I know that planes that are under 12,500 lb MTOW can be flown by a single pilot. But what about fighter jets like the F-18 and F-35 that way exceed that. For instance, the F-35 has a max takeoff weight of 60,000 lb.

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    $\begingroup$ Isn't number of pilots more related to the mission workload the plane is made for than the plane's weight? I don't see how the number of pilots has anything to do with the weight. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Aug 15, 2022 at 17:32
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    $\begingroup$ Seeing as we already have unmanned aircraft ("drones") I don't see why you're asking this. $\endgroup$ Aug 16, 2022 at 13:55
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    $\begingroup$ @CarlWitthoft It's a regulatory question, but this wasn't at all clear by how it was phrased unless you already know it's a regulatory thing. $\endgroup$
    – Mast
    Aug 16, 2022 at 15:45
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    $\begingroup$ Who's gonna stop them? $\endgroup$ Aug 16, 2022 at 18:17
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    $\begingroup$ Might help if someone would edit this question to clarify that it's about regulatory requirements. $\endgroup$
    – Nat
    Aug 17, 2022 at 1:58

2 Answers 2


There are actually two different answers to this question.

First, your information that all airplanes over 12,500 lbs. must have two pilots is outdated. Now, while most such planes require two pilots (per FAR 91.153), it's entirely possible for specific planes to be type rated for just one pilot. For instance, the Pilatus PC-24 has a MTOW of 18,300 lbs., but is certified for single-pilot operation.

The second is that the military isn't actually under the jurisdiction of the FAA. So, even if the FAA still required two pilots for all aircraft over a certain weight, that wouldn't apply to a military aircraft.

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    $\begingroup$ @757toga Nice. FAR 1.1: ecfr.gov/current/title-14/chapter-I/subchapter-A/… $\endgroup$
    – Ryan
    Aug 15, 2022 at 14:41
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    $\begingroup$ Given that we now have planes with zero pilots (or at least, zero pilots in the cockpit - they may or may not be controlled by someone on the ground), it makes sense that those rules would have changed... $\endgroup$ Aug 17, 2022 at 13:57
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    $\begingroup$ "First, your information that all airplanes over 12,500 lbs. must have two pilots is outdated. That apparently used to be the rule, but it was changed in the mid-1980s." Why are you saying that rule is outdated and was changed? That regulation still exists and is shown in FAR 91.531 (a)(2):ecfr.gov/current/title-14/chapter-I/subchapter-F/…. "large airplane" = over 12.500 lbs MTOW. $\endgroup$
    – user22445
    Aug 18, 2022 at 16:13
  • $\begingroup$ @757toga I said that because I'd searched the rules, and found an article that said the rule no longer applies. Didn't find the FAR, though. I've edited the answer. $\endgroup$ Aug 18, 2022 at 21:26
  • $\begingroup$ The reg is 91.531 not 91.153. $\endgroup$
    – user22445
    Aug 23, 2022 at 3:00

14 CFR Part 91 flight operations' regulations within the U.S. National Airspace System (NAS) apply to all aircraft (unless specified otherwise). However, requirements for crew composition (i.e. requirements for two pilots relating to the operation of military aircraft) are not governed by the FAA.

With respect to civil aircraft governed by 14 CFR Part 91:

The definition of a "large aircraft" can be found in: 14 CFR Part 1.1

large aircraft means aircraft of more than 12,500 pounds, maximum certificated takeoff weight.

(emphasis is mine)

14 CFR Part 91.531 (a)(2) requires that any aircraft which exceeds 12,500 lbs. MTOW ( a "large airplane") must have two pilots unless it is covered by one of the exceptions noted in 14 CFR 91.531 (b) as shown below.

91.531 Second in command requirements.

(a) Except as provided in paragraph (b) of this section, no person may operate the following airplanes without a pilot designated as second in command:

(1) Any airplane that is type certificated for more than one required pilot.

(2) Any large airplane.

(3) Any commuter category airplane.

(b) A person may operate the following airplanes without a pilot designated as second in command:

(1) Any airplane certificated for operation with one pilot.

(2) A large airplane or turbojet-powered multiengine airplane that holds a special airworthiness certificate, if:

(i) The airplane was originally designed with only one pilot station; or

(ii) The airplane was originally designed with more than one pilot station, but single pilot operations were permitted by the airplane flight manual or were otherwise permitted by a branch of the United States Armed Forces or the armed forces of a foreign contracting State to the Convention on International Civil Aviation.

(c) No person may designate a pilot to serve as second in command, nor may any pilot serve as second in command, of an airplane required under this section to have two pilots unless that pilot meets the qualifications for second in command prescribed in § 61.55 of this chapter.

(emphasis is mine)

  • $\begingroup$ "that are not specifically relevant to the question asked" to me they seem very relevant to the question asked. Indeed I would say some of them seem specifically intended to allow the civilian operation of fighter jets under special airworthiness certificates. $\endgroup$ Aug 15, 2022 at 20:48
  • $\begingroup$ @PeterGreen Fair enough, I have edited my answer to show the entire regulation - Part 91.531. $\endgroup$
    – user22445
    Aug 15, 2022 at 21:18
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    $\begingroup$ So far, we know and expect military is exempt from any such regulation. But, what about ex-military fighter jets, owned by a civilian company and flown by civilian pilots. Several companies do this, operating things like a Hawker Hunter which, at 17,500 is significantly over the 12,500 limit. $\endgroup$
    – WPNSGuy
    Aug 15, 2022 at 23:00
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    $\begingroup$ "(1) Any airplane certificated for operation with one pilot." .... "(i) The airplane was originally designed with only one pilot station;" - Got it. $\endgroup$
    – WPNSGuy
    Aug 15, 2022 at 23:13
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    $\begingroup$ Your right. Good catch $\endgroup$
    – wbeard52
    Aug 16, 2022 at 3:24

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