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Pilot Checkouts During the Flight Test Period


Do the regulations allow a qualified CFI to fly with me during the first few flights until I become proficient in my airplane?


The FAA does not consider a CFI (or anyone other than the pilot) to be "essential to the purpose of the flight" in a homebuilt during the flight test period.  Thus, the answer to your question is no, you are not allowed to have a CFI check you out in your aircraft during the initial flight test period.

The specific reference for this is not found in the regulations, but rather in the operating limitations that are issued as a part of the aircraft's airworthiness certificate.  These operating limitations must be carried in the aircraft at all times, and directly control the operation of your aircraft.  The operating limitations will contain the following or a similarly worded statement:

"During the flight-testing phase, no person may be carried in this aircraft during flight unless that person is essential to the purpose of the flight."

The operating limitations will also spell out the purpose of the flights during the flight test period:

"No person may operate this aircraft for other than the purpose of meeting the requirements of §91.319(b) during phase I flight testing."

This statement cites 14 CFR 91.319(b), which states:

"(b) No person may operate an aircraft that has an experimental certificate outside of an area assigned by the Administrator until it is shown that

(1) The aircraft is controllable throughout its normal range of speeds and throughout all the maneuvers to be executed; and

(2) The aircraft has no hazardous operating characteristics or design features."

Thus, the purpose of the flights during the flight test period is specifically defined.  Pilot checkout and/or flight instruction does not fall within the scope of this purpose.  Thus, a CFI cannot be considered "essential to the purpose of the flight" and cannot be in the aircraft during the flight test period.

If there is a situation where the builder has a specific need for additional crew in the aircraft during the fight test period, FAA Advisory Circular AC 20-27E, CERTIFICATION AND OPERATION OF AMATEUR-BUILT AIRCRAFT, offers the following advice:

“If an additional crew member is required for a particular test function, that requirement should be specified in the application program letter for the airworthiness certificate and listed in the operating limitations by the FAA.”

The FAA will review each application on a case-by-case basis, and may allow additional crew if they feel there is sufficient justification.

EAA Position: We concur with the FAA that during all flight testing only the test pilot is allowed in the aircraft. We have yet to see a homebuilt aircraft that requires a co-pilot. If flight data needs to be recorded, make use of a tape recorder or other recording device to record flight data, e.g., airspeeds, engine instrument readings, etc.

We strongly encourage the use of an EAA Flight Advisor to assist with planning the flight test period. A Flight Advisor helps the pilot conduct a self-evaluation as well as evaluate the flying characteristics of the aircraft. The pilot then uses that evaluation to decide whether he or she is capable of flying that airplane. If not capable, the Flight Advisor explains where and how he or she can get the proper instruction, or alternatively find someone to make the initial flights. Flight Advisors are EAA volunteers and there is no cost to user of the program.

As a matter of flight safety it's not a good idea for a pilot unfamiliar with a particular aircraft type to be flying the initial flight tests.  This phase of flight is for the purpose of verifying the aircraft's performance and safety.  A pilot unfamiliar with the type would not be prepared to evaluate the aircraft's performance, as he/she would not have any experience to base evaluations upon.  Also, an unfamiliar pilot would be ill equipped to deal with any emergency that might occur.  Thus, we strongly recommend that the aircraft be tested by a pilot thoroughly familiar with the type.  Aircraft checkouts should be conducted only after the aircraft has completed a full flight test program.

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