Guide to Buying an aircraft (4)

by | 2019-01-12

Finding an aircraft for sale sign near home.

In our last article, we dealt with the historical aspect specifically found on the advertisement listings. Because we wish to perfect knowledge of mechanical details, I will thread with the issues leading to an offer to purchase, if all goes well…

Time for the first call

It is time to call the seller. We can of course write an email. It all depends on your point of view. Personally, speaking directly to a human directly brings an excellent perspective, missing during the reading of an onscreen message.

The required questions to be asked will vary from one person to the other. It is practical to compose a standard list of questions for each seller, apples with apples…

The older the aircraft, the more chances of corrosion setting in exist. Corrosion must be avoided since important expenses are required to rectify the issue. How do you find out prior a visit that corrosion exists or not? The question cannot be asked to the seller, rather affirmative it can be certain that the seller will guarantee that there is no corrosion!

One should ask in this respect if the aircraft was ever hangared. This will also convey a tendency on the paint job state depending on the age of it. Also if the aircraft is based in a coastal city, particularly down south, the chances of corrosion are more predominant compared to one based in central North-America.

Good questions to ask

  • Are all technical logs available? This is not a legal requirement, but quite fundamental to respect as a general rule. How are you to know if major repair were accomplished? These will allow you to contact who ever did work on the aircraft for further information. The eventual resale value will not be tarnished otherwise. For many experts, this a no go item.
  • How many hours on the airframe?
  • Major damage history?
  • When was the last paint job done, what is the state?
  • Hours on the engine(s)?
  • When was the last major overhaul accomplished?
  • When was the lat propeller overhaul done? In Canada, we require a maximum of 10 years.
  • How many hours flown in the last 12 months?
  • When was the last flight completed?
  • Are all AD’s up to date? You should know them by now!
  • When was last altimeter encoder check done?
  • What type of ELT is installed? The « new » 406 is the norm. Certain brands have lost (check AD’s) their certification. Many owners don’t even know this. A new ELT installed will require a bout 1000$ outlay.
  • Oil filter(s) installed or oil screens. Oil screens require oil change every 25 hours.
  • What type of cylinders are installed? ECI, an economical alternative was grieved some time ago with an AD that substantially reduced their life span.
  • What type of STC’s are installed?
  • What is the windshield condition?
  • What is the battery age. Max 3 years, I do not care what people say!
  • What are the cylinder compressions? Here is a pilot condensed view:
    • Initial pressure of 80 PSI with a hot engine.
    • A loss of 5 PSI, hence a reading of 75/80 = good.
    • 65/80 = ok but further investigation is required. Usually 10 hours of cruise can change things. Take a reading after that.
    • 60/80 = cylinder change.
    • If an aircraft does not fly often, compressions might show some low numbers. It must be known first if there is no corrosion within (borescope check). However if the engine gets a chance to run in cruise for a while, not on the ramp to raise the CHT’s, the piston rings might get their chance to seat themselves properly helping along for a healthier compression check.
  • If the seller is a numbered corporation not a private, you will have taxes to consider even if you buy domestically.

These question are not meant to be complete. They will however provide a pretty good picture of the aircraft when a visit be required.

Some excellent reading

It is also suggested to appraise the following documents, the titles are self explanatory:

A visit to will certainly be edifying.

Following the many calls and comparatives, the decision was taken to undertake a first visit. At the onset some may not have the possibility to travel for the exercise. It is totally acceptable to hire an independent mechanic to evaluate the aircraft in your name.

Bring yourself a few tools to open up inspection panels with the seller permission of course. A flashlight will be indispensable.

Pre-purchase inspection

Upon your arrival, at first glance from afar should the aircraft make you uncertain, that is because it is not worth our effort! If the aircraft looks awful, that is because it is! Request a 180 back and file back via direct! Obviously, if your intention is a renovation project, skip this paragraph!

The aircraft will generally be washed and cleaned. But beware, for lack of time, one may not necessarily wash the belly or the bottom of the engine. It is a good thing. This is where you can spot problems. An engine in good state should not leak any oil or hardly any. Be serious about applying this rule. Hydraulic fluid must also remain within it’s confines. Check the brakes, reservoir or the brake pedals master cylinders. The reddish fluid is easy to spot and feel. Landing gear lines are also exposed to gravel projections. Ideally jacking the aircraft will permit a good observation of the landing gear state and operation. No free play is allowed here. Fuel leaks will stain suspect areas with a bluish stain. If the cabin smells like fuel, that is because there is a fuel leak somewhere.

Water leaks around the windshield and windows will discolour the upholstery. Windshield with cracks, yellowing or crazing are not acceptable. How do you expect to spot airborne traffic when your eyes are naturally focussing on those windshield imperfections?

In priority you must verify the serial numbers concordance with tech logs for the airframe, engine(s) and propeller(s). This is an absolute must: no concordance = no go unless you are prepared to replace with new components.

Cracks in the paint job is most of the time a sigh that undue stress was imposed on the airframe. Be vigilant. For example, multiple cracks on the top of the wing may indicate signs of hard landings. Open up nearby inspection panels to check within, you may find cracks in there. Believe it or not improvised holes or accidental ones are unacceptable, same goes for dents. Of course it all repairable, one simply requires time. A bump in the skin is something a bump on top of a rib is another.

Stress crack on upper wing stringer
Stress crack upper wing stringer joining at rib

Searching for corrosion:

  • Check control hinges (bi-metal contacts)
  • All low points as they tend to accumulate moisture and water. Thing in the vicinity of the spar or high side of ribs (dihedral).
  • Battery breather and aft. Battery acid is extremely corrosive.
  • Battery support, for the same reasons.
  • Landing gear and it’s joints.
  • Cabin floor beneath the carpets.
  • Paint blemishes of all sorts.

Flight controls are allowed no free play. Check them with the control lock installed.

Exhaust pipes are fragile components on all aircraft. Take the time to scrutinize it, any cracks, loose joints or even holes are unacceptable. Subtle defects can be detected by discolouration in the area. Legal repair of exhaust is expensive.

If you have any doubt on the aircraft mechanical state, hire an independent mechanic. This will be the investment in your life, especially if you decide not to buy the aircraft! You are far better off to return home alone than getting charmed buy the shinny looks of a hangar queen! One way or another, you will always have some work to eventually complete. Often aircraft are sold simply because the owner is fed up to maintain it. This increases the chances the aircraft lacks a bit of loving care. Always be sceptical about « flyaway, cream puffs » metaphors.

A good tip here is to be prepared to visit 5 or 6 candidates prior finding the good one!

Oh yes, let’s not forget a good test flight. It is mandatory. Certain owners will feed you that they not offer airplane rides to anyone, really. A serious seller will easily observe that you are ready and studied on the aspect, he or she will not hesitate to take the aircraft for flight at his/her expense. Take time to test all systems and equipment. The owner will not necessarily publicize all snags. After landing complete a good walk around to check for all sorts of leaks: oil, hydraulics, fuel. They all make a mess.

Should the visit prove positive and your contemplating an offer, think about verifying for financial liens. Often aircraft are attached to some conjugal or fiscal scheme. If this is the case and you buy from abroad, you can be convinced that friendly customs officials will stop your cross border operation. Same principle applies even remaining domestic. There exists quite an array of businesses that offer liens check services. They are cheap and on heck of good technique to obtain peace of mind.

Domestic paperwork

  • Have an arrangement with your insurer prepared prior the offer/purchase. The brokers will happily help you out on this with all details supplied early enough.
  • Signature of the CofR transfer paper valid for 90days.
  • Completion of a bill of sale for the new CofR application in your name.
  • Checking that the CofA is in order: all inspections carried out, AD’s completed and up to date. As an example, a simple flap rub on the fuselage make the aircraft unairworthy. It should be repaired and duly written up in the logs.
  • The weight and balance must be recent and up to date with all installed equipment list available.
  • The original POH must be supplied
  • Journey logs
  • All technical logs: airframe, engine(s), propeller(s) and modifications.
  • A flight check might required by your insurer.

International transaction

  • Request for a Canadian registration, personalized letters may be requested in advance.
  • Request for de-registration from the foreign authority (FAA) once the aircraft has arrived at your base.
  • The FAA offers for minimal cost a CD containing all work completed on the American registered aircraft. This is very appreciated by importing mechanics.
  • Radio licence for cross border operations.
  • Options for transiting the aircraft to Canada:
    • Fly it yourself with your suitable foreign licence.
    • Negotiate the owner to fly it in for you.
    • Hire a professional pilot to operate it for you.
  • An import inspection that is required will cover all AD’s, modifications approvals in the country, maintenance itself and the lot of placards installations, the installation of your new ident letters and the creation of a new weight and balance. When taken on scales, aircraft are always heavier than the last weight and balance. Be prepared for heavier surprises in this department. You will also be issued new journey and technical logs.
  • The issuance of the new CofA by an approved Transport Canada rep. (set aside 1500$)

Off you go!

Once you have completed the financial aspect (or the importation process) it will be time get aboard you very own aircraft. The very rightful joyous feeling of landing for the first time at your home base is worth millions. All the efforts in the search will be immensely compensated by all the voyages and adventures that await you.

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