verifiable 51 percent of the work left to do.
However, if it was ever granted an
airworthiness certificate, which gives it
“airplane” status, it’s a different ball game.
Regardless of how incomplete it may be, that
piece of paper makes it just another used
flying machine, and we’ll deal with those in a
Incidentally, putting an airplane into the
air show/exhibition category isn’t the bummer people make it out to be. The
restrictions are minimal.
THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT FOR
The first rule of project evaluation: leave
your emotions at home. Your checkbook,
too. After that, there are a number of distinct
factors to keep in mind that must be treated
• Is it a recognized/popular design?
• Does it follow the plans/kit recommendations, or has it been modified?
• How complete is it in terms of parts?
• How would you grade the
• What condition is it in?
• Is the paperwork complete?
• Where is it located?
IS IT A MAINSTREAM DESIGN?
Don’t be a pioneer; stick as closely to aircraft
designs that achieved a certain level of pop-
ularity as possible. Sport aviation is littered
with designs that lasted just long enough for
some to be started but not finished due to
lack of product support, poor flying charac-
teristics, or difficulty building. By the same
token, those designs that have achieved
superstar status in sport aviation, such as the
RV series, also litter the landscape for just
the opposite reason: They are so good that
thousands have been started, so the laws of
average say that even though a huge per-
centage are finished, there are bound to be a
larger number available as projects simply
because more have been started. Stick with
the winners. It takes the same amount of
effort to finish a winner as it does a loser.
HAS IT BEEN MODIFIED?
Homebuilders love to give everything they
touch a little of their own flavor. However,
when that “flavor” includes airframe
changes, e.g., a spring gear in place of
bungees, folding wings, etc., they’ve
introduced some serious unknowns. Unless
the builder performs those changes with the
blessings of the original designer, any who
buy his project have no way of knowing the
effect of said changes. Stay away from
The day is gone where we could
drag a bedraggled homebuilt
airframe home, finish it, and call
it our own.
DO A DETAILED INVENTORY
Everything in aviation is more expensive
than its civilian counterpart. This includes
nuts and bolts, tires, brakes, instruments,
etc. Bring a clipboard and calculator so you
can accurately record what is present. Then,
do a “reverse inventory”: what isn’t there
and how much it will cost to purchase. It’s
surprising how quickly the nickel and dime
items add up.
GRADE THE CRAFTSMANSHIP, SYSTEM BY SYSTEM
It’s quite possible for a builder to be an ace
welder but totally befuddled by wiring or to
be great at riveting but lousy at fiberglass
work. This is one of the strong points of buying a project: We get to see all areas of
craftsmanship, inside and out. When evaluating it, break it down by systems, e.g.,
wiring, brakes, riveting, etc. Recognize that
some things, like welding/riveting, can’t be
improved upon. Most of the other areas can
be redone to make them right, but the price
should reflect that.
WHAT CONDITION IS IT IN?
Unfinished projects can range from a year-
old Lancair that’s been in a hermetically
sealed workshop to a Baby Ace airframe
found in a hayloft that last saw daylight dur-
ing the Truman administration. Additionally,
one airframe may have been stored in
Arizona, another outside of Seattle in a tent.
All of the foregoing are going to be in vary-
ing states of deterioration because of age,
storage environment, and how many times
they were moved around, which guarantees
hangar rash. Look carefully at those areas
most likely to display problems:
• Bottom sides of tubing in a rag and
• Wooden spars and ribs in already covered wings.
• Aircraft stored in a mouse-friendly
• Composite aircraft that sat outside
in direct sunlight with no protective
• An engine that has sat, unpreserved, for
more than a few months.
FAA-approved, 51 percent kit aircraft
require an FAA bill-of-sale trail just like regular aircraft. This is in addition to the
builder’s logs/photos. The manufacturer of
an approved 51 percent kit issued an official
FAA-approved bill of sale to the original kit
purchaser, and each new owner would have
to execute a bill of sale transfer that is registered with the feds exactly as if it were a
certified aircraft. The FAA will require a bill
of sale to be presented to get the aircraft registered and certificated. Unapproved kits
require only the builder’s logs/photos to
prove 51 percent was amateur-built.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Moving aircraft cross-country isn’t difficult,
but it isn’t easy either. Transporting aircraft
is like moving giant eggs because they
demand so much extra care. Moving them
definitely isn’t cheap either. Besides the cost