“How many hours do you have?”

One of the biggest factors that makes up a pilot’s experience level is the number of flight hours they have. It’s not quite like a business, who might be judged by how many years they’ve been in business. After a flight, recording an hour or so in the logbook is like making an investment. Flying can, after all, be costly. For most pilots, building hours in the logbook is a means to an end. As a student pilot, having your instructor sign your logbook allows you to fly solo. Then getting 40 hours means the legal minimum for obtaining your license has been achieved. After that, building 50 hours of cross country time is one of the requirements to obtain an instrument rating. 250 total hours are required to become a commercial pilot. Then to get hired as a pilot with an airline requires at least 1500 hours. Where is all that time recorded?  In the logbook.

Nowadays, keeping records of things are a lot less pen and paper and a lot more electronic. You can have receipts emailed to you instead of being printed out. The same goes for bills and invoices. Signing documents electronically has moved from novel to commonplace. Taking notes for an online course? How about a screenshot instead. With the digital age in full swing, logbooks have certainly not been forgotten. There are programs, apps and online logbooks with just about every conceivable feature. So is the paper logbook dead? Paper or electronic – which one should YOU use?

What Makes A Logbook?
At the heart of any logbook are the rules of what must be logged. The FAA tells us this information in 14 CFR Part 61.51. Reading through it can be quite lengthy, but I’ll sum it up. Flight time must be recorded to include the date, total flight time, aircraft used, locations, the type of training, and conditions. It doesn’t specify that it needs to be in a snazzy, leather bound book. Conversely, it does allow for the information to be recorded electronically. The format is not as important as the content.  Technically, you could write each flight on sticky notes and use that as your log book (why haven’t the people at Post-It thought about that?). The point is that all of the necessary data and endorsements are recorded properly. Now that we know it CAN be either paper or electronic (or Post-It), let’s hear both sides.

I don’t recommend building your logbook out of Post-It notes, but the point is that your logbook needs only to have the necessary information required by the FAA to be legal.


The Case For Pen And Paper
In a digital world, the written word is sacred. Getting a handwritten note is worth it’s weight in gold. Companies are using print on their mass mailing advertisements that look like handwriting because it’s more personal. I’ve even seen a service where you can type out a thank you card and a machine will “hand write” your card using a pen. Anybody can look up a copy of the constitution, but the original is protected and on display so you can see the actual handwriting and signatures of the founding fathers. In my paper logbook, I can look back through and see the actual handwritten documentation of my flights. I can see the words I printed in the notes section. Even better, I can see my instructor’s handwriting and signatures from the notes they left.

My paper log book is one of a kind, and it’s sacred to me. Like a pair of jeans that gain more character as they break in, so my logbook grows in character each time my pen touches the paper. Every completed page is a new chapter of a handcrafted story. There is a sense of authenticity that comes from building a pen and paper logbook that I can only equate to the value gained from a face to face conversation over coffee instead of a phone call. And while my paper logbook risks becoming physically lost, so do even the best electronic devices. Additionally, it can’t be accidentally erased or suffer from a glitch like it’s electronic counterpart.

Jeppesen Professional Pilot Logbook

This is my paper logbook.  From the very first hour, I used the Jeppesen Professional Pilot logbook.  I’ve thought about installing a GPS tracking device on this sucker.


The Case For Electronics
On paper, the electronic logbook has a bunch of benefits (you see what I did there?). To start, the ease of input is getting downright magical. Some apps can draft a logbook entry with default info and times based on when it knows you were flying. Even for those requiring manual entry of the data, typos and mistakes can be corrected and you never have to search for a pen. Perhaps the most attractive feature is the arithmetic and sorting. Many logbook programs can easily tell you how many landings you’ve had in the past 90 days, or how many hours you’ve flown as cross country time under actual instrument conditions. This can be handy when that information needs to be accessed and added up for a rating, insurance, or job application. You can add tags to help you further categorize your entries and attach photos to remember the flights by. Your logbook becomes fully searchable. This might not matter much as a student pilot, but those pages start to get thick as the the experience piles on. Electronic logbooks are handy, neat and clean. Even if the device you are using gets broken or lost, many programs have the data backed up online (it makes perfect sense to store flight data in the cloud, right?).

There’s no doubt that data in electronic form is easy to sort, recall and add up, and you might already have an iPad handy after you fly.


So which one should you use?
Well, this isn’t a popular vote and the judge is me, so here’s my recommendation. Use both. Aviation is built on redundancies. During the very hours you are logging, you are training to always have a plan B and to always have redundant checks, all while flying an airplane equipped with as many redundant systems as possible (brought to you by the Department of Redundancy Department). You see, the trick here in determining your preferred logbook format is not which one gets used; it’s determining which one is primary and which one is a backup. I not only log my airplane flights, but my drone flights as well. When I fly airplanes, my paper logbook is my primary. I take a few minutes after each flight to sit down and record the details. It’s a ritual. Using an electronic logbook is my backup. I make sure the data is secured electronically. That way if I managed to lose my logbook, although heartbreaking, my data would still be in existence. Conversely, when I fly my drone, the app I use to fly it records a ton of data automatically.  Naturally, I use the logbook in the app as my primary. It’s all done for me while I fly with no extra steps.  I don’t usually find the time to sit down and log the drone time in the book right away.  But before too much time gets away from me, I’ll be sure to pull out my paper drone logbook from my bag to jot down the details, just in case my data sync decides to fail me.

With either system, having a primary and a backup gives me the best of both worlds. I have the convenience of the electronic format with the sentimentality and tactile pleasure of the paper book. I also have peace of mind knowing that my information is safe in two places. They say not to put all of your eggs in one basket. I can’t say I’ve ever heeded this advice literally and divided actual eggs into more than one basket (Easter, the grocery store). I guess it’s best to say that the old adage is more true metaphorically speaking. Therefore, I leave you with this: don’t put all of your flight eggs into one basket. Find a good paper basket and a good electronic basket. And you might want to keep both of them out of the rain.

Which format do you prefer?  Leave some comments below!

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  1. Reid Columbia

    I use the Jeppesen professional pilot logbook like the one pictured above. I also like the tactile feel of a paper log book. I also enjoy the ritual aspect of filling it out by hand. I do, however, have the last two years backed up online with my employer.

    • Clay

      Glad to hear you have a backup! A simple hack I’ve found for a backup is to simply take pictures of your logbook pages. I have them stored in my Evernote, which is synced and backed up across multiple devices. It’s a great backup option solely in case you lose your Logbook and need to recover the data somewhere.


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