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Transitioning to High-Performance AircraftTransitioning to High-Performance Aircraft

High performance aircraft

Importance to Members

Importance to Members

AOPA continues to receive questions regarding endorsements needed by pilots to fly complex and high-performance aircraft. With the changes to 14 CFR 61.31 in mid-1997, the FAA changed the requirements for a person to act as PIC of these aircraft. The wrong endorsement could mean a violation or invalidate your aircraft insurance.

As always, feel free to call AOPA's Pilot Information Center at 800/USA-AOPA with questions.



Prior to August 1997, the FAA required a high-performance endorsement in order to act as pilot in command of an aircraft with more than 200 horsepower or that had retractable gear, flaps, and a controllable propeller. Many aircraft met this definition and were used to gain the training and endorsement, including the Cessna Cutlass 172RG, Cessna 182, and Piper Seminole, to name a few.

With the changes to Part 61 in August 1997, the FAA changed the definition of high performance and added a separate endorsement for complex aircraft. The definition of high performance is now "an airplane with an engine of more than 200 horsepower." This ruled out numerous aircraft, including many Mooneys (200 hp), Piper Seminoles (180 hp each engine) and most of the Piper Senecas (200 hp per engine). This seemingly simple change had a significant effect on the training industry. Many flight schools needed to add new aircraft to provide this training.

Technical Information

Technical Information

You may also notice that the definition of high performance no longer includes "retractable gear, flaps and controllable pitch propeller." This is now considered a complex aircraft. Aircraft such as the Cessna Cutlass 172RG, many Mooneys, and the Piper Seminole, which previously required the high-performance endorsement, now require the complex endorsement. Many aircraft may require both endorsements if they have an engine of more than 200 hp and have retractable gear, flaps, and a controllable propeller.

Additional confusion arises when a pilot received training and endorsements prior to August 1997 under the old regulations. Many pilots received high-performance endorsements in aircraft with engines less then 200 hp or in aircraft without retractable gear, flaps, and controllable propellers. The question arises what training and endorsements are now required.

14 CFR 61.31 states that the training and endorsements for a complex aircraft are not required if the person has logged flight time as PIC of a complex airplane prior to August 4, 1997. The same is also true for the high-performance endorsement if the person has logged flight time as PIC of a high-performance airplane prior to August 4, 1997.

The problem with this is that the high-performance and complex aircraft that were considered high performance prior to August 4, 1997, must have met today's definition of high performance or complex in order to qualify under this grandfather clause.

For example, if you received a high-performance endorsement in a Cessna 172 RG (not more than 200 hp) prior to August 4, 1997, and did not log any PIC time in an airplane with an engine of more than 200 hp prior to that date, then another high-performance endorsement would be required if you're planning on acting as PIC in a Bonanza (more than 200 hp) after August 4, 1997.

This might seem confusing, but legally, and in the eyes of the FAA, your high-performance endorsement for the 172 RG does not suffice for a Bonanza, or any airplane with an engine of more than 200 hp. The only good news is that you are grandfathered from having to receive a complex endorsement if you logged PIC time in the 172 RG prior to August 4, 1997. Reason being, the 172 RG meets today's definition of complex.

Pilots need to verify in their logbooks which types of aircraft they have logged pilot-in-command time in prior to August 4, 1997, and then determine which endorsements are needed, if any. Remember, the definition of high performance now means an engine of more than 200 hp, not an aircraft with more than 200 hp.

With the exception of our discussion on acting as PIC in high-performance and complex aircraft prior to August 4, 1997, the list below provides several examples of aircraft and the endorsements they require.

Aircraft High Performance Endorsement Complex
Cessna 172 No No
Cessna 172 Hawk XP No No
Cessna Cutlass 172RG No Yes
Cessna 182 Yes No
Cessna 182RG Yes Yes
Piper Arrow (180 or 200 hp) No Yes
Piper Seminole No Yes
Beech Bonanza Yes Yes
Mooney M20 (200 hp) No Yes
Mooney M20K (210 hp) Yes Yes

Additional Resources

Additional Resources

Ratings and Endorsements

For pilots considering adding an instrument rating, a multiengine rating, or any other kind of rating or endorsement.

Transitioning to Other Aircraft

At some point you may fancy flying an airplane that’s bigger, faster, and sexier than the old trainer you’ve come to know so well. But making such a transition requires additional instruction to learn new and often more complex aircraft systems and operating procedures. Is transitioning to another aircraft difficult? Are complex aircraft complicated to fly? Find out and challenge your knowledge with these resources from the Air Safety Institute.


From the AOPA Archives

Instructor Reports
High-performance aircraft, low-performance pilot
Could anything have been done?
By Bruce Landsberg

One of the perplexing aspects of accident investigation is attempting to understand why pilots make the decisions that they do. After a fatal accident, everyone wants to know why certain decisions were made. An accident involving poor decision-making is especially difficult to fathom when the pilot in command gave every indication of being cautious and responsible.

Movin' On Up
When Is It Time to Transition Into a More Capable Airplane?
By Budd Davisson
AOPA Flight Training, July 2002

No one who starts taking flying lessons says, "I want to fly a Cessna 152 for the rest of my life." No. Most folks have grander visions in mind.

Instructor Report: Sweating the details
Consider the consequences of ignoring checklists
By Richard Hiner
AOPA Flight Training, June 1999

Several years ago, I was flying with a student near Montgomery County Airpark in Gaithersburg, Maryland, when I noticed a plume of black smoke rising from the airport. As we passed overhead we saw flames erupting on the taxiway. It was obvious that an airplane was engulfed in the blaze.

Power Management
By Robert N. Rossier
AOPA Flight Training, April 1997

The next morning it became clear he'd run out of fuel, and a thorough analysis of the aircraft performance charts partly explained why. Basing his flight plan on 55-percent power, he was certain he'd adjusted the power to this setting. But it's surprising what an inch or so of manifold pressure (MP), a hundred RPM here or there, or 50°F variation on the exhaust gas temperature (EGT) gauge can do.

High-Performance Aircraft Transitions
Getting the Most for Your Training Dollar
By Robert N. Rossier
AOPA Flight Training, November 1996

There are many reasons to fly a high performance aircraft. Some are personal and some are professional. Some pilots want or need generally faster cruise speeds. Others need to learn and master more complex systems so they may climb another rung of the aviation career ladder. Still others simply seek the challenge and excitement of mastering a new airplane.

Moving Up
Getting to Know a New Airplane
By Robert N. Rossier
AOPA Flight Training, December 1995

There comes a time when every pilot transitions to a different aircraft — perhaps the aircraft has more seats, more instrumentation, or more speed. Regardless of the differences, an aircraft checkout is bound to be a challenging experience. Unfortunately, preparation for this checkout is often not as thorough as it should be, particularly in learning the aircraft's systems and limitations.