Oh brother, where art thou logbook?

It’s 10pm. Do you know where your logbook is? How about your medical?

You do realize that these two pieces of paperwork are a BIG deal and have an appropriate backup strategy in place, right?

Unless you’ve had it happen to you, probably not. But the rule of thumb from my world (software development) is “there are two types of people: those who have lost data and those who will.”

How many endorsements do you have? What about records of those flights you speak reverently about around the camp stove at Oshkosh?

You do realize that losing the paper that endorsement is on causes it to cease to exist, correct? A lost medical restricts you to light sport eligible aircraft alone until you get a new one from your friendly AME. Considering my last medical was $200, I’d rather avoid that if at all possible.

And it’s not just LOSING we have to worry about. What about theft. Sure, it’s not likely somebody will target the book. But if they steal your car, or the laptop bag the book is in, good luck getting it back.

CFII Ron Klutts (@captain_ron on Twitter) is all too familiar with a logbook loss. The day before his instrument checkride his truck was stolen and found a week later stripped to the frame. Nobody has ever seen his flight bag or logbook since. It took him sixteen years to come back to flying. Between his former CFII’s own records and deciding to just rebuild as necessary he’s made it up to CFII status and is now blogging.

Scared yet?

In some cases it may not be quite this disastrous, your CFI likely has record of giving you an endorsement. But what if his logbook was stolen, lost in a fire, or any other situation? CFII Stewart Stoll (@cfistew on Twitter) had his flight bag stolen out of his car and lost about 500 hrs since his last 8710. Some of it was recoverable because the flight school had record of when he had flown with students, but he can’t say exactly what student or what they may have done. Not quite as scary as Ron’s experience, but still devastating if you’ve been working for months to get the last few hours for a stepping stool.

There’s a lot of things we as pilots can do to protect ourselves from this. In order of how paranoid you are, here are my suggestions (and they build from one another though you can mix/match as will work for you). But first, some term definitions:

“safe place”: not your sock drawer, nightstand, or even desk. Minimum: safe rated to survive a fire. Better: safe deposit box in a bank. Consider putting it in a zip-top bag before putting it in the safe deposit box, the bank probably has fire suppression systems and getting wet may cause bleeding ink.

“offsite”: somewhere besides where you live. Your desk at work, ask your parents or children to hold onto a copy in their home, or preferably in a bank vault.

  • Photocopy every page and put the copy in a safe place. Copy machine from the local office supply store, or use your digital camera. Good light is essential, don’t use a flash because its reflection can obscure things.
  • Put the actual logbook in a safe place, carry and work from copies alone. (note you can’t do this with your medical, the original is required for that. It’s a risk we can’t do much about.)
  • Store a copy of the digital files offsite as well. A $10 USB drive should hold all but the largest logbook collections in JPEG.
  • Keep the digital copies in an online storage service, like Dropbox. Not only does this ensure the data is kept in multiple places that all have high availability as a goal, it gives you access to the data from your smartphone, tablet or any computer with a web browser.

You may be using an electronic logbook, and that’s great. But you probably still have a paper one around and should protect it.

  • Protect the file your electronic logbook software uses to store everything. If you use an online backup service for this, many of them also version the files, meaning they keep dozens of copies back in time as the files change. Did the app crash and now it won’t open your logbook? Did a version upgrade go badly? You can easily restore to a copy from days/weeks or more ago before it happened. (also applies on a Mac if you use Time Machine)

But Adam, I use an online logbook! I’m covered.

Have you heard of the online bookmarking service mag.nol.ia? Yeah, that’s what I thought. They claimed to be doing everything right, had an outage, and lost every customer’s data in an instant. Most software people out there would never maliciously lose your data. But the potential for failure is ALWAYS there and you should be taking steps to prevent it yourself on top of what they’re doing. Any service worth using will have an export function available. Use it, and then follow the suggestions given for electronic logbook files / digital copies of paper logbook given above.

What’s my approach? All of these, actually, plus a few more.

I have digital photos of every page in my logbook, which is stored in a plastic bag in a safe deposit box with other important but not related to flying documents. I also have the master file from my electronic logbook software. They are stored on my computer, and the folder they’re stored in is versioned with Git (a programmer’s version control system. Steep learning curve on this one). Since it’s Git, it’s stored remotely on the same system I back up all of my source code to every app I’ve written. But the folder also lives in a place where it gets backed up to SpiderOak (a competitor to Dropbox that is advanced enough I don’t recommend it to computer novices) and cloned out to the (several) laptops + desktops I use. And since that folder is also on my computer, it gets backed up to each computer’s Time Machine and my online full-computer backup service too. There’s probably a couple dozen copies or more out there, and that helps me sleep at night.

Aircraft owner / operator? This applies to your airframe and power plant logs too. If you can’t prove an AD was complied with, an inspection done, that it actually doesn’t have a damage history or the field approval was granted, you have to start from square one. Not only does it become not legal for you to fly your airplane, good luck selling it later, even for parts. Back up early, back up often.


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