Two Pilots for Phase 1 Approved!



After nearly two years of work, the FAA has issued a new Advisory Circular (AC 90-116) that authorizes two people to be in the cockpit of an Experimental – Amateur Built aircraft during Phase 1 Testing. Up until now, the Operating Limitations issued with an E-AB Airworthiness Certificate specified that only “Required crew” were allowed to be in the cockpit during this phase of flight, and that has been interpreted by the FAA as a single pilot for all but the most complex aircraft. The new policy was kicked off by a recommendation front the NTSB that some fatal crashes in the past might have been prevented if a more qualified pilot had been in the aircraft withe the less-experienced builder/owner. The new program is the result of work by many volunteers, the EAA, and the FAA – the intent being to bring in experience from the community to design a program that can reasonably be expected to reduce overall fatalities, but doing so in a structured manner.

The new process is not as simple as asking a friendly pilot to go along on the first flight however – there are numerous qualifications that must be met by the airframe, engine, and pilots in order for two pilots in the cockpit to be legal. The aircraft must have been built from a kit, exactly as specified by the manufacturer, it must have an engine that is specifically recommended by the kit manufacturer, have no significant modifications, and six different engine and fuel system tests need to have been performed and logged. The Qualified Pilot must meet a number of requirements relating to overall experience, currency, experience in flight testing, and experience in type.

New Operating Limitations will be issued with a statement that allows the use of the Additional Pilot Program, and modifications will have to made to existing Operating Limitations in order for the APP to be used legally.

The FAA’s preamble to the Advisory Circular specifies that it:

“provides information and guidance on the Additional Pilot Program (APP) for flight testing experimental aircraft. The APP was developed to improve safety by enhancing Builder/Owner Pilot (BP) skills and mitigate risks associated with Phase I flight testing of aircraft built from commercially produced kits through the use of a qualified additional pilot and powerplant testing. The APP is an optional program which provides another pathway to conducting Phase I flight testing. The traditional option for a pilot to test their aircraft solo during Phase I is not covered or affected by this AC, and remains an option for those who choose to do so in accordance with their aircraft’s operating limitations.”

The entire Advisory Circular is available for download here:

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Paul Dye
Paul Dye, KITPLANES® Editor at Large, retired as a Lead Flight Director for NASA’s Human Space Flight program, with 40 years of aerospace experience on everything from Cubs to the Space Shuttle. An avid homebuilder, he began flying and working on airplanes as a teen and has experience with a wide range of construction techniques and materials. He flies an RV-8 and SubSonex jet that he built, an RV-3 that he built with his pilot wife, as well as a Dream Tundra and an electric Xenos motorglider they completed. Currently, they are building an F1 Rocket. A commercially licensed pilot, he has logged over 6000 hours in many different types of aircraft and is an A&P, FAA DAR, EAA Tech Counselor and Flight Advisor; he was formerly a member of the Homebuilder’s Council. He consults and collaborates in aerospace operations and flight-testing projects across the country.


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