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Hands, Mind, and Heart

What started as a handful of passionate enthusiasts has developed into a major force—and a significant component—of the aircraft industry.

Mastering the Paper Chase

By Mary Jones (originally published in EAA's AeroCrafter - 6th Edition)

Registering your aircraft in the Experimental Amateur-Built category isn’t a quick and simple process, but it’s not an insurmountable task, either. Let’s start with a couple of different scenarios.

Scenario I: 
You’ve recently acquired your private pilot’s license and now you’re ready to fulfill that lifelong dream of building a plane. You’ve decided you’re going to build that fantastic "Fantasmagoria biplane" and you’ve already picked out your N-number. But wait, you’re finding out there’s more to this registration process than meets the eye. HELP!

Scenario II:
You’ve been flying your Ultralight now for a few years, having great fun, but the time has come to recover the wings and fuselage, and you’ve decided that maybe the Stits process would provide you with better wear and service. And, maybe some brakes and a strobe would be a good idea, too. All that sounds like a great idea and it’s certainly justifiable from a safety standpoint, but what’s going to happen if your Ultralight becomes ultra-heavy when you’re all finished? Are you up the proverbial creek without the proper propulsion? Maybe not, if you’ve done your homework.

Registering your aircraft isn’t a simple procedure, but it is a manageable one that you can accomplish, and maybe even have some fun with along the way! Well, okay, that may be stretching things a bit, but c’mon, let’s think positively.

Getting the N-Number
There’s no doubt that getting the N-number for your aircraft is an historic day. Some people have been known to request an N-number from the FAA Aircraft Registry office in Oklahoma City as soon as they get their kit. That’s acceptable, but not necessarily recommended. FAA recommends that you request your identification number sometime during the later stages of construction.

Perhaps you’re not excited about that minor detail; well, in that case, you’d better keep in mind that it’s going to take at least 60 days for the paperwork to clear when you do send away to Oklahoma City, and you won’t be making any legal test flights until you havethat number, so don’t wait too long. In fact, most local FAA offices will not even inspect your aircraft until you have your N-number in place.

But, getting the N-number is just the tip of the iceberg and doesn’t necessarily assure that your aircraft will pass the scrutiny of the FAA Inspector.

Despite whether you’re a player in Scenario I or Scenario II, the simplest, safest procedure to follow is to keep good records from the very beginning. If you’re a player in Scenario II and you haven’t done that, well, then, you may be in for some problems; we’ll get to that later.

Probably the best way to start is to buy a three-ring binder the day your kit arrives, no matter whether you’re planning to build an Ultralight or an Experimental Amateur-Built aircraft. A three-ring binder provides an excellent means of gathering material pertinent to your project, with built-in room for expansion - something you may find you’ll wish your airplane had one day. And, while you’re out buying the binder, buy a theme notebook or two, right away. Then, you’re ready for business. Remember, the goal of all this is to be able to prove that you have truly built 51% or more of this aircraft. Just because it’s sitting in you garage or hangar isn’t proof enough for the man from FAA, he’s going to want more.

Good habits start early - you probably remember your parents saying that about your study habits years ago. It applies when building an airplane as well, and one of the best habits to get into is to make notations in your builder’s log - you know, that notebook in your three-ring binder - every time you spend some time working on your aircraft. Pictures are mighty important (some FAA inspectors insist on photos), so you’ll want to have a camera handy for snapping shots. This is where the fun can come in. One FAA inspector I talked with said he’s seen builder’s albums that would make great family albums, as you can see the children grow along with the airplane. Don’t forget to date those photos, too; it’ll help your memory somewhere down the line. It’s important to have pictures of you and your aircraft in your shop or hangar to prove you have indeed built over 51% of this aircraft. Remember, one of the documents you’re going to sign, Form 8130-12, Eligibility Statement for Amateur-Built Aircraft, contains a declaration that warrants that you are the builder, and it carries a possible $10,000 fine for falsification!

There are some "professionally done" builder’s log books available on the market, but a notebook in a three-ring binder will work just as well, and you can save yourself a few pennies. Such a notebook is also a handy place to keep all your bills of sale for materials purchased throughout the project - tape ‘em on the page as you go. Remember, your state tax man is going to cometh someday - probably shortly after you register your airplane - to collect tax on the value of your aircraft, unless you can prove that you’ve paid tax on all the materials along the way. This is also a good reason to delay requesting your N-number; once you request your N-number, you’ll have your state tax person bothering you about every six months asking, "Is your airplane finished yet?" That can get to be kind of a hassle.

If you buy a partially completed project, you’re going to want to obtain the records of the first builder(s) as well. That documentation will be important for both tax purposes as well as for the FAA inspection. If the seller cannot provide you with such documentation - does not have a running log of the construction or will not provide you with that information - walk away from the deal. You’ll be buying into problems that may not be solvable. This is probably also a good time to remind you that even if you’re planning to fly your machine as an Ultralight, someday your intentions, or the next owners’, may be different, and having a builder’s log available will make life a whole lot simpler then.

If your Ultralight exceeds the limits of Part 103 and you attempt to register it in the Amateur-Built category, but cannot prove that you’ve built 51% or more, the only alternative may be to seek registration in the Experimental Exhibition category, in which case the FAA will require that you provide them with a list of air shows which you will be attending over the next 12 months.

Before you purchase a kit, it’s a good idea to check to be sure that the particular kit is on the FAA list of kits that meet the 51% major portion rule. If the airplane kit of your dreams isn’t on that list, you may want to contact builders of such kits in your area to see if they’ve had any problems proving that they’ve built the major portion (51% or more) to inspectors in your area. FAA is diligently attempting to standardize such inspections, but variations do occur, so the safest idea is to check before you write out the check.

To request an N-number for the first time:

1) Aircraft Registration Application, FAA Form 8050-1.
2) Affidavit of Ownership, FAA Form 8050-88 (use version dated 9/98).
3) If a kit aircraft you must also complete FAA Form 8050-2 Bill of Sale and replace the word "aircraft" in the title with "kit."
4) If you want a "special" N-number, send a letter requesting five choices.
5) Appropriate fee: $5.00 ($15.00 for "special" N-number)

Prior to the FAA inspector’s arrival for the final inspection you should obtain:

1) Airworthiness Application, Form 8130-6.
2) Eligibility Statement for Amateur-Built Aircraft, Form 8130-12.
3) Repairman’s Application, Form 8610-2.

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