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Stumped trying to decipher an FAA reg? Need help with a technical project? Drop an e-mail to Experimenter@eaa.org, and help will be on its way.

Q. I am building a Dominator gyrocopter. It is nearly complete. Parts are getting painted. It will be certified experimental amateur-built. Do I need to install a shoulder harness in addition to a seat belt?

A. Since you are building an experimental amateur-built aircraft, you are not required to install a shoulder harness; however, it is a good idea to do so. The added protection is well worth the added cost, weight, and time to install it.

Q. Can an experimental aircraft be used to give rides to raffle ticket winners? The raffle is sponsored by a charitable service club, and the airplane and all operating expenses are donated to the service club. The pilot/owner gets no compensation or tax write-off.

A. Unfortunately, an experimental aircraft cannot give rides for the benefit of a charitable service club event. The FAR requirements are found in FAR 91.146, and the applicable subpart is copied here:

§ 91.146
Passenger-carrying flights for the benefit of a charitable, nonprofit, or community event.

(b) Passenger-carrying flights for the benefit of a charitable, nonprofit, or community event identified in paragraph (c) of this section are not subject to the certification requirements of part 119 or the drug and alcohol testing requirements in part 120 of this chapter, provided the following conditions are satisfied and the limitations in paragraphs (c) and (d) are not exceeded:

(5) Each airplane or helicopter holds a standard airworthiness certificate, is airworthy, and is operated in compliance with the applicable requirements of subpart E of this part;

You are probably wondering how flying your experimental aircraft is not eligible for a particular charity event but can be used to fly children participating in the EAA Young Eagles program. Several years ago the FAA revised the rule governing commercial air tours and charitable, nonprofit, and community events. The FAA sent this letter to EAA explaining how the Young Eagles program is exempt from these rules.

Q. Is it legal for a non-CFI to charge for giving a demo ride in an experimental amateur-built? Even if the aircraft doesn't belong to him or the person being charged?

A. It is not legal to charge for the use of an experimental amateur-built aircraft for any reason, regardless of ownership. The prohibition can be found in the operating limitations document that is carried on board the aircraft at all times.

Education and recreation are the only purposes allowed for operation of the aircraft, and it will state this in the first paragraph.

There is only one exception - if the owner applies to the FAA and is granted a LODA (Letter of Deviation Authority) which would allow transition training only.

And although one might be inclined to believe that expenses can be "shared" this is not the case. Operating limitations usually prohibit "compensation," which by strict definition "sharing expenses" would compensate the pilot.

Q. I’m planning to build an aircraft that could be licensed with a gross weight of 1,550 pounds or 1,320 pounds. If I originally certificate the plane with a gross weight of 1,550, could the plane be recertificated at 1,320 to meet the light-sport aircraft (LSA) definition at some point in the future?

A. Unfortunately the answer to your question is no. The definition of an LSA, as found in FAR 1.1, specifically requires that the airplane be originally certificated and continuously operated within the LSA definition in order to be eligible for operation by sport pilots. If you want the airplane to be sport pilot eligible at any point in the future, you need to certificate it within the LSA definition right from the start, and it must be operated within the LSA definition throughout its entire lifetime.

Q. I’ve heard different opinions on whether or not it’s legal to give or receive flight instruction in an experimental aircraft. What’s the story?
A. There’s no restriction or prohibition on giving or receiving flight instruction in an experimental aircraft, so long as no fee is charged (total or partial) for the use of the aircraft. The FAA considers paying for the use of the aircraft to be a violation of FAR 91.319(a)(2), which prohibits carriage of persons or property for compensation or hire. The student/applicant is allowed to pay the instructor a reasonable fee for the instruction, but no fee can be charged for the use of the aircraft itself.

There is a limited opportunity for experimental aircraft to be used for hire for transition training. Experimental aircraft owners who wish to offer their aircraft for type-specific transition training may apply to the local FAA Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) for a Letter of Deviation Authority (LODA).  This LODA allows the owner to charge for the use of the aircraft when it is used for type-specific transition training. No training for certificates, ratings, or endorsements is allowed under the LODA. The pilot receiving the training must already be fully certificated and endorsed for the type of aircraft in question.

Q. I’m looking at two already-flying homebuilts that are for sale, and I want to make sure that if I purchase one it will meet the light-sport aircraft (LSA) requirements. One has a gross weight of 1,500 pounds, so as it stands it doesn’t meet the LSA definition. But I thought I read that the gross weight of a homebuilt could be changed, despite it being a major modification. So could I change the gross weight of this aircraft to 1,320 pounds and make it meet the LSA definition?

A. It’s easy to be misled by the question of changing the gross weight of an experimental aircraft. That question on its face has no relation to the requirements for a sport pilot and a light-sport aircraft. The answer to the question of whether the gross weight on an experimental aircraft can be changed is yes. However, in your case you’re actually asking a second question, which is, can such a change qualify the aircraft for operation by sport pilots? The answer to that question is, unfortunately, no.

The definition of an LSA, as called out in FAR 1.1,requires that the aircraft meet the definition at the time of its original certification and continuously thereafter. In other words, the aircraft must always have met the LSA definition throughout its entire lifetime in order to be eligible for operation by sport pilots. An aircraft such as you suggest does not fit this criteria. Since the aircraft you describe either wasn’t originally certificated within the LSA definition or has been changed so as to fall outside the definition, it can’t be made eligible for operation by sport pilots regardless of what changes are made going forward.

So, if you’re looking for an aircraft that meets the LSA definition allowing you to fly it as a sport pilot, don’t consider any aircraft that has, or has ever had, a gross weight over 1,320 pounds. Also make sure the aircraft has never had an in-flight-adjustable propeller, more than two seats, a clean stall speed over 45 knots, or any other parameter that falls outside the LSA definition. Any operation of an aircraft, even for one flight, that falls outside the LSA definition makes that aircraft forever ineligible for operation by sport pilots.

Q. I just read an article regarding factory-builtspecial light-sport aircraft (S-LSA). The article mentioned that S-LSA can be converted to experimental light-sport aircraft (E-LSA). Is this true?

A. Yes, there is a provision in the regulation that allows the owner of an S-LSA to convert the aircraft to E-LSA. Specifically, 14 CFR 21.191(i)(3) states that an experimental airworthiness certificate may be issued to an aircraft that “has been previously issued a special airworthiness certificate in the light-sport category under §21.190.”

There are a couple of reasons why an owner may wish to do this. First, converting the aircraft to E-LSA would allow the aircraft to be modified without coordination with the manufacturer (as long as the modification doesn’t change the aircraft so that it no longer meets the definition of a light-sport aircraft (LSA). If the owner wishes to install different avionics or maybe a different propeller, he could do this on the E-LSA without any interaction with the aircraft’s manufacturer. Also, conversion to E-LSA would allow the owner to gain an LSA repairman certificate with inspection rating, which would authorize him to perform the condition inspection each year.

The aircraft could no longer be used for hire for flight training and rental, but it would no longer require the person performing general maintenance or repair to hold any FAA certificate. (Only the condition inspection would require the repairman certificate.)

Q. I am interested in building an E-LSA kit aircraft. Does the FAA publish a list of kits that can be certificated as E-LSA?

A. At the present time the answer to your question is no. While the FAA publishes a list of kits it has evaluated and found eligible for amateur-built certification, it does not publish a similar list for E-LSA kits. I am not aware of any such list published from any source.

You may want to consult EAA's list of S-LSA and see if any of these manufacturers are selling E-LSA kits. You can find the S-LSA list at this Web page.

Q. I’m thinking of purchasing an already flying homebuilt, and I was wondering what kind of restrictions are placed on experimental aircraft. I’ve been reading FAA regulations, specifically § 91.319, which spells out operating limitations for aircraft with experimental certificates. That regulation seems awfully restrictive, yet I see homebuilts flying all over the place, even using instrument flight rules (IFR). What’s the deal?

A. Yes, § 91.319 is quite restrictive on the face of it, but there’s more to the story. Section (c) of the regulation holds the key in its first sentence: “Unless otherwise authorized by the Administrator in special operating limitations…”

When an experimental airworthiness certificate is issued to a homebuilt aircraft, it comes with a set of operating limitations. These limitations expand the aircraft’s operational capability beyond what is stated in § 91.319. The operating limitations will spell out several things specific to that aircraft, such as where the initial flight testing must be done and for how long, whether the aircraft is allowed to perform aerobatics or not, whether the aircraft is allowed to be operated at night or under IFR, etc.

When you’re shopping for your homebuilt, it’s important to check the operating limitations that have been issued to the aircraft you may be considering in order to make sure the aircraft is authorized to perform the type of flying you wish to conduct. The operating limitations are a part of the airworthiness certificate and must be carried in the aircraft at all times, so it shouldn’t be hard for the seller to find them and show them to you. Operating limitations are a part of the aircraft’s permanent file at FAA; if the seller finds that they’ve been lost, he can have them replaced by calling the FAA Aircraft Registration Branch in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. It’s a toll-free call: 866-762-9434.

If the aircraft you’re considering was certificated some time ago, it may have a more restrictive set of operating limitations as compared to those that are issued today. If that’s the case, you can apply to the FAA to have the operating limitations updated to the more current format. For example, if the operating limitations don’t allow flight at night or under IFR, but you would like to operate the aircraft at night and/or under IFR and it can be equipped for those operations, you can apply for new operating limitations that will allow night or IFR flight. Just be aware that you must follow the operating limitations that have been issued to that particular aircraft regardless of when they were issued. They don’t automatically update to the most current version.

Q. I own a homebuilt airplane that I didn’t build. A friend who is an airframe and powerplant (A&P) mechanic is performing the condition inspection for me, and he asked for the equipment list. I told him that I’m not required to have one. He thinks I’m supposed to have an equipment list, though. Who is correct?

A. There’s no regulatory requirement for an equipment list on an experimental aircraft. In fact, there’s no requirement for a flight manual or any other document other than the FAA-issued operating limitations. The FAA (and the EAA) recommends that builders/owners of experimental aircraft develop flight manuals and equipment lists for their aircraft as a “best practice,” but they aren’t required documents.

The condition inspection is just that – an inspection of the physical condition of the aircraft. There’s no document or standard to compare the aircraft to other than its physical condition. The only document that directly applies is the operating limitations, which is where the requirement for the inspection is found and also where the correct sign-off for the inspection is found as well. Don’t let the A&P/inspection authority sign the inspection off as an “annual,” because it doesn’t meet that requirement called out in the operating limitations. Make sure he refers to the operating limitations for the proper entry in the aircraft records.

Q. I have seen some vintage airplanes that have a “jump seat” installed in the baggage compartment that’s capable of handling small children. I have a homebuilt that would be perfect for such an installation, but I fly as a sport pilot. Would installing a jump seat in the baggage compartment make my airplane ineligible for sport pilot operations?

A. You didn’t say for sure, but I’m guessing that your homebuilt is a two-seat aircraft. If this is the case, installing a “third seat” in the baggage compartment would make the aircraft forever ineligible for operation by sport pilots. This is because the LSA definition specifically calls out a maximum seating capacity of two seats, including the pilot’s seat. Any aircraft that has a third seat installed, even temporarily, would fall outside the LSA definition. Since the definition specifically requires that the aircraft fall within the definition continuously after its original certification, any installation of a third seat would disqualify the aircraft forever.

Q. I am just beginning to train for my private pilot certificate, with the long-range plan of building and flying my own homebuilt someday.  The local flight school has an SLSA that rents for less than their other training aircraft, and it handles more like a homebuilt to boot.  Can I take private pilot training in the SLSA?

A. There is nothing in the regulations that would prevent you from receiving training toward a private pilot certificate in the SLSA.  However, in order to be able to take all your training in the SLSA it would have to be equipped to perform all the tasks required by the private pilot practical test standards.  For example, it would have to be equipped for flight solely by reference to instruments, and for night flight as well unless you want your private certificate to carry a prohibition against flying at night.

There’s also the issue of what limitations the manufacturer of the SLSA may have placed on the operation of the aircraft.  For example, some SLSA operating handbooks specifically prohibit the aircraft from being flown at night, so if you don’t want a restricted private pilot certificate this would be an issue.  You will need to make sure the SLSA your flight school has is not limited in any way that would prohibit you from performing all the tasks required for a private pilot certificate.  If there are limitations on the aircraft, you might have to do a portion of your training in a different aircraft that is not restricted from the tasks you are trying to complete.

One more thing to consider is your flight instructor.  If you are training toward a private pilot certificate, you will not be able to take training from an instructor who holds only a sport pilot instructor certificate.  You’ll need to take your training from a “traditional” flight instructor who is certificated under subpart H of 14 CFR Part 61.

Q. I’m considering the purchase of a homebuilt aircraft in another state. What things should I be looking at and thinking about in making this purchase?

A. Purchasing a homebuilt isn’t a lot different from purchasing any other aircraft, but there are a few key things you need to check for:

  1. Make sure the aircraft has a valid airworthiness certificate. This will be a small document, pink in color, that is displayed in the aircraft’s cockpit or cabin. It will say “Special Airworthiness Certificate” at the top, then should say “Experimental” on the first typed line. The aircraft should be properly identified by builder, model, and serial number. (This info should match the metal data plate mounted on the aircraft.) Also, make sure the airworthiness certificate doesn’t show an expiration date. There will be a box on the certificate titled “Expiry.” It should say “Unlimited” or “None” in that box. If it has a date, you should find out why, as it is very unusual to have an expiration date on an amateur-built airworthiness certificate.
  2. Make sure there’s a document in the aircraft called the “operating limitations.” The operating limitations call out such things as the initial flight test period duration and location, whether or not the aircraft is approved for aerobatics, whether or not the aircraft is approved for night flight, when it needs to be inspected and by whom, etc. This document is very important as it is considered to be a part of the airworthiness certificate. The operating limitations must be carried in the aircraft at all times. If they aren’t in the aircraft, make sure the seller has them, and put them in the aircraft before flying it. If the operating limitations are lost, you can get a replacement set from the FAA Aircraft Registration Branch.
  3. Look in the aircraft records and make sure that the initial flight test period has been properly logged and completed. Info on what needs to be written in the aircraft records in order to close out the flight test period can be found in the operating limitations. You don’t want to purchase an aircraft that has incomplete flight testing, as the aircraft can’t be flown outside a restricted area and can’t carry passengers. If you do decide to purchase an aircraft that is still in its initial flight test period, you need to take special steps with the FAA in order to relocate the aircraft.

    Also while looking in the aircraft records, make sure there has been a condition inspection performed within the preceding 12 calendar months. The operating limitations will require that the aircraft be inspected within the preceding 12 calendar months in order to be legally flown.
  4. While not specifically required, it’s nice to get all the construction records from the builder if available. Some builders don’t want to let go of them, either for sentimental or perceived liability exposure purposes, but you might find them useful later on when performing maintenance on the aircraft. So if you can get the construction records, it’s a bit of a bonus.

For info on insurance, you should contact our EAA Aircraft Insurance Plan at 866-647-4322. The folks at that number can answer any insurance questions you may have.

You’ll need to get from the seller a completed and signed Aircraft Bill of Sale (FAA Form 8050-2). I’ve attached a blank form for your use. Make at least two copies and have the seller complete and sign both. You need to send an original signature to the FAA for registration purposes, and you’ll want to have a copy for yourself as well.

You’ll also need an FAA Aircraft Registration Application (FAA Form 8050-1). This form can’t be duplicated or downloaded, so you’ll need to get an original form. (It’s a three-part carbon copy form.) Many local fixed base operators keep some of these on hand, but if you can’t find one at the local airport you can call your area FAA Flight Standards District Office and get a copy. Or you can contact the FAA Aircraft Registration Branch and have them send you a form. You’ll fill out this form and forward it to the aircraft registration branch along with a signed bill of sale and a $5 fee in order to register the aircraft. The pink copy of the registration application is your temporary registration certificate and can be used when operating the aircraft until the new registration certificate (FAA Form 8050-3) arrives.

That should get you going from the standpoint of paperwork and insurance. Beyond that, as with every aircraft purchase, you should make sure you have a knowledgeable EAA Technical Counselor or A&P mechanic look over the aircraft before you purchase it. Another set of eyes on your side of the purchase process is always a good thing.

Q. I recently purchased a flying homebuilt. Looking at the paperwork, I see that I only have copies of the airworthiness certificate and operating limitations. Am I legal?

A. It’s not legal to fly the aircraft if you only have a copy of the airworthiness certificate. You must have an original FAA Form 8130-7, Special Airworthiness Certificate, in the aircraft. You will need to contact your local FAA Flight Standards District Office or designated airworthiness representative and get a replacement.

A copy of the operating limitations may be carried. The operating limitations aren’t on an official FAA form but rather are printed on regular paper. (The first page will be on FAA letterhead.)

The airworthiness certificate must be displayed in the aircraft in full view of the passengers or crew, and the operating limitations must be carried in the aircraft and available to the pilot in command in order to legally operate the aircraft.

Q. I’m getting ready for my homebuilt’s airworthiness inspection, and I need to install the aircraft’s identification plate. Where should I put it?

A. The answer to your question is found in Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 45, specifically §45.11, which states in part:

Except as provided in paragraphs (c), (d), and (e) of this section, the aircraft identification plate must be secured to the aircraft fuselage exterior so that it is legible to a person on the ground, and must be either adjacent to and aft of the rear-most entrance door or on the fuselage surface near the tail surfaces.

Most builders choose the area of the tail for the location of their data plate. Most often you’ll see it under the horizontal stabilizer on the left side of the fuselage. The right side is acceptable as well if that works out better on your particular aircraft. I’ve even seen some on the top or bottom of the fuselage! Not too many builders opt to locate the data plate just aft of the rear-most entry door, but that location would be acceptable as well. Note that the regulation requires the data plate to be on the exterior of the fuselage. Don’t put it inside the cabin or even inside an open cockpit. It must be on the exterior.

§45.11 also contains the following requirement:

The identification plate for aircraft must be secured in such a manner that it will not likely be defaced or removed during normal service, or lost or destroyed in an accident.

This means that the data plate can’t be located on a removable inspection or access cover. It should be on the fuselage itself.

That covers most aircraft, but what about powered parachutes, trikes, or balloons? This is where paragraphs (c), (d), and (e) come into play. §45.11(c) addresses balloons:

For manned free balloons, the identification plate prescribed in paragraph (a) of this section must be secured to the balloon envelope and must be located, if practicable, where it is legible to the operator when the balloon is inflated.

You’ll note that the FAA considers the balloon envelope to be the “aircraft,” not the basket or burner. This means that the N number will also go on the envelope, not the basket.

Paragraph (d) deals with aircraft that were built before March 7, 1988. These aircraft can have the data plate inside the aircraft instead of on the outside, but if it is inside, the aircraft model and serial number must be marked on the outside in a location that would be acceptable for the data plate. This paragraph won’t affect a newly constructed homebuilt, but it may come into play for a homebuilt that was originally certificated prior to March 7, 1988.

Paragraph (e) of §45.11 deals with powered parachutes and trikes (officially called “weight-shift control aircraft”):

For powered parachutes and weight-shift-control aircraft, the identification plate prescribed in paragraph (a) of this section must be secured to the aircraft fuselage exterior so that it is legible to a person on the ground.

Note that there is no specific location called out. It is only required that the data plate be on the exterior of the fuselage. The best location will be determined on an individual basis depending on the structure of the aircraft.

Read Joe’s recent column about data plates from the January 2010 edition of Experimenter

Q. There has been a lot of discussion regarding the need to replace your paper pilot certificate with a plastic one by March 31, 2010. What about my repairman certificate? Do I need to replace it as well?

A. Ultimately you will have to replace your paper mechanic and repairman certificates with the new plastic versions, but you have a bit more time. 14 CFR 65.15(d) spells out the requirement:

“(d) Except for temporary certificates issued under §65.13, the holder of a paper certificate issued under this part may not exercise the privileges of that certificate after March 31, 2013.”

You’ll need to replace your amateur-built or light-sport aircraft repairman certificate (and your mechanic, dispatcher, air traffic controller, and/or parachute rigger certificates if you hold them) by March 31, 2013. The process for replacing these certificates is exactly the same as for your pilot certificate. Information can be found at the FAA Airmen Certification web pages. You can request replacements for all your certificates simultaneously, so if you haven’t already replaced your pilot certificate, you can take care of replacing your repairman or mechanic certificates at the same time.

Q. I am considering homebuilt aircraft with an eye toward building or buying something that meets the light-sport aircraft (LSA) definition so that I can fly it as a sport pilot. How do I know if the aircraft I’m looking at will qualify?

A. This is actually a complicated question. Homebuilt aircraft are so individualized that no two examples of the same design are the same, and in many cases one particular aircraft may meet the LSA definition while another seemingly identical example won’t. This being the case, a person planning to buy an already-flying homebuilt needs to be very familiar with the LSA definition and very diligent in studying the aircraft records to make sure the prospective purchase indeed meets the requirements.

If you’re going to build a homebuilt, you have some options. Some homebuilts obviously meet the LSA definition, and others obviously don’t. But there are quite a number that are close and could be built to meet the requirements if the builder so chooses. For example, the Kitfox Series 7 can be built with a gross weight of up to 1,550 pounds, which would make it ineligible for sport pilot operations. But the builder has the choice to limit the maximum gross weight to 1,320 pounds in order to make the aircraft qualify for sport pilot operations. There are many other aircraft that are in a similar situation where one builder may choose to meet the LSA definition while another may not. This is the beauty of homebuilding!

One thing that can’t be done is to modify an aircraft that doesn’t meet the LSA definition to make it eligible for sport pilot operations. The definition of an LSA as defined in 14 CFR 1.1 specifically states that the aircraft must meet the definition at the time of its original certification and continuously thereafter. If an aircraft doesn’t meet the definition, or has ever been operated outside the definition, it can’t be made eligible regardless of how it’s modified. If you’re looking to buy or build an aircraft for sport pilot operations, make sure it meets and has always met the requirements of the definition. Check the logs closely to see if, for example, there was ever a time when the plane was flown with a cockpit controllable prop, If it has, it’s inelegable to be flown by a light-sport pilot.

For a listing of homebuilt aircraft that may possibly meet the LSA definition, visit this page or visit the EAA Sport Pilot website and look under the “Aircraft” tab.

Q. What documents are required to be carried onboard my amateur-built aircraft?

A. Many pilots use the mnemonic ARROW to remember what documents need to be carried aboard their aircraft. This works for all aircraft, regardless of what type of airworthiness certificate it carries.
Here’s what ARROW stands for, with pertinent regulations quoted. (See notes specific to amateur-built aircraft at the end):

Airworthiness Certificate: This is required by 14 C.F.R. § 91.203, which states in part:

"(a) Except as provided in § 91.715, no person may operate a civil aircraft unless it has within it the following:

(1) An appropriate and current airworthiness certificate. Each U.S. airworthiness certificate used to comply with this subparagraph…must have on it the registration number assigned to the aircraft under part 47 of this chapter…"

Note that the airworthiness certificate be displayed in the aircraft, as required by § 91.203(b):

”(b) No person may operate a civil aircraft unless the airworthiness certificate required by paragraph (a) of this section or a special flight authorization issued under § 91.715 is displayed at the cabin or cockpit entrance so that it is legible to passengers or crew.”

Registration: This is also required by 14 C.F.R. § 91.203, which follows the above with:

"(2) An effective U.S. registration certificate issued to its owner or, for operation within the United States, the second duplicate copy (pink) of the Aircraft Registration Application as provided for in § 47.31(b), or a registration certificate issued under the laws of a foreign country."

Radio Station License: This is no longer required for domestic operations or in Canada. However it is required for international operations outside of the U.S. and Canada. Historically, a radio station license has been not been an FAA requirement, but rather a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requirement. 47 C.F.R. § 87.18 (FCC regulations), which spells this out.

Operating Limitations: The requirement for operating limitations is found in 14 C.F.R. § 91.9, which states in part:

"(a) Except as provided in paragraph (d) of this section, no person may operate a civil aircraft without complying with the operating limitations specified in the approved Airplane or Rotorcraft Flight Manual, markings, and placards, or as otherwise prescribed by the certificating authority of the country of registry.

(b) No person may operate a U.S.-registered civil aircraft --

(1) For which an Airplane or Rotorcraft Flight Manual is required by § 21.5 of this chapter unless there is available in the aircraft a current, approved Airplane or Rotorcraft Flight Manual or the manual provided for in § 121.141(b); and

(2) For which an Airplane or Rotorcraft Flight Manual is not required by § 21.5 of this chapter, unless there is available in the aircraft a current approved Airplane or Rotorcraft Flight Manual, approved manual material, markings, and placards, or any combination thereof."

There are also specific requirements spelled out in the aircraft's type certificate (TC) regarding required markings, placards, and flight manuals. Note that any combination of approved flight manual, required markings and placards, and any other requirements of the type certificate constitute "operating limitations" for the purpose of this discussion.

Weight and Balance: When the weight and balance data is included in an FAA approved flight manual or pilot operating handbook (POH), then the requirement to carry it in the aircraft is included in the above requirements of 14 C.F.R. § 91.9. For aircraft that do not have an FAA approved flight manual or POH, the requirement for carrying weight and balance documentation on the aircraft is found in the aircraft's TC itself.

There may be some instances, primarily with older vintage aircraft, where there is neither an approved flight manual or POH, and also no TC requirement for carrying current weight and balance data on the aircraft. In these cases, you would not be directly required by certification or regulation to carry weight and balance info. However, the pilot in command (PIC) is required by 14 C.F.R. § 91.103 to become familiar, before each flight, with all information relating to the flight. It can be argued that, without current weight and balance info onboard, it is impossible for the PIC to meet the requirements of § 91.103. The EAA therefore recommends that current weight and balance info should always be carried aboard the aircraft.

The ARROW requirements vary somewhat for non-TC aircraft, such as those certificated as experimental/amateur-built (homebuilts). One of the main differences is in regard to operating limitations. Experimental aircraft are issued a set of operating limitations, which define the parameters within which the aircraft must be operated. These operating limitations are issued as a part of the airworthiness certificate, and as such they must be carried in the aircraft under the requirements of § 91.203 (the "A" in ARROW rather than the "O"). However, the operating limitations document will in turn require that the aircraft carry placards and markings as required by § 91.9 (the "O" in ARROW).

On the issue of weight and balance, the same situation applies to experimental aircraft as has previously been discussed regarding older TC aircraft. There is no FAA approved flight manual or POH for experimental aircraft, nor is there a TC, so there is no regulatory requirement for carrying weight and balance info in the aircraft. However, the pilot must comply with § 91.103, so the EAA recommends that current weight and balance info always be carried in the aircraft.

Questions About Replicas

Q: In a previous Q&A you talked about special rules for marking the N number on certain homebuilts. I have a few follow-up questions. First, you mentioned that a homebuilt aircraft that is at least 30 years old, or a replica of an aircraft that is at least 30 years old, can use 2 inch N numbers and can use “NX” instead of just “N.” Is the 30-year time frame a rolling one, or is it 30 years from a particular date?

A: The 30 years is a rolling target. This year an aircraft built in 1979 or earlier would be eligible to display the 2-inch N numbers. Next year, aircraft built in 1980 or before will be eligible, and so on.

Q: How does the FAA define “replica”? Does the aircraft have to be identical in every detail, or just have to basically look like the aircraft being replicated?

A: The FAA considers a replica to be an aircraft that has the “same external configuration.” So it must have the same look as the original, including same length, span, etc. (Scaled-down replicas do not count.) But it does not have to be an exact part-for-part replica in structure or equipment. There would be no problem with updated controls, different horsepower, etc. So long as it has the “same external configuration” your aircraft will qualify as a replica.

Q: Are there any restrictions as far as the old 1930s-style large N numbers on the top and bottom of the wings on a replica from that time period?

A: Wing numbers are no problem. They are not addressed in the current regulations at all, so they don’t “count” toward the display of the N number. In other words, you still need the number on the tail or fuselage in order to be legal. But you are perfectly welcome to display the big numbers on the wings if you want.

Q: I am building a homebuilt that when completed will meet the definition of a light-sport aircraft. Some of my fellow EAA chapter members have suggested that I may want to register and certificate the aircraft as an experimental light-sport aircraft (E-LSA) instead of experimental amateur-built. Can I do this? And if so, what would be the benefit?

A: At this time there is no regulation that would allow you to certificate your aircraft as E-LSA. Under current regulations the only aircraft that are eligible for certification as E-LSA are specific kits offered by manufacturers that have certificated at least one aircraft in the light-sport aircraft category (commonly referred to as “special LSA” or “S-LSA”). Manufacturers are allowed to market kits based on their S-LSA prototypes for certification as E-LSA. The only other way to certificate an E-LSA today is to convert an aircraft that was originally certificated as S-LSA.

During the period when the FAA was allowing two-seat ultralight trainers and other “fat ultralights” to be converted to E-LSA, the regulation actually was broad enough to allow any aircraft that had not been previously certificated to be brought into the E-LSA category, so some builders of LSA-compliant aircraft (such as the Sonex and some Zenith 601 models) decided to certificate their aircraft as E-LSA rather than amateur-built. They did this thinking that it would be a selling point down the road because future owners would be eligible for a repairman certificate for the aircraft under the LSA repairman regulations.

Unfortunately this opportunity ended on January 31, 2008, when the “grandfather” period for ultralight trainers closed. There is a limited opportunity for aircraft that had been registered as E-LSA before that date to be inspected and certificated through January 31, 2010, by using an EAA exemption. But since your aircraft was not registered as E-LSA before the January 2008 deadline you are not able to certificate it as E-LSA. You’ll have to certificate it as amateur-built.

Remember that a sport pilot is allowed to fly any aircraft that meets the LSA definition, regardless of what type of airworthiness certificate it holds, so you’ll still be able to fly your aircraft under sport pilot rules even though it’s certificated as amateur-built. The only difference is that a future owner of your aircraft will not be eligible for a repairman certificate authorizing him or her to perform the condition inspection each year. You, as the original primary builder of the aircraft, are the only person eligible for the repairman certificate for your amateur-built aircraft.

Q: I’ve seen some homebuilts with N numbers that start with “NX” and some vintage aircraft with N numbers that start with “NC.” How does one go about getting an NX or NC number?

A: Actually, you will not receive a number starting with “NX” or “NC” from the FAA. Aircraft registration numbers in the United States all start with “N,” which is the letter designating a U.S. registration. The aircraft registration certificate, airworthiness certificate, and all other paperwork will indicate that the aircraft’s registration number is “N****.” However, some aircraft are allowed by the regulations to display “NX” or “NC” (or other certification designators) when marking the registration number on the aircraft.

Part 45 of the regulations covers aircraft identification and registration marking. In this case, the applicable regulation is § 45.22, titled “Exhibition, antique, and other aircraft: Special rules.” Section (b) of this regulation allows an airplane that is at least 30 years old or a full-size replica of an airplane at least 30 years old to use numbers at least 2 inches in height. (Normally the minimum height would be 3 inches on most experimental aircraft and 12 inches for a new production aircraft.)

Section (b)(1)(ii) of § 45.22 allows “the symbol appropriate to the airworthiness certificate of the aircraft (“C”, standard; “R”, restricted; “L”, limited; or “X”, experimental) followed by the U.S. registration number of the aircraft.” The appropriate symbol for an amateur-built aircraft is “X” because it holds an experimental airworthiness certificate, and a vintage aircraft would use “C” because it holds a standard (or “civil” in the vintage vernacular) airworthiness certificate.

Thus, due to the allowances of § 45.22, a homebuilt aircraft of a design that is more than 30 years old, or a civil aircraft that is itself more than 30 years old, is allowed to display the “X” or “C” as a part of the registration mark (e.g., “NX*****”) rather than just showing the “N” followed by the number.

An added benefit of this regulation for homebuilts (and other aircraft with special airworthiness certificates) can be found in § 45.23(b), which states:
“When marks include only the Roman capital letter “N” and the registration number is displayed on limited, restricted or light-sport category aircraft or experimental or provisionally certificated aircraft, the operator must also display on that aircraft near each entrance to the cabin, cockpit, or pilot station, in letters not less than 2 inches nor more than 6 inches high, the words “limited,” “restricted,” “light-sport,” “experimental,” or “provisional,” as applicable.”

This regulation requires the “EXPERIMENTAL” placard to be placed on the side of most homebuilt and other experimental aircraft. But note that the regulation says that this is required when the aircraft displays only the N in the registration mark. So experimental aircraft that are allowed by § 45.22 to display the “NX” registration mark do not have to display “EXPERIMENTAL” when they use “NX” in the registration mark. If they only use “N” to display the registration mark, they must display the “EXPERIMENTAL” placard as well.

Q. I’ve seen some amateur-built aircraft with very detailed maintenance records, and some that are much less complete. Aren’t there regulations that govern recording of aircraft maintenance? What is required to be in the aircraft logs?

A. The regulations regarding aircraft maintenance and the recording of same are found in FAR Part 43. However, the first section of Part 43 talks about the applicability of the part. Taking a look at Part 43.1(b) we find the following verbiage:

This part does not apply to any aircraft for which the FAA has issued an experimental certificate, unless the FAA has previously issued a different kind of airworthiness certificate for that aircraft.

An amateur-built aircraft receives an experimental airworthiness certificate at the very beginning, so this section tells us that the regulations found in Part 43 do not apply. That being the case, none of the record-keeping requirements of Part 43 are applicable. The only entries that are strictly required are those found in the aircraft’s operating limitations, issued by the FAA as a part of its airworthiness certificate. Mainly this would be condition inspections each year and the flight test sign-off, along with transponder tests (if a transponder is installed) and pitot/static tests if the aircraft is to be flown under instrument flight rules. There is no strict guidance on what to put (or what not to put) in an amateur-built aircraft logbook other than what is required by the aircraft’s operating limitations.

At the time of the airworthiness inspection by the FAA, the owner of the aircraft, whether or not he/she is the builder, will be required to record that a condition inspection has been completed on the aircraft prior to the FAA inspection. This initial condition inspection is recorded using the same language as later condition inspections, as follows:

I certify that this aircraft has been inspected on [insert date] in accordance with the scope and detail of Appendix D to Part 43, and was found to be in a condition for safe operation. [signature], Owner

The FAA also likes to see at least one hour of ground testing recorded in the aircraft records. This is not a strict regulatory requirement, but is very common among airworthiness inspectors.

The other requirement is for the flight testing to be properly recorded. The aircraft’s operating limitations will contain the appropriate language to use for closing out the flight-test period, as shown here:

I certify that the prescribed flight test hours have been completed and the aircraft is controllable throughout its normal range of speeds and throughout all maneuvers to be executed, has no hazardous operating characteristics or design features, and is safe for operation. The following aircraft operating data has been demonstrated during the flight testing: speeds VSO ______, VX ______, and VY ______, and the weight ______ and CG location ______ at which they were obtained. [Aircraft total time], [signature], [type of pilot certificate and certificate number]

Other than this, the annual condition inspections, and documentation of major changes as directed by the aircraft’s operating limitations, there isn’t any regulatory requirement to log anything! Of course EAA recommends a “best practice” of proper logging of all maintenance in accordance with Part 43 even though it’s not strictly required. This not only promotes safety by having a record of what has been done to the aircraft, but also increases the value of the aircraft at the time of sale.

Q. I’m filling out registration papers for the FAA. The “Affidavit of Ownership” asks for the “type of engine installed (reciprocating, turboprop, etc.).” I’m installing a Mazda rotary engine, which is not reciprocating and certainly not turboprop or jet. What is the proper answer? Does the FAA recognize rotary as its own class, or would it be considered “reciprocating” for this purpose, as it seems to be with LSA?

A. The FAA does not recognize rotary (Wankel) engines as a separate type. Rotary engines are lumped in with reciprocating engines for the purpose of certificating amateur-built or light-sport aircraft (LSA). If your aircraft incorporates a rotary engine, choose “reciprocating” on all the FAA forms.

It would probably be more appropriate for the FAA to use the terms “turbine” and “non-turbine” on these forms, since this is the issue it is driving at. The operating limitations for an experimental aircraft that incorporates a turbine powerplant are different than for an aircraft that incorporates a non-turbine engine. If your engine is non-turbine, choose “reciprocating” regardless of whether it’s a piston or a rotary engine.

Q: I see the torque values in 14 CFR 43.13 for tubing fittings. The only way I can see to torque a tubing fitting is to put a crowfoot on the torque wrench. Wouldn’t this offset the center of rotation and give an inaccurate reading? If so, how would you do it?

A. You’re right, you do have to adjust the setting of your torque wrench when you use an adapter such as a crowfoot. To calculate the setting, you need to do a little math. First, measure the length of your torque wrench from the center of the square drive to the center of the handle. Then measure the length of your extension from the center of the torque wrench’s square drive to the center of the point where the nut or fitting will be in the crowfoot or box end. Now we’re ready to do the math.

Here’s the formula: Length of torque wrench multiplied by desired torque, divided by length of wrench plus length of extension, equals torque setting.

Let’s say your torque wrench is 18 inches long from the center of the square drive to the center of the handle. Your extension is 2 inches from the center of the square drive to the center of the wrench head. You’re going to be tightening a -6 fitting on a 3/8 inch aluminum line, so you’re desired torque is 110 to 130 pound inches (we’ll call it 120 pound inches). Multiply the standard length of your wrench by your desired torque, which in this case is 18 times 120, or 2,160. Now add the length of your wrench to the length of your extension, which in this case is 18 plus 2 for a sum of 20. Now simply divide the answer from your first calculation by the answer from your second calculation, in this case 2,160 divided by 20. The answer to this calculation is the setting you’ll use for your torque wrench with the 2-inch extension - 108 pound inches!

Q. I am planning on changing the propeller on my homebuilt airplane. What does the FAA require with respect to forms, notification, and procedures to change props?

A. Changing the propeller on a homebuilt aircraft is considered a “major change” by the FAA (except when the change is a direct replacement of the same make, model, and pitch). To document a major change on a homebuilt, you need to look at the aircraft’s operating limitations. These operating limitations were issued by the FAA as a part of the aircraft’s airworthiness certificate and must be carried in the aircraft at all times.

Find the paragraph in the operating limitations that deals with major changes. This paragraph usually starts out with “After incorporating a major change…” and goes on to describe the procedure you need to follow. This procedure has changed and evolved over time, so you need to check your individual aircraft’s operating limitations. The procedure will probably require contacting your local FAA flight standards district office (FSDO) for approval of the area where you want to test your major change, but there are variations. Some older operating limitations even require that the aircraft be re-certificated, while other operating limitations don’t require contacting the FAA at all! You need to check your particular set of operating limitations and follow the procedure outlined therein.

If you find that you have lost your operating limitations, you’ll need to get a replacement copy. Operating limitations are a part of the aircraft’s permanent record, so you can get a copy from the FAA Aircraft Registration Branch in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. You can call there toll-free at 866-762-9434. Give the N number, builder name, and serial number of your aircraft and the FAA will fax or mail you a copy of the operating limitations.

Q: I hold the repairman certificate for my RV8. I’ve been told that my logbook entries should include a phrase similar to, “I deem this aircraft safe to return to service,” for entries other than the annual condition inspection entry. I was told that it was a legal matter to protect myself should a mishap occur. Having it state that the aircraft “was safe” in the entry, is the issue.

Please clarify. If this is true, what can be done about the earlier entries that don't include this phrase?

A: Actually, the verbiage you're supposed to use to enter your condition inspections into the aircraft records is found right in your aircraft's operating limitations. The entry that's called out in the operating limitations will contain the phrase "condition for safe operation." Check your operating limitations to get the exact and complete entry. Also, remember that your operating limitations are a part of the airworthiness certificate and must be carried in the aircraft at all times. So when you pull them out to check the condition inspection entry, don't forget to put them back in the airplane.

Since every new condition inspection supersedes the previous one, you don't need to go back and change the old entries. Just make the appropriate entry now and go forward from there.

Q: I’m working with flared tubing and AN fittings. How do I properly tighten the AN-818 coupling when connecting a flare connection? I figure I’m currently halfway between finger-tight and stripping the threads (based on thread-stripping experience). Is there any official guidance on this subject?

A: Guidance for this and other related questions can be found in FAA Advisory Circular (AC) 43.13, Acceptable Methods, Techniques, and Practices - Aircraft Inspection and Repair. The current version is AC 43.13-1B. The info on tightening AN-818 fittings can be found in Table 9-2, on page 9-19 of the AC. Here’s the table:

Tube data table

Note that these tightening torques are in pound-inches (sometimes referred to as inch-pounds). There is a “rule of thumb” on these fittings that says to tighten the fitting to finger tight, then one quarter of a turn more, but using the tightening torques as shown on the table is the best method.

If you don’t have a copy of AC 43.13-1B, I strongly suggest you get one. This is truly the bible of aircraft maintenance and repair, and it includes guidance on all manner of aircraft construction and maintenance. Your FAA inspector would be pleased to see that you have a copy on hand when the time comes. It is the best $25 you can spend on your project. You can get your own copy by calling EAA membership services at 800-843-3612. Ask for catalog number F00191.

You can also find the AC online at www.FAA.gov. It’s a very large document presented in 14 separate PDF files. I find it easier to have the printed version right on my bench in the shop.

Q: I’ve just finished building my Pietenpol, which is an experimental amateur-built aircraft that meets the LSA definition. I’m ready to begin the phase-one flight testing. I’m a student pilot working toward my sport pilot certificate and I don’t hold a current medical. Is it legal for me to do the flight testing as a student pilot? Can a student pilot fly an experimental aircraft at all?

A: Let’s take the second part of your question first. There is no regulatory prohibition on a student pilot (sport pilot or otherwise) flying an experimental aircraft. Pilot requirements, privileges, and limitations are found in 14 CFR Part 61, and student pilot privileges and limitations are specifically found in subpart C. There is no specific limitation in that section prohibiting a student pilot from flying an aircraft with an experimental airworthiness certificate.

Now let’s look at the first part of your question regarding a student pilot (sport pilot or otherwise) flying an experimental aircraft during flight testing. Certification requirements for the pilot in command of an experimental aircraft are not found in the FAA regulations themselves but rather in the operating limitations of the individual aircraft. These operating limitations are issued by the FAA as a part of the aircraft’s airworthiness certificate and will vary depending on exactly what type of airworthiness certificate the aircraft holds. For an amateur-built aircraft such as your Pietenpol, the operating limitations will contain the following statement:

“The pilot in command of this aircraft must hold a pilot certificate or an authorized instructor’s logbook endorsement. The pilot in command must meet the requirements of § 61.31(e), (f), (g), (h), (i), and (j) as appropriate.”

Note that the pilot may hold a pilot certificate (which would include sport pilot) or an authorized instructor’s endorsement. This would open the door for a properly endorsed student pilot (including a sport pilot student) to fly the aircraft. The limitation makes no distinction between phase-one flight testing and phase-two normal operations. This limitation is in place for all operations. The limitation does go on to require any appropriate endorsements called out by 14 CFR 61.31(e) though (j). The most common of these endorsements are for tailwheel aircraft, high-performance aircraft, and complex aircraft. The only endorsement applicable to the Pietenpol would be the tailwheel endorsement, so the instructor would have to endorse the student appropriately before allowing him or her to solo a tailwheel aircraft as well as give the standard solo endorsement in order to be in compliance with this operating limitation.

Remember that, if the student seeks to solo an aircraft that does not meet the definition of a light-sport aircraft he/she would also need to hold a 3rd class FAA medical certificate.  This would be the case whether the aircraft holds a standard or special (such as experimental) airworthiness certificate.

The question you did not ask, but one I will answer anyway, is whether it is smart for a student pilot to perform the flight testing on an experimental aircraft. This is the most important question, and the answer is, no, it is not a good idea for a student pilot to perform flight testing on a new amateur-built aircraft.

The purpose of flight testing is to verify the aircraft’s handling characteristics and make sure it does not have any issues that would affect the safety of flight. Flight testing a new aircraft should be left to experienced pilots who are familiar with the normal handling characteristics of the aircraft being tested and are prepared to handle possible emergency situations that might arise. A student pilot does not have the background and experience to identify abnormal handling characteristics and may not be prepared to handle an emergency situation if one should present itself. So while it may be technically legal for a student pilot (sport pilot or otherwise) to fly an aircraft during the initial flight-test period, I strongly discourage this. Find an appropriate test pilot to perform the flight tests on the aircraft, then find a qualified instructor to check you out in the aircraft after it has been tested.

Q. I can’t find information on how much radius is permitted with a 1/8-inch cable for various diameters of pulleys. Do you know where I can look for this info? I want to have a 1/8-inch cable change direction by 90 degrees. How large should the diameter of the pulley be?

A. There seems to be very little specific info available on your question, so it took a bit of digging to find a published reference. But one has been found.

As you mentioned, there was nothing specific in AC 43.13 nor in any other readily available “handbook.” Furthermore, there was no specific mention in CAR 3, CAR 4, or 14 CFR Part 23 for standard category aircraft. The only ready reference I found was in Tony Bingelis’ book The Sportplane Builder. However, I knew Tony had to have received guidance from somewhere, so the search continued.

I finally found a document published in 1974 by the Defense Technical Information Center, a unit of the Department of Defense at Fort Belvoir, Virginia (www.DTIC.mil/dtic). Its studies indicate that a pulley diameter ratio of at least 20-to-1 (that is, the pulley diameter is at least 20 times the diameter of the cable) is desirable to provide maximum cable endurance. This would lead us to determine that the minimum pulley diameter for a 1/8-inch cable would be 2.5 inches.

That said, I have seen instances on many aircraft, including standard category types, where a slight deflection (45 degrees or less) is handled by smaller pulleys. However, for direction changes approaching 90 degrees, I would stick with the 20-to-1 formula. For direction changes approaching 180 degrees, you might consider going to an even larger pulley.

Hope this helps! Let us know if you have further questions.

- Joe Norris
EAA Homebuilding Community Manager

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