Welcome to the January Experimenter
Tales from the DAR Side
I’m amazed that an entire year has gone by since I wrote my first column for Experimenter, yet here we are celebrating its first anniversary. Putting Experimenter together is fun, but it’s also a significant undertaking. The fact that the newsletter has been so well received by the homebuilder community is both satisfying and invigorating. Our goal is for you to continue to enjoy Experimenter as we go forward, and we hope you’ll spread the word to other homebuilders who may not yet be enjoying the newsletter, EAA members or not.
Many of you have noticed that each issue of Experimenter includes a reader survey, and we now have a year’s worth of feedback from you, our subscribers. The input we receive via these surveys helps us to fine-tune the newsletter to better meet your needs. One such tweak that you’ll notice will be a change in the focus of my column. Many of you have asked for practical advice on how to make sure your project will pass with flying colors when presented to the FAA for its airworthiness inspection. I plan to offer some insight gained from my experiences as an FAA Designated Airworthiness Representative (DAR) so that you can learn from those that have gone before. “Tales From the DAR Side,” if you will!
But before we get to that, I want to follow up on one of the major topics of our last issue (and a major concern to the homebuilder community), the Zenith Zodiac CH 601 XL/CH 650 issue. Since last month’s Experimenter was published, we’ve received significant feedback from our members, and one theme has stayed front and center - people want information. In my column last month I mentioned that EAA had surveyed Zenith owners and had provided the FAA with the results of the survey, but the timing didn’t work out to include the survey results in last month’s issue. The results have now been posted to the EAA website. Check them out here. EAA is also working with the FAA on the release of more information, so keep watching the EAA website for updates.
Okay, enough housecleaning. Let’s get down to business! I’m going to start my “Tales From the DAR Side” by talking about one of the most common problem areas I find on homebuilt aircraft inspections - the aircraft identification plate (often referred to as the “data plate,” which is how I’ll refer to it from this point). It’s amazing how much confusion this tiny little piece of metal can cause!
The main problem we run into with data plates is regarding what information is supposed to be displayed. This is partly caused by the availability of data plates that have room for far more information than what is actually required by the regulations. There are only three items of information required: 1) builder name, 2) aircraft model designation, and 3) aircraft serial number. That’s it! No other information is required or desired. Even if the data plate you purchase has room for more, I suggest you only mark these three items. This way, the data plate will always be correct and will not include any information that’s out of date or no longer applicable.
So, we know what needs to be on there. Or do we? Even when we are down to just these three lines of information, I still see builders making mistakes when marking the data plate. It’s a requirement that all information shown on the data plate must exactly match the info shown on the aircraft registration certificate (FAA Form 8050-3) and the info shown on the application for an airworthiness certificate (FAA Form 8130-6). For example, if the builder includes his or her middle initial in the builder name on the registration certificate, the initial must also be included on the data plate. Don’t put “John R. Doe” on the registration and “John Doe” on the data plate or vice versa.
Same is true with aircraft model designations. This problem seems especially prevalent on Van’s RV series aircraft. Many builders will put “Van’s” as a part of the model name in some places and not in others. For example, the aircraft registration might show “RV-9A” as the model, but the data plate shows “Van’s RV-9A.” Either designation is acceptable; the individual builder has the freedom to choose which format to use. But once the decision is made and the application for aircraft registration is submitted, the decision is final. The information on the data plate must match. You are allowed to call your aircraft anything you want, but once you register with a particular model name you must stick with that exact model designation on all forms and on the data plate.
The aircraft serial number is part of this discussion as well. It’s amazing how many different versions of a serial number some builders can come up with! First, the builder has the choice of what to use for a serial number, so long as it doesn’t conflict with a previous serial number under that builder’s name. In other words, the same builder can’t have two aircraft registered simultaneously with identical serial numbers. Remember that, when building from a kit, the FAA will usually expect you to use the serial number assigned by the kit manufacturer. But this isn’t an absolute requirement. Like the model name, you as the builder are free to assign whatever you choose for a serial number. But make sure you’re consistent in how the serial number is listed on all forms and on the data plate. Don’t use “001” in one place and “1” in another. Consistency counts! Also remember that you aren’t required to use only numbers in the serial number. Letters are fine, too, as are combinations of letters and numbers. The important thing is to stick with what you assigned at the time of registration.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this first installment of “Tales From the DAR Side.” If there’s something specific you would like me to cover in this column in the future, just let me know. You can reach me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 888-322-4636, extension 6806. As always, I look forward to hearing from you.
- Joe Norris, EAA's Homebuilders Community Manager