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What is a Complex Aircraft?  High Performance Aircraft?

from CFIDarren Newsletter, April 10, 2012

QUESTION:  What is a complex aircraft  -- Doug A

ANSWER:  A complex aircraft is one which has manually or automatically controllable pitch propeller, flaps, and retractable landing gear.  To be legal to fly a "complex airplane" under 61.31, you need a sign off by a flight instructor. 

FAA Order 8710.3E defines a complex airplane for the airplane single-engine land or airplane multiengine land rating as one that has a retractable landing gear, flaps, and controllable propeller. A complex airplane for the airplane single-engine sea or airplane multiengine sea rating is one having flaps, floats, and a controllable propeller. A controllable propeller may be controlled manually by the pilot or automatically controlled by a full authority digital engine control (FADEC) system.

List of complex aircraft includes: Arrow, C172RG, Cardinal RG, Seminole, Dutchess, and Diamond Twinstar.

QUESTION:  What is a high performance aircraft. -- Doug A

ANSWER:  A high performance aircraft (according to 61.31) is an aircraft with an engine of more than 200 horsepower.  List of high performance aircraft includes: Cessna 182, Cirrus SR22.  Note that these aircraft do not have retractable gear.

Complex AND high performance examples include: Socata Trinidad, C182RG, C210, C310, the newer Piper Seneca & Aztec.

QUESTION: To act as PIC of a Culver Cadet....that has retractable landing gear, but no flaps or a controllable propeller... Do I need to have a Complex Endorsement?  Thanks...Mike

ANSWER:  No.  The aircraft does not meet the definition of a complex aircraft -- it must have all three.

QUESTION:  Is the Diamond Twinstar DA42 Complex?

ANSWER:  Yes.  Because it has FADEC, the propellers are automatically controllable by the computer. Airplanes such as the DA42 are equipped with a retractable landing gear, flaps, and FADEC meet the definition of being a complex airplane.

Examples of aircraft above are not intended to be an exhaustive list.

Complex & High Performance Endorsements (issued by a CFI)

To act as PIC in a complex airplane: § 61.31(e)
I certify that (First name, MI, Last name), (pilot certificate), (certificate number), has received the required
training of § 61.31(e) in a (make and model of complex airplane). I have determined that he/she is proficient
in the operation and systems of a complex airplane. S/S [date] J.J. Jones 987654321CFI Exp. 12-31-00

To act as PIC in a high performance airplane: § 61.31(f)
I certify that (First name, MI, Last name), (pilot certificate), (certificate number), has received the required
training of § 61.31(f) in a (make and model of high performance airplane). I have determined that he/she is
proficient in the operation and systems of a high performance airplane. S/S [date] J.J. Jones 987654321CFI Exp. 12-31-00

When is a Complex Aircraft Required?

The Commercial Pilot Practical Test Standards for Airplane, FAA-S-8081-12B, specifically requires that the airplane used be either a complex single-engine airplane or complex multiengine airplane. This is per Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 61, § 61.123(e) and (g), § 61.129(a)(3)(ii) and (b)(3)(ii), and part 141, appendix D, paragraph 4(b)(1)(ii) and (2)(ii).

The Flight Instructor Practical Test Standards for Airplane, FAA-S-8081-6B, specifically requires that the airplane used be either a complex single-engine airplane or complex multiengine airplane. This is per part 61, § 61.183(g) and (h)(1) and part 141, appendix F, paragraph 4(c)(1) and (2).

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