Two Pilots in Training to Fly Gliders - Only One Can Fly Solo
A licensed airplane pilot seeking an additional rating should be able to solo a glider before a student with no experience, right? Seems intuitive enough but it’s not necessarily the case.
Here’s an example: You have two pilots that aren’t rated in gliders. Pilot One is a brand-new student pilot with no previous flight experience. The other is a rated pilot with 5,000 hours total time in multi-engine and single-engines airplanes. For some reason, life happened and he hasn’t flown for a little over two years, meaning he is in need of a flight review to be current again.
Pilot Two, let’s call him Bob, decides that he wants to learn to fly gliders. He goes to the nearest gliderport and starts training. A few lessons in and it’s obvious that Bob is a natural, after all, he has plenty of experience flying other aircraft. When he sits down with his CFIG to discuss soloing the glider, he is told he must have a current flight review in airplanes to do so. Sounds odd, right?
Bob can’t help but overhear the new 14-year-old student pilot on the other side of the briefing room discussing with his instructor what is required for him to solo. The student is told that all he needs is an endorsement from the instructor, to be of the requisite age, and have the required pre-solo training.
Is this right? A proven pilot with the skills to operate aircraft much more complex than a glider cannot solo but a brand-new student pilot with just a few training flights can? Believe it or not, according to the relevant regulations, two opinion letters issued by the FAA on the subject, and clarification from the Soaring Society of America, Bob cannot act as PIC of the glider until he gets a flight review in an aircraft for which he is already rated.
If a rated airplane pilot does not have a current flight review in airplanes, he/she is not legal to solo a glider (act as PIC) while working on adding a rating for gliders, until he/she receives a flight review in an aircraft for which he/she is already rated.
Let’s look at the regulations and FAA opinions on the matter. Regarding flight reviews, CFR 14 § Part 61.56 (a) through (g) - Flight Review, states:
(1) A review of the current general operating and flight rules of part 91 of this chapter; and
(2) A review of those maneuvers and procedures that, at the discretion of the person giving the review, are necessary for the pilot to demonstrate the safe exercise of the privileges of the pilot certificate.
(b) Glider pilots may substitute a minimum of three instructional flights in a glider, each of which includes a flight to traffic pattern altitude, in lieu of the 1 hour of flight training required in paragraph (a) of this section.
(c) Except as provided in paragraphs (d), (e), and (g) of this section, no person may act as pilot in command of an aircraft unless, since the beginning of the 24th calendar month before the month in which that pilot acts as pilot in command, that person has -
(2) A practical test conducted by an examiner for the issuance of a flight instructor certificate, an additional rating on a flight instructor certificate, renewal of a flight instructor certificate, or reinstatement of a flight instructor certificate.
(e) A person who has, within the period specified in paragraph (c) of this section, satisfactorily accomplished one or more phases of an FAA-sponsored pilot proficiency award program need not accomplish the flight review required by this section.
(f) A person who holds a flight instructor certificate and who has, within the period specified in paragraph (c) of this section, satisfactorily completed a renewal of a flight instructor certificate under the provisions in § 61.197 need not accomplish the one hour of ground training specified in paragraph (a) of this section.
(g) A student pilot need not accomplish the flight review required by this section provided the student pilot is undergoing training for a certificate and has a current solo flight endorsement as required under § 61.87 of this part.
In 2014, Mr. Daniel Beard wrote a letter to the FAA requesting further information on solo endorsement requirements for additional category and/or class ratings. He referenced Section 61.31(d) in his query. Here is the relevant text of that section:
(2) Have received training required by this part that is appropriate to the pilot certification level, aircraft category, class, and type rating (if a class or type rating is required) for the aircraft to be flown, and have received an endorsement for solo flight in that aircraft from an authorized instructor.
The FAA responded with an opinion dated January 9, 2015 (the Beard Interpretation) and offered the following key points of information relevant to the matter:
"You have [asked] whether a person operating in solo flight under a § 61.31(d) endorsement must comply with the flight review requirements in § 61.56(c). With a few listed exceptions, no person [may] act as pilot in command of an aircraft unless within the previous 24 calendar months that person completed a flight review with an authorized instructor [per] § 61.56(c). Section 61.56(g) provides for an exception for student pilots provided the student pilot is undergoing training for a certificate and has a current solo endorsement as required under § 61.87. Because this exception applies only to student pilots, a pilot who holds a higher level pilot certificate and has an endorsement for solo flight under § 61.31(d) must comply with the flight review requirements in § 61.56 before acting as pilot in command of any aircraft."
In 2015, Mr. Chris Bennett requested further clarification of solo endorsement requirements of § 61.31(d). The FAA response (Bennett Interpretation), dated April 27, 2016 offers the following:
"Because of the express language of § 61.56, a person who holds a sport pilot certificate or higher and who seeks to obtain an additional category or class rating may not act as PIC of any aircraft, including an aircraft that he or she is undergoing training for and holds a § 61.31(d) endorsement for, without first complying the flight review requirements of § 61.56. See legal interpretation to Mr. Daniel Beard. We recognize that the practical application of § 61.56 results in disparate treatment between student pilots and pilots who hold higher level certificates."
Having read all of this information, Stick and Glider reached out to the Soaring Society of America (SSA) to see if any new information or changes to the regulations have come to pass since the Beard and Bennett Interpretations were penned. The SSA response was received in just a couple of hours. It reads:
"The FAA lawyers have written that all rated pilots (except student pilots) must have a current Flight Review to act as PIC. It is also clear that flying solo the pilot is acting as PIC thus, [Beard and Bennett] require the pilot have a current flight review. The SSA/SSF is working to get relief for pilots transitioning into a new category/class so they can fly solo to complete any required training needed to prepare for the practical test for that new rating. Note that getting that rating would reset the pilot's flight review. Until the FAA issues a revised rule, the transition pilot must obtain a current flight review. To accomplish this the accepted method is to have the transition pilot complete a phase of WINGS. The WINGS program is administered by the FAA and to complete a phase the pilot must complete 3 ground tasks (webinars, seminars, on-line classes, etc.) and 3 flight tasks. A complete list of both ground and flight tasks can be found on the FAA's WINGs page (faasafety.gov). Any pilot (student and above) can complete a WINGS phase. The pilot does not need to be rated in the category/class of aircraft to get credit for the flight tasks. Thus completing 3 flight tasks in a glider (which is training the transition pilot is already taking) will count towards that WINGS phase. The pilot then needs to complete 3 ground tasks and the FAA will set the pilots Flight Review due date to 24 calendar months in the future. This is done as per 61.56(e). The transition pilot now has a valid flight review and can conduct the solo flights."
Well, there you have it. The FAA has stated that they recognize the "disparate treatment" between a rated pilot without a current flight review and a solo pilot with a few hours of flight training. Unfortunately, according to strict interpretation of the regulations, until a rulemaking change has been made to the language of § 61.56, a rated airplane pilot seeking an additional rating in a glider (different category), must first be in compliance with his or her flight review in airplanes before they can act as PIC while soloing the glider.
Do you have an opinion on the matter? Let us know in the comments below. Are you a rated power pilot who's curious what it's like to transition to gliders? Read one pilot's perspective here.
Disclaimer: This post is not legal advice, flight instruction, or ground instruction. For answers to questions specific to your situation and experience, consult a flight instructor in your area.