Frequently Asked Questions about Amateur-Built Aircraft

DISCLAIMER: This is NOT an official FAA Page. The information contained herein is provided solely as a reference guide to let you formulate your own official questions to official sources. Always contact your local FAA Office before relying on any information contained within an internet site.

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NEW! NOW AVAILABLE! FAA Order 8130-2d, titled "Airworthiness certification of aircraft and related products" is found now on my Publications Page .

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For the last five years I have had the opportunity to inspect more than one hundred Amateur-built aircraft and issue Experimental Airworthiness Certificates.

 Here are some common questions.

Homebuilding has grown tremendously in the last 20 years. More Home-built Aircraft are now produced in the U.S. than factory-built aircraft. There are many reasons, and all sorts of people are building their own flying machines.

Homebuilts are growing

Update- As of January 1,2001, more than 23,000 Homebuilts have been certificated by the FAA and are flying.

I have inspected all different kinds of homebuilts, from single place ultralights through high performance planes.For more info about me, visit my site at: the FAA PASS-MIDO Union home page . I am the National Representative for PASS-MIDO.

Again, this is NOT an official FAA Site.

Please contact your local FAA office for information in your area.

Q1. What Publications Does the FAA Put out to guide Me through the Process?

The FAA publishes a number of advisory circulars, which you can download from my publications page , or contact your local FAA office to get a copy. AC21-27D , and AC 90-89A the Amateur Flight test Handbook, are both documents you want to get and study before proceeding with your project. They are available by clicking on my publications page above.

2. How do I get an N-Number, and when should I do it?

N-Numbers are issued from the FAA Aircraft Registry in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The phone number is:

(405) 954-3116. An FAA Manufacturing Inspection District Office or Flight Standards District Office can usually provide you with the forms necessary to begin the process. In any case, expect anywhere from 90 to 120 days to complete the registration process. Many folks have walked in with a completed airplane, less the N-Number, and had to wait while the registration is sorted out.

You also do not want to register it too early for a number of reasons. Some people give up on a project, and it may change hands several times before completion. Having it built by one person and registered to another can make it difficult to show who actually built the aircraft. Some states also charge sales, use or personal property tax on airplanes, and get their information from FAA registry files. It may be hard to convince your state tax collector he shouldn't charge you for an airplane in your basement when all you have is the first shipment of sheet metal on your floor.

3. My airplane is a well known kit. Do I have to have a 40-hour test flight program?

FAA guidance actually leaves the exact number of hours up to the inspector. However, in general, if you are using a CERTIFICATED ENGINE - PROP combination, the inspector may (or may not, its up to him/her) give you fewer test flight hours. By certificated combination I mean if that EXACT model engine and EXACT model prop has already been flying around on an FAA Type Certificated airplane, say a Cessna 172, the inspector may give a 25- hour test flight program. Hartzell and Sensenich both have lists of engines they have been FAA certified with. FAA Order 8130.2C specifically gives guidenace to inspectors in this area. The net affect is a certified engine alone in not sufficient to reduce flight test hours, but rather the fact that a certified engine/propeller combination has undergone previous FAA testing allows for credit to be given in this area.

The fact that there are hundreds of similar kit airplanes of your model has little bearing on number of flight test hours. If you follow the suggested test flight program outlined in the FAA Advisory Circular 90-89A, it will take you at least 40 hours to determine that your aircraft is "safely controllable throughout its range of speeds and throughout all maneuvers to be executed", which is what is necessary for you to certify to fly outside of your test flight program.

4. Hundred of similar kits are up and flying. Why do I have to test fly in a limited area at all?

The FAA's predecessor, the CAA, made a determination back in the 1950's after being petitioned by the EAA that as a United States Citizen, you have the right to fly an aircraft YOU BUILT YOURSELF FOR YOUR OWN RECREATION AND EDUCATION. However, in the interest of safety, if the aircraft did not meet CAA/FAA certification requirements, YOU MUST FLY ONLY IN AREAS WHICH WILL NOT ENDANGER OTHERS. Any aircraft, homebuilt or production, needs to be tested for flight handling characteristics before it is let loose in the airspace above others. Even if your kit is similar to others now flying, the FAA has NOT made any determination that the design is safe, and your own custom modifications may have affect flight worthiness of the craft.

5. My Aircraft is fast. You normally only give a 25-mile radius for flight testing. Can I have 300 Miles? (Or can I have to the paint shop, avionics shop, etc?)

The FAA usually recognizes a legitimate need for a larger area if in fact you have a fast aircraft. Some homebuilts now travel at 250 miles per hour or more. Talk over your needs with the certificating inspector BEFORE he/she comes to inspect to see what you can work out. Typically they may give you a 50-mile radius around a sparsely populated area for a fast airplane.

The paint shop, or avionics shop, however, IS NOT necessary for you to conduct your flight test operations. It is best to either have the work done before you begin to fly, or wait until after your test flights are completed to do this type of work. You might be able to get a special flight permit from a Flight Standards District Office Inspector to take the plane to a shop work if it needs it . You have to ask for a "Maintenance Special Flight Permit" or ferry permit. It is NOT automatic that such a permit will be granted, but it might be.

6. What is the reference for the need for yearly "condition" inspection on a plane with an experimental airworthiness certificate? The only reference that I can find is FAR 91.409 para(c) which says that there is no inspection requirement for an aircraft with an Experimental Airworthiness certificate. Most everyone says that the condition inspection is a requirement but nobody has been able to show me the rule requiring it.

Interesting you should notice, but yes, it is true, Experimental Airplanes are exempt from the "Annual Inspection " requirements found in 91.409, of a standard category aircraft. FAR 91.409 (c)(1) exempts experimentally certificated aircraft from the normal inspection rules.

The legal authority and basis to require an annual "Condition Inspection" is found in 14 CFR part 91.319(e), whereby the FAA Administrator (in this case, the certificating inspector) may issue any "additional limitations the Administrator considers necessary" to the aircraft's airworthiness certificate (Operating limitations) when the aircraft receives a special airworthiness certificate. FAA Order 8130-2C describes standard operating limitations for all experimental aircraft, and, as a matter of routine, the requirement for an annual "Condition Inspection" is found there.

7. Do you have any info or links to info on the different types of Experimental-exhibition category airworthiness certificates and the typical limitations assigned to them? A friend is considering a Yak52 and when I asked him about the operating limitations he was surprised that there might be more than on a homebuilt. Is there an A/C listing the "boilerplate" limitations? Does it vary greatly from region to region? How about relocating in a different region?

You can see a typical set of Operating Limitations taken from FAA Order 8130.27 by clicking on the attached link.

Click on Here to look at the sample Experimental Exhibitions Operating Limitations page. The complete copy of FAA Order 8130.2D is on my publications page , or you can view a copy on the FAA Desingee Information Page .

8. I've been searching through the various FAQs and other Web info about kit planes, but I have not been able to find anything about what is probably the most important question facing someone who is thinking of building one: do I have the skills necessary for the job? I am eyeing the Super Stallion, but have no idea just what is involving in building something like that. Do I have to have significant woodworking or metalworking experience?

A: Whether or not you have the skills to successfully complete a project and move it from dream into reality is a question only you can answer. Many people begin a kit or plans project, only to see it whither away in a basement corner. Others, however, are successful in seeing a project through to completion, and getting the rewarding experience of soaring in their own creation.

One way to see what it takes to make a successful outcome is to make contact with other homebuilders, perhaps even help another with his/her project so that you can see the skills necessary to make it fly. Contact the EAA and ask about chapters in your area, or ask a kit or plans supplier for names of builders of the plane you want to build nearby. Many times you can find someone who has been through the process, and can give you an honest assessment of what it takes. Be advised that, in my experience, many people say it took them twice as long as the kit provider told them it should take, cost a bit more than planned, and could take anywhere from a few months to many years. I've seen kits built in several months, and kits that were started in the 1960's and finished in the 1990's. When viewing pictures of projects in various stages of construction, it is not uncommon to see pictures of small children helping dad or mom in the early shots, and teenagers in the final photos. One man showed me his pictures, and said "Here is my first wife, helping with the tail. Here is my second wife, bucking rivets on the wing. Here is my third wife, who helped work on the engine mount.". While he had changed families three times, he remained focused on his project without fail. He learned metal work, fuel systems, upholstery, electrical wiring, the whole shot. If you have the desire, the skill is learnable. Note: In my experience, those who work with their hands make the best craftsmen. Machinists and mechanics usually take extreme pride in accuracy and do well. I once inspected a homebuilt made by a doctor. Doctors and lawyers seem to be "not the best" craftsmen. The doctor was a urologist. His aircraft was inspected four times before it was ready to fly.

See other homebuilders at: , drop one or more of them a line, and ask them how the project is coming.

9. What are the rules for used experimental aircraft? If I buy a used one that has been certified and has its N number can I still work on it as though I built it or do I have to have an A&P work on it from then on?

A. The FAA regulates maintenance through FAR part 43. Far 43.1 states that the rules of that part do (b) "...not apply to any aircraft for which an experimental airworthiness certificate has been issued, unless a different kind of airworthiness certificate had been previously issued".

In effect what this means is that any person may perform maintenance, preventive maintenance, rebuilding, overhauling or alternations to an experimental aircraft, unless that aircraft had previously held another type of airworthiness certificate, i.e. standard, utility, acrobatic, transport, etc. If it is an amateur built aircraft, then anyone can do the maintenance.

However, all experimental operating limitations contain additional limiting factors. You will nearly always find a statement worded something like "This aircraft cannot be flown unless it has received, within the preceding 12 calendar months, a condition inspection conducted in accordance with the scope and detail of Appendix D of part 43, and the inspection is recorded in the aircraft records." Further, the limitations usually also say "Only the builder, when certificated as the repairman, mechanics holding an A & P rating, and appropriately rated repair stations may conduct the condition inspection required by the operating limitations". If the aircraft is turbine powered, or surplus military, there may be additional limitations which mandate a licensed mechanic perform the work.

The net effect, and to answer your question, is: 1. The operating limitations will tell you who can do the work. 2. If amateur-built, you probably can do the work, except for the annual "condition inspection". and 3. That condition inspection will probably have to be done by an A & P, since there are no "appropriately rated repair stations" for non-certified experimental aircraft that I know of.

10. Does one have to have a current medical certificate to fly a privately owned experimental aircraft, single seat, no passengers? Strictly for pleasure flying? I have a Class III private license but I don't know if I can pass a medical exam.

A. Yes, an experimental aircraft certificated under FAR 21.191(g) (amateur-built) has, as one of its operating limitations, the requirement to hold a valid category and class certificate. It is assumed that that includes medical certification appropriate to the intended use, i.e. a minimum of a third class medical. That requirement is found in the old FAR Part 61, item 61.3(c) "Except free balloon pilots piloting balloons, and glider pilots piloting gliders, No person may act as pilot in command or in any other capacity as a required flight crew member of an aircraft under this part, unless he has in his personal possession, an appropriate current medical certificate..." This was reworded slightly in the recent FAR part 61 rewrite, but I don’t have a copy just yet. The intent however, remained, although I can't give you the exact wording. You may wish to investigate the option of a special medical certificate. The standards for a third class certificate are found in FAR part 67 are those required for an for a normal issuance certificate. FAR part 67.19 outlines procedures whereby an applicant may apply for the "Special Issuance" of a medical certificate for those persons who otherwise do not meet the standard requirements. There may be special conditions, a limited duration, or other special conditions imposed, but it may be possible to obtain such a certificate. Without knowing your medical condition, it would be hard for me to guess what would be possible. Talk to the AOPA, the EAA or an FAA Designated Medical Examiner about your medically disqualifying condition, and you might learn of others who are in similar medical shape who have been successful in obtaining a special issuance certificate. By the way, Ultralight aircraft, as defined in FAR part 103, have no such medical certification requirement. However, some conditions which disqualify you from obtaining a Class III medical certificate might also be hazardous in any flying condition, so its best to talk to your doctor before making any decisions.

11. I have thought about powering my homebuilt with an APU Turbine Engine conversion. Any problems you can think of right off the bat?

A. Yes, many. Check out a discussion of common problems with turbine engine conversion gleamed from my favorite newsgroup, rec.aviation.homebuilt. You can find it by click on this magic phrase: Should I go Turbine Power?

12. What is involved, and is it possible, to get a homebuilt aircraft certified as a standard single engine land classification and category?

A.Yes, theoretically it would be possible, provided you are able to show compliance with FAR part 23 for the airplane, and FAR part 33 for the engine, (and 35 for the prop). It is quite an extensive task to undergo Type Certification. The current system of certification was developed in the 1930's, when a producer "Certified" a design, and made multiple copies. The builder had to show that the aircraft met the performance and design rules of Aero bulletin 7, the predecessor to today’s FAR part 23. Over the years, safety requirements increased as experience showed the need for additional safety certification in design. The type certification process has become much more extensive and expensive, however, and is not designed to make it economical to certify a "one-off" airplane, but rather to certify a prototype for a mass-production line, so that certification costs can be spread over many units of production. This is one reason why so few aircraft designs have been certified recently. The FAA has begun taking a new flexibility towards applicant's efforts to find alternate ways to meet regulations. While the standards in Far part 23 are there, there may be alternate means of complying with regulations that are less expensive than others. For example, if a regulation states the seats must withstand a certain g- force, you may be able to show that the design of the airplane allows the fixed gear to take some of that load. It really depends upon the aircraft involved. It can be done, for a price on your part, but you'd have to decide if the price is worth it. Review FAR part 23 and see if you think your airplane can be certified to those standards.

13. My main concern is to get FAA approval to fly outside of the normal experimental restrictions of day VFR only, i.e. IFR and night flights. In lieu of going through Part 23 what would be involved in getting such authorization under 91.319.c and d.2?

A. Usually the only requirement would be that the aircraft is properly equipped for night and or instrument flight in accordance with FAR 91.205. Under FAR 91.319(e), the "Administrator", i.e. the Certificating FAA Inspector or DAR is allowed to proscribed any additional operating limitation he/she finds necessary for safe aircraft operation.
When the inspector or DAR is inspecting your airplane for its initial airworthiness certificate, he/she will look for the proper equipment as required under FAR 91.205, and other FAR requirements. If you have the proper lighting, strobes, electrical capacity, etc, he/she can approve Night VFR, and if you have appropriate equipment for IFR operation as listed in the FARs, IFR can be approved also. This is a common requested limitation, and is standard fare for certification inspectors. However, most inspectors will advise you that during the initial test flight, you should fly day VFR only. Afterward, provided the aircraft has proper equipment, night and instrument flight is permissible.

14. This assumes I comply with the MEL for night and IFR flights. Is there a formal procedure?

A. Be careful with the term MEL. MEL is usually referred to by FAA as the minimum equipment list, specifically on a type of aircraft used by a certificate holder (i.e. part 135 or part 121 air carrier.) The procedure can be discussed with your local Manufacturing Inspection office or FSDO. Contact them for exact answers in your area.

15. Also, I have seen references to the homebuilt having to be primarily built by the owner/licensee. If I have the craft built professionally what are the ramifications?

A. A professionally built aircraft was NOT built by a builder for their own recreation and education, and therefore cannot be certificated as amateur-built. See FAA Advisory circular AC 20-139, titled "commercial assistance during construction of amateur-built aircraft, dated 4/3/96. It is available on my PUBLICATIONS PAGE

16. I got the bug to build a homebuilt aircraft, so I am in the process of researching what is best for me. I am a aircraft mechanic for a major airline and also have my private pilot cert. I am looking at the ultralights and trying to get all the information I can before I start. I am leaning toward a two place ultralight for cost reasons and less red tape. My question is what is the difference in operating limits between a person flying a ultralight that is over 254 lbs. without a private pilot certificate, and me with a private pilot cert.? It seems to me there are a lot of people flying these with no private pilot license.

A. I'm sorry to tell you that, in general, there are no such things as two place ultralights. True Ultralights, requiring no airworthiness certificates or pilot certificates, are limited under FAR part 103 to a single place aircraft weighing less than 254 pounds. This is required by FAR part 103. You can view all the rules of FAR part 103, and all regs by going to the FAA AFS-600 information site. The file is titled "far-103.txt".

 Only three exemptions have been issued to waive the weight requirements, and they have been issued for training purposes only. They are quite strict in their purpose, and have been issued to three bodies, one of which is the EAA Ultralights. The exemption allows a two place aircraft to be flown under ultralight part 103 rules, only for the purpose of providing training to ultralight pilots. The holders of these exemptions must perform their training to the exemption requirements only, which include limits on weight, speed and fuel.

If there are people flying aircraft weighing greater than 254 pounds, or carrying more than 5 gallons of fuel, or not meeting any of the other specifications of Part 103, and are not operating under the provisions of these three exemptions, then they are flying an aircraft, not an ultralight, and are violating FARs, and are subject to certificate revocation(if they hold a pilot's certificate), fines, restraining orders, or other appropriate civil action.

Several publications have been written to guide people towards the FAA's expectations on ultralight rules.

I have added the two Advisory Circulars the FAA has issued on Ultralights, AC 103-6 and AC 103-7. They contain some out of date information as far as airspace goes, but otherwise are still applicable today.

17. Are amateur-built aircraft safe?

A. As safe as staying in bed at home? Well, that depends. Some amateur-built aircraft have excellent safety records. Others have less than perfect records. All aircraft and forms of flight have some inherent risk associated with them. Many builders and pilots fly because they don't want to live the same boring life everyone else is doing. Its up to you to decide your risk tolerance. You can get good information on safety from the Experimental Aircraft Association. They keep excellent safety records by aircraft model in a data base, which is available upon request. Call the EAA's Information Services section and ask for the accident data for any particular model. They keep data going back to the 1970's, and can provide you with insight for helping you choose a project.

18. What about amateur-built Helicopters?

A. Also a growing field. The Rotorway Exec and the Scorpion are two designs that have been build in substantial numbers. A recent entry into homebuilt helicopters is the Mini-500, with hundreds of kits having been sold so far. NTSB accidents for this aircraft are listed Here . That is not to say it is necessarily an unsafe aircraft. All amateur-built helicopters have had their share of problems. But this is a new helicopter which is finding a wide public appeal, and has sold more kits than many amateur-built airplane kit manufacturers. It's always best to do lots of research on any kit company before shelling out large sums of money.

19. How do I know if I am dealing with an honest person when choosing a kit?

A. That's been the $64,000 question for many folks. Always research heavily before investing. Some companies have excellent records and reputations. Other struggle and go out of business before you get your aircraft completed. Ask other builders of your model about their experience. Subscribe to newsgroups like rec.aviation.homebuilt and feel free to ask. You never know without doing your homework.

Building can be a rewarding experience, but it also can have unexpected pitfalls. Choose your project carefully, and become a member of the EAA for help and advice.

20. What type of certification would apply to a cessna 180 that I would install a turbine on without going for a stc, possibly experimental?

It depends on the reason for the "experimental". There is no such category as simply "experimental". You have to have a reason. "Research and Development", "Air Racing", "Exhibition" are three subcategories that might be valid.

If you do not wish to obtain an STC to fly it legally as a standard category aircraft, then the information contained in FAA Order 8130.27 covers a great deal of the information you need to know. This document has been replaced by FAA Order 8130.2d, but the basic information from 8130.27 still is applicable.

 You can view a copy of 8130.27 at: FAA Order 8130.27 I believe that the aircraft may fall into the requirements of a "Group II" aircraft or "Group IV", based on the turbine conversion, and what your local FSDO interpretation is. As always, talk to your local FAA Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) before attemping any such modification. They are the ones who have controlling interest in your area, and would be proscribing any new operating limitations, so they are your best source of official guidance.

21. Do I have to keep a builders log when I build an aircraft, every day?

You should keep a builders log, though not necessarily for every day. The reason you keep a builders log is to document that you, and not someone else, did each step in the process. A good builders log will have entries showing the beginning, and then entries at least at each major stage of the contruction. For example, you may note the finishing of the tail section, the elevator, the left wing, the right wing, the fuselage, the cockpit, etc. Its a good idea to get a second set of eyes to look over your work at each phase- and log the person who looked at it before close. The second set of eyes just make it more likely that a missing washer, a loose bolt, etc, will be caught before close. A good builders log will define who the builder was for the inspector, a key item he/she is trying to verify in the course of the inspection.

22.I am considering buying a prebuilt, but not flown or certified, Moni. The original builder died before he finished all the paperwork. It has been taxied but the widow is concerned about liability so she has not allowed the partners to fly it. What would you recommend I look for in this design if I decide to go look at it?

You have raised several troubling issues. Will it be eligible for an amateur-built certificate? Only if the records exist to prove that the reason it was built was for someone's own education and recreation. Before buying such a project, it would be a good idea to talk to your local FAA office who will be issuing the airworthiness certificate. Who is going to sign the notarized statement that the aircraft was built for someone's own education and recreation? You? The former partners? Talk to the FAA before getting in too deep. Second issue you ask is the pluses or minus of a particular design. The best source for this info is a model specific builders group, or the EAA. Information Services at the EAA has great records of the history of accidents or incidents for nearly all models. Check with them.

 The other issue you raise, liability, is a growing question I receive. I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on T.V. Liability is something only your lawyer can advise you on. Recently AVWEB did an excellent piece on liability of home builders. I have provided a reprint of the AVWEB article on liability here. Please take the time to read it and understand that no written waiver is going to compeltely protect you from the buyer's widow's claim. On the other hand, to my knowledge, there has not yet been a successful case litigated where a builder has been found liable for a crash. Chances are eventually it will happen, but so far, some people have had to expend large sums defending themselves in such cases, but no jury has yet awarded claims that I know of.

23. Do Airworthiness Directives apply to Experimental Aircraft?

Yes!. In general, the FAA only issues Airworthiness Directives (AD's) when an unsafe condition is found, and is likely to occur in other aircraft, engines, propellers or appliances of the same type. For a more complete read of the information, visit my Airworthiness Directives page which explains the impact of AD's on Experimantal Aircraft and why you have to comply.

24. I am ready to put a different prop on my homebuilt. Do I have to do anything other than a logbook entry?

Yes. Look at your aircraft operating limitations. Usually (always) there is a line in there that says something to the affect of &quote This aircraft may not be flown after incorporating a major change as defined by 14 CFR part 21.93, unless you notify the FAA, and their response is received in writing. ". (Cover language) This language means if you make ANY changes that could affect qualities of airworthiness of your aircraft, you must contact the FAA. Usually it may mean a quick inspection by an FAA inspector, or could require additional test flight hours. Rarely would the additional hours be more than 5 or 10, but it is up to the FAA Inspector to decide if you need to put it back into some kind of test flight program after a major change.

I once certificated a land based airplane, and read the guy the limitations as such. Later that year he put it on floats, and did not contact the FAA before flying. Guess what. He crashed, and was cited for flying in violation of his operating limitations. Turns out he forgot to do a new weight and balance, and was outside his box. Such a change, just like changing anything on a certified aircraft, must be done carefully, and reviewed by the FAA prior to flying.


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