Dick Strikes Again! — He Did WHAT?

Okay, okay, I admit this story isn’t about my friend Dick, who has amazed us with some impressive acts of pilot… well, stupidity… still, when I heard what this fellow did to his plane, I nearly fell out of my chair.

I was at the airport, chatting with my FBO about my annual, when Dick II and his plane came up. The plane in question was a 50-year-old taildragger that Dick II had purchased a few years ago. The plane was fairly old, and needed a good amount of work, and Dick II was just the guy the plane needed to get that work done.

There was one small problem: Dick II isn’t a licensed mechanic. But I digress.

Lets look at what Dick II did to his plane.

  1. He removed the propeller.
  2. He removed the engine.
  3. He removed the engine mount.
  4. He removed the wiring.
  5. Then he reinstalled all these components… with some minor changes. He changed the wire that was being used. He changed some of the fasteners that were used in the assembly of the plane, with some he had picked up at the local hardware store.

Yes, Dick II had done a real job on the plane, and he was getting pretty close to being ready to fly. He had been talking with two licensed Airframe and Powerplant mechanics (A&Ps) over the course of his project, and with the local airport FBO who had advised him that his actions were illegal, but Dick II wasn’t to be stopped. He went right on and finished his project.

Dick II then approached the local FBO, and explained his story. He told him about all the wonderful things that he had done to get his plane back into top shape. He even told him about the new wire he used, that was so good that someday the FAA would be using it on all airplanes.

In case your alarms aren’t going off yet, he topped all this information off with a request. “COULD YOU SIGN OFF MY WORK?” he asked the local FBO. The local FBO, who has insurance and knows FAR Part 43 pretty well, declined. Dick II persisted, noting that he had been working with two other A&P’s over the course of the project. The FBO said that was swell, and that Dick II should have THEM sign it off. Dick II sadly reported that they had declined, because they “didn’t want to impact the local FBO’s business.”

Fortunately, the local FBO operator knew both A&Ps, and called them up to chat. When he mentioned that Dick II had claimed that they had overseen the work, both flatly denied it. One did indicate that Dick II had asked him to sign off the project, but that he was worried about the hardware and the quality of the work.

When it comes to working on your airplane. There are some things you can do, as outlined in FAR 43.3, the owner of the airplane is not on the list of persons authorized to perform maintenance, preventive maintenance, rebuilding or alterations — unless working under the direct supervision of an appropriately licensed mechanic!

Part (d) of the same section states that “A person working under the supervision of a holder of a mechanic or repairman certificate may perform the maintenance, preventive maintenance, and alterations that his supervisor is authorized to perform, if the supervisor personally observes the work being done to the extent necessary to ensure that it is being done properly and if the supervisor is readily available, in person, for consultation.”

Appendix A of Part 43 contains a list of things a licensed, Private Pilot can do to their airplane. Part (c) of that list offers a fair amount of preventive maintenance that can be legally performed by an unlicensed mechanic. Removing the engine or prop, or replacing the wiring is needless to say NOT included on the list.

The supervisor (A&P) must observe enough of the work being performed to assure it was done to acceptable standards. By the letter of the law, the FBO operator (who is an A&P) could not LEGALLY sign off the work because he didn’t observe the work as the supervisor.

For this case, there are two ways out of Dodge — both of which would allow our pilot to get back into the air. Both are risky in either cost (price of repairs / inspection, or value of the plane), or regulation (the FAA finding out what the pilot did, and grounding the plane.)

Option 1: Have the plane taken to Experimental Status. This may allow the pilot to work on the plane, but that would be a stretch, since normally, a pilot has to do greater than 51% of the assembly work on an airplane in order to be considered for a repairman’s certificate for that specific aircraft. Usually applicants for such a certificate gain experience while building an experimental plane from the ground up… not by bending regulations while doing work on an otherwise certified aircraft on their own, so it is doubtful that the FAA would allow it.

Worse yet, they may decide to spank the pilot for performing maintenance outside of his certificate. This could encompass anything from the grounding of his plane until it is properly inspected, or revoking his pilot’s license for gross negligence.

Option 2: Dick II could take the plane to the local FBO, and ask the local FBO to rework and inspect the entire job, from start to finish. This would be costly, but would not result in any risk of regulatory intervention. It would also assure that the plane was legal to fly again.

Dick II has to pay $180 per month in hangar rent for a somewhat bedraggled gate guardian. Until he faces the music, his flying future is going to be limited to simulators, and what he can afford for rentals. All because he didn’t know enough to ask someone what he could legally do. Consider flying as a privilege — not a right. Don’t let an assumption turn you into an a**! Ask questions about what you can legally do to an airplane. Read the regulations, before acting and know your limits. Only by maintaining your plane in accordance with the regulations will you be able to safely experience the joys of flight.

Note: To educate yourself on the do’s and don’ts of aircraft maintenance and repair, click through for the government’s version as written in Part 43 of the Federal Aviation Regulations.