Five Mile Final | A Flight Instructor's Sandbox

Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge

From prehistoric times, humans have watched the flight of birds and longed to imitate them. During the 1500s, Leonardo da Vinci filled pages of his notebooks with sketches of proposed flying machines, but most of his ideas were flawed because he clung to the idea of birdlike wings.

The Wright Brothers.

First flight by the Wright brothers.In 1783, the first manned hot air balloon, crafted by Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier, flew for 23 minutes. But the ability to control speed and direction eluded balloonists. Kites used by the Chinese for aerial observation, to test winds for sailing, as a signaling device, and as a toy, held many of the answers to lifting a heavier-than-air device into the air. Sir George Cayley, the "Father of Aerial Navigation," discovered the basic principles on which the modern science of aeronautics is founded; built what is recognized as the first successful flying model; and tested the first full-size man-carrying airplane. The Wright Brothers experimented for four years with kites, their own homemade wind tunnel, and different engines to power their biplane, which first flew at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903.

During the early years of manned flight, individuals were free to conduct flights and operate aircraft with no government oversight. Airmail was originally delivered by Army pilots, who used the routes for cross-country training. In 1918, the United States Postal Service took control of the airmail routes and brought the existing Army airmail pilots and their planes into the program as postal employees. Eventually, the Transcontinental Mail Route spanned from San Francisco to New York for a total distance of 2,612 miles with 13 intermediate stops along the way.

The 1926 Air Commerce Act served as the legislative cornerstone for aviation within the United States. Under this act, the Secretary of Commerce could issuing and enforcing air traffic rules, license pilots, certificate aircraft, establish airways, and operate and maintain aids to air navigation.

The Aeronautics Branch of the Commerce Department took over the construction and operation of the nation's system of lighted airways. Built at intervals of approximately 10 miles apart, standard beacon towers were 51 feet high and topped with a powerful rotating light. In 1936, the Bureau of Air Commerce took over the responsibilities of operating three Air Traffic Control centers, which were originally established and operated by airlines.

The Federal Aviation Act of 1958 established the newly created Federal Aviation Agency (FAA), which was given complete control of the common civil-military system of air navigation and ATC. To meet the challenge of traffic growth, the FAA unveiled the National Airspace System (NAS) Plan in January 1982. The new plan called for more advanced systems for en route and terminal ATC, modernized flight service stations, and improvements in ground-to-air surveillance and communication.

The FAA establishes safety standards for civil aviation under the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) — specifically, under Title 14, "Aeronautics and Space," which encompasses all aspects of civil aviation. Part 61 pertains to the certification of pilots. Part 91 provides guidance in the areas of flight rules. Part 43 covers aircraft maintenance.

The Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) is the official guide to basic flight information and A TC procedures. FAA Handbooks are developed to provide specific information about a particular topic that enhances training or understanding.

Aircraft flight manuals — commonly called Pilot Operating Handbooks (POH) — are developed by airplane manufacturers, specific to a particular make and model aircraft by serial number, and approved by the FAA.

An Advisory Circular (AC) is an informational document that the FAA wants to distribute to the aviation community. They are to be used for information only and are not regulations.

The FAA publishes and regularly updates aviation charts, as well as a Chart Supplement book.

Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs), are time-critical aeronautical information either temporary in nature or not sufficiently known in advance to permit publication on aeronautical charts or in other operational publications.


A complex aircraft.

A complex aircraft.The FAA differentiates aircraft by their characteristics and physical properties. These include but are not limited to:

The FAA differentiates aircraft by weight:

Aircraft are grouped by category, class, and type. These terms are used for both the certification of aircraft and pilots, with different definitions for both.

Pilot Certifications

Each type of pilot's certificate has privileges and limitations that are inherent within the certificate itself. Endorsements, a form of authorization, are written to establish that the certificate holder has received training in specific skill areas.

Medical Certifications

(Note: This content is adapted from the Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, Chapter 17, "Aeromedical Factors.").

Most pilots must have a valid medical certificate to exercise the privileges of their airman certificates. Sport pilots may use a valid state driver's license in place of a medical certificate. Pilots who have a medical certificate may not act as Pilot in Command (PIC) or a required crew-member if they know of any medical condition that would make them unable to perform their duties.

There are three classes of medical certificates, which are obtained from an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME).

The FAA medical standards, 14 CFR part 67, specify fifteen medical conditions that are considered disqualifying by "history or clinical diagnosis:"

There are many other medical conditions that fall into the General Medical Condition section of the regulations that are considered by the FAA to be disqualifying, even though they are not stated in the regulations. This includes cancer, kidney stones, neurologic and neuromuscular conditions, and certain blood disorders,

If any of these conditions has been diagnosed and treated, an airman may only be issued a medical certificate through a process called Special Issuance Authorization (14 CFR part 67, section 67.401). This is a discretionary issuance by the FAA Federal Air Surgeon and requires satisfactory completion of special testing.

Private Pilot: Airplane Single Engine Rating (61.109)

For an airplane single-engine rating. Except as provided in paragraph (k) of this section, a person who applies for a private pilot certificate with an airplane category and single-engine class rating must log at least 40 hours of flight time that includes at least 20 hours of flight training from an authorized instructor and 10 hours of solo flight training in the areas of operation listed in § 61.107(b)(1) of this part, and the training must include at least:

Dual: 20 hours minimum of flight training with an instructor on the Private Pilot areas of operation including:

Solo: 10 hours minimum of solo flying in a single engine airplane on the Private Pilot areas of operation including:

"Cross Country" (61.1)

14 CFR 61.1 provides that "cross-country time" means:

(ii) For the purpose of meeting the aeronautical experience requirements (except for a rotorcraft category rating), for a private pilot certificate (except for a powered parachute category rating), a commercial pilot certificate, or an instrument rating, or for the purpose of exercising recreational pilot privileges (except in a rotorcraft) under 61.101(c), time acquired during a flight:

(A) Conducted in an appropriate aircraft;
(B) That includes a point of landing that was at least a straight-line distance of more than 50 nautical miles from the original point of departure; and
(C) That involves the use of dead reckoning, pilotage, electronic navigation aids, radio aids, or other navigation systems to navigate to the landing point.

Commercial Pilot & Flight Instructor Test Questions

Pilot Certification

To be eligible for a student pilot certificate limited to airplanes, an applicate is required to be a least how old? 16 years. (61.83)

Who may issue a student pilot certificate? Aviation medical examiner, FAA inspector, designated pilot examiner. (61.85)

A recreational pilot certificate may be issued for airplanes, gyroplanes, and helicopters. (61.101)
— A recreational pilot may not act as PIC of a glider, airship, or balloon.

When is a recreational pilot required to carry a logbook with the required endorsement? On all flights when serving as pilot-in-command.

A recreational pilot with less than 400 hours' flight time may not act as pilot-in-command unless the pilot has logged pilot-in-command time in the last 180 days.

What is the definition of the term "crewmember"? A person assigned to perform duty in an aircraft during flight time. (1.1)

Which is applicable to a private plot with ASEL ratings who has never flown a tailwheel airplane? The pilot must have received instruction and received a logbook endorsement before acting as pilot in command. (61.31)

To act as pilot in command of a tailwheel airplane without prior experience, a pilot must receive and log flight training from an authorized flight instructor.
— An endorsement also is required; however, ground training or a competency check is not required.

Medical Certificates

What is the duration of a medical certificate for a pilot 40 years or older, seeking a private pilot-airplane certificate? 24 calendar months from the month in which it was issued. (61.19)

A Third-Class Medical Certificate was issued on May 3 to a person over 40 years of age. To exercise the privileges of a Private Pilot Certificate, the medical certificate will be valid through May 31, 24 months later. (61.23)

Can a 43-year-old student pilot fly solo with a first-class medical certificate that was issued 15 months ago? Yes; the pilot may exercise student pilot privileges. (61.23)

What class medical certificate, if any, is required for a person adding a rating to a pilot certificate? Third class. (61.39)

Robert Wederquist   CP-ASEL - AGI - IGI
Commercial Pilot • Instrument Pilot
Advanced Ground Instructor • Instrument Ground Instructor