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A&P ratings


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So it looks like having an A&P rating is very helpful in getting hired as a pilot. I was wondering if anyone could share their experinces with it, the process by which you get your ratings, and if your end goal is flying is it worth investing in or would the money be better spent building time? Any input is much apreciated.


Edited by Fred0311
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I've been a mechanic as well as a pilot for most of my career; in fact, as a teenager, I began turning wrenches on aircraft in order to pay for my flying. Over the course of my career, I've been a Director of Maintenance, Inspector, mechanic, and have worked in repair stations, charter operations, utility and government operations, and other types of flying and maintenance. I've troubleshot, repaired, fabricated, built, inspected, torn down, overhauled, restored, and done it on old biplanes, modern new airplanes, transport category aircraft, turboprops, turbojets, radials, gliders, military equipment, helicopters, civil public use, government aircraft and operations, and a few other things in between.


Let me say first of all that most of the jobs you may seek today won't be much more open to you if you have a mechanic certificate. A mechanic certificate can have two basic ratings and one authorization; the airframe and powerplant ratings, and one can eventually go get an inspection authorization, if needed. However, relatively few pilots are mechanics. Some jobs look for pilots who are mechanics, but usually those jobs are more interested in your mechanical ability (and your sign-off) than your flying, and will often keep you on the ground while others keep flying, in order to work on the aircraft.


That's one drawback of having the authorizations; if people know you can work on the equipment and you're willing and available, it's not uncommon to end up spending more time turning wrenches than flying. If you want to fly, that's not good. If you enjoy doing both, it's probably fine, but you need to be careful how you divide your time, and that you get adequate rest and time to do each part of the job. I've done a lot of jobs that involve being part pilot and part mechanic, including jobs in which I carried a full set of tools and spare parts on board, operated and lived out of the airplane, and was the primary source of maintenance. In most helicopter operations, you won't find that, but helicopter operations do tend to operate remotely in many cases, and maintenance facilities and personnel can be scarce; being a pilot who can work on the airplane may be attractive to that kind of operator, but it's sometimes so attractive that you end up being the only source of maintenance for the aircraft.


You can go to school to get your mechanic certificate, but it's a full-time dedicated program that can take up to two years, depending on the school. You can alternately get your FAA signoff to test for the certificate based on experience; 18 months of practical experience for the airframe, 18 months for the powerplant, or 30 combined months for both. This has it's advantages and drawbacks; if your work experience isn't broad enough, you may find yourself with a very limited knowledge and understanding of maintenance. It's a complicated field; it's a lot more involved than pilot training, and the breadth and scope of the work is far more comprehensive than what you'll be exposed to when learning to fly. If you get your training at a school, you get a bit more comprehensive coverage of training (touching on numerous subjects), but you don't get a very deep exposure to any particular one.


Consider that mechanics without tools are little more than the holders of a little plastic certificate. Therefore, when you advertise yourself as a mechanic, you usually want to let the employer know that you have your own tools. Tools, especially good ones, aren't cheap. You can buy cheap tools, though I'll caution you not to. I have a number of roll-away boxes full of tools. They've taken a full career to accumulate. You don't need that many, but you do need a basic set, and some are far better than others. I have an offset open end set of wrenches, for example, which ran nearly eight hundred dollars. I couldn't afford them, so over the course of a year I bought one wrench at a time and paid it off. Much of my tool collection is the same way. I couldn't possibly afford to replace them if I lost them today, and I'm glad I took the counsel of an employer when I was a wet-behind-the-ears teenager, to buy a tool at a time and to not stop.


I've had times when I couldn't fly, and needed to work as a mechanic. Not long ago, I had a medical issue and was grounded for a short while. During that time, I found work turning wrenches on several large airplanes that I used to fly. It was local work, I was home, and it wasn't bad (other than being stuck in the fuel tank of a C-130 in 114 degree weather for eight hours a day...). The pay wasn't great, but it was work. I don't mean to imply that maintenance is fall-back work. Aircraft maintenance is a meaningful, primary field for a lot of people in the industry. I've done it myself on a part time, full time, and mixed basis with flying on many occasions, and I consider myself both aviator and mechanic.


One thing that getting mechanical experience will do for you is help you understand your equipment. This is valuable on a personal level and may one day save your life. It may or may not mean much to an employer, but I've lost track of the time when really knowing my equipment became valuable to me, even saved my backside.


Let me add a comment regarding "building time." I've long been an adherent of building experience, not time. Time is nebulous; if it's just time you want, write it in your logbook. Falsify it. Make it up. It's worthless. Your experience, however, cannot be bought. It can only be earned, and it's entirely dependent (and reflective) of the amount of work you put into gaining it. Two people can fly one hour in an aircraft; one comes away with an hour of flight time, the other comes away with an hour of experience. The two are not the same. One person drones around watching the leaves change color. The other practices landings, approaches, autorotations, hovers, ground reference, emergency procedures, etc. One makes use of the helicopter to turn money into ink in the logbook, the other makes use of the helicopter to turn fuel into experience. Build experience, not time. If you're building experience, the time will naturally follow. It doesn't work the other way around.

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Thank you for your thoughtful and detailed post. I had a feeling one could end up turning wrenches more than flying though. It will be something to keep in mind if I find myself in a posistion of being unable to get hired but I plan on putting in the work and it looks like my efforts would be more fruitful if directed at becoming a better pilot than at becoming a mechanic. And I like your outlook of building time versus building experince. Being new, motivated, and naive to rotary aviation the idea of simply zoning out and burning money with out getting the most out of it as I could hadn't occured to me.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I have to say, I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for my little piece of plastic.


I attended a local adult education program. Five nights a week, 6 hours per night for two-and-a-half years. At the time, I believe the hour requirement was 1950 hours of instruction received. I got some of that time credited for previous experience but not much. The cost was roughly under $500. If I were to do it again, I’d go to a collage and get a degree out of it. An A&P can get you close to a bachelor’s degree at some institutions. And no, the school no longer offers the program..


Yep, employers will want you to wrench. However, as long as you properly communicate what your intentions are, then there shouldn’t be any problems. Simply put, if you hire on as a mechanic who can also fly, don’t expect to fly more then you wrench. Conversely, if you hire on as a pilot who can also turn a wrench, then you should be okay. Get the picture?


The most important thing to remember is, do not spend the time and money to get the A&P in order to facilitate a pilot career. Get the A&P if you are truly interested in turning wrenches and knowing more about the aircraft you fly. Just as Avbug said, there are pilots out here with the A&P who never exercised the privilege. Don’t be one of those guys….


Lastly, while working as a pilot can be a fulfilling endeavor, working as a pilot/mechanic can be even more fulfilling. In short, having an employer entrust you 100% with a machine is an awesome responsibility. 100% meaning you fly it as needed, you maintain it when needed, you fix it when it breaks and you produce a positive revenue stream with it. If you can do this with a variety of makes and models, then you’re golden in some sectors…. Plus you can’t deny, Commercial Helicopter Pilot with an ATP, CFII, A&P with an IA, just oozes experience……..

Edited by Spike
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Great detailed post!!! I can identify with you in the fuel tank of a C-130, I will say they are the best birds ever built!

If you can’t tell I have an affinity for the herc, I worked on 4 of these birds for 5 years as an avionics tech (also qualified in both airframes and powerplants divisions). The most important thing the herc did for me was my A&P. You know as well as I do if you can work on one of these you can work on anything.

As an aspiring A&P and soon to be helicopter pilot (I already have my fixed PPL but want to go rotary com.) I hope that my duel qualifications wouldn’t hold me back.




You make a lot of good points, and that 100% responsibility is what I want, running working and flying is what I want to do! I really love turning wrenches but not as much as flying a good mix of the two would be great!


So, between the two of you guys what would be your suggestions? What area of helo aviation would be the best to utilize my experience?

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