It’s been said that getting your Private Pilot Certificate is a “license to learn.” It’s true that you should continue to learn from every flight you take; no pilot ever knows it all.  And while enjoying and exploring the privileges of a Private Pilot is fun on its own, upgrading your experiences with some new ratings and endorsements can give you a whole new perspective on aviation. There are a good many to choose from, but here are a few that stand out. Consider it a “rating sampler platter,” with a bonus endorsement thrown in.

 

Seaplane Rating (Single Engine Sea)

Where I live around inland Georgia, there isn’t much use for an airplane on floats. However, the versatility of being able to land on the water opens up a bunch of new doors in a coastal region. A bush pilot in Alaska might come to mind. In regions like that, necessity breeds the use of floatplanes to get in and out of remote areas. You don’t have to be flying the remote wild to get the rating, though. For a land pilot, flying over water can add a level of uneasiness. After all, an airplane has an inherent inability to land on water. Slap some floats on that plane, though, and the land and water roles get reversed.  Water adds a new dimension and challenge to your flying.  Watch this Angle of Attack video to get a feel for flying floatplanes.

The Commitment: Expect to fly six to ten hours to become proficient enough to pass the practical test, which includes both an oral and flight portion. Expect to pay around $1500-$2000 depending on the particular course and airplane. Wanna get started? Check out Kenmore Air Harbor in Seattle, Dragonfly Aero in Alaska, Promark Aviation in Texas, or Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base in Florida to get yours done.

X-Plane 9 Floatplane

Lots of airplanes can be put onto floats like this Maule MX7 shown here from X-Plane.

 

Tailwheel Endorsement

While not truly a rating, but simply a logbook endorsement, this sampler would be incomplete without it.  Nowadays, tailwheel airplanes are more rarely seen than in the days of old, but it’s where airplanes got their start. Learning fundamental stick and rudder skills in a Piper Cub used to be the usual story for pilots earning their wings. Now, the tricycle landing gear is much more common on training airplanes.  Only a logbook endorsement is required to fly tailwheel airplanes, but it’ll take a few hours of work to learn the technique. Tailwheels, or taildraggers, are also known as conventional landing gear. So what’s the difference in conventional landing gear? To start, limited forward visibility, a center of gravity behind the main landing gear, and a particular landing technique. Having your tailwheel endorsement is a great first step that opens up a bunch of new airplanes to fly. For instance, you might have noticed that most aerobatic airplanes have tailwheels. For a taste of what getting the endorsement is like, check out this FlightChops video.

The Commitment: Expect to fly somewhere between 7 and 12 hours, working mainly on landings in the traffic pattern. Expect to pay roughly $1500-$2000 depending on the particular course. There are many flight schools that offer tailwheel training; find one near you and knock it out!

X-Plane Tailwheel Maule

This tailwheel Stinson is the default glider towplane in X-Plane.

 

Glider Rating

Pilots who have had experience in a glider describe it as being serene – as close to being a bird as you can get. One of my favorite pastimes on the simulator is to see how long I can stay aloft in a glider. There’s something about the rhythm and anticipation of gliding that is very satisfying. How does it fly with no engine?  Every airplane effectively becomes a glider with it’s engine off in flight. Every airplane can glide, but the glide characteristics of every airplane is different. Basically, some can glider further than others. Gliders are designed specifically to maximize their glide ratio, hence their long, narrow wings. How does it get in the air without an engine? You can use one of several methods to get towed aloft, from being pulled by a cable behind a tow plane to using a ground winch to launch you into the sky. Once in the air, having no engine (but a great glide ratio) turns flying into good energy management and a hunt for thermals.  Watch steveo1kinevo take us through a glider flight.

The Commitment: A powered Private Pilot looking to add on a glider rating can expect to have a minimum of 3 hours of flight time in a glider, including at least 20 total flights – 10 of those solo. The practical test to receive the rating includes both an oral and flight portion. Expect to pay roughly $3000, although the setup varies based on the program. Some schools offer a training program like any other rating. Others, like the Middle Georgia Soaring Association, offer a membership that costs a little more up front but allows you access to cheaper flying benefits.

X-Plane Glider

This ASK 21 glider from X-Plane is a high performance, two seat glider.

 

Instrument Rating

Getting an instrument rating is a common “next step” for a private pilot. It is widely regarded as a “must have” rating for both safety and proficiency. By learning to control an aircraft using only the instruments, without visual reference, a new level of airplane mastery is achieved. This isn’t a ticket to all-weather flying, though. There are plenty of no-go decisions called on instrument flights. For traveling practically in an airplane, an instrument rating might let you get through some of the weather that would have otherwise socked you in for a couple days as a visual pilot. So how do you find a runway without being able to see it? You follow and fly an instrument approach, which is a charted path to fly that will set you up to see the runway environment. The lowest altitude you can fly on an approach before having the runway in sight is referred to as “minimums.” Watch Jason Schappert of MZeroA and a student fly an Instrument Landing System (ILS) approach down to minimums.

The Commitment: This rating requires a significant amount of time, study and flight hours, so it’s more of a season of training rather than a quick add-on. You’ll need 40 hours of actual or simulated instrument time, and a total of 50 hours of cross country time as Pilot In Command. Up to 20 of those instrument hours can be logged in an approved simulator. Depending on what sort of hours you have as a pilot before starting the rating, expect to pay anywhere from $5000-$8000.

X-Plane Cessna 172

A Cessna 172 breaking out of the clouds on final approach in Asheville (KAVL) on X-Plane.

 

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

It’s natural to look at spending money and consider what you get in return. Specifically, it’s easy to compare what physical things that money could buy. You might think, “for that amount, I could get a bigger tv, or a new computer, or groceries for several months.” Studies show, however, that spending money on experiences are much more rewarding than spending money on things.  So why not make an experience out of a new rating or endorsement? Maybe a local flight or two towards a tailwheel endorsement would make a great gift. Perhaps a weekend in the mountains to work on your glider rating could make a unique vacation for your family. Either way, the learning and experiences gained from exploring a new rating or endorsement can open up all kinds of new adventures for you and your family – both during and after the rating is earned. Not to mention, it’ll make you a better pilot in the process. That is, unless of course, you already know it all. In that case, carry on. Nothing to see here.

What other ratings and endorsements do you have?  Share your experiences in the comments!

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6 Comments

  1. Laura Nelson

    I’m dying to get my seaplane rating. I think you’ve just convinced me to add that on after my PPL!

    Reply
    • Clay

      Awesome! If you do, be sure to share some pictures with us!

      Reply
  2. Echomike

    The aircraft depicted in the “tail dragger” endorsement portion of your article is NOT a Maule as stated. It is a 40’s era Consolidated STINSON 108. The usual landing gear fairings have been removed.

    Reply
    • Clay

      Thanks for that catch – I’ll be sure to update that! I guess I had Maule on the mind!

      Reply
  3. Reid Columbia

    I went to Jack Browns Seaplane Base a few days ago near Lakeland FL. I think my parents and I are all going to do out add-ons next year.

    Reply
    • Clay

      That’s awesome, Reid! We’d love to hear about your experience at Facebook.com/Clayviation when you do!

      Reply

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