Must Be In Compliance With New 61.31 (k) By August 15th
"This is a blast!" the pilot burst out after his first gyroplane
demo flight. "I gotta do this! What kind of license do you
"Hey, if you have a private, you're covered."
"But I don't have a gyro rating, only airplane, single engine,
"No matter," the instructor said. "It's in the experimental
category. 14 CFR Part 61.31 (k) says that class and category
ratings aren't required for experimentals!"
That was then...
Well -- that was then,
and this is now. This privilege, intended to encourage the
invention of novel kinds of flying machinery, ran afoul of the
lawyers in the FAA's Office of Aviation Inhibition, and it's gone.
Instead, the new FARs say that you have to have an appropriate
class and category rating for any aircraft, even experimentals, at
least if you plan to carry a passenger.
You can still aviate in, say, an experimental gyro without a
rotorcraft/gyroplane rating, an experimental helicopter without a
helicopter rating, or an experimental seaplane without a seaplane
rating -- as long as you fly solo, AND the operating limitations
don't require an appropriate class/category rating. (Currently,
most inspectors and DARs are issuing operating limitations that
require an appropriate class/category rating to fly the aircraft at
all, but before the rule change most did not). After all, flying
solo you're only risking your own neck, and the FAA still thinks
you're grown-up enough to make that call.
Since the FAA had been planning to make this change to Part 61
along with the other changes that came in as part of the Sport
Pilot/Light Sport Aircraft regulation, the FAA's intent to make
this change has been known for years. The FAA included provisions
to grandfather people who have been flying off-class or
off-category safely right along, but the window in which a pilot
can take action to preserve his passenger-carrying privileges is
When it does close, the only path by which someone can carry pax
in a gyro is to have a rotorcraft/gyroplane rating on a
Recreational or higher license, or to have Sport Pilot privileges
in that specific type of gyro. The same is true for seaplanes. If
you are now flying your Vollmer V-22 without a seaplane rating,
you're going to have to get some kind of seaplane rating to retain
your passenger-carrying privileges.
Three Paths Lead To The Sunlight...
You can get Sport Pilot privileges in your existing machine, you
can get a grandfathered rating (if you act fast), or you can get an
ordinary add-on rating. Each has its own pros and cons.
First Option: Sport Pilot Privileges
Your aircraft must meet the Sport Pilot limitations (no more
than 2 seats, gross weight less than or equal to 1320 pounds, speed
less than 120kt, stall speed no higher than 45kt, etc.)
To preserve your sport pilot privileges, you need an endorsement
in your logbook from a CFI or CFI-SP that you have passed a
practical test and are endorsed to exercise sport pilot privileges
in that particular aircraft.
You need two CFIs who are qualified to give this rating: one to
give you training and endorse you to take the test, and a second to
actually give the test. Note that this only needs to be a CFI, not
a DE... many CFI's haven't mastered the new Sport Pilot rule
With a sport pilot signoff, you may fly solo or carry a
passenger. A downside to using a signoff is that the privileges are
limited to the type you were signed off for, which in sport pilot
parlance is a "make/model set." So if you got signed off for a
Sport Pilot compatible Searey amphibian you would need another two
instructors to get signed off in an Aventura (assuming the machines
were sport pilot compatible). You are required to have class and
category ratings to carry pax now, but under Sport Pilot there are
no class and category ratings, just type-specific ones. A major pro
is that you do not require an FAA medical certificate, IF your last
medical certificate with FAA was not denied or revoked.
Second Option: Grandfathered Rating -- By August 15th
Not everybody's preferred machine is Sport Pilot legal. (An
inflight adjustable prop can do you in). Perhaps you want to fly at
night (Sport Pilot privileges end at dark). You can get a
category/class rating added on to your pilot certificate if you ACT
QUICKLY. Under Part 61.63, if you log 5 hours PIC in your aircraft,
and get an instructor to certify you proficient in that particular
aircraft, you can get a grandfathered rating.
The good news is, you only need one instructor, who fills out an
airman certificate application (8710-10) and endorses your logbook
that you're proficient to fly your machine. You don't need to take
a written or practical test. You'll be issued a limited class and
category rating good for the machine for which the instructor signs
you off. This can even be a machine that is well outside of Sport
The bad news is, like the Sport Pilot rating, this applies only
to the specific type that your instructor signs off. Another
disadvantage, for some, relative to Sport Pilot is that for the
grandfathered Class/Category rating, you must have an Airman's
Medical Certificate to exercise these privileges of Recreational or
higher. The final bad news is that if you exercise this option, you
need to have it all wrapped up by August 15th, 2005.
Third Option: The Hard Way -- No Time Limit
The third way, of course, is to simply go and get the FAA class
and category rating appropriate to your experimental aircraft. This
is the most expensive and time-consuming approach, ranging from a
weekend for a seaplane add-on to a long hard slog for helicopters
or gyros, involving as it does aeronautical knowledge and
experience requirements, several instructor sign-offs, and
knowledge and practical tests, the latter with a designated
examiner or FAA examiner.
This option also has the potential of giving you the greatest
possible privileges, so it shouldn't be dismissed out of hand.
Why'd they do this?
We might joke about FAA's Office Of Aviation Inhibition, but the
FAA guys and gals read a lot of accident reports -- and one thing
that they can't help noticing is the much higher accident rates of
experimental aircraft compared to certified machines. In examining
the causal factors of those accidents, one thing that kept turning
up is that accident pilots often had little experience in type --
or even in class and category.
Classes and categories don't exist just so some old lady in
tennis shoes in the basement at OKC can file your airworthiness or
airman certification papers properly. They are a way to define
aircraft that have something in common. Anyone who has flown
seaplanes, or gyroplanes, or helicopters, knows that they have
different handling from conventional airplanes, and that sometimes
a pilot's experience on one class or category can be deadly when
applied to another.
In short -- the FAA did this because they want us to be safe,
and not to be the lead story on the six o'clock news. It's a bit of
a brute-force approach to improving pilots' skills and training,
but the FAA doesn't have many tools for this, except for hammers.
And we all know an old, bold pilot or two upon whom subtlety will
It's annoying and inconvenient for a lot of experimental pilots,
but if you look at it as an opportunity to learn, you'll be a
better aviator for it.
This article's in my own words, but I'd be lying if I didn't
acknowledge the inspiration and ideas from Greg Gremminger's
article in the January/February 2005 Rotorcraft magazine. Greg is
the US representative for the Italian-made Magni gyroplanes, and
has been active in gyroplane instruction and in the development of
the sport pilot proposal, as it affects sport rotorcraft.
Rotorcraft Magazine is published by the Popular Rotorcraft