A few years ago in Pilot magazine I wrote an article in which I waxed nostalgic about logbooks from both a personal and a historical perspective. The gist of that story was the handwritten logs are much more personal and have far more meaning than a bunch of entries on a computer spreadsheet. While I was willing then, and still am today, to acknowledge the convenience and accuracy of electronic logbooks, I still prefer the handwritten ones. And I still caution against anything that is produced using flowing electrons.
I recently got a call from a friend of mine who was looking for some help in recovering flight records from our airline computer. Our old system kept records for three years; our new one only keeps them for six months. This fellow had been using a PDA-style device that had a popular logbook program on it. He was able to update it leg-by-leg in real time, and do so quickly without having to worry about forgetting details such as IMC time, approach used, etc. Further, he did not have to worry about making math errors that he might miss for months or even years.
But he also got caught be a reliance on the computer. Twice, the unit crashed, and a total of five months of his records were lost. He is now in the unenviable position of having to figure out a way to fill in as many of the blanks as possible while also figuring out the best way to explain his predicament when it comes time to interview for a job. It’s easy to blame him (I did!) for not making back-up copies and printing out the critical information he might need. But it’s also worth learning a lesson from him, even for those that use a paper log like myself.
A few years ago, I was working on mine, and realized that I had made some math errors that were difficult to find—with more than 10,000 hours of flight time at the time, it was a tedious process. What I wound up doing—and what I recommend to others with paper logs—is creating a simple Excel spreadsheet that mimics the pages in my log. Once I found the errors, I made a note in the paper log explaining the corrections made to my totals and why they were there. From that point on, I used my spreadsheet to do all of my computations before writing them in my paper log. Granted, I can not look up how many hours in a particular 152 I flew on night cross-country flights in IMC, but when it comes to the meaty, need-to-know stuff, I can look that up in a flash without having my actual logbook in front of me. I keep a copy of that file on both my laptop and my home PC.
Other steps you can take to minimize lost-record headache include taking a digital photo or making a copy of your logbook every month (or every so many pages or so many hours flown); at an airline you can print out a copy of every trip that you fly when you are done so that you have company record of your work. This likely won’t have aircraft numbers, that day/night breakdown, or some of the people you flew with, but it’s far better than nothing. Something else that helps is accurately filling out your FAA 8710 form. When you take a checkride, you must put down the hours appropriate to the rating that you are applying for. But you can go beyond that. Fill out every block you can, and do so accurately. If you are a CFI, fill out the same blocks when you are renewing your certificate, even though this step isn’t required. Should you ever need them to, the folks in Oklahoma City can send you a copy of your most recent 8710, thus providing an official back-up to your logbook.
Accurate logs are critical, especially in light of the changes coming as a result of the Colgan accident in Buffalo. If you want to fly professionally, keep in mind that your logbook makes a huge impression on the person interviewing you. Find out ahead of time if the company you are applying to has a policy on what type of logs they will readily accept, and if you insist on using an electronic logbook, don’t get caught like my friend did. Back it up, print it out, and keep it safe. You’ll be glad you did.