The Logbook: This is Your Personal Aviation Diary

Twin Bee

One of the column heads I have always used is "From the Logbook."  The reason being that as an instructor I could always look back and find a story about training that could be made interesting and hopefully funny.  I always change them around just enough so that only the student involved and I really know who the article is about.  This represents one of the few good things that can come from keeping a really good logbook.  Most writers are smart enough not to write about this book simply because it has gone unregulated for so long that to try and make right of it now makes little sense.

It would probably be safe to say that I have seen it kept every way possible except in crayon.  I have seen it in pencil!  Since I cannot let sleeping dogs lie, I decided to write an article about the logbook.  If you have ever had the pleasure of watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers dance, stick around and you will recognize some of my moves.  I will try and answer a lot of questions and create a few more in the process.  I'll tell you how I have kept mine over the years and how I ask the students and pilots I work with to keep theirs.  Whether you make any changes in the way you keep your records and logbooks will be entirely up to you.  In fact, you just may be closer to correct than I am.
If you would like to get a few more opinions on this matter, call the local Flight Standards District Office and see what guidelines they recommend.   The questions, answers, and random rambling thoughts begin.  Please have fun with this.

What is the main purpose of a logbook?  It should be your personal diary of aviation information.  It is written proof that you have complied with the regulations set forth by the Federal Aviation Administration.  It should show that you have flown the hours required for the certificates and ratings that you have in your pocket.  It should be the supporting documentation to prove to the world, and the local sheriff, that you are indeed a pilot.

What should it cover?  When, where, what, why, and with whom you did something in aviation that you felt was memorable enough to record for posterity.

What specific verbiage should we be seeing in the endorsements?  Well, every category, class, certificate, rating and type that we ever hope to attain has certain requirements for both flight and ground training that must be completed and logged.  Reading these requirements before you undertake the training will let you know how to prepare.  You might even draw up a mini-syllabus to help the instructor (they love that).  The key words that are used in the regulations are the words that you should log.

Can the logbook be used to prove your total flight time?  Sure, it's the best evidence you have and you have an entire flying career to prepare for it.  One good way to prove your total flight time, which incidentally is the time we need most often in our career, is to add up all the times you have flown in all the different categories, classes, and types of aviation flying machines and this number should equal total time flown.  Should?  It better.  ASEL, ASES, AMES, AMEL, simulator, helicopter, gyrocopter, powered lift, glider, balloon, jet, turbine, and airship—anything you have flown except kites and origami.

Can you put too much in a logbook?  Only if you are lying about the entries; otherwise, it's impossible.  The exact amount of time and space that you devote to your personal record keeping is entirely up to you.  Most folks are not too handy with pen and pencil so they end up attaching very little importance to keeping a regular log.

How does the logbook apply to the student pilot?  This point in an aviation career is the right time to teach them about how to protect themselves and the investment of time and money they are making now and in the future.  Show them how and why compliance with the rules and regulations can be so easy, and let them become good record keepers early in their career by making it interesting.  Ask them a simple question. "Tell me exactly what we did aviation-wise 30 days ago."  If this is a hard question for them to answer, they need to do more with future entries.  They will probably agree.

What are the instructor requirements?  Sufficient information and documentation to prove that you did what was needed in the training, and a regular record of the advancement of this future pilot.  Our duty now becomes times two because besides the writing we do in a student's logbook, we must also keep an excellent record in our own logbook.  Such a good record, in fact, that if a student or pilot that flew with you in the past should ever lose their logs, you should be able to reconstruct them from yours.

Just take a moment right now and look back five years ago and read slowly and silently what is there.  Does it make any sense?  Does it make your memory kick in and remind you of the day in question?  It's supposed to.  If you are an instructor, write personal notations on the flight, the airplane, and the pilot.  It might come in handy someday.  I don’t leave anything out, good or bad, that might benefit me or the person I flew with at some later date.

How much space do we allot to an entry?  Too much.  If written well and carefully maintained, it may become a best seller someday.  Just make sure that what you put in the log is enough for you to fully relate to someone else exactly what went on during that flight.  And make sure it is the truth.

Where to put what?  First, get a big logbook to start with.  With the endorsements getting longer and longer, you'll need the extra space just about the time you finish your Instrument rating.  Most everyone eventually fills up more than one.  Ask yourself what you can legally log from that flight and the answer might be an entry into several columns on one flight.  Taking a flight at night on a cross-country, instrument conditions or under the hood in a single engine airplane, high performance with approaches and landings as the pilot in command might be all one flight but entries into several columns.

The logbook can break or help make your aviation future.  From the very first discovery flight and even before, you should have your flying goals laid out and know what they require of you.  This will give a definitive purpose to the record keeping and make it so much more enjoyable and rewarding.  Knowing what will be needed of you in time to come will save a lot of training time and certainly tons of money.  Bad logging or even none at all can get you into a future lawsuit, and if you lie to your logbook it can cost you that license you are getting and the right you have to fly.  To me, that last statement would constitute a tremendous loss.

Look up what the Federal Aviation Regulations say about all of this, which will probably explain why most smart people refuse to write in detail about logging time.  Read carefully what CFR/FAR 61.59 says about being truthful and not logging any P-51 time and how unhappy they would be if we did.  Then drop back to CFR/FAR 61.51 to find out a lot of stuff that we might not have known beforeand stuff that is apt to change from time to time.  This one regulation is probably why so many people do the very same thing so many different ways and all of them think what they are doing is correct.  Somewhere it was taught incorrectly and others simply did not keep up with the changes over the years.  Either way it makes for some interesting and sometimes amusing reading.

I don't mean that I think the requirements we are bound by in aviation are funny, but when you read the regulations and look at your logbook at the same time, you'll see what I mean.  It sometimes looks like we are reading two totally different books.  Is your logbook different from the one I describe?  Probably so.  Is it a crime?  Probably not.  Was there an intention on your part to cheat on your time for one reason or another?  Is that your final answer?  Could it be that it's the way you were taught to keep your log?  Possibly.  Are you trying to meet the requirements and regulations as best you know how?  Are you willing to admit that your record keeping is just a little different from what the regulations require?  Are you willing to improve it and have someone help you bring it up to date?  Sure, why not.

I do a lot of flight reviews, recurrency, proficiency, and instrument checks so I get to see the handiwork of a lot of different pilots and instructors.  You can believe me when I tell you that none are just exactly as they should be.  Most have absolutely no intention of changing the way they record their business and pleasure because most of us have been doing it a certain way for so long it would be a chore to learn something new.  And unless you are a flight instructor following a continued and flagrant course of logbook lying, you are probably never going to get into much trouble.  I don’t push the point of changing because I don’t think that I have the right to make this intrusion into someone's private diary unless they seek out my help.  I am willing to show them where subtle changes could be made that might someday be helpful to them.  Some adopt them and some don't.

So what have we accomplished with this article?  Hopefully, some of you will take a moment to reflect on what has been said about this most  important record book and then privately answer these closing questions.  If your logbook were put on the street as a novel, would it be considered fiction or non-fiction?  Would it be a best seller?  Would it get you in trouble?  Are you happy with the book as it stands?  Do you intend to make some changes?  Are you going to buy a new FAR/AIM book just to read what I mentioned?


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