customize your pilot license with ratings and endorsements

To fly this Boeing B-17 you need an Airplane Multi Engine Land rating with tailwheel endorsement.

You’re going to hear about pilot license ratings and endorsements. What are they and how are they different?


All certificates, except for the student certificate, come with at least one pilot license rating. So what is a rating?There are different levels of pilot certification; Private and Commercial for instance, that allow the certificate holder to operate their aircraft in certain ways such as flying at night or getting paid to fly.


But holding a Private Pilot certificate doesn’t allow you to fly any kind of aircraft. Different aircraft types are identified by categories such as, airplane, rotorcraft (helicopters), and gliders. To show that you have completed the training and checkride necessary to fly each of these categories, your pilot license includes a rating, which defines exactly the type of aircraft you can fly.




Most people can recognize the different categories of aircraft and in most cases can name them:


Cessna 150L – Airplane Single Engine Land (ASEL)


AIRPLANE: an aircraft with fixed wings and engines, that uses thrust (power) from the engines to move the wings through the air to generate a lifting force that overcomes the weight of the airplane and causes it to fly.


Robinson R44 – Rotorcraft, Helicopter


ROTORCRAFT: an aircraft that generates a lifting force with rotating wings (often called blades), to overcome its own weight and fly. The blades can be driven by an engine (either piston or turbine) or in reaction to the air passing through them (gyrocopter).



GLIDER: an aircraft with fixed wings but no engines, that generates and sustains lift moving air over the wings through balancing the forces of gravity and natural lifting forces such as thermals, and the wind crossing mountain ridges.



LIGHTER-THAN-AIR: Aircraft that harness the lifting power of gasses that weigh less than the surrounding air, either by heating the air trapped inside an envelope (hot air balloon) or filling a sealed envelope with a lighter weight gas such as helium (balloon or airship).


Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey


POWERED-LIFT: Helicopter aerodynamics limit the forward speed of helicopters. Powered-lift aircraft overcome this limitation by using a lift/thrust system that is a hybrid of airplane and helicopter aerodynamics. Powered-lift aircraft generate lift for takeoff and landing through engine driven rotating blade or pure jet thrust, and use short wings to sustain lift in other flight regimes by rotating the thrust vector horizontally to increase forward speed.



POWERED-PARACHUTE: As its name suggests, a fully controllable parachute in which the occupant has added a source of thrust usually consisting of a propeller in a cage strapped to the pilot’s back, enabling the parachute to act as a flexible wing and sustain controlled flight for longer durations.



WEIGHT-SHIFT-CONTROL: aircraft in which the occupant’s relationship to the wing is hinged such that the pilot can change the center of gravity relative to the wing and control the direction of the aircraft.  Commonly known as ultralights, weight shift control aircraft can hold one or two occupants who are exposed to the elements.




Some aircraft categories are still broad enough, that pilots need specific training and a practical test to fly different aircraft types within the category. These distinctions within a category are defined as classes and most obviously apply to the Airplane, Rotorcraft, and Lighter-Than-Air categories.




Airplane Single Engine Land: An airplane with a single engine designed to operate from land. The powerplant can be piston, turbine, electric or some other as yet undiscovered energy source creating thrust either directly or through a propeller, and can be mounted in a variety of locations, such as on the nose (tractor), behind the tail (pusher) on top of the fuselage, or in the case of some experimental designs asymmetrically. Landing gear is most commonly in the form or wheels but can also be skis or skids.



Airplane Multi Engine Land: An airplane with two or more engines designed to operate from land. The engines are most commonly mounted on the wings or rear fuselage, but can also be mounted front and rear, or in the case of at least one jet design, mounted above and below.



Airplane Single Engine Sea: An airplane with a single engine designed to operate from water. Seaplanes are typically land planes mounted on two longitudinal floats (floatplanes), but sometimes are purpose built with a fuselage incorporating a boat-shaped hull (flying boats).



Airplane Multi Engine Sea: An airplane with two or more engines designed to operate from water.




Helicopter: An aircraft with powered rotating wings, helicopters are typically configured with one main rotor, and a tailboom mounted anti-torque rotor. Other configurations such as two main rotors mounted longitudinally, two superimposed counter-rotating rotors, and two laterally mounted intermeshing rotor designs also exist.


Gyroplane: A gyroplane using the energy of the wind passing up through the rotors to keep them turning and provide a lifting force. An engine turns a propeller to provide forward motion. Because the rotors are not powered there is no need to supply an anti-torque force.




Balloon: A hot air balloon is the first known flying machine, taking humans aloft in eighteenth century France. Buoyed by a large envelope containing warm air that is less dense than the surrounding air, and navigating solely by air currents, balloons are some of the most majestic aircraft flying. While most balloons use propane tanks to heat the air in the balloon and must be filled prior to flight, some balloons use a sealed envelope containing a gas such as helium.


Goodyear GZ-20A Airship, based out of Carson, California


Airship: Airships are usually larger than balloons and use sealed envelopes containing lightweight gasses for buoyancy. They are powered and can be steered and navigated. Airships can have a rigid structure containing the gas bags, or take on the form of the gas bags when filled.




When you first get your pilot license you are rated in the category and class or aircraft you trained in. For most people who learn to fly in a Cessna 172 or Piper Warrior, that is Airplane Single Engine Land, which allows you to fly a wide variety of aircraft such as a Diamond DA40, or Cirrus SR20. Any differences training you need before you can fly those other aircraft makes and models will be left to your flight school and insurance company.


If you wish to expand your horizons and fly multi engine aircraft or helicopters, you will need to train for an add on rating and checkride. The requirements for an add on rating are usually less than an initial rating, since the FAA recognizes that you are already familiar with flying at navigating and communicating with air traffic control.


Type ratings


As aircraft get faster and heavier, and incorporate more complex systems, the FAA restricts access without more formal training. By the time you are flying jets you will need to understand additional systems such as pressurization and anti-icing systems and how to operate the aircraft if those systems fail. The FAA requires pilots of all jets to fly to a higher standard and get a type rating, regardless of their certification level.


Instrument ratings


As you use your aircraft more, you may decide you want to be able to fly when the weather is cloudy. An instrument rating lets you fly in the weather and requires specific training and a practical test with a pilot examiner. Since the act of flying and only using instruments to navigate is common to all aircraft in a category, and Instrument Rating earned in a single engine airplane is good for flying in a multi engine seaplane. Flying a helicopter in the clouds though, is very different to flying and airplane in the clouds, so instrument ratings are category specific. 




So what is an endorsement? An endorsement is the official logbook entry recording the additional training you need fly certain types of aircraft. Unlike ratings, which follow prescribed FAA requirements and the completion of a written and practical test, an endorsement is completed with a logbook entry when your instructor feels that you’re ready to be signed off. Most endorsements apply to the Airplane category, and include: high performance (aircraft with engines producing more than 200 hp each), complex, high altitude, tailwheel.


As you continue your flight training you’ll begin to get a sense of the type of flying you want to do and plan your training accordingly. If your goal is a career at the airlines you’ll need to add instrument, commercial, and multi engine ratings to your Airplane Single Engine certificate. If your goal is to find remote fishing locations in the wilderness, perhaps an Airplane Single Engine Sea rating is in your future.


While there are some people who spend their lives collecting ratings, most people recognize that ratings and endorsements are a way to customize their pilot license to meet their needs.