Flight Logbooks

Q: You’ve mentioned logbooks. Are these actual, hard-copy records of flight, and wouldn’t they be easy to forge? And what constitutes a “flight hour,” exactly?

The logbook is basically a do-it-yourself document, and nowadays many people keep computerized records either exclusively or in addition to the classic format. Airlines keep their own careful records of flight time, so it’s not so easy to embellish your totals. In the minor leagues, though, a baker’s dozen is not unheard of.

The clock begins to run the instant the parking brake is released, and stops upon block-in at the destination. If a pilot isn’t equipped with one of those fancy watches we talked about a few weeks ago, he needn’t stress, as the airplane’s computers keep track of things and relay the information to HQ for purposes of maintenance, payroll, and so forth.

Flight hours are further categorized and broken down all sorts of ways — by aircraft type, engine type, night/day time, instrument-only time, etc. Often these parsings are close-enough estimates rather than actual stopwatched times. Landings and instrument approaches are tallied as well. A single flight can use a dozen different columns in a logbook.


This article is part of a collection that originally appeared on Salon.com. Patrick Smith, 38, is an erstwhile airline pilot, retired punk rocker and air travel columnist. His book, Ask the Pilot (Riverhead) was voted “Best Travel Book of 2004” by Amazon.com. Patrick has traveled to more than 55 countries and always asks for a window seat. He lives near Boston.