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"If I remember, there are restrictions as to where experimental aircraft can fly. Do you recall what they are? Also, can an experimental airplane be IFR certified, so that I can file a regular IFR flight plan?"
In the US:
After assembly of a new amateur-built experimental airplane, a test pilot (sometimes the owner himself) must fly the airplane for at least 25 hours (with certified engine/prop or 40 hours with uncertified engine/prop) and show that "the aircraft is controllable throughout its normal range of speeds and throughout all the maneuvers to be executed; and [that] the aircraft has no hazardous operating characteristics or design features." [FAR 91.319b] This is referred to in the aircraft's operating limitations [FAA Order 8130.2D chg 1] as the "Phase 1" Test Flight Period.
Note: Passengers may NOT be carried during the Phase 1 Test Flight Period, even if you CAN find passengers stupid enough to want to!
After successfully completing Phase 1, the aircraft enters into "Phase 2" of its operating limitations. During the remainder of the airplane's useful life, it will normally be operated under the same rules [14 CFR Part 91] as most other privately owned/operated general aviation aircraft.
FAR 91.319 has a few rules applicable particularly to experimental aircraft. FAR 91.319c states that "...no person may operate an aircraft that has an experimental certificate over a densely populated area or in a congested airway". Interestingly, many pilots remember this rule from 91.319, but conveniently forget a similar rule applicable to ALL airplanes in FAR 91.119 that states that "...no person may operate an aircraft below the following altitudes: (a) Anywhere. An altitude allowing, if a power unit fails, an emergency landing without undue hazard to persons or property on the surface."
The FAA's concern is with any action by a pilot that creates a hazard to innocent bystanders on the ground. In practice, this means that during the "Phase 1" Flight Test Period for every new amateur-built experimental aircraft, it may not be operated over any congested area. During the remainder of the aircraft's useful life, it "is prohibited from operating in congested airways or over densely populated areas unless directed by Air Traffic Control, or unless sufficient altitude is maintained to effect a safe emergency landing in the event of a power unit failure, without hazard to persons or property on the surface." [Reference: FAA clarification letter to EAA].
As you can see, there really is no significant difference between the rules for an amateur-built experimental aircraft that has completed its Phase 1 Test Flight Period, than for any other privately owned/operated general aviation aircraft.
Re. Instrument Flight
Like all aircraft, an amateur-built experimental aircraft must be properly equipped before it can be operated under IFR rules [91.205]. This is confirmed in FAA Order 8130.2D Chg 1, para 134, which states that: "(7) [During "Phase 1" Flight Test Period] the aircraft is to be operated under Visual Flight Rules (VFR), day only. (8) After completion of phase I flight testing, unless appropriately equipped for night and/or instrument flight in accordance with § 91.205, this aircraft is to be operated under VFR, day only. ...(28) The pilot in command of this aircraft shall notify air traffic control of the experimental nature of this aircraft when operating into or out of airports with an operational control tower. When filing IFR, the experimental nature of this aircraft shall be listed in the remarks section of the flight plan."
§ 91.319 Aircraft having experimental certificates: Operating limitations.
(a) No person may operate an aircraft that has an
(1) For other than the purpose for which the certificate was issued; or
(2) Carrying persons or property for compensation or hire.
(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.
(c) Unless otherwise authorized by the Administrator in special operating limitations, no person may operate an aircraft that has an experimental certificate over a densely populated area or in a congested airway. The Administrator may issue special operating limitations for particular aircraft to permit takeoffs and landings to be conducted over a densely populated area or in a congested airway, in accordance with terms and conditions specified in the authorization in the interest of safety in air commerce.
(d) Each person operating an aircraft that has an
experimental certificate shall—
(1) Advise each person carried of the experimental nature of the aircraft;
(2) Operate under VFR, day only, unless otherwise specifically authorized by the Administrator; and
(3) Notify the control tower of the experimental nature of the aircraft when operating the aircraft into or out of airports with operating control towers.
(e) The Administrator may prescribe additional limitations that the Administrator considers necessary, including limitations on the persons that may be carried in the aircraft.
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