Civilian Aviation for Military Pilots

This page is for military pilots who want to do some civilian flying. (If you happen to live on the Emerald Coast, we have a version of this page just for you. Click here if you get paid to say 'Booya' for a living.)

If you have any questions beyond those addressed here, please use the contact form and ask. There are no stupid questions, only stupid people who can't keep their mouths shut. ;) We're glad to do whatever we can to help people enjoy some good, old-fashioned VFR pleasure flying.

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Topics on this page:


Military Medicals

Per FAR 61.23(b)(9), your current USAF Form 1042 is now officially equivalent to an FAA 3rd class medical.

You can use this medical to fly friends and split the costs of flying. Unfortunately, if you want to be compensated for any flying you do you'll have to get a 2nd class FAA medical. The FAA has a listing of Aviation Medical Examiners (AMEs). The going rate on a medical is about $100.

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Military Competency

Graduating from pilot training and passing a Form 8 checkride earns you the right to Commercial and Instrument Pilot ratings and potentially one or more type ratings. Your Commercial rating will be either single- or multi-engine, depending on the plane you did your Form 8 in. Your pilot training base should have also given you a letter upon graduation that is good enough for the FAA to give you a multi-engine rating.

In addition to having a Form 8, you have to take a written exam. It's called the Military Competency exam. (Click here for more info about it.)

When you finish the exam they'll give you a test report. Take that, a copy of your Form 8 and your old pilot's license (if you have one) to the nearest FAA Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) and they'll update or issue your pilot's license. It used to be that they'd only give you a rating within 12 months from the date on the Form 8. That may be changing and your particular FSDO may be lenient here. Call them to ask. (Some FSDOs may require a set of aeronautical orders the first time you go through this process. Call ahead and ask them before you show up!)

For more about FSDOs and where to find them click here.

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Military Instructor Pilot Competency

FAR 61.73(g) was recently added to give military instructor pilots a CFI just like the commercial pilot military competency. There is no time limit on this either. If you have ever been an IP in any military aircraft, take your Form 8, test results and pilot/CFI certificates to the nearest FSDO and you are good to go.

You only need to take one written exam to get your CFI. It's called the Military Instructor Competency exam.

While a private or commercial pilot's license lasts forever, your CFI certificate expires every 2 years. There are several ways to renew it. (I just posted an update here for conveniently taking care of this renewal by mail.

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Written Exams

Even if you have a Form 8, you still have to take a written exam to get your FAA ratings based on your military or IP competency. Don't try to take the exam cold...you do need to study for it. Don't worry though: all the questions are published...like big MQFs.

The test results are only good for 2 years so be sure to submit the results and get your new rating within that time!

You only have to take the Military Competency, FOI and IP Competency exams once. If you later get qualified in a new aircraft, you can go to the FSDO with just your new Form 8.

If you want to spend a little extra money, SheppardAir.com has study software. It's web-based and narrows down the list of all questions to those you're "most likely" to see on your exam. It's actually very affordable and a good study option.

If you want to spend less, you can get a book with every possible question for your test. I've used them to study for several ratings and never spent more than 30 of my allotted 180 minutes on any of the exams. I recommend Commercial Pilot Test Prep 2011 by ASA (expect a link to buy this book in our e-store soon.) for your military comptency exam or Certified Flight Instructor Test Prep 2011 for your military instructor competency exam.

The written exam will cost you $80-150. You can find testing locations on the websites of the two major testing companies: Laser Grade and CATS. Be sure to call ahead to schedule your test!

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Flight Standards District Offices (FSDO)

The FSDO is the FAA office where you go to get your military competency ratings. Use the FSDO search tool if you want to find the FSDO closest to you. An out & back to a FSDO might be a good way to knock out paperwork for a bunch of pilots at once.

Be sure to call and confirm the office hours and documents they'll require from you before you show up!

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After the Paperwork is Done

Believe it or not, flying is supposed to be fun. Military aviation can be fun, but it can also get pretty tedious. Although civilian flying is a lot simpler and generally more fun-oriented than military flying, we recommend you get a refresher before you get going.

If you ask around your squadron, you can probably find a friend with a CFI who would be glad to spend a couple hours with you. Or, when you go to a Fixed Base Operator (FBO) to rent their aircraft you'll probably have to fly with one of their CFIs for an hour as part of your check-out. If you don't feel comfortable at the end of an hour, ask them to keep going. I guarantee that no CFI will turn down more flight time.

Continue to use good judgement with your civilian flying. The planes you rent probably aren't equipped with nice avionics...they may have systems you've never seen before. It's definitely not a good idea to plan to fly single-pilot IFR in an unfamiliar plane with unfamiliar avionics and no autopilot. Even a "simple" approach at the end of an otherwise VFR flight will be more challenging that you'd expect. If you plan to do any civilian IFR flying, take a friend with you as a safety pilot on some practice flights. Make yourself work as if it's real IFR and practice until you're ready. If you're going on a trip that will require IFR flying, consider taking another pilot with you. You can split the costs of the trip, reduce each other's workload and back each other up.

There's nothing like parking your car and being in the air 15 minutes later...and then deciding where to go after you're already airborne. The US has the most open and available airspace system in the world. Take advantage of it and go remember how much fun flying can be!

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