View Full Version : Looking for info on stunt plane aircraft and pilot's license

Justin Bossert
12-26-2012, 06:13 PM
I'm working on an outline for a story and right off the bat I know I'm going to need to brush up on my knowledge regarding flying and planes. My main character is a stunt pilot for a traveling air show. She takes tourists up for thrill rides in order to make some extra money.

The first question I have is, does anyone know the name of a specific type of two seater plane that would be used for this?

Second question is, would the stunt pilot typically use this same plane for the show or instead use a one seater?

Third question is, how long does it typically take to earn a pilot's license? I'm sure it varies, depending on how much time the pilot in learning has available, but under the assumption, that they have a regular job but could devote most of their free time to learing, how long are we talking?

Last question for now; If someone were to fly a plane that contains medical supplies but isn't real big- I'd say the size of your typical plane used for skydiving(single prop), would a special license be needed to be certified for that type of aircraft?

Sorry for all the questions at once. They all came up at the same time so I figured I might as well put them out there. Thanks for any help.


12-26-2012, 06:30 PM
Taking the questions one at a time, there is usually a progression to being a pilot. First, a private pilot certificate (and third class medical), then probably an instrument rating, then possibly a multi-engine rating, then commercial pilot (if a pilot takes money for flying he'll need a commercial certificate). A commercial pilot would also need a higher medical certificate. Most pilots these days who go further than just being a private pilot with an IFR rating do so in the military or by being a flight instructor. Of course, in a story you do have some leeward on how someone does this.

I used to fly, but it's been a few years since I have. Things change, so verify anything I say.

12-26-2012, 06:38 PM
A Stearman biplane would probably be a good choice for both stunts and taking one other passenger up. The pilot generally sits in the rear seat with the passenger up front.

I don't have any special knowledge about someone who is a stunt pilot and also takes passengers up. That is, I don't know what the regulations are. They used to be rather casual about this type of thing (barnstorming) but I suspect the regulations have changed.

By the way, you can probably find a copy of the FAA Rules and Regulations online somewhere since it's a government publication. You can also buy a copy.

12-26-2012, 06:44 PM
I'm not sure I understand your question about flying medical supplies. Is he doing this for money on a regular basis, or is this just a one-time thing?

I'm not sure if there are any special government regulations about handling medical supplies (drugs); I suspect there is.

Flying a single engine plane would still only take a private or commercial certificate (according to whether he is doing it for the money or not).

Justin Bossert
12-26-2012, 06:51 PM
Regarding the flying of medical supplies, I'll clarify; She decides to help a charity by flying medical supplies/food to a third world country. I suppose that actually brings up two questions;

The original one- Since she'd be flying a different, larger aircraft than her stunt plane (though this aircraft would still be a single prop), would she need a special certification to be "checked out" to fly that aircraft?

Also, since it would require flying from the U.S. to a third world country, I'd guess there would be additional regulations required. Any insight regarding that would be apprecitated as well.

Thanks for the info up to this point.


12-26-2012, 06:59 PM
If I were you, I would just go ahead and give her a multi-engine rating and use a large aircraft if she is going to be flying to a third-world country. A multi-engine rating isn't so terribly hard to get (most of the training involves what to do if the plane loses one engine).

Justin Bossert
12-26-2012, 07:06 PM
Multi-engine rating it is. Any rough guess on the time-frame from start to finish for getting that rating, under the assumption that we're talking about a regular person with a regular job, to go from novice to being rated for the multi-engine? (assuming they were diligent in devoting most of their free time to getting rated). Thanks.

12-26-2012, 07:12 PM
You might gets some additional ideas about what it's like to be a barnstorming pilot by reading some of the stuff by Richard Bach (who wrote Jonathon Livingstone Seagull). He was actually a military pilot and a barnstormer (I'm not sure whether he was ever a stunt pilot or not). You can take or leave the mysticism as you like.

These days the airshow pilots are under tighter regulations. There have been incidents and accidents in the past.

You might see if you can contact a stunt pilot online. Pilots are a friendly bunch for the most part and like talking about flying to anyone who has a serious interest.

12-26-2012, 07:21 PM
Multi-engine rating it is. Any rough guess on the time-frame from start to finish for getting that rating, under the assumption that we're talking about a regular person with a regular job, to go from novice to being rated for the multi-engine? (assuming they were diligent in devoting most of their free time to getting rated). Thanks.

I'd have to look up the time required for each certificate or rating to really make an educated guess. A person might put in more time to get their private pilot certificate (it doesn't really take that much time to solo; then you have to take some trips on your own--one short and one long when I was doing it), and then put in less per week to get their IRF (Instrument Flight Rules) and multi-engine rating. If someone was devoting a couple of hours each week to training they may could do it in six months or so. Most people take a little longer if they're doing it on their own unless they are in some kind of flying program. I don't remember what time is required for a commercial certificate (I didn't have one); that might make the process longer. It takes a lot of hours to have a chance of becoming an airline pilot, but that's something different entirely from what you're proposing.

This is very costly if someone is paying for it out of their own pocket. For a story you could have her have a kindly old uncle or someone who owns a small flying service and teaches her. You could have her start when she was young. Say, she gets her private certificate when she was a teenager and then gets her additional ratings along the way until whatever age she is now.

12-26-2012, 08:04 PM
Many options here, but you're likely looking at a Waco for the tourist angle. Possibly an old Stearman (Boeing) biplane, the Model 75 Kaydet still has many flying examples. Possibly an AT6 trainer as military surplus. Google will find you the details. All would work for stunts.

The time depends on many factors, license types, whether she flies ion competitions and what time period. Figure a good year before the stunt angle is working, another for the tourist angle. Though you can shortcut this with a lot of ambition, time and money. Military experience helps too.

A plane that carries passengers or freight does require additional certification over a basic license, but it's pretty much based on more experience. I'm not sure that medical supplies changes anything (not that I can see), but might require various licensing based on the medications (Narcotics, non-exportable, etc.).

Normal progressions of licenses would be something like single engine VFR, single engine IFR, Commercial, etc.


12-26-2012, 08:06 PM
(though this aircraft would still be a single prop)
No responsible pilot will fly single engine any distance over water.


Justin Bossert
12-26-2012, 08:59 PM
No responsible pilot will fly single engine any distance over water.


Ah, this is exactly why I love this site. Thank you. That should have been a no brainer for me but it wasn't. Thank you also for the suggestions regarding the aircraft types and licensing.

Thanks again alleycat for your input as well. I'm still fleshing things out but you can never have too much research to add authenticity to a story. This is a great start.


Bing Z
12-26-2012, 10:53 PM
No responsible pilot will fly single engine any distance over water.


Aren't Cessna 206H and 208 Caravan popular amphibian planes?

12-27-2012, 01:16 AM
Working backwards -

What 'era' is this? Contemporary, pre or post WWI? WWII? Because the aircraft and regulations between eras are vastly different. (Watch "The Great Waldo Pepper" for a look at the older era. Terrific screenplay and all LIVE ACTION FLYING and stunts. No CGI.)

How old is your MC? It takes time and MONEY to acquire all of these skillsets. You could start with solo at 16, working with the Civil Air Patrol - she'll have access to flight school and training in a semi-military setting. (The CAP is the civilian auxiliary to the Air Force. Many of the 'senior' members are also active duty AF)

"Aerobatic" rating is the term. Not 'stunt'. The pilot and the aircraft both have to be rated for this.

Check your local area for 'plane rides'. Quite often, you'll find small airports that have joy rides offered - usually a Stearman. You can pump the pilot for info on current regs and rulings.

Google 'Angel Flights' - these are mercy flights for medical supplies, and sometimes transplant organs inside the US and also across borders. You can get all the info you need there.

Good luck.

(Used to fly sailplanes, no longer current.)

12-28-2012, 04:33 PM

A lot to sort through.

How big a charity? The obvious question is: why aren't they shipping Fed Ex or UPS?

Now organs...

Here are a list of airplane ratings which might interest you.

Private 30-50 hours in general
Commercial around 200 hours training
-necessary to make money flying people for money but NOT to volunteer supplies for a charity. Anyone can do that.
Instrument generally around 100 hours.
- IMO, this is a MINIMUM for what I consider a pilot. You don't need it to barnstorm but what happens if the weather is bad when you are dropping off a heart in Belize? Say 'oops'?
Multi Engine 10-20 hours in a multi engine plane
Certified Flight Instructor (with seperate endorsements for instrument and multi-engine)

Sea plane endorsement if you want to land on water

Complex Endorsement if you want to fly planes with a constant speed prop and a landing gear.

High Power endorsement if you want to fly a plane of more than 200 horsepower (It is frequently linked to a complex endorsement)

Everyone in a stunt plane has to have a parachute above 60 degrees of bank if they aren't a crewmember. So that means your 'tourists' are going to be wearing a backpack.

Frankly, stalls, spins, steep turns (45 degrees of bank) etc learned in basic flight could very well wow most people. Sure, it's not the Blue Angels, but having the world tumble in the view screen...well, it's ENLIVENING.

There is no specific aerobatic endorsement for a pilot license. However there are specific airplanes which are rated for aerobatics. They can accept higher than normal gee ratings and generally have oversized engines for their airframe.

As far as foreign travel...innoculations, visas, flight plans, airport fees for landing.

Okay...about ratings. If I have a private pilot rating, I can, hypothetically, go to pretty much any single engine airplane at a Podunk airport and fly it. Who cares what systems it has? If it is below 12,500 pounds gross weight, they are all covered. Above that, you need a type rating for each specific aircraft.

The difficulty with this is that even a multi engine aircraft below that weight is going to have a hard time having the range to deliver a lot of places. Not enough airspeed and/or fuel. How many stops is she going to take to get to Chile?

It is much more difficult to transition in that than it is to transition between car models. Cars all drive the same speeds after all. The stall speed on one aircraft might be the landing speed of another.

So most people who rent aircraft require at least a FEW hours (and sometimes a written test) to show familiarity with the new aircraft.

Hope this helps

Justin Bossert
12-28-2012, 05:20 PM
Good stuff- will check Angel Flights and look into local outfits. I didn't realize the thing about the parachute. So tourists will have to wear one, what about the pilot?

I've been checking out the videos on youtube, now that I know it's referred to as "aerobatic" flying. Crazy, impressive, scary...ugh. One move that I see is where a biplane, a Waco I believe, goes vertical before eventually stalling out and tumbling over and falling toward the earth, eventually recovering. Scary cool move. Is this something that would be done with a tourist on board or is that a little too much? I have an opening scene where I want to scare the living crap out of a cocky tourist without making it seem like the pilot is doing anything overtly risky or irresponsible- don't want to risk losing business and don't want to lose realism right off the bat.

The reason for the medical transport question is the main character has a hard landing and is injured. She has to receive physical therapy, where she meets a child receiving medical care as part of a charity that supplies medical care and supplies to remote villages. She realizes that she can help them cut costs and do some good by volunteering to deliver the supplies herself. That's why I needed to know about regulations flying an aircraft that is around the size of a skydiving plane (I know they vary); large enough to carry meds/food but still pretty small(different aircraft from the one she performs in).

Thanks to all who have volunteered their knowledge.

Bing Z
12-28-2012, 06:12 PM
Have you checked out MSF (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctors_Without_Borders) or Merlin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medical_Emergency_Relief_International) or World Vision to gain a grasp of this sort of med operations?

A couple of potential issues you may need to sort out or get acquainted to:

a) Different regulations and licensing for flying planes in various parts of the world, some extremely corrupted & bureaucratic. A US license may be of no use in many third world countries.

b) A plane that suits aerobatic flight may not suit utility/transport flights esp to remote locations. You may be looking at STOL (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/STOL) bush planes with a good range (gas station may not be an option). Search YouTube for videos of medical/evangelist missions in countries like South Sudan for an idea. Esp if you're talking about third world countries, they may not have asphalt runways. It may be dirt or grass or water.

01-24-2013, 11:30 PM
FYI some CRAZY stunt flying here.


01-25-2013, 10:34 PM
You may find this site interesting. The Blades (http://www.theblades.com/) are a British civilian aerobatic display team (all ex-Red Arrows, last I checked), and bill themselves as the smallest airline in the world. They fly 2-seater planes, and take passengers up for the ride. There should be some YouTube clips about, as they took up the winners of one week's The Apprentice (British version).

Aerobatics in general are great fun if you have a stomach that can cope and aren't afraid of having the world in its infinite glory 'above' your head. Think of a rollercoaster without any tracks, and the sheer freedom that would bring.

Final note: some parachutes aren't so much backpacks as seat-packs. I flew a couple of times as a passenger in a Chipmunk with no seat cushions - you got strapped into your parachute, had a sickbag tucked into the strap, got fitted with a helmet, then sent off to waddle across the apron (concrete bit in front of the buildings) to the plane.

Noah Body
01-25-2013, 11:38 PM
No responsible pilot will fly single engine any distance over water.

Unless his name is Peter Garrison, and the year is 1976.

Or it's present day, and you're hired to ferry aircraft from one continent to another.

Really, what an unusual proclamation to make--how do you think single engine aircraft get to places like Singapore, the Philippines, Japan, even Australia? Pilots are hired to ferry them there, because transporting them over on ships can expose them to the elements, which is bad.

Socata TBM 850s are flown from France to the US all the time, and Cessnas and Pipers and Bonanzas are flown the opposite way. Check in with Bill Cox of Big Bear Air, that's how he makes his living. He's also a contributing editor to Plane & Pilot, and he's written about long-distance ferry flights quite often.