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Solo Endorsements: Understanding Basic Solo Requirements

Solo Eric Prado / Flickr

There's nothing quite like signing your first student off for a solo flight. If you're anything like I was, both you and the student are nervous.

The student's nervous about the flight. You're not worried about the student - he's ready to go. It's the myriad of endorsements that have you concerned. You're a pilot and CFI, not a lawyer.

The process is confusing for anyone - from a chief instructor down to a first-time CFI. Everything you need to know is described in FAR Part 61, as well as AC 61-65E (Change 1). They can be complex, so I'll break it down and - hopefully - simplify it a bit.

You can group endorsements into three sections:

  1. Basic solo privileges needed for any solo flight
  2. Cross-country flights and flights to other airports
  3. Weird Stuff: flights into Class B airspace and night operations

In this post, we'll talk about the first item, basic solo endorsements. We'll cover the other items in the coming weeks.

Student Pilot Certificate vs Logbook

One of the most confusing parts of endorsements is figuring out where to put them - sometimes you find them on the student pilot certificate, and other times they're in the logbook. And sometimes, they're on both. Awesome.

You can think of the student pilot certificate as a permanent endorsement record. In fact, even though the student pilot certificate eventually expires, the endorsements on it never expire. Don't believe me? Check AC 61-65E, paragraph 12 (b). Make sure your student keeps every student pilot certificate with endorsements - even if the certificate's expired. Otherwise, you'll need to re-issue those endorsements.

What happens if another instructor issued the endorsements on the student pilot certificate? That's not a problem - the FAA doesn't care which instructor gave the endorsement. You don't need to re-endorse a student pilot certificate when you take over a new student, or when the student's certificate expires.

Basic Solo Privileges

Any solo flight, whether local or cross-country, requires two basic endorsements identified in FAR 61.87:

  1. A make and model endorsement on the student pilot certificate, which never expires; and
  2. A make and model endorsement in the logbook that's valid for 90 days.

So your student's ready for his first solo flight and doesn't have any endorsements. What do you need to do?

Training Required For Solo Flight

First, you'll need to provide training on the knowledge items in 61.87 (b). Then, you'll give the student a pre-solo written test and review all incorrect answers with the student.

AC 61-65E provides an example endorsement for the pre-solo written exam, but the FARs never mention the endorsement. Here's the AC's example:

I certify that (First name, MI, Last name) has satisfactorily completed the presolo knowledge exam of FAR 61.87(b) for the (make and model aircraft).
/s/ [date] J. J. Jones 987654321CFI Exp. 12-31-05

Is the pre-solo written exam endorsement required? No. You can log the pre-solo written exam as ground training in the logbook, but you should clearly record that you gave the test and reviewed all of the incorrect answers with your student. You can also add the endorsement to the logbook - it's up to you.

You'll also need to provide (and log) flight training on each of the maneuvers and procedures listed in FAR 61.87 in the same, or similar, make and model as the solo aircraft. You'll make sure that the student demonstrates satisfactory proficiency and safety in each of the maneuvers.

Student Pilot Certificate Make And Model Endorsement

Once you've given and logged all of the required training in the student's logbook, you can endorse the student's pilot certificate.

On the pilot certificate, you'll record the date and make and model, then sign and enter your CFI certificate number and expiration date. Once given, this endorsement is good forever.

Solo Endorsement

Logbook Make And Model Endorsement

Next, you'll endorse your student's logbook. This endorsement should state three things:

  1. That your student's received the pre-solo flight training required in the make and model (or a similar make and model),
  2. That you've determined he or she has demonstrated the proficiency required by 61.87(d), and
  3. That they're proficient to make solo flights in the make and model.

Here's an example from AC 61-65E:

I certify that (First name, MI, Last name) has received the required presolo training in a (make and model aircraft). I have determined he/she has demonstrated the proficiency of FAR 61.87(d) and is proficient to make solo flights in (make and model aircraft).
4/25/14 J. J. Jones 987654321CFI Exp. 12/31/05

This endorsement expires after 90 days, but you or another instructor can keep it current by adding this next endorsement.

The Logbook 90-Day Endorsement

While the student's endorsement on their pilot certificate never expires, the original logbook make and model endorsement expires after 90 days. To solo anytime after that date, you'll need to update the student's logbook with another make and model endorsement. Think of this as a student pilot version of 90-day currency.

Before you give this endorsement, you'll need to give the student training on the maneuvers and procedures identified in FAR 61.87, and determine that they're proficient in both the maneuvers and procedures and in the make and model. If you've taken over the student from another instructor, make sure you've evaluated each these maneuvers and procedures at some point and time.

Before you endorse the logbook, check the student's pilot certificate for the corresponding make and model endorsement. You can't issue the logbook 90-day endorsement until the student's pilot certificate has been endorsed for that make and model.

If you can't find it, you'll need to re-endorse the student pilot certificate. You'll need to verify that you've given all of the required ground and flight training required for the initial solo endorsement - including the pre-solo written exam.

Once you've verified the student's pilot certificate endorsement, you can add this endorsement to their logbook:

I certify that (First name, MI, Last name) has received the required training to qualify for solo flying. I have determined he/she meets the applicable requirements of FAR 61.87(p) and is proficient to make solo flights in (make and model).
4/25/14 J. Doe 987654321CFI EXP 12/31/14

Adding Instructor Limitations

The FAA addresses limitations indirectly in the cross-country endorsements section of AC 61-65E, but they don't cover them in the FARs. So, should you add limitations to the student's logbook endorsement?

I think it's a good idea. First, it may help limit some of your liability as an instructor - you probably don't want your student taking the airplane up solo in 30kt gusting crosswinds. Remember, after your student's endorsed, they don't need to ask your permission to fly.

I recommend adding a total wind and crosswind limit to your endorsement. Not only does it define what you feel is safe, it prompts both you and your student to think about their limitations. You could add the limitations to a logbook endorsement like this:

I certify that (First name, MI, Last name) has received the required presolo training in a (make and model aircraft). I have determined he/she has demonstrated the proficiency of FAR 61.87(d) and is proficient to make solo flights in (make and model aircraft).
Limitations: 25kts total wind, 10kts crosswind
4/25/14 J. J. Jones 987654321CFI Exp. 12/31/05

If you need to increase the limits later, you'll need to re-endorse your student's logbook.

The Building Blocks

These endorsements are the first solo endorsements your student will receive - and they're needed for every solo flight, even cross-countries.

Check back next week - we'll cover endorsements for solo flights to another airport and solo cross-country flights.

Aleks Udris

Aleks is a Boldmethod co-founder and technical director. He's worked in safety and operations in the airline industry, and was a flight instructor and course manager for the University of North Dakota. You can reach him at aleks@boldmethod.com.

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