Having said that, I suggest you log it. It’s one of those things that will serve you well during the court-martial (and don’t forget FAR 61.51 (a) (2) either).

The types of flight time go on…

Single engine flight time is obviously an aircraft with only one engine. Well maybe not so obvious—while one may log helicopter time, and there are single engine helicopters, helicopters with more than one engine are logged as helicopter time. There is no multi-engine helicopter time, while in fact there are multi-engine helicopters.

Multi-engine flight time, which is defined as an airplane with more than one engine or a many motors airplane. The actual total number of engines is never really defined. Having said that, it usually comes as a surprise to military types who fly multi-engine fighters that where or how the engines are mounted on the airplane does matter to the FAA. Most fighters have the engines mounted close to each other along the center of the airframe, called centerline thrust.

When obtaining a FAA pilot certificate, their rating reads multi-engine land, centerline thrust. A checkride with an examiner is required to have that removed. The only two civilian multi-engine centerline thrust airplanes I know of are the Cessna 336 and 337. There is a warbird out there called the Casa Saeta or HA-200, but otherwise this is not much of a section.

No engine flight time is of course a glider, or a sailplane to the purest in the glider pilot community. Which is different than “powered” time and logged differently.

Grob 109

Is it a glider or an airplane?

No engine flight time is defined by not only how long you stayed up, but the number of times you tried to stay up without benefit of a powerplant. This attempt is called a “flight.” Some glider pilots define a flight as when you make a complete, 360-degree turn. So, if you went straight out from the airport—excuse me, glider port—4000 miles and never turned on a cross-country journey that lasted 200 hours you would not have completed a flight.

There in the corner of the hangar, taking no notice of any of this is a Grob G109. For those of you not familiar with the aircraft, it is a self-launching glider or, if you will, a glider capable of launching itself. Normally, a glider is towed into the air by another aircraft, called a tug, then released. Not so with the 109. So, you would think the glider is a single engine airplane.

No, it is not. As the engine is only used to launch the aircraft it is not a single engine airplane. There is no requirement as to how long the launch may take or how long the powerplant may operate. So now we have a single engine aircraft, operating on a cross country flight, during which time a 360-degree turn was not completed—therefore it was not a flight.

Go stick that in your logbook.

Logging cross-country time: here we enter dangerous waters. What qualifies as cross-country time? Like most answers in aviation, it depends. What part of the Federal Aviation Regulations are you flying under? If you’re logging time under Part 61 to obtain a new or higher pilot rating, it is defined from Student Pilot all the way up to Airline Transport Pilot. Operating under Part 91, there is no definition of what or how long cross-country flight should be. So you may log cross-country time on you next local $100 hamburger flight.

Flight time logged somewhere it should not be. Reviewing my airframe logbook on my 1939 Aeronca, I discovered the previous owner had logged his flight time in the airframe logbook along with maintenance records of repairs to the airframe. I asked several IAs and the local FAA offices about this; the consensus was it’s not illegal, just strange.

While at Rockwell’s space division, working on the Space Shuttle program, I got to know several very experienced test and research pilots. I brought this question of flight time to Jim and Tom, two of these pilots. While I had more total hours than either of them, they had more burner time than I did. Burner time is flight time in an aircraft (jet aircraft), as you might have guessed, with afterburners on.

Jim was a fighter jock and a test pilot. Tom describes himself as a research pilot, as opposed to a regular test pilot. Both gentlemen have flown aircraft that are still classified, even after the programs closed many years ago. Tom is the only pilot I ever met that whose logbook is classified.

Jim’s comment was his usual 20-year-old fighter jock he was 70 years ago. “Stagg,” he said, “I know exactly what you mean. Those tri-focal captains I would check out in the heavy Convair 990s had one experience 5000 or 10,000 times, not 5000 or 10,000 separate experiences. The old farts would get lost on the walk-around inspection. That is why the flight engineer does it. As for all this night, day, overwater, over mountain or desert time—it’s all bull. An airplane does not know what it’s flying over. You cannot judge a pilot by ink stains in some logbook. They’re just a pack of lies anyway.”

“Look!” he stated, and pointed his finger at me to emphasize the point, “The only flight time that counts is Straight up and straight down.”

Continuing further investigations into flight time and what it means, if anything, I posed the question to Tom. While Jim’s position was clear, Tom presented quite a different perspective. After careful thought, he responded that he had more flight time in monuments than anyone in the world.

“What?” I responded.

“It’s true,” Tom responded rather proudly.

“The majority of aircraft I have flown as a research or test pilot are now permanently enshrined in or around various Air Force installations, bases, playgrounds, and museums, as monuments or gate guards of one kind or another. And as I have flown those aircraft more than anyone else, and in fact they are actual monuments, it follows that I have more flight time in monuments than anyone… At least anyone I know.”

Skip Stagg
24 replies
  1. Harry Fox
    Harry Fox says:

    That was an entertaining article. However, the description of logging glider time bears no relation to reality, at least among the glider pilots I know. I have been flying gliders for over 20 years, and I have never heard a glider pilot or glider instructor describe the logging of glider flights or hours the way they are described in this article.

    A glider flight involves one takeoff and one landing. (We don’t get to practice touch-and-goes.) Glider hours are the time from takeoff to landing, just like any other aircraft. Where did you come up with the “a logged glider flight must include a 360-degree turn” idea? I’ve never seen anything like that in the FARs. Maybe your local glider instructors have been pulling your leg, or just trying to get their students to practice more 360-degree turns, since the ability to hold a steady attitude and bank angle through repeated 360-degree turns is essential for learning how to work thermal lift.

    There is a difference between a “cross country flight” as glider pilots describe it, and the meaning of “cross-country time” as defined in FAR Section 61.1(b). In the glider community, a cross-country flight is one in which you soar without engine assistance out of gliding range from the airport where you started, regardless of whether you make it back or land at another airport near or far. It is common to fly a glider 100 nm or more away from the launch airport using thermal, wave and/or ridge lift, but then make it back to the starting point to land before the barbecue is fired up.

    Logging time in a glider with an engine does raise some interesting questions. In most self-launching gliders the engine is used just to get into the air and reach the initial thermals, then shut down and stowed away. With a touring motor-glider like the Grob 109, there may be enough fuel capacity to keep motoring on to your destination, at a cruise speed that matches or beats some small airplanes. But if the pilot is flying based only on glider-rating privileges, I presume the flight would still be logged as glider time. My glider has a dinky 2-stroke “sustainer” engine that is not powerful enough for takeoff but can be fired up in flight to try to get back home. I still don’t log “single-engine” time when I use it.

    • Bill Hunt
      Bill Hunt says:

      I think the 360 turn issue is based on the old requirement for a glider rating. When I got my glider add-on in the 80’s, the requirement under 61.115 (c) Forty hours of flight time in gliders and single engined airplanes, including 10 solo glider flights during which 360 deg turns were made.

      The requirement now under 61.109 is a little different.

  2. Hunter Heath
    Hunter Heath says:

    Hey, guys– cut Stagg a little slack. Great satire (as is his article) often requires hyperbole, fact-bending, and outright invention. Had me smiling and nodding with recognition all the way through. Give us more, Skip!

  3. Jonathan Friedman
    Jonathan Friedman says:

    Interesting article but I thought the writer’s discussion of logging cross country flight time under Part 91 was a bit vague. It’s a widely misunderstood subject, at least by the majority of my students.

    14 CFR 61.1(i) defines cross-country time. If a pilot holds a certificate, the flight is conducted in an aircraft, the flight involves landing at a point other than the departure airport and involves some form of navigation, it’s a cross country flight and can be logged as such.

    The majority of pilots who I fly with incorrectly think that flights must exceed 50 nautical miles to be considered as cross country flights and be logged as such. Misunderstood is that the 50 nm rule applies only to the cross country requirement for higher ratings.

    • Jonathan Friedman
      Jonathan Friedman says:

      A.waste of time?Maybe – unless an insurance underwriter, potential employer or God forbid a plaintiffs attorney cares.
      I know from the healthcare world that incomplete or nonexistent records demonstrate well . . a lack of attention to detail. Not good if your competency is being judged, especially by the uninitiated.

  4. Larry S
    Larry S says:

    Looking at Skip’s ‘bio,’ I note that it says he was “the first pilot to launch a UAV from a helicopter.” I’m curious … was that the High AoA F-16 model dropped from a UH-1N at Edwards AFB back in the 70’s? I was there … IF so, that’s another good story (especially the reversed wiring).

  5. David St. George
    David St. George says:

    A great article, the blazing pilot ego of “flight hours logged” never dies. Thanks for cleverly pointing out the uselessness of most “parker pen experiences” (it’s all in the rearview mirror)! The only hours and landings that count, as luminaries like Dick Collins and Bill Kershner were fond of saying, is the *next* hour (and landing). Focus on vigilance and proficiency so you are around to record (and brag about) it :)

  6. Craig Henderson
    Craig Henderson says:

    Regarding the “multi engine limited to centerline thrust” limitation, that FAA rule is gone.

    I stumbled on this fact during preparation a couple years ago for CFIA/CFII certification based on my military flight instructor experience. My commercial certificate from the equivalency test process in 1976 had that restriction. My current certificate was updated without the restriction at the FSDO as I presented my passing results from the written exam and documentation of my flight instructor/flight examiner qualifications/experience.

    Flight hours logged and flight experience are frequently very different beasts. You can kill yourself in a Cessna or Mooney, and be just as dead as if you did it in an F18. Arrogance is corrected in good time, frequently with brutal results. Humility is as important as experience, and more important than “hours” for safe flight. Know your limits (tell the truth), know your airplane limits, and always have a solid “Plan B”.

    • Don W.
      Don W. says:

      I’m a little surprised to hear the FAA removed the “centerline thrust” limitation. A light twin with widely separated wing mounted engines, two throttles, two mixtures, and two propeller controls is a different beast from a C336/337 with no engine out yaw. Both are quite different beasts from a F15 or F18 with two closely spaced exhausts and a Hotas setup. The F15/18 driver with one flamed out and one in burner does learn quite a bit about yaw and VMC even though the engines are in close proximity to the centerline.

  7. Glenn Gunn
    Glenn Gunn says:

    “Monument flight time”, … hey, I resemble that remark! My most notable example would be an aircraft enshrined at the Smithsonian, …. with my name written under the pilot’s seat. :-)

    • Skip Stagg
      Skip Stagg says:

      Sir: I googled you name and I copped this Bio from The Smithsonian Roll of Honor .
      You might consider writing you war experiences in a book. At lease a story in this publication.
      BIO follows:
      Captain L. Burwell Gunn (retired) served as a helicopter aviator in the U.S. Army from 1967 until 1971. His early military service included Officer Candidate School from which he graduated in 1968 as a Second Lieutenant. After flight school, he was a training officer on various U.S. Army helicopters.
      Captain Gunn’s service to our country also included a tour in Vietnam from 1970 to 1971. A dedicated aviator, he flew Cobras, Hueys, and L.O.H.s and did Hunter/Killer flights and Aerial Artillery. He also served as liaison to an Army Republic of Vietnam General. Mr. Gunn received several commendations and medals for his heroic an dedicated service including the Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star – V (Valor), Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, Silver Cluster, Bronze Clusters, and 25 Air Medals. He was shot down twice over Cambodia.
      Mr. Gunn retired from military service in 1971 and began a long career in banking. Most recently, he was one of the founders and is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Cardinal Financial Corporation, the holding company for numerous financial service businesses in Virginia. He is married to Vickie Gunn and has three adult children Faith, Burwell, and Carter. He enjoys golfing, computer games, and reading.
      Captain Gunn is a patriot, a leader, and a helicopter enthusiast.

  8. Mike Crawford
    Mike Crawford says:

    I love this narrative. Good and valid points. It is interesting, how, over the years, certain regulating agencies for civil aviation, “change the rules”. Even specifically, to logging of pilot flight time. What counts, what doesn’t, what “used to count”, and what “didn’t used to count”.
    Like everything else…..some folks “get it”, and some folks don’t.
    Thanks, Skip.

  9. L. Ropke
    L. Ropke says:

    Interesting to hear someone else experienced the uninformed biases of the PSA Chief pilot. In 1972 I was interviewed by the Chief pilot and as he went trough my logbook of 4000+ hours, He informed me that my 2000 hours of flying Army helicopters (1100 in combat) didn’t count for anything and he actually considered it a detriment. Next he said my 1500 hours of single engine time was worthless and the 500 hours of multi-engine time did not count as all was all in aircraft below 12,500 pounds. He said I effectively has Zero hours!
    I have told that story many times over the years and many people did not believe that a Chief pilot would be so ignorant of the value of different areas of flying. I am going to save your article to show the next doubter. I might add as I went out the door I told him if he knew anything about helicopters he would be looking to hire those pilots, If you can fly a helicopter, you can fly anything.
    That frustration was a blessing in disguise as I was hired a few months later by a major trunk carrier and retired on the B-777, 33 years later, and I never tried to hover it once.

  10. Ed
    Ed says:

    A well executed log isn’t just a cold summation of hours under specific conditions, but a memoir of our aviation lives, and reading through some old timers logbooks has been very interesting indeed. Reading through my old logs, a lot of the comments sections have some interesting or memorable entries. My first family members flights, interesting or unusual experiences, like icing, engines quitting, wheels blowing out and even a ground loop (yes, I’m one of that first group of pilots). but also fun trips, notes on weather conditions, airfields, people met, aircraft seen or flown. Formation flights with friends. First B-25 flight, first Solo flight, IFR through a line of Tstorms way back in the ’90s before small aircraft had anything like Foreflight to warn them. Also good times, trips with friends, my future wife’s first flight on our first date no less. One can see the joy, hard work, and sometimes hard times, and someday, looking back on those old logs, will be all we have left of our aviation lives.

  11. Peter T
    Peter T says:

    Wonderful writing Skip!
    You had me laughing out loud! Thanks for highlighting the absurdity of so many of our aviation endeavors.

  12. Jon S.
    Jon S. says:

    Ha! Great article! I appreciate the tongue-in-cheek humor, because the whole “flight time = experience = competence” concept is laughable. Pretty sure most pilots would agree that the most important measure of pilot ability is whichever flight time they have the most of in their own logbook.

    L. Ropke, I’m sure you’re happy to know that the airline industry created such a pilot shortage that they are desperate enough to consider even helicopter experience as real flight time. You were only 50 years too early.


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