Not surprisingly, when you’re about to fly an airplane with more than enough torque and P-factor to roll you inverted in a heartbeat, malicious stall behavior and the ability to blow through the 250-KIAS-under-10,000-foot speed limit and laugh, the FAA and insurers are going to have something to say about it.
For single-seat fighters, the only flight training available that we found was in some P-51s modified with dual controls and that are owned by individuals (or companies) that give dual in them as part of their business, such as Stallion 51 (www.stallion51.com) in Florida, and within the Commemorative Air Force (CAF). There are private organizations and museums that give dual in the DC-3—we did not find any training available outside of museums for other transports and any of the bombers.
If you want to fly as PIC in a turbojet-powered aircraft or a piston pounder that has a gross weight of more than 12,500 pounds—and has a U.S. type certificate—you have to obtain a type rating. In the warbird world that means only the DC-3/C-47 and B-25. The process involves taking instruction from an appropriately rated instructor, getting signed off for the checkride—which is given by an approved examiner—and passing the oral and practical test. The practical test is to ATP standards no matter what pilot rating the applicant holds. Once you have a type rating, you must pass an annual proficiency check that meets the requirements of FAR Part 61.58. Interestingly, because of a quirk in the regs and the specifics of the DC-3’s type certificate, the annual proficiency check requirement does not apply to the DC-3.
Because virtually no warbirds were issued civilian type certificates (almost all now hold experimental category certificates), the FAA procedure for certification to fly those aircraft is set out in FAA Order 8900.1—specifically, Volume 5, Chapter 9, Section 2. The goal of the training required and authorization to fly the airplanes, according to the FAA, is to “ensure for the pilots flying these aircraft a level of safety and proficiency similar to what is available for an aircraft with a type rating.” The aircraft affected are all jets as well as piston-powered airplanes that have more than 800 horsepower and a Vne greater than 250 knots—which covers virtually all WWII fighters and most of the bombers.
To obtain the required “Experimental Aircraft Authorization,” a pilot must take instruction for the type of aircraft involved from an instructor who has received authorization from the FAA and then take a checkride that is essentially identical to a type-rating checkride—although, for a single-seat fighter, the examiner is going to watch from the ground. The checkride consists of an oral and practical section and is to ATP standards.
The pilot rating and experience requirements that must be met before applying for an Experimental Aircraft Authorization are set out in Order 8900.1. They start with holding a private pilot certificate, a third-class medical and 500 hours of PIC time and go up from there depending on the type of aircraft involved.
Once a pilot has passed the checkride for an Experimental Aircraft Authorization, she gets a new pilot certificate with the aircraft type printed on the back—just like a type rating. However, unlike a type rating, there is no requirement for an annual checkride to continue flying as PIC. The insurance brokers we spoke with said that none of the companies with which they work require an annual checkride for coverage, but all give a substantial discount on the annual premium if the pilot does complete a recognized recurrent training program.
Interestingly, because the C, D and K models of the P-51 are licensed in the limited and not experimental category, FAA Order 8900.1 does not apply to them. Accordingly, the FAA does not require a pilot seeking to buy and fly one to have more than complex, high-performance and tailwheel endorsements. It does not mandate any training or a checkride. Everyone is aware of the hole in the regs, the FAA has not taken steps to fix it and, according to insurance brokers, the real method of assuring training in those hotrods is insurance requirements.
We were told by brokers that they do not have trouble placing hull and liability insurance for warbirds if the pilot has significant T-6 experience prior to stepping into a fighter (200 hours was the number most frequently mentioned—including a back-seat checkout because the airplane is completely blind forward from that seat) and type-specific training; however, the cost will be entirely dependent on the level of the pilot’s experience in type. They reported no problem initially obtaining liability limits of $2 million, with higher limits available later.
Finally, we note that when EAA ran the warbird pilot examination program, it kept the number of approved warbird examiners under 10 nationally—and they were able to handle all of the checkrides. Some years ago the FAA took over the program and increased the number of examiners substantially. Now most training programs and museums have “captive” examiners. While that is common in the smaller general aviation world—flight schools generally have DPEs on staff or nearby—we have never liked it because of the concern for pressure on examiners to lower their standards. We’ve seen it happen. It means an increased accident risk when substandard pilots get ratings. When it involves a private pilot in a Katana, that risk has generally been felt to be acceptable. However, when it comes to multimillion-dollar warbirds and the financial pressure that can be applied by those who have the wherewithal to own those machines, we have a level of discomfort with schools and museums having captive examiners. We’ve seen too many big egos connected with big money and marginal pilot skills in the warbird world. The check and balance has historically been examiners who are ruthlessly independent—we are concerned that it has been eroded.