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Recreational Pilot vs Sport Pilot

Posted By:
Robert Dingley
Homebuilder or Craftsman
#1 Posted: 6/29/2010 22:36:52

My FLYING magazine arrived today with an article by Lane Wallace about the Recreational Pilots certificate. I had always dismissed Rec Pilot because of the 50 mile limit. She points out that that was changed in 1997. As it stands today, there is little difference between Sport Pilot and Rec Pilot. The restriction on entering Class B,C & D airspace is overcome by a CFI's endorsement, the same as the 50 mile limit.

This opens up the option to fly many more types than Sport Pilot permits. Of course there are the same restrictions on night flights, altitude and weather. For instance, you can use an Ercoupe 415D instead of the Sport Pilot compliant 415C. There seems to be such a demand for the C that it fetches about $10K more on the market. The Piper PA 20 and 22 can be used with more available luggage capacity than even my wife can use.

After reading 61.98 through 61.101 several times, I am uncertain how it would apply to me. I am a retired pilot rated from gliders to helicopters and most planes in between. I was a military pilot for 16 years and worked full time for 25 years as a commercal pilot. As a Rec pilot, you have to carry your log with the appropriate endorsements. I went through my stack of log books and found a sign off for a 250 mile X-country around 1957. As for any specific sign off for Class B,C,or D can't find it. It had not been invented then.

Despite being flight lead on many formation flights into that airspace, it looks like I will need to get a fresh CFI endorsement to go where I used to go without a second thought. I am uncertain as to how to explain myself if I were to be "ramped" without a medical. Do I need to add "Rec pilot" on my certificate? Of course, taking a 3rd class is always an option and forget about Rec and Sport pilot. (One of the AMEs in town refused to give me anything less than a 1st class because I have an ATP. My activity only required a 2nd class at the time.)

A guy in my EAA chapter recently sold his very basic Light Sport A/C and purchased a CE 150. Much more comfortable. Sure, he flies it without a medical, but he has his current and certified wife sitting next to him. If I read the article and FAR 61.101 right, he could fly it as a Rec Pilot even if his wife is unavailable. Am I missing something here? Feel free to set me straight.



Jon Wanzer
Vintage Aircraft Association MemberWarbirds of America MemberHomebuilder or Craftsman
#2 Posted: 6/29/2010 23:30:14 Modified: 6/29/2010 23:31:14

Greetings Bob,

I am fairly sure you don't need to worry about all of that. As a pilot with an ATP certificate it is just a matter of compliance with the medical requirements and exercising the privileges of any subordinate certificate. As for the AME, I would look for another one. You chose what medical you want to apply for, not them.

Hope that helps,



FlyBoyJon ✈ Aviator, builder, and tool junkie ✈ jon@FlyBoyJon.comwww.FlyBoyJon.com
John Eiswirth
#3 Posted: 6/30/2010 06:02:34

I'm not positive, but it is my belief that the main difference is that Recreational Pilot certificate requires a medical.

Joe Norris
Vintage Aircraft Association MemberYoung Eagles Pilot or VolunteerHomebuilder or CraftsmanAirVenture Volunteer
#4 Posted: 6/30/2010 09:16:57

You are correct John, a Recreational Pilot certificate requires at least a 3rd class FAA medical certificate.  This is the major difference between Recreational Pilot and Sport Pilot.  The Recreational Pilot does not have the option of using a valid US driver's license in lieu of an FAA medical certificate.



Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate
Tony Johnstone
IAC MemberNAFI Member
#5 Posted: 6/30/2010 09:36:46

Bob-   You don't need to do anything as far as your certificate is concerned.  You do need to maintain currency via a flight revew or whatever other means you choose (Wings program, for instance).  You can operate an aircraft qualifying as a light/sport without a medical as long as you have a drivers licence.  If you want to fly anything else, you do need a valid medical,  your ATP will cover any certification issues.


      Cheers, Tony

Robert Dingley
Homebuilder or Craftsman
#6 Posted: 6/30/2010 13:40:44

Many thanks for the input. I am still re looking for the reference in FAR 61 that says that you need a 3rd class for the first dual flight right up to the practical. My understanding is that once certified, the cl 3 need not be renewed. My fellow chapter member and I have both taken practical tests years ago. I got this from the article cited. I found it once in part 61, darned if I can find it now.

The writer of the FLYING article cites an interview with a CFI with Maine Instrument Flight School. I got my Comm ASEL in their Tripacer and My Inst in their Musketeer in the early 1960s . I plan a BFR in late July in a glider. My health permits me to pass either a Cl 2 or 3. My eye balls no longer check out as 20-10, but are good enough with specs.

It appears from a cursory look that Rec pilot permits the same "step down"  for geezers as Sport pilot. I am just unable to cite paragraph and verse permitting the drivers license priveledge after the Practical. Maybe some one can find it or we can put this to rest. Then we can all turn on Ms Wallace at FLYING.  Again, thanks for the opinions.


Rick Blumenthal
#7 Posted: 11/27/2010 15:24:39

Hi Jon:

Hope you might be of some help...

I'm a new member and am training now in a 172.(15 hours)  I was trying to decide on what license to go after...very confusing.. I have a current 3rd class medical...have no interest in night work or IFR...but will be flying ouit of a class D airport and want to do longer cross country trips..generally with one other person....and maybe in a LSA...sounds like the recreational route...with  tower and cross country endorsements...but if I go that route and get those endorsements are they good for as long as I fly or do they expire or have to be renewed often?



Andy Gamache
Homebuilder or Craftsman
#8 Posted: 11/28/2010 22:40:35 Modified: 11/28/2010 22:42:44



I'll try to reiterate what Joe Norris said...


Recreational Pilot: Requires Class III medical

Sport Pilot: Requires driver's license in lieu of a medical


Since you are already an ATP, other than the medical issues outlined above, you really don't need to do anything to fly as a recreational or sport pilot other than get a flight review every two years. Unless you are concerned about the medical issue, there's no reason to limit yourself to Sport privileges. Regardless, limiting yourself to Recreational privileges won't have ANY benefit to you. I'd stick with the Private privileges until such a time as you are in doubt about your ability to get a Class III medical.


Oh, and since you're already an ATP, you don't need any sign offs to go into certain airspace or beyond a certain distance. That's all covered at the Private level.


And, I agree about the AME. Tell him to get bent. You're only required to get a Class I medical if you plan on exercising your ATP privileges.

Frank Giger
Homebuilder or Craftsman
#9 Posted: 11/29/2010 00:47:46

"are [endorsements] good for as long as I fly or do they expire or have to be renewed often?"

They are good forever - so long as you do the biannual flight review, which every pilot level (Sport, Recreational, Private) has to comply with.

Of course there are other limitations, like having to have three landings within 90 days in the same type of aircraft in order to take passengers, but once an endorsement is satisfied it remains in effect so long as one is current.

One exception:

"A person who holds a recreational pilot certificate, has logged fewer than 400 flight hours, and has not logged pilot-in-command time in an aircraft within the 180 days preceding the flight shall not act as pilot in command of an aircraft until the pilot receives flight training and a logbook endorsement from an authorized instructor, and the instructor certifies that the person is proficient to act as pilot in command of the aircraft"

So you'll have to fly at least once within every six months or have to have a flight review; I can't find any such rule on Sport Pilots.

The differences between Sport and Recreational really boil down to what kind of plane one wants to fly.  The Sport Pilot is limited to aircraft allowed by Weight (less than 1325 pounds), Vh (top speed in level flight not more than 120 kts), and number of seats (two total), while the Recreational Pilot is restricted by horsepower of the plane (not more than 185).


I'm always discouraged when I read about pilots with a Private licence "stepping down" to fly under Sport Pilot rules.  Are Commercial Pilots rated for 747's "stepping down" to Private Pilot status when they fly a 172 under VFR conditions by themselves?

Everyone with a Private Pilot license who climbs into an Aeronica Champ under VFR conditions is "stepping down" to Sport Pilot rules.  I think they might have a contrary opinion of anyone who would tell them they're not operating as "full" or "real" pilots.

I'm a Sport Pilot not because I'm afraid of the medical (45 years old in good health).  I chose that license because it makes the most sense for me - both in the kind of flying I intend on doing and for financial reasons. 

In fact, the Private Pilot license holder who allows his medical to expire and flys under Sport Pilot rules is NOT a Sport Pilot license holder - and it serves nobody to confuse the two.

Jerry Rosie
Young Eagles Pilot or Volunteer
#10 Posted: 11/29/2010 07:27:38

Hey Frank - Good luck on your check ride.  Let us know how it went!


Cheers, Jerry NC22375 out of 07N
Andy Gamache
Homebuilder or Craftsman
#11 Posted: 11/29/2010 12:11:50

"So you'll have to fly at least once within every six months or have to have a flight review; I can't find any such rule on Sport Pilots."


I didn't know about the less than 400 hours and six month requirement for recreational pilots. But in the OPs case, it's a moot point. He holds an ATP, so I'm guessing he just might have a bit more than 400 hours.


I agree with your assessment of "stepping down." It's more of restricting yourself to different rules. As an ATP the OP already meets, and actually exceeds, every requirement and sign off for both Sport and Recreational pilot. No additional sign offs are necessary. I tried to emphasize that in my earlier post, but I don't think I did a very good job.

Frank Giger
Homebuilder or Craftsman
#12 Posted: 11/30/2010 03:13:02

I was responding to Rick about the six month rule for Recreational Pilots. 

"Pure" Sport Pilots - those holding a Sport Pilot license rather than others simply flying under Sport Pilot rules - are the grand camel's nose under the tent, IMHO.

With a large enough population and time, we can eventually show that pilot incapacitation rates between flying with a medical or without it using a driver's license is statistically insignificant, and have a crack at medical requirements for Private Pilots.

Indeed, I'd love to see the stats of pilot incapacitation for those Private Pilots flying with expired medicals (using Sport Pilot rules)...my hunch is that it isn't any different by rate than for those with current medicals.

That said, we can thank the low number of medical emergencies to the system we'd like to relax.  The emphasis on it for so long has really driven home the notion that one can't fly impaired and made it a central norm of the pilot culture.

The ground school and test stuff for medical issues for Sport Pilots is identical as it is for Private Pilots, btw, and its made very clear that if a person has a condition or is taking medication that could inhibit their ability to fly an aircraft, they shouldn't.  It's not as if the Sport Pilot license or rules were intended to be the Sick, Lame, and Lazy loophole to flying, and if the constant drumbeat from Private Pilots saying as much continues they may just wind up hurting themselves...