Does anyone know the FAA rational for requiring the second pilot on board to have access to a complete Fully functioning set of flight controls in order to act as safety observer for the purpose of logging instrument activities with a view limiting device in VMC?

I have a Long EZ, which has a flight control side stick in the rear cockpit, but no rudders or throttle. I have been told I cannot log practice approaches in VMC with a rated pilot in the back seat because it does not have a complete set of flight controls. This is (as far as I can see from FARs), documented in 14 CFR § 91.109, (c), which reads:

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To address comments below, please see FAA interpretation of "fully functioning dual controls" and Final FAA Interpretaton.

The first FAA Letter above basically states that brakes are not required, but that pitch, roll, and yaw controls are required. It does not discuss or mention power.
The second reference is the final FAA order, (Bulletin HBGA 00-08) it does specifically discuss the throttles, and then states:

Office of General Counsel clarified its position that
the term “dual controls” as used under 14 CFR section 91.109(a)
refers solely to the flight controls of an aircraft (e.g., pitch,
yaw, and roll controls)

As it would seem that the purpose of the safety observer is observe the sky for other traffic and, in the event of an impending or threatening conflict, either

  1. Inform the pilot to take off his/her view limiting device and deal with it, or ...
  2. Take the controls and maneuver the aircraft to avoid the conflict.

I do not understand how rudders or throttle in any way impede the capability of the safety observer to perform that function. It's also curiously inconsistent with the exception made for aircraft with throwover control wheels, (like in Bonanzas). Also, because I fly in Arizona where the flight conditions are (thankfully), IMC only 25-30 days a year, and because of the wide diversity of avionics in so many GA aircraft nowadays, because of this constraint, my only alternative is to perform practice approaches in another aircraft with different avionics and autopilot switchology from what is in my primary aircraft. With modern avionics, basic instrument procedures and instrumentation now represent an ever-increasingly smaller percentage of the knowledge and skills necessary for IFR flight, so satisfying my IFR currency requirements in an aircraft with very different avionics becomes more and more counter-productive instead of actually increasing my proficiency.

Does anyone know the actual FAA rational for this constraint?

  • $\begingroup$ The part about throw-over controls was clearly intended to allow certain Beech planes as an exception and should not be considered indicative of the overall intent. $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Nov 2, 2022 at 16:41
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    $\begingroup$ @Stephen, Try that argument in any court ... "Well, judge, this law was clearly intended ... " $\endgroup$ Nov 2, 2022 at 16:43
  • $\begingroup$ The sentence you reference in paragraph (c)(3) is about a "throwover control wheel". What aircraft do you know of has one of those that controls the rudder? The first sentence references fully functioning dual controls, and that phrase is defined in the FAA bulletin, (granted, aimed at another issue), to explicitly require pitch, roll and yaw but not brakes. $\endgroup$ Nov 3, 2022 at 13:52
  • $\begingroup$ @757toga, I freely grant that this is totally not definitive (as FARs in general), but that's exactly why I'm trying to nail down the reason. But simply "interpreting" the semantics so as to mean what you think makes sense, (as aside, I agree with you - that's why I'm pursuing this!), does not help. The endgame here is to get them to reword the FARs so they clearly and unambiguously define what is required in each of the scenarios we are discussing, not to just give me personal justification to do what I think is right in spite of the FARs. $\endgroup$ Nov 3, 2022 at 14:00
  • $\begingroup$ Hadn't noticed that to be honest! The language there, in context, supports your interpretation as to their intent, but, again, it is not at all explicit that their intent in (c)(3) is to not require access to rudder control for safety observer during simulated instrument flight. $\endgroup$ Nov 3, 2022 at 15:37

2 Answers 2


You won’t get an authoritative answer on this unless the FAA publishes their rationale, and someone would have cited such by now if it existed.

However, we can deduce a few things from what is and is not required to act as a safety pilot. In particular, they do not need to have any special endorsements (such as complex or tail wheel) nor landing currency, nor do they need to have brakes available, but they do need flight controls and a clear view.

From this, I think it is fairly obvious the intent is that the safety pilot can quickly take over the flight controls in an emergency, such as to prevent a mid-air collision or a crash if the primary pilot gets disoriented, but then give them back to the original pilot as soon as the emergency is over, i.e. they’re not expected to land the plane.

To deal with such emergencies, which may necessitate a rapid climb or recovery from a stall or spin, they will need access to the rudders and throttle.

The case of a throwover yoke is clearly not ideal here, but apparently someone decided it can be done quick enough for the safety pilot to do this duty.

  • $\begingroup$ I absolutely agree with your logic. But cannot find a definitive FAR or FAA Circular or other document to support this. I asked only because I have been told by some CFIs that "fully functioning" requires rudder control and a throttle... Wish I could nail it down. Thanks for your answer! $\endgroup$ Nov 21, 2022 at 1:34

Because, for all intents and purposes, there must be a appropriately certificated and rated PIC with the ability to fully control the aircraft at all times during operation. If you’re flying under the hood but don’t yet hold an instrument rating, you don’t yet qualify for that. I’ve never had anyone explain a full set of rationale for that regulation. But that being said it’s the offer full control of that aircraft at all times in case something happens with the guy under the hood. Spatial disorientation at low altitudes and/or high alpha regimes for flight would demand a recovery that requires immediate access to all flight controls and throttle; there may not be enough time available to tell the guy upfront to take the hood off and recover.

  • $\begingroup$ Considering that I am asking "why" the FAA seems to have this rule, that might very well be the answer. Do you have a reference for this? I want to know why before I start asking them to modify it. Clearly rudders are no more necessary than brakes to recover quickly from an upset situation. $\endgroup$ Nov 3, 2022 at 13:42
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    $\begingroup$ If the safety pilot needs to initiate a go-around immediately, he would have to have access to the throttle. Go-around pitch with on-glideslope power would lead to a stall pretty quickly, and "I have the aircraft" works much better than "I have the aircraft, set go-around power for me" when time is short. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Nov 3, 2022 at 16:12
  • $\begingroup$ Would you clarify what you mean when you say: "If you’re flying under the hood but don’t yet hold an instrument rating, you don’t yet qualify for that? What is it that you don't qualify for? Thanks $\endgroup$
    – RTO
    Nov 4, 2022 at 18:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Carlo, I suppose it might be that recovering from spatial disorientation or performing a Go-around due to a poorly executed instrument approach might be the justification for requiring a safety pilot be in the aircraft when in simulated instrument flight in VMC, but my understanding is that it is because of the potential for mid-air collisions when under the hood in VMC. I mean, there is no safety pilot required when flying instrument approaches in IMC! $\endgroup$ Nov 8, 2022 at 18:39

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