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I just saw an hour long MIT lecture for no reason and the lecturer said he has flown over 70 kinds of aircraft.

Does that mean a test pilot is certified to fly almost anything?

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Aviation.SE! I removed the [military] tag since I don't see anything in your question related to military. If you are only interested in military test pilots, please include that in your question and add the tag again. Otherwise, it would also be a good idea to add a country regulations tag (like [easa-regulations] for EU or [faa-regulations] for the US) since rules for test pilots may vary by location. $\endgroup$
    – Bianfable
    Oct 14 '20 at 9:05
  • $\begingroup$ More like they are certified to fly without model specific certification. And often they are the people to help create certification processes. $\endgroup$ Oct 14 '20 at 9:05
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    $\begingroup$ I'm wondering if you saw an hour long MIT lecture for no reason, or if the lecturer, for no reason, said he has flown over 70 kinds of aircraft. Also wondering if the lecturer is certified on 70 different aircraft or if he's (known to be) a test pilot for <insert agency>. $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Oct 14 '20 at 16:52
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Since you didn’t specify a jurisdiction, I’ll answer for the FAA. Others should be similar.

Pilots must be rated for the category, class and (if applicable) type of aircraft. Category is pretty broad, such as “Airplane”. Class is a bit more specific, such as “Multi-Engine Land”. Type is even more specific, such as “Boeing 737”.

A type rating is required for any type that:

  • has a Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW) of 12,500 pounds or greater, or
  • has one or more turbojet engines, or
  • has been designated by the FAA.

There is no limit to the number of ratings a pilot can have, aside from the time, money and skill required to pass a checkride for each one. However, type ratings are only available for certified aircraft.

For experimental (non-certified) aircraft, since no type ratings exist, the FAA can issue a Letter Of Authorization (LOA), which waives the type rating requirement for specific pilots in a specific plane for specific purposes, such as flight testing, training or demonstration.

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    $\begingroup$ Common sense dictates that there can't be a certification for an airplane that technically doesn't even exist yet, so there must be some other way, and that would be the LOA. $\endgroup$ Oct 14 '20 at 15:15
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    $\begingroup$ To be sure I understand, the LOA covers a pilot for a particular aircraft (or series of prototypes of an aircraft), but is not a blanket, "FreeMan is allowed to fly whatever the heck you develop next", correct? $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Oct 14 '20 at 16:55
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    $\begingroup$ @FreeMan It will be one or more specific tail numbers. $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Oct 14 '20 at 16:57
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    $\begingroup$ @FreeMan And before you ask, moving an LOA’d tail number to a different plane without telling them is a good way to ensure you’ll never get another LOA again. $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Oct 14 '20 at 17:09
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for the clarification, and drat! There goes my dastardly plan! Foiled again... $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Oct 14 '20 at 17:19
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I worked as a test pilot for my aerospace employer. I have a small collection of ratings, and for unusual operations, and for experimental equipment operations we use Letters of Authorization (LOA). We are not involved in airframe certification, but have done a few Supplemental Type Certificates (STC). The most common things we have done are modifications using existing aircraft, and modifying them moving them into an experimental airworthiness classification. Most of our work is with different mission specific payloads and sensors.

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