Checking It Out

Inspect your aircraft before buying. (Shown: KP 2U Sova.)

Once you’ve narrowed the field to a handful of planes, you’ll want to make an inspection, then take a test flight to be sure the plane is what you think it is. No surprises, please. Of course, the inspection will be more stringent for used aircraft than for new ones. And the older the plane the more time and energy you’ll want to spend on checking it out. If you have any doubts, hire an airframe and power-plant (A&P) mechanic to perform a thorough inspection before you buy.

Once you’ve narrowed the field to a handful of planes, you’ll want to make an inspection, then take a test flight to be sure the plane is what you think it is. No surprises, please. Of course, the inspection will be more stringent for used aircraft than for new ones. And the older the plane the more time and energy you’ll want to spend on checking it out. If you have any doubts, hire an airframe and power-plant (A&P) mechanic to perform a thorough inspection before you buy.

What will you be inspecting? The fuselage including wings and tail, mechanical systems, logs, ADs, owner reports, and aircraft appraisals. Let’s go through them one at a time.

Fuselage

The first inspection you’ll make is a very thorough preflight inspection, checking the fuselage, wings, tail, landing gears, and control surfaces for wear or damage. Examine the outside and as much of the inside of the plane as possible. Check for rust, deterioration, and loose rivets. If the skin is metal, check for serious dents and creases. Inspect the paint for underlying corrosion. If the plane is fabric covered, have a mechanic test the fabric for strength. Also inspect controls for free and easy operation, instruments for proper operation, and electrical systems for condition and obvious additions and repairs. Make sure you examine all tubing and hydraulic lines for age and wear.

Mechanical Systems

Open or remove the engine cowling and inspect the unit for the condition of incoming controls and fuel lines. Inspect the carburetor and gasket. Check the intake and exhaust manifolds for leaks and general condition. Make sure that necessary parts such as the magnetos, starter, alternator, oil sump, fuel pump, and carburetor are attached securely and in good condition, with no loose components. Then inspect the propeller and hub for cracks and nicks, especially on the leading edge. Make sure the prop is securely mounted. Check the brakes and connection lines to make sure they’re in good condition and secure. Inspect the tires for damage, wear, and proper air pressure.

Logs and Airworthiness Directives (ADs)

The maintenance logs for your aircraft could be clean for new aircraft or very long for older ones. In addition, the logs for LSAs look different from those for larger private aircraft. The airframe and engine logbooks note the inspections and repairs that have been made to the plane. They also should record maintenance to specific ADs on the craft. Separately, you should research to find out what ADs have been issued for this plane, then verify that each has been satisfactorily fixed. Some ADs require ongoing and regular inspections and repairs, adding to the overall cost of the aircraft.

Wing Tips

Want to find out what ADs have been issued for a specific make and model of plane? Check online at www.airweb.faa.gov/ad. Also, AD research services can be found online (search for “airworthiness directive”) or through flying magazines. ADs for the new LSAs are available from the manufacturer.

If the aircraft you’re inspecting has FAA standard certification, owners are required to perform AD maintenance or repairs as directed. If it follows consensus standards, the manufacturer will notify owners of required ADs. So make sure you know what the ADs are for any aircraft you buy before you buy it.

If you’re buying an experimental (homebuilt) aircraft, the paperwork is slightly different. For example, the airworthiness certificate in the plane will be clearly marked “experimental.” Make sure that you know enough about the model and the builder to make an informed decision about buying and maintaining it. ADs are not issued for experimental airplanes. If in doubt, ask the EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) (www.eaa.org).