Chapter 3: Logbooks
Logbooks are probably the most confusing and frustrating aspect of transitioning from the military to the airlines. I could have included logbooks as a subsection of chapter 2, but logbooks are a topic that warrants its own chapter.
As I started making my transition toward the end of my military flying career, I discovered that everything I knew about logging flight time in the air force was not applicable to the way the airlines wanted me to calculate my flight times. To make matters worse, I had about 300 hours of civilian flight time before entering the air force, and I needed to figure out if I wanted to combine my civilian and air force flying into one logbook or keep them separate. If I chose to keep them separate, how could I show my total flight times in various categories such as PIC, multi-engine, and cross- country, etc?
I was fortunate enough to have someone tell me way back in air force pilot training to keep my own logbook even though my flight time would be tracked by Air Force Aviation Resource Management (commonly referred to as “flight records”). That turned out to be a good piece of advice, since the air force flight records are not nearly detailed enough to fill out an airline application. Unfortunately I wasn’t smart enough to use a civilian-style logbook. Instead I bought a military-style logbook at Army Air Force Exchange Services (AAFES). Here’s a hint for you: using a military-style logbook is great if you’re planning to fly for the military after you get out of the military (that was a weak attempt at humor), but if you want to fly for anyone else, you probably want a civilian-style logbook that will allow you to track all the categories of flight time the airlines are going to care about.
So there I was, one year away from retiring from the air force, with a civilian paper logbook for my GA flight hours, a military-style paper logbook for my military flight hours, and my official air force flight records. I knew that wasn’t going to cut it for an airline interview, so I started asking for advice from some of the guys who had already interviewed and been hired at the airlines. That’s when a friend of mine introduced me to the twenty-first century by showing me an electronic logbook. His flight records were meticulously printed on special customized logbook paper and placed in custom logbook binders. It looked just like a normal logbook except it was neatly printed instead of all the chicken- scratch, messy handwriting, Wite-Out, and mix of ink colors typical of a traditional logbook. I was sold! However, I quickly discovered that trying to merge civilian and military flying time into one neat electronic logbook was like trying to fit a square in the circle hole. It can be done with enough sheer brute force, but it ain’t easy! Had I started using a civilian-style logbook (paper or electronic) from day one of my military flight training, it wouldn’t have been so hard. I’ll explain why in the remainder of this chapter.
So which logbook is right for you? There are basically three different types of logbook you can use for an airline interview: the old-school paper logbook, printed reports from an electronic logbook, and military flight records. The only thing the airlines require is a copy of your military flight records (the whole thing, not just the summary reports). However, there are advantages and disadvantages to each type of logbook or flight record. Some people only bring military flight records for the interview. Others use a combination of military flight records and either paper or electronic logbooks. The next several paragraphs should help you develop a strategy for which logbook(s) is/are right for you.
The paper logbook used to be the only option in GA. When I was a private pilot student in the 1980s and early ’90s (wow, I’m a dinosaur), my instructor would ask for my logbook after each session so he could sign it and log our maneuvers accomplished on that lesson, flight times, and so on. He would sign and list his CFI certificate number for each entry. Once I soloed, and after I earned my private pilot license (PPL), I became responsible for logging my own flight times in accordance with CFR 61.51.
The paper logbook works perfectly fine and actually has some advantages over electronic logbooks. One of those advantages is that endorsements can be signed off directly in the paper logbook by your CFI and designated flight examiner. Endorsements are required for several reasons including solo and cross-country flight prior to becoming a licensed pilot. Endorsements are also required by the flight instructor who sends you to a check ride to prove that you have received the required flight and ground instruction for the rating you are attempting to obtain. The check airmen will endorse your logbook to verify that you passed the check ride (hopefully). Some electronic logbooks also have a way to log endorsements, but the CFRs are vague on how “legal” it is.
Another advantage of the paper logbook is cost. You can pick up a good Jeppesen basic paper logbook for about $15. I recommend going with their professional version for about $30. With the professional version, you will be able to log more categories of flight time and track other currencies that will be important to the airlines.
Paper logbooks also have a couple disadvantages. The first is that it’s very difficult to keep a paper logbook looking professional. Unless you are able to keep the same pen through your entire flying career (good luck with that), you will end up with a variety of ink colors. You will also fly with different flight instructors who will have different handwriting and different techniques on how to log your flight times and where they log certain information, sign, place endorsements, and so on. It’s also very easy to make a math error when computing totals, and then you’ll have to go back and make Wite-Out corrections that look like shit…except white. Do you really want to hand something that looks like shit to the airline interviewer as a representation of your professionalism?
If you are going to use a civilian logbook in addition to your military flight records, I highly recommend using an electronic logbook. The earlier you start using an electronic logbook the better. I say this because I waited until one-year prior to retiring from the air force to start using an electronic logbook. It took me the better part of three months to go line by line through my civilian logbook and military flight records and enter almost 3500 hours of flight time into an electronic logbook. I don’t recommend this method, but in the end it was worth it, because when I sat down to fill out airline applications, it made calculating my flight times very simple.
Electronic logbooks have several advantages over paper. We already discussed the extremely professional appearance of an electronic logbook. Most programs will allow you to print reports that look just like a paper logbook except they are typed uniformly throughout, as you can see in figure 1 below. Most programs also sell custom-made leather logbook binders (figure 2) to hold your printed logbook pages. They look just like a paper logbook but more professional. Here’s another hint: if you have a lot of flight time (over 1500 hours), I recommend using the largest logbook style available. I didn’t think about this until it was too late and ended up needing three logbook binders to hold all my printed logbook pages.
If you stick with military flight records and paper logbooks only, you’re going to spend hours totaling up various types of flight times manually when you fill out your airline applications, because the application will require flight times that the military and your logbook may not track. For example, Delta and United both use AirlineApps.com for their applications. On AirlineApps.com, the directions tell you to separate PIC time from IP time. However, Pilotcredentials.com (used by FedEx, American, and Southwest Airlines) directions have you include IP time in your PIC time. Some other examples I have seen on various applications that would be hard to determine using a standard logbook or military flight records include turbine PIC time, jet PIC time (not the same as turbine PIC time if you have any turboprop time), multiengine PIC time, multiengine turbine PIC time, and glass cockpit time.
It seems that every application website is different in terms of how they want your flight times broken out, but with an electronic logbook, it’s very easy to get the information needed with just a few clicks. That’s because electronic logbooks use pivot tables. Some of you über nerds know what a pivot table is, but for the rest of us Neanderthals, a pivot table allows you to filter information very easily from a database. Most electronic logbooks will allow you to filter by aircraft type and the type of flight time you are interested in. For example, if the application required night/turbine PIC time total: I could use the filters to select only turbine aircraft types and select only PIC time from the filters. Now when I look at the “Night” column, it will display exactly what I want: night/turbine PIC total time.
In addition to looking good and making it easy to tabulate flight times, electronic logbooks can track civilian instrument-currency requirements, FAA medical expiration dates, check ride expiration dates, and so on. Not only that, but they will warn you when your currencies are about to expire. As if all that wasn’t cool enough, another benefit of the electronic logbook is that many programs are compatible with your mobile device. You can use your smartphone or tablet to log your flight time right after you’re done flying, while it’s fresh on your mind. Most programs keep your data backed up on “the cloud” (the cloud is a nebulous area somewhere between the stratosphere and the ionosphere that apparently is used to store electronic data), so you never have to worry about losing your logbook. In addition, many programs allow you to import your airline company schedule and will automatically calculate FAR 117 crew-rest requirements, per diem, and so on. As you can tell, I am a big fan of the electronic logbook.
The two electronic-logbook programs I have experience with are…