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What is an experimental certificate? Is it just a certificate that is for aircraft that were built experimentally such as home-built aircraft? What is the purpose of the certificate?

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  • $\begingroup$ An "Experimental Certificate" is a sub-category of a "Special Airworthiness Certificate." The other type of "Airworthiness Certificate" is a "Standard" Airworthiness Certificate. Read the answers below for more detailed information. $\endgroup$
    – user22445
    Commented Jul 16, 2023 at 14:53

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The FAA has two different classifications of Airworthiness Certificates:

  1. Standard Airworthiness Certificate; and
  2. Special Airworthiness Certificate. (There are several sub-categories, one of which is the Experimental category).

Here is FAA Order 8130.2J - Airworthiness Certification of Aircraft, which should be very helpful with respect to your questions. This FAA Order has not incorporated the combining of Utility, Acrobatic, and Commuter categories into the "Normal" category of a Standard Airworthiness Certificate, as discussed in the Note below.


A Standard Airworthiness Certificate is issued for "Typed Certificated" aircraft in these categories:(Source Also, see the Note directly below with respect to Utility, Acrobatic, and Commuter categories)

Normal
Transport
Manned free balloons
Special classes

Note: "Normal" category aircraft certificated under 14 CFR Part 23 now include Utility, Acrobatic and Commuter aircraft as of August, 2017.

According to this change, as noted in the Federal Register (source), the FAA is ". . .replacing current prescriptive design requirements with performance-based airworthiness standards." Also, "This rule does not affect the category of existing airplanes, nor does it require the TCDS be revised or reformatted. Airplanes currently certified in the utility category for spin training retain that capability under this new rule. Furthermore, the airworthiness of the existing fleet will not be affected by this rule." (emphasis is mine) (source)


A Special Airworthiness Certificate has several sub-categories, one of which is Experimental. A Special Airworthiness Certificate in the Experimental category is issued for the following purposes (assuming that the issuance criteria are met): (Source)

Research and development
Showing compliance with regulations
Crew training
Exhibition
Air racing
Market surveys
Operating amateur-built aircraft
Operating kit-built aircraft
Operating light-sport aircraft
Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)

Also, the difference between a Standard Airworthiness Certificate and a Special Airworthiness certificate in the Experimental Category is noted in the information below: (Source)

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. Additionally, this certificate is issued to operate a primary category kit-built aircraft that was assembled without the supervision and quality control of the production certificate holder.

(emphasis is mine)

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    $\begingroup$ I agree... Didn't see that in the previous edit. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 15, 2023 at 20:36
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    $\begingroup$ Utility, Aerobatic and Commuter are obsolete categories, as is the FAA web page referenced. All are now Normal with differing requirements based on size and speed. Size is indicated by levels 1-4 with passenger occupancy of 0-1, 2-6, 7-9 or 10-19 respectively. Speed is either low (less than or equal to 250kcas) or high. (more than 250kcas) $\endgroup$
    – Pilothead
    Commented Jul 15, 2023 at 21:16
  • $\begingroup$ @Pilothead Good catch. I modified that part of my answer accordingly. Thanks $\endgroup$
    – user22445
    Commented Jul 15, 2023 at 22:23
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All certificated aircraft must be safe to fly. The difference between a type certified aircraft and a experimental certificated aircraft is in how this safety is demonstrated.

A type certificate and associated production certificate requires that all the engineering work and construction processes are compliant with safety regulations. This takes years of work and costs millions of dollars. Since the design and production processes have been shown to be compliant, it is assumed that the aircraft produced using these processes are also safe. Minimal flight testing (less than an hour) is needed before delivery to a customer.

An experimental certificate does just the opposite. No (FAA) scrutiny is applied to either the design or production of the aircraft. Instead, the completed aircraft has to undergo extensive flight testing before being deemed airworthy. Forty hours of flight in a defined, restricted area is required before being allowed leave. This allows people interested in aviation to build and fly aircraft without million dollar budgets.

A production aircraft can be sold to customers and used in money making businesses. An experimental aircraft is for personal use (this could also be limited use by a company) and may not be used for revenue generation. So if you want to (try to) make money with aircraft manufacturing you go production; if you do it for fun you go experimental amateur built.

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  • $\begingroup$ I believe the "Forty hours of flight in a defined, restricted area..." only applies to "Amateur-Built Aircraft." Most of the other sub-categories of "Experimental" Airworthiness Certificated aircraft are not subject to this requirement. $\endgroup$
    – user22445
    Commented Jul 15, 2023 at 22:32
  • $\begingroup$ @757toga Flight time applies to all "unproven" aircraft, amature built or not. See ecfr.gov/current/title-14/chapter-I/subchapter-F/part-91/…. The key is that if you don't certify the design and production, you have to test the result. No third option exists. $\endgroup$
    – Pilothead
    Commented Jul 16, 2023 at 1:47
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    $\begingroup$ 40 hours is defined for an Amateur Built aircraft. Not necessarily so for all other aircraft within the Experimental category. But, this is not an issue the OP is asking about. The OP wants to know the difference between Standard Airworthiness Cert and the sub-category (Experimental) of a Special Airworthiness Cert. $\endgroup$
    – user22445
    Commented Jul 16, 2023 at 2:09

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