Pilots, Certificates and Ratings
By: Ralph Shultz

In the past ultralight types of aircraft and their pilots have operated without FAA certificates or much oversight. As a result, all too often, little aviation general knowledge and theory was included in their training.

Most “fat ultralight” pilots have kidded themselves and others, boldly telling anyone who asked (and many who didn't) that flying these aircraft did not require an FAA pilot's license or a flight medical.

To the credit of these pilots, and the aircraft designs, many have not only survived but have become talented flyers of their aircraft. At times many pilots have spoken some unflattering words about “GA” (general aviation) pilots and questioned their piloting abilities in ultralight types of planes.

I have, at times, wondered if those pilots understood what tools FAA certified aviation training endows a pilot with. It's true that most GA pilots do indeed need some “type” transition training in these ultralight types, just as any pilot does in an unfamiliar aircraft.

With the arrival of Sport Pilot, the day has come where the “fat ultralights” of the past have come of age and now require FAA pilot certificates to legally fly them and soon will operate under the watchful eye of the FAA. Many flyers see this change as the passing of an era and a negative thing. Many view it as a positive step forward as these pilots will now be joining the ranks of general aviation.

One thing is certain; it will eventually produce a better-trained and informed pilot, and undoubtedly some will want to advance to higher certificates and ratings.

This subject of certificates and ratings can be long, dry, complicated, confusing, exciting and yes boring all at the same time. But try remembering that it takes time to make fine wine; it's the same with the making of a pilot. This learning process requires much effort and lots of checks along the way.

Understanding what each certificate and rating brings to a pilot and what its training is trying to teach them will be in the best interests of all pilots and aviation in general.

Take a look at the following certificate. Do you know what all the information means?

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Lists the type of certificate

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Lists the ratings, category,
types and limitations

Right here is probably a good place to try explaining the differences between a certificate, a rating, a category or a type designation.

Certificate: What is it? It is a document on which is printed the basic license level for which the certificate is issued along with other relevant information. This level will be specified on the front side of the document as Sport Pilot, Private Pilot, Repairman Experimental Aircraft Builder, etc.

Rating: These are located on the back of the certificate and refer to special areas of operational mastery obtained by the pilot. Areas like Multi-Engine, Instrument rated, Instrument Instructor, Jet Engine rated, etc.

Category: The category further defines the certificate by specifying what kind of craft (or airframe and engine in the case of a mechanics certificate) the certificate is issued for, for instance, Airplane, Helicopter, Glider, Balloon, Internal Combustion” or “Jet Engine, etc.

Type: The type data defines the category by adding information like Land based, High Performance, Tail Wheel, Single Pilot Qualified, and certain makes and models of aircraft, etc.

All this Rating, Category and Type information are found on the backside of the Certificate.

Most, if not all, Ratings can (and sometimes must) be “Joined” for a lack of a better way of saying it. That is to say a pilot may have a Private Pilot Certificate, ASEL (Airplane Single Engine Land) the ASEL are considered ratings.

Another example might be a Commercial Pilot Certificate; AMECLTL would be an airplane multi engine centerline thrust land rating.

Ratings are issued after demonstrating proficiency in a specific area of operations.

    Some of these areas are:
      Complex aircraft operations (retractable gear, constant speed prop, etc.)
      High Performance (200+ HP)
      Seaplane operations
      Instrument operations
      Multi- Engine centerline thrust operations
      Multi - Engine

There are many more Ratings than just these I have listed.

But I really don't want to address all the nooks and crannies of the flight training which pilots work so hard at and spend so much time and money mastering. I don't want to point out all the knowledge, skill and sweat that go into transforming a non-flyer into a (fill in the blank) certificated pilot. Nor do I want to spell out all the requirements and levels of proficiency that a pilot is required to demonstrate in order to qualify for that certificate or rating.

What I do want to talk about is more in line with the why, the how come and what is the basic underlying skill(s) each certificate brings to the body of aviators.

All pilot certificates and ratings are issued only after the successful completion of training in a specific area of operations and having passed a written knowledge and an oral test on required applicable aviation and airplane knowledge and an actual in the air flight skills examination.

Any certificate issued also means that all requirements of any lower certificate have also been met. For instance a Commercial Pilot will only have one CERTIFICATE, and not one for each lower certificate he/she has obtained prior to qualifying for the commercial.

Below is a listing of different certificates. Each followed with a short description of skills and or training goals.

  1. Ultralight Pilot
    Not really an FAA certificate. Many ultralight (?) types of aircraft are flying and are being piloted with non-FAA issued “ultralight” certificates issued by organizations such as ASC and USUA. Some simply taught them selves to fly and fly their planes without any certification or registration. Ultralight pilots and aircraft are required to meet ALL requirements of part 103 of the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs). A part 103 ultralight is essentially a one-person powered hang glider with a maximum empty weight of 253.99 lbs (another 24 lbs of safety equipment is allowed). Its maximum level speed is limited to 64 MPH and must not carry more than 5 US gallons of fuel.

  2. Glider Pilot
    Training to operate and fly an unpowered aircraft. Teaches energy and speed management, tow procedures, terrain and thermal recognition and use. Official FAA training may start at age 14, with certificates issued beginning at 16.

  3. Sport Pilot
    Training aimed at teaching aeronautical and airmanship knowledge, FAA rules, regulations, safe operating habits and flight skills. All official powered aircraft FAA training must wait till age 16 to start, with certificates being issued beginning at 17. Training includes a minimum of 20 flight hours of which 15 hours must be dual instruction, 2 hours dual cross country, 5 hours in solo flight including 1 in cross country. Most pilots will probable do it in 35 hours.
  4. If you are an ultralight (or “fat ultralight”) pilot and have been certified by an FAA recognized group and you have considerable flight time logged that you would like to use in lieu of the FAA required flight training time for Sport pilot, the following form (or some likeness of it) must be submitted in your behalf through your ultralight group).

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  5. Recreation Pilot
    Training is much the same as for sport pilot with more cross-country planning, flying and ATC (Air Traffic Control) skills. Requires a minimum of 30 flight hours, which includes a minimum 15 hours of dual instruction, 2 hours dual cross country, 15 hours in solo flight including 3 in cross country flying. Most pilots do it in 45 hours.

  6. Private Pilot
    In-depth training on everything required for the recreation pilot plus expanded weather, cross-country planning, flying, ATC procedures along with some basic training in controlling and flying the airplane by reference to flight instruments indications only. All training is aimed at instilling a wide spectrum of aeronautical knowledge, safe aircraft operating procedures and flight competency. Requires a minimum of 40 flight hours (dual and solo). Most pilots do it in 65 hours.

    Something to be aware of is that it has been noticed that some new private pilots tend to fly their planes “by the numbers”. This tends to keep their focus inside the cockpit and on the instruments too much of the time and not enough time outside checking the surrounding airspace.

  7. Commercial Pilot
    Applicants must possess a private pilot certificate. Also requires the pilot to have a minimum of 250 flight hours total (dual and solo) prior to taking the certification tests. More hours are required for each category and class ratings listed on the certificate.

    Training is heavy in precision flying of the aircraft with emphasis on teaching pilots to precisely fly precision maneuvers, usually at relative low altitude, while their heads and attention are focused outside the cockpit. Lots of ground reference maneuvers requiring vertical altitude and attitude changes along with bank and airspeed monitoring and control. Training includes FAA Regulations pertaining to operation of aircraft in commercial settings (things you need to know to if you plan to fly for pay).

    This certificate sounds hard, and it is, but it is also really a lot of fun and after getting the ticket one really feels like he has finally mastered the art of flying an airplane.

  8. Air Transport Pilot
    The application requirements call for of a minimum of 1,500 hours of total flight time. Among these hours the applicant must have a minimum of 250 hours of pilot in command (PIC) time, 500 hours of cross country flying of which 100 hours must be as PIC. 100 hours of night flight, 50 of which must be PIC time and 75 hours of instrument flight time, 50 of these must be actual in-flight time. As these minimum requirements show, it takes a well-rounded and experienced pilot to even apply for this rating.

  9. Repairman Experimental Aircraft Builder
    The builder of an experimental aircraft qualifies for this certificate. It allows the named holder to maintain, repair, perform and sign off annual inspections on the aircraft specified by make, model and serial number of the plane that he/she built (but no other).

The following figures show the front and backsides of the Repairman Certificate.

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I hope this short look at this area of pilot certificates and ratings will help new pilots, as they will be operating within the requirements and privileges of their certificates. At least I hope this stroll has been enjoyable and enlightening.

For those who may want to do more research try the following links for:

General information index at: http://www.faa.gov/licenses_certificates/

For student pilot information: http://www.faa.gov/library/manuals/aviation/media/faa-h-8083-27.pdf

For Pilot Training information: http://www.faa.gov/pilots/training/

Specific pilot testing index at: http://www.faa.gov/education_research/testing/airmen/test_standards/

Specific sport pilot testing information at: http://www.faa.gov/education_research/testing/airmen/test_standards/pilot/media/FAA-S-8081-29.pdf

Air Transport pilot information: http://www.faa.gov/library/manuals/examiners_inspectors/8400/media/volume5/5_002_01.pdf