Fuzzy Regulations

Experimental and Part 91 type-certificated aircraft and engines.


No doubt you have seen the result of the many homebuilt experimental aircraft that have been produced over the last 10 years. Quite a few have been sold and resold since then. The vast majority are sold to nonbuilders who must seek the advice of an A&P mechanic to re-certify their aircraft once a year.

If you are a technician who is interested in working on these homebuilt aircraft you must be careful to adhere to the basic simple rules regarding the condition inspection.

A recent inquiry from an operator who owns an experimental aircraft brought up an unusual question and problem. He did not build the aircraft. He bought it from the builder. He needed an inspection for this experimental homebuilt J-3 replica and told a shop, which was far from his home base, to go ahead with the work. Although the “inspection” for an experimental is not called an annual inspection, as we know it under Part 43, it is similar, in that it is an annual “condition inspection” and the inspector certifies that it is “safe for flight.” What is safe for flight is of course a very subjective decision.

The problem
In this case however the inspector, who was also performing the work, entered the following notation in the logbook after performing routine maintenance on the aircraft.

“… annual condition inspection incomplete due to improper engine overhaul documentation and airworthiness directive compliance at time of overhaul. (Type certificated engine)“…

The inspector told the owner that since the engine had what appeared to be the factory identification plate installed in the usual location he had to consider this a type certificated engine and not an experimental engine attached to an experimental aircraft. He said further that if he had permission to remove the identification plate this would allow it to be classified as experimental and he could continue with a “condition inspection” on it. But, since he considered it a type certificated engine he must certify it, if at all, under Part 43 rules. Since there were no backup records of AD note compliance or other substantial engine history he refused to complete the condition inspection and sign off the aircraft.

He completed the condition inspection of the aircraft but called the whole inspection “incomplete” as indicated above, because he maintained that he could not complete the inspection of the engine absent an AD note compliance list.

Owner’s dilemma
Wow! Here the owner was stuck because he wanted to fly the aircraft home and could not get the shop owner to sign off the aircraft for flight. He did however pay him his fee and took possession of his aircraft. The inspector was willing to provide a ferry flight endorsement which allowed the owner to obtain a ferry permit and fly the aircraft to another shop to look into the matter further. Does one need a ferry permit to fly an experimental aircraft to another location? Is the ferry permit tantamount to a safe for flight condition endorsement? Talk about a rock and a hard place.

Needless to say there were no records of the engine that went back far enough to capture AD note compliance. There was a statement by the previous overhaul shop however to the effect that this was considered an experimental engine in its description of the work performed during the overhaul. It was approved as overhauled for return to service as an experimental engine. What more could the next inspector rely on? The overhaul record spoke for itself.

What’s reasonable?
It would seem that this statement by the overhaul shop should have satisfied the inspector that the engine was experimental and that all he need do is give it a “condition” inspection and return it to service. He refused to do so. Was this in accord with the regulatory plan?

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