By: Travis K. Kircher
It was past midnight on Dec. 17, 2016, and I was walking out of the theater after having just seen, "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story."
When I got to my car, I imagine I was still whistling the John Williams score and basking in the coolness of that Darth Vader scene -- you know the one I'm talking about -- when I noticed my driver's side door was unlocked.
I always lock my doors. All of them.
Confusion gave way to panic as I quickly realized what had happened: some lout had apparently used a hammer and screwdriver to pop out the lock on my car, open the door, pop the trunk and make off with my loot. The cretin nabbed my laptop, my DSLR camera, and a backpack.
Thankfully, the perp -- no doubt a scruffy-looking nerf-herder -- had completely passed over one of my most valuable possessions. To my great relief, my pilot's headset bag, along with my logbook, was still tucked away -- rather lonesomely I might add -- in the back of the trunk.
His oversight was my gain, but it got me thinking: I was still a student pilot then. Many student pilots are not so lucky. What would I have done if he had taken my logbook? What would have become of my (then) 14 solo hours? My cross-country flights? My night hours? The time I logged wearing the foggles?
How would I one day prove to my checkride examiner -- not to mention the FAA -- that I have the experience I claim to have?
Retracing your steps
The pilot's log is a student pilot's most treasured possession. It records not only the dates and durations of flights but also the activities that took place during those flights -- and it tabulates the total time spent flying dual and solo. Without that information, the student would be unable to eventually take his or her checkride.
That said, a student whose logbook is lost or stolen does have options other than simply starting all over again. FAA Order 8900.1 5-172 states that students can reconstruct their flight history -- using among other things, aircraft logbooks and aircraft rental receipts -- and then submit a signed statement outlining that flight history.
Ed Bryce, a CFI of more than 30 years who is currently based in Seattle's Boeing Field (KBFI), says he himself was able to come to the rescue when thieves stole one of his students' logbooks.
"As a flight instructor, I'm required to keep a record of my instruction given," Bryce explained. "So since he had only flown with me, I had 100 percent of his dual time in my logbook. So I just simply typed it into an Excel spreadsheet and mailed it to him."
Flight school invoices and receipts also came in handy, Bryce said.
"He had minimal solo time, but he had the receipts for the flights when he paid for it, so he could reconstruct how long those flights were, even if he couldn't reconstruct exactly what he did on them."
Daniel Diamond, a CFI based at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport (KFXE), says he encourages students who own their own aircraft to keep a detailed aircraft logbook in addition to their pilot logbook.
"They can always go ahead and write down the Tach time or Hobbs time in their aircraft, the date that they flew, where they went, what airport and what time," Diamond said. "That way they would always have somewhat of a secondary backup for them to go ahead and kind of recoup that lost time."
He adds that students who have recently completed a rating are at a particular advantage since part of the IACRA rating application requires them to complete FAA Form 8710-1, which includes a legally binding record of pilot time that can suffice as the student's signed statement.
Taking no chances
But both instructors agree the best way to protect yourself is to always create and maintain a backup -- either a digital backup or a hard copy -- before a loss or theft occurs.
GlobalAir.com offers a digital pilot logbook that is free and can be accessed from anywhere in the world. There's no limit to the number of entries you can have!
"What I advise them is, whenever they finish a page, take a photo of it and e-mail the photo to themselves," Bryce said. "Your e-mail is usually backed up -- either at home or on a server somewhere -- so even if you lost your logbook, you would have all your e-mailed photos…That way you never lose more than a page."
"You can even go and make photocopies of each page, and keep that in a secondary location," Diamond adds.
Sound advice. And if you happen to see a scruffy-looking nerf-herder around, tell him I want my laptop back.
TRAVIS K. KIRCHER is a private pilot based at Bowman Field (KLOU) in Louisville, Kentucky.