Military Pilot Logbook Conversion

Updated 06 January, 2016: Discussed logging SIC in Cessnas.

As a military pilot who is also involved heavily in General Aviation, a lot of people ask me how to translate their military flight hours to meet the criteria for an airline application. Unfortunately, this isn't a simple answer. I've tried (and failed) several times to write a single-source document to explain how to do this conversion. This page is my latest attempt.

Disclaimer: Most of this is opinion. I base a lot of it on articles I've read and discussions with other instructors over the years. However, if you're not sure about some part of it, consult someone who knows better. This could include the source documents or a lawyer who deals with aviation. Also, every airline is different. Some may be more strict or lenient than I am in some areas. Finally, this post is written by an Air Force pilot using (mostly) Air Force terminology. If you need help translating that, send me a message or ask a friend.

Topics on this page include:


Keeping Your Own Logbook

First off: If you'd logged all your own flight time during your career, you wouldn't have to worry about any of this. If you're young enough that it isn't a huge pain, start keeping a logbook now! There are some great programs and apps out there that store your logbook securely in the cloud and let you log flights and edit your logbook on your smartphone.

You may believe that as a "zipper-suited sun god," you're entitled to have someone else log your flight time for you. If you want to trust your future to someone else that's fine. However, how much of a vested interest does the 18-year old who has to wade through stacks of flight records every day have in making sure your records are perfect for your future airline career in 10-20 years? Yep...keep your own logbook.

When I went to my interview, I didn't even bring my military flight records...that flying was all in an electronic logbook. I gave them a signed print-out from my logbook and they were happy. It was nice not having to worry about explaining confusing conversions between my military and personal records.

Some communities act like keeping a "civilian" logbook shows a lack of focus or patriotism. Those people are fools. Please, please don't listen to them! You may need to wait until you're securely alone in a bathroom stall to pull out your phone and enter your flight into your logbook app. If that's the case, sorry, but do it anyway!

If you're a greybeard feeling the pain of not having kept a logbook, do something for the young people in your squadron and make sure they don't reapeat your mistakes.

With that little rant complete, let's get down to business:

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Primary vs Pilot in Command (PIC)

USAF "Primary" time is not the same as the FAA or Airline "Pilot in Command" (PIC) time.

The FAA uses the term Pilot In Command more than one way. 14 CFR 1.1 has a general definition that includes the person who bears overall responsibility for the flight of an aircraft. In addition, 14 CFR 61.51(e) discusses when a person may log PIC time:

  1. "When the pilot is the sole manipulator of the controls of an aircraft for which the pilot is rated..."
  2. "When the pilot is the sole occupant in the aircraft"
  3. "When the pilot...acts as pilot in command of an aircraft for which more than one pilot is required under the type certification of the aircraft or the regulations under which the flight is conducted"

It's important to realize that the FAR 1.1 definition describes a person with final authority for a flight. FAR 61.51 allows that person to log PIC time, but also allows him or her to delegate flying duties to a second pilot...who can also log PIC time when he or she is the "sole manipulator of the controls." One person is the PIC while the other is just acting as PIC.

If you are the person designated as the PIC for a flight, it doesn't matter how many other pilots are on that aircraft or what you're doing. You could be snoozing on a bunk or hanging out in the back of the plane with crayons and a coloring book like Mel Gibson in Air America, but you're still the PIC. That may seem a little generous to the pilot designated as overall PIC, but the way the FAA sees it anything goes wrong while he or she is asleep, he or she is the one who get violated. It's that overall PIC's name on the flight plan/flight orders. Besides, #1 above allows the "sole manipulator" up front to simultaneously log PIC time too. Good deal, right?

Unfortunately, the airlines are more restrictive. They don't accept time spent as "sole manipulator of the controls" as PIC. For your airline application, you must have been qualified/certified as an Aircraft Commander and you must have been the person who signed the flight orders to log any PIC time for a flight. Yes, that sucks. Sorry. The good news is that it's an even playing field for everyone. (One exception here is that Instructor time counts for PIC time, but we'll get to that later.)

So, if all you know is your Primary time, what do you do?

The most correct answer is to go line-by-line through your records and decide for every flight (after you were certified as an Aircraft Commander) what flights had your signature on the flight orders.

In most cases, a lack of records makes this is impossible. Most people add up the Primary hours acquired after the date certified as an Aircraft Commander and assume they signed for a large percentage of those hours. I hear 80% a lot, and I feel like that's usually a reasonable figure to use. If you think you have a reason to use a figure other than 80%, go ahead. The rule of thumb here is just be prepared to explain why you used that figure when you get to your airline interview.

(As a side note: if you decide to keep your own logbook you can keep track of both types of PIC time in separate columns. My logbook has one column labeled "FAA PIC" and another labeled "Airline PIC." When I apply for a rating with the FAA, I use their column. When I applied to my airline I used the other column. Even electronic logbook apps should allow you to do custom columns for this.)

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Second In Command

SIC is much easier to figure out, but it's still important to remember that USAF "Secondary" time is not the same as "SIC." Per 14 CFR 61.51(f), you must:

  1. Be qualified in the aircraft
  2. Occupying a pilot seat in an aircraft that requires more than one pilot

So, if you were sitting in either of the pilot seats and you were the "Pilot Not Flying," "Pilot Monitoring," or "Self-loading Landing Gear Actuator"...you log SIC for the portion of the flight during which you were not "sole manipulator" of the controls.

Some people get very worried and worked up over having lots of SIC and not enough PIC. Please don't! The airlines will look at your entire app. If they see a high total time and lots of SIC without a great deal of PIC, they'll realize you upgraded to Aircraft Commander more recently. As long as you have enough PIC hours to meet their minimums it's really not a big deal. Sure, the more PIC you have the more competitive you'll be. Don't get too creative with your logbook though. Be up front with them and they'll take you if they want you.

Be sure you take note of the second point from 61.51(f). It says the aircraft must require more than one pilot for anyone onboard to log SIC. Let's say a friend of yours rented a C-172 and you flew with her to get a $100 hamburger. She logs PIC because she rented the aircraft...so can you log SIC? No! The C-172 doesn't require two pilots, so nobody can ever log SIC in it. You get Other time (unless you were giving your friend instruction during your flight together.) Even fancy, complex aircraft like a T-6 or T-38 are certified for solo operation. There's no such thing as a copilot in those aircraft. You can log PIC, Other, IP or EP time in them, but never SIC. Don't try it. People will laugh at you.

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Instructor Time

Generally speaking, flight time logged as "Instructor" time in the military can also be logged as "Dual Given" (aka "Instructor time") for both the FAA and the airlines.

14 CFR 61.41(a)(1) even says that instruction in a military setting is valid...even if the military IP doesn't hold a civilian CFI.

14 CFR 61.51(e)(iv)(D)(3) also says that an instructor can log PIC time while he or she is also logging instructor time. This "dual-logging" rule is nice for pursuing ratings with the FAA. Unfortunately, the airlines want you to count it differently:

The airlines only want to know about the PIC hours you have that are not dual-logged with your instructor time.

(Don't worry...even if this makes it look like you don't have enough PIC time to meet their minimums you'll be ok. They still count your instructor time as PIC when they review your app. Their computerized systems need you to do it this way to prevent counting your hours twice. It's a technological limitation and doesn't hurt you.)

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Evaluator Time

The FAA generally treats Flight Examiners or Evaluator Pilots like instructors. Log your military Evaluator time as civilian Instructor time ("dual given") in the online application system. If your company accepts a resume with your application, I would list Evaluator and Instructor time separately.

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Other Time

Other time gets people into trouble. The secret is: don't get too creative. If you were instructing or evaluating, log the time accordingly. If you were in one of the two pilot seats, log PIC or SIC accordingly. If you weren't instructing or evaluating, and you weren't in one of the two pilot seats, then you can't call it PIC or SIC. Airlineapps.com has added spots to list your Other time in your applications for it's partner airlines. Other sites may not even give you a place to enter Other time. Don't sweat it.

The one exception to this is: if you were the pilot who signed the flight orders and are the PIC of record, then you can log PIC time for the entire flight like we discussed above. It doesn't matter how much Other time is on that 781, or if you were asleep in the bunk. You still log PIC.

Other time really points out where USAF "Primary" and "Secondary" time differ from "PIC" and "SIC." In the USAF, three pilots generally just divide the total time evenly and "share" the Primary time among them. If you weren't designated as Pilot in Command on the flight orders, none of that Primary time can count as PIC for the airlines. It's all SIC or Other as far as they're concerned. (If you'd been keeping your own logbook this whole time you wouldn't be worrying about how to sort this out.)

Could you "lose" hundreds of hours this way on your airline application? Yep. Again, don't worry though. Be honest about the hours you do have. You're a military pilot with lots of experience in hot job market. As long as you meet the airline's minimums you still have a good shot. Don't try to fudge your Other time into PIC (or even SIC) just to try and make your application look better. It's not worth it.

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Cross Country

Some people read 14 CFR 61.1 and get worried when they see that the definition of "Cross Country" time requires "a landing at a point other than the point of departure" in paragraph (ii) under Cross Country Time. Yes, if you are a student pilot you must land at an airport at least 50 miles from your point of departure to log cross country time.

However, if you are a winged military pilot, this does not apply to you! Keep reading and in paragraph (vii) under Cross Country Time in 14 CFR 61.1 you'll see that only three things are required to log cross country time as a military pilot who already has his or her wings:

  1. You must be flying an "appropriate" aircraft. (Uh, ok. I was.)
  2. You must fly at least 50 miles away from your point of departure.
  3. You must use some type of aerial navigation technique, to include looking outside the window.

That's it. Even the average T-6 flight at a pilot training base gets at least 50 miles from the flagpole most of the time.

For airline application purposes, any flight after you graduated pilot training that wasn't pattern-only can probably be logged as cross country.

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Conversion Factors

Civilian aviators log all time with engines turning as flight time. In the military, you probably only log the time between takeoff and landing. The airlines realize that this puts you at a disadvantage, so they generally have a formula to give you credit for engine-running time before takeoff and after landing. Most will give you a free 0.2 or 0.3 hours per sortie in the military, above the hours you have logged.

Unless your airline specifically instructs you to do so, do not include this conversion in anything you submit to them. They will take care of it themselves.

Questions?

If you are working on a resume and you feel that your record is so weak that you need to include the conversion factor, be very specific in stating that you have done so and show your math.

I've watched friends spend countless hours trying to get Microsoft Excel to summarize their flight hours both with and without the conversion factor. Deciding what conversion factor to use and how to apply it actually kept them up at night. I assert that you have better things to do with your life. Unless your airline directly instructed you to do otherwise, just state your hours without any conversion...even on a resume. It's fine to include a note along the lines of "No conversion factor applied," but that's it.

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Side note: I try to use "explain" rather than "defend" for talking about your flight hours in an interview. Your interviewers may not bat an eyelash at your logbook. If you're less lucky, they'll grill you on all kinds of little details. If you're a military aviator, they can probably assume you have enough time and experience to cut it in their airline. Part of this is an exercise to see how you interact with people and how you deal with stress. If you feel like you're "defending" your logbook, you may end up presenting a valid case while failing that portion of the interview. Part of avoiding this is: don't stretch the truth with your logbook to make yourself look good! Be conservative with the techniques you use for classifying your hours. That way, you can make this part of the interview an "explanation" instead of a "defense" and you'll have nothing to worry about.

I hope this all helps. Please let me know if I missed or screwed up anything and I'll fix or update as appropriate. Good luck and fly safe!

Jason

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