By JEB BURNSIDE.
I’m in the middle of what’s shaping up to be a long-term project: Organizing my logbooks and other flight records. I have varying details on literally decades of personal flying spread across four bound logbooks, a roll-my-own database on a hard drive, and my airplane’s tach sheets. Very little is duplicated in the three formats.
Getting it all in one place — updated and totaled — recently became a goal.
I freely admit I’ve gotten lax in documenting all details of my recent flying. Owning an airplane will do that to you. When I fly an OPA — other person’s airplane — I may not enter it into a logbook. If I do, it may be way out of chronological order, in the back.
Meanwhile, my airplane’s tach sheet and other records demonstrate I’m current for certain flight operations, and logged endorsements cover the flight review and things like instrument currency.
The ability to avoid entering flight time into a logbook is just one of the luxuries of owning an aircraft. It’s also a drawback.
If I was renting or building time toward a new certificate or rating, things would be different. The renting organization likely would want to see a formal logbook with appropriate entries, or even keep its own set of records. They’d want to know I met their minimum standards, and detailed logs are the best way, whether on paper, in a computer, or both.
The FAA doesn’t really care if we use paper or pixels to track our flight time. For student, sport and recreational pilots — who may be required to have a logbook with them when acting as pilot-in-command (PIC) — an electronic-only record can be problematic.
Otherwise, a pilot isn’t required to carry a logbook, only appropriate pilot and medical certification. When asked, of course, we’re required to present a suitable record documenting we meet recent-experience requirements, and must document the minimums required for a new certificate or rating, but that’s about it.
Much of the agency’s guidance on logging flights is geared toward recording and building PIC time, since certain minimum flight times are required for certificates and ratings. The FAA’s FAR 61.51, appropriately titled “Pilot Logbooks,” tells us how to record flight time and meet the minimum requirements “for a certificate, rating, or flight review” and recent flight experience.
In looking through my records, some entries remind me of specific flights, including their purpose, who else was aboard, and how badly the weather sucked. I’m reminded of former instructors, airplanes I’ve owned and flown, and ratings I’ve earned. And my children’s first flights.
Some of the flights and people I’d forgotten, and some of the destinations don’t exist anymore. A lot of memories, and some entries that may not count for anything as far as a new rating or PIC time, but are there anyway.
The fact is, nothing stops us from logging flights not contributing to the FAA’s minimum requirements. An example might involve “stick time” in a friend’s seaplane, or flying another friend’s twin. Even though we may have PIC privileges only for single-engine land, we still can log the flight, just not as PIC.
The FAA’s FAR 61.51 says PIC time is only that time we are “sole manipulator of the controls of an aircraft for which [we are] rated.”
In a friend’s seaplane or twin, the friend clearly is PIC — someone has to be. We can log the time we manipulate the controls, preferably in an “other” logbook column, while the friend can’t.
The fact is, “total time” isn’t defined by the FAA, although FAR 61.1 tells us what “pilot time” and “training time” mean. Neither says anything about being rated in the aircraft.
So there are some interesting logbook entries in my records.
One of my favorites is the half hour I spent in the right seat of a friend’s Cessna 180 on straight floats, learning to get it on and off the surface of a remote Alaskan lake. I didn’t have a seaplane rating at the time, but I logged the flight, anyway.
A more traditional entry covers an hour in a Piper Archer’s right seat. The flight was approximately three hours in duration, and I didn’t perform the takeoff or landing, but I was sole manipulator of the controls for an hour, relieving the left-seater. That hour counts as PIC, cross country and total time.
And there’s the two-tenths of an hour I spent shooting a for-real VOR approach from a Skyhawk’s right seat after the left-seater confessed — somewhere between the initial fix and the final — that he was confused and didn’t know what he was doing. Knowing a pine tree was coming through the windscreen any moment, I called the miss and we went back and started from scratch. As we broke out with the runway dead ahead, he cheerfully called out, “Okay, I can take it from here.” We never flew together again.
It works both ways, of course. I also have a logbook entry resulting from a Civil Air Patrol search for a missing airplane in which I toted up the takeoff and landing, but only 1.8 hours of a 2.2-hour flight. A CFI and close friend in the right seat manipulated the controls for 24 minutes during that flight, giving me a break from mission-pilot duties.
Thanks to detailed entries like those, I’m enjoying reconstructing all my flying and reliving some memories I might not recall if I only logged flights the FAA says contribute toward a rating/certificate or currency.
It’s a lot of work trying to get all of these records to fly in close formation, but when I’m finished, I’ll be able to tell at a glance how much time I have in various types, how many approaches I’ve flown, and how much of it is recent.
How we record our flight time often comes down to personal preferences: We can log the bare minimum or write down every detail. I’ve done it both ways, and I’m thinking more is better.