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Homebuilt aircraft buyer's checklist: The essentials

 

A primary mission of EAA is to encourage the safe construction and operation of experimental amateur-built aircraft, known informally as “homebuilts.” One of EAA’s most fundamental elements in this mission is promoting informed builders and buyers.

The decision to purchase a homebuilt aircraft or kit can be a daunting challenge. There seems to be a full range of behaviors with which people respond to that challenge. On the one hand, the numbers of envisioned risks and questions to be explored might come to seem overwhelming, so much so that the task can become endless, never reaching a conclusion. That’s disappointing, and probably not really warranted. Not all questions can be answered up front; many will be resolved as a project unfolds.

At the other extreme (and perhaps more dangerous) is the chance that a potential buyer/builder will be driven exclusively by the emotional appeal of a given design to the extent that important practical issues are never addressed, much less answered. The answer lies somewhere in between – but how does one find the right formula for his or her own decision-making process, particularly when one may be new to the homebuilding movement? In general, it is a good start if one, at least, knows the questions. Answers will come and EAA is one good source.

Since its beginning in 1952, EAA has witnessed an explosive growth of homebuilt activity, and an expanding industry that now offers over 700 designs of kits and plans-built aircraft to eager customers. Most of the activity is now concerned with construction from kits, and more and more of the kits offer high performance, sophisticated designs. Prefabrication, reduced construction times, and ease of the building process have become advertising hallmarks for many kits. Significantly, an increasing number of these aircraft are being acquired second-hand from the original builders.

It is a very different climate for the prospective buyer/builder than could have been envisioned even 10 or 20 years ago. Two key measures of the continued homebuilt community success are the safety record (particularly the first hours of flight) and the completion rate. Both measures can be improved by all potential builder / owners carefully considering the advise in this material.

To keep homebuilding a safe and satisfying pastime, prospective builders and/or buyers of aircraft, plans, or kits to be registered as experimental amateur-built should be more than minimally knowledgeable as to the suitability, performance, and track record of the aircraft that attracts their attention. Buyers have the right to expect that designers and kit manufacturers will accurately and objectively aid them in developing the requisite knowledge.

The potential list of information to be gained during the decision-making process can be long and varies by aircraft design. The EAA Homebuilt Aircraft Council has attempted to sort out those aspects that seem crucial and most applicable to the wide spectrum of customers and products. A generic checklist has been developed consisting of a series of questions, which should be considered while reaching a decision to embark upon the purchase of a given aircraft or project.

Fundamental to considering the purchase and/or construction of an amateur-built aircraft is an understanding and observance of the regulations in Canada, namely, Transport Canada Chapter 549 of the Airworthiness Manual together with attached Addendum: Standard 507-03 Appendix C, Exemption signed April 23, 2002.

 

The Checklist:

1. Do I understand the legal and regulatory provisions under which experimental amateur-built aircraft can be constructed and operated?

Canadian requirements:

  • Do I understand CAR 549.01, subsection 507.03(b)?
  • Have I read, and do I have a copy of Chapter 549 of the Airworthiness Manual-Airworthiness Standards Amateur-built Aircraft?
  • Does the manufacturer of the product I am considering comply with the "Interpretation" of Part I-"Procedures" under "Appendix A, Standards of Design and Construction for Amateur-built Aircraft"?

2. Can I afford the aircraft or kit in questions?

  • What is the estimated full cost (including taxes, shipping charges, tools, and other indirect costs) to complete construction?
  • What is the additional cost of engine, propeller, paint, and avionics that are most appropriate to the mission design of the aircraft?
  • What other “aftermarket” expenses can be anticipated? Are there readily-available sources for ancillary parts?
  • Looking farther ahead, how about the availability and cost of insurance, hangar fees, inspections, and operating expenses?
  • What is the cost of desirable builder workshops or legal builders assistance?

Do I have adequate space and facilities necessary to complete and house the project? For example, will it require a machine shop, ventilated workspace, a heated garage, a hangar, a trailer?

Do I have family support for this undertaking? Do I really know the depth or durability of the commitment?

 

Can I build it?

  • What skills are required? If in doubt, shouldn’t I try them out, for example, in one or more EAA SportAir Workshops? Is there local assistance available through a local EAA Chapter and EAA Technical Counselors? How about knowledgeable friends and acquaintances or local mechanics?
  • Are building instructions clear, complete, and up-to-date? Do they include instruction in best practices and quality control?
  • What is the reputation for the manufacturer’s support during the construction and early flight phases?
  • Does the manufacturer provide direct after-sale builders support, or is there a reliance on user clubs and e-mail exchange groups to communicate supplemental information? Are such groups available, reliable, and effective for this design? Do I need a computer to stay abreast of needed information?
  • Does any available “quick-build” option for the kit remain within the “51% Rule”?
  • Does the kit manufacturer provide documentation to that effect?
  • Does the kit manufacturer provide a “builder assistance” or “factory workshop” opportunity? If so, is it truly geared toward thorough education of the builder/buyer as to construction techniques, quality control, structural integrity, and airworthiness of the individual kit aircraft, or is it a “front” for illegal “skirting” of the 51% Rule?
  • What is the record of the completion-to-sales ratio for this model? How does that statistic hold up when compared to how long the model has been available on the market?

 

Will I have confidence in this project and the resulting aircraft?

  • What is the record of the kit manufacturer regarding on-time delivery of kits, parts, and backorders? Is there a plan to protect my investment until orders are completed? Specifically, can I use an escrow account provided by the manufacturer or other entity to protect my payments?
  • Is the financial stability and management of the manufacturer such that I can reasonably expect the company to remain in business – at least until all kit components are delivered, and hopefully until my project is completed?
  • Are all parts and materials “aircraft quality?”
  • What flight test and other data has the manufacturer verified and made available (for example, spin, structural loading, and flutter testing)?
  • Were published performance data normalized to standard conditions? Are they complete and detailed?
  • Are there authoritative flight test articles available for this type of aircraft (for example, CAFÉ data, EAA Aircraft Performance Reports)?
  • Have I searched for accident data on this aircraft type? What cautions does this information suggest?
  • Are there any restrictions or special requirements for insuring this type of aircraft? If so, what is the basis for them?

 

Can I fly it (and enjoy it)?

  • Have I had a demonstration flight in this aircraft? Was it a thorough demonstration of the performance envelope of this airplane, did it reveal any unexpected or marginal characteristics? Did I fit in the aircraft? Will I be sure to have requisite training, licensing, and currency for this aircraft?
  • Can I obtain appropriate transition training tailored to particular properties of this make and model?
  • Is an MD-RA Inspector or a Transport Canada Inspector available to perform the inspections required?
  • Will I be able to complete a thorough step-by-step flight test program under the Transport Canada required Phase I operating limitations for this aircraft once it has achieved registration and final certification?
  • Am I familiar with the EAA/FAA Document "AC 90-89" on Flight Testing?
  • Will I have an EAA Flight Advisor to help plan and assist in this phase?
  • Will I be knowledgeable, skilled and willing to perform maintenance on this aircraft, or will I require the services of an AME?If the latter, will one familiar with this type of construction be available?

Finally, looking beyond the esthetic and emotional appeal of the aircraft (and that may take some discipline), are my needs, resources, and skill level honestly compatible with its mission design and performance profile (for example, cross country vs. acrobatic vs. local sport flying)?

Many more questions can and should be raised – often specific to a given type. However, EAA regards the above list as fundamental and critical. While this list appears large – the answers ARE available! Help is abundant. EAA members, staff, programs, information, and services are equipped and created specifically to help you address these questions at the outset and as your project proceeds.

Failure to engage in an adequate consideration for any one item noted above could result in a less than satisfactory outcome. Remember, this is the start of a process that is meant to be educational and recreational, not necessarily expedient. The focus should be on the process that will ensure a quality final product and a well-educated builder/pilot – not prematurely centered on just the product itself. Remember too that as the builder/learner of record, only you (not Transport Canada, kit manufacturer, or plans designer) bear responsibility for that product.

All this may seem somewhat intimidating, especially when one is anxious to purchase or start building the airplane of one’s dreams. However, in homebuilding of aircraft, the real joy and satisfaction generally come when one goes about each task in a project with care and precision – and that holds true for the planning process just as it does for any other phase.
EAA wishes you much joy, success, and safety as you undertake your project. Remember to use the EAA and its programs as your guide and resource.