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Chuck Aaron is the only FAA-qualified aerobatic helicopter pilot - How'd he do it?

  1. What requirements does one need to meet in order to perform aerobatics in a helicopter? Specifically, the training/qualifications and FAA paperwork necessary.

  2. Who certifies said pilot, if there is no one certified themselves to do so?

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  • $\begingroup$ forget about the pilot and the FAA. what you need is an aerobatic capable heli, which is one that has a rigid rotor system. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helicopter_rotor#Rigid $\endgroup$ – rbp Feb 2 '15 at 16:42
  • $\begingroup$ I have no idea how significant this is, but the FAA's online record doesn't make any mention of aerobatics $\endgroup$ – raptortech97 Feb 3 '15 at 4:53
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I think this depends on what "FAA-qualified" means: the FAA defines aerobatic flight in 14 CFR 91.303 but it doesn't issue any pilot certificates or ratings for aerobatics. I did find several references to FAA Form 8710‑7, Statement of Acrobatic Competency (e.g. here), but the form itself isn't even listed on the FAA's form page.

There is an FAA document called Guidelines for Pilots Seeking All-Attitude Training which states that there is no special certification required:

[...] no separate certificate, rating or endorsement is required to specifically qualify an individual as an all-attitude instructor

And:

Anyone claiming to be an all-attitude instructor must at least hold a valid Commercial certificate if working for compensation or hire. The instructor must also be a certificated flight instructor (CFI) to provide FAA endorsements. Other than that, CFI credentials are not necessary for anyone to claim to be an all-attitude instructor. Therefore, caveat emptor - buyer beware - applies when seeking instruction.

Although their definition of "all-attitude" isn't exactly the same as "aerobatic", the document seems to make it clear that aerobatic training is not directly regulated. And looking through a variety of aerobatic websites including the IAC one, there is no mention of any required FAA certification. Endorsements for tailwheel, high-performance or complex aircraft are often required, but that's because of the aircraft itself, not the aerobatic activity.

But this profile gives some clearer information:

Once the helicopter was ready, the FAA needed to certify it in order for Chuck to perform stunts with it. Once the aircraft was certified, the next step was to also get him certified, which ended up being a complicated process. The FAA was not sure how they could certify him, so they turned to Rich Lee, chief pilot for Boeing, who evaluated him. “He wanted to make sure that I did have all my screws in my head and that they were not loose”, said Chuck, laughing.

My guess is that the FAA first issued a new airworthiness certificate and/or waiver for the modified helicopter. That's very common and it would be same for a home-built aircraft, for example. Second - and this is a guess - they had the Boeing guy evaluate him for the Statement of Acrobatic Competency that I mentioned above. Although I can't find it on the FAA site, it obviously existed in the past and if you look at this example from the EAA Warbirds site, you can see that the evaluation process was (is?) 'outsourced' by the FAA anyway, presumably because they have no experts available internally:

I desire to take advantage of an FAA procedure for the evaluation of my competency by a Warbird Aerobatic Evaluator (Warbird Evaluator) on the list maintained by the EAA Warbirds of America, Incorporated.

I suspect that putting a unique airworthiness certificate together with a unique Statement of Acrobatic Competency resulted in a uniquely "FAA-qualified" acrobatic helicopter pilot.

Finally, according to Aaron's LinkedIn page he is the:

First FAA Certified Helicopter Pilot to recieve a Helicopter Aerobatic Certificate from the FAA.

That again seems to emphasize the helicopter, not the pilot.

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  • $\begingroup$ Well Aaron's wiki page cites a Wired article written about him, which does claim "He is the only pilot in the United States licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration to fly aerobatics in a helicopter" $\endgroup$ – CGCampbell Feb 2 '15 at 19:55
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    $\begingroup$ Does this imply that any helicopter pilot who feels confident enough can just decide to do a flip? $\endgroup$ – raptortech97 Feb 2 '15 at 21:43
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    $\begingroup$ @raptortech97 If you follow the rules in 91.303 then I suppose you can. Of course, if you mess it up and survive to have an interview with the FAA, then 91.13 (careless and reckless operation) and 91.9 (complying with the operating handbook) will probably come up in the conversation :-) $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Feb 3 '15 at 20:38
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    $\begingroup$ @erich After thinking some more, it might mean that the FAA has given him a waiver for certain activities. The FAA issues various types of waiver to allow exceptions to specific regulations, and possibly he's the only person to get a waiver related to helicopter aerobatics. Lots of FARs include the wording "unless otherwise authorized by the Administrator...", so perhaps that's what's going on. But it's a complete guess and I couldn't (quickly) find anything to support it. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Feb 3 '15 at 20:54

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