What makes a plane experimental, and why do all warbirds categorize as experimental aircraft?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Where did you find the info that all warbirds are categorized as experimental? $\endgroup$
    – VRK
    Feb 15, 2023 at 6:21
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Does this need an 'FAA-Regulations' tag? $\endgroup$ Feb 15, 2023 at 16:29

1 Answer 1


"Experimental" refers to a particular category of airworthiness certification available for an aircraft. 14 CFR §91.203 requires all "civil aircraft" to have an airworthiness certificate, basically a piece of paper saying "someone has convinced the civil aviation authority that this particular plane is fit to fly."

There are two broad groups of certification categories: "standard" and "special." Your typical GA aircraft or airliner has a "standard" airworthiness certificate, which is based on the manufacturer's type certification. The manufacturer (say, Cessna) spent millions of dollars to get this type certification, and that makes it easy for Cessna owners to get a standard airworthiness certificate as long as their aircraft conforms to the specifications in the type certificate.

But of course a military aircraft doesn't necessarily have a civil type certification, because in its intended role, it didn't need one. Neither the manufacturer nor a private owner has much interest in spending the millions of dollars needed for a full type certification. So instead of applying for a standard airworthiness certificate, the owner looks at the various options for special airworthiness certification. A warbird isn't a "light sport" aircraft, or an ultralight, or a cropduster, etc. which rules out most of the available categories.

That leaves...

  • the experimental category:

    A special airworthiness certificate in the experimental category is issued to operate an aircraft that does not have a type certificate or does not conform to its type certificate and is in a condition for safe operation.

  • and, for types that do in fact have a civil type certificate, the limited category:

    A limited category special airworthiness certificate is issued to operate surplus military aircraft that have been converted to civilian use under the following conditions:


    • The aircraft has a limited type certificate.

Some warbirds, like the P-40 Warhawk, do have a limited type certificate and can get limited airworthiness certificates.

* The links and citations here are US/FAA-centric, but many (most?) countries' civil authorities have very similar certification systems.

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ You missed the "restricted" category where the aircraft is intended for specific, special operations. This is the most common category for military aircraft holding civil certification. The C-130/L-100, A400M, and P-3 are all examples holding a restricted TC. The key difference is a limited category aircraft can't be used for hire. $\endgroup$
    – user71659
    Feb 15, 2023 at 21:59

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