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I know it might seem like a silly basic question, clearly some of these aircraft are awfully complex. I doubt anyone questions the idea of a type rating for a 747-400.

But where is the line between, "sure, if you can fly you can probably fly this one" and, "you need to know how to fly this plane in particular". What sorts of functionality cause that sort of distinction?

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The FAA specifies the airplanes that require a type rating in 14 CFR 61.31:

Sec. 61.31 - Type rating requirements, additional training, and authorization requirements.

(a) Type ratings required. A person who acts as a pilot in command of any of the following aircraft must hold a type rating for that aircraft:

(1) Large aircraft (except lighter-than-air).
(2) Turbojet-powered airplanes.
(3) Other aircraft specified by the Administrator through aircraft type certificate procedures.

So in short, large aircraft (meaning that they weigh more than 12,500 lbs.), aircraft having turbojet engines, or any airplane deemed suitable complex that it needs it by the FAA need a type rating in order to fly it as PIC.

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    $\begingroup$ Mkay. What causes a plane to be "suitably complex"? I mean, the other two are pretty straight forward, but that one...not so much. $\endgroup$ – Jay Carr Feb 6 '14 at 2:21
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    $\begingroup$ Well, that is solely determined by the FAA during certification. Basically if they feel that it is more complicated than a "normal" airplane, then they will require a type rating. These are generally for exceptional cases though, and the first two cover most type ratings. $\endgroup$ – Lnafziger Feb 6 '14 at 2:23
  • $\begingroup$ Is there a more concrete description than 'Large aircraft'? Dimensions, or something? What makes a plane large? Who decides? $\endgroup$ – flyingfisch Feb 6 '14 at 2:42
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    $\begingroup$ @flyingfisch I put that in my answer. The FAA definition of Large is not determined by size, but by weight. Greater than 12,500 lbs. $\endgroup$ – Lnafziger Feb 6 '14 at 2:43
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    $\begingroup$ They appear to be incredibly consistent with the designation. For example the P51 Mustang (max take off weight 12,100lb) does not appear to require a type certification, while the P38 Lightning (max take off weight 21,600 does). Not that I would want to fly a P51 without a type check. $\endgroup$ – DJClayworth Feb 18 '14 at 15:16

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