Is it Airworthy?

Airworthiness Standards Are Standards To Live By 

by jeff edwards

Oshkosh was great again this year. If you missed it consider attending next year. Many Lancairs flew in for the event with lots of members camping on the grounds. Unfortunately, one owner had a landing gear failure on his way resulting in damage to his airplane. Preliminary information reveals the aircraft had a known problem and the owner was using a workaround procedure involving use of the dump valve to operate the landing gear. Unfortunately, the workaround procedure ended up causing a gear retraction on deck. Ouch.

Would You Fly It?

A couple of years ago a lady called me. Her husband was a Lancair owner who passed away in an aircraft accident. He perished while flying from their home in Washington state to AirVenture (see NTSB ID: WPR14FA316 for more info). The aircraft was equipped with an experimental engine from the shop mentioned below.  The widow called me looking for answers concerning his crash, and closure regarding his untimely death. I was not intimately familiar with the accident, but did research it for her. I found that the pilot had been complaining of engine oil leaks prior to the accident. Attendees at a recent General Aviation Joint Steering Committee meeting examined several accidents related to travel to or from AirVenture, Sun-N-Fun and other aviation events. None ended well. The common theme in all of these cases was the pilots’ persistence in getting to a destination in spite of sound advice against it.

Many years ago at AirVenture I met a young Lancair Legacy pilot whom I had corresponded with on the old Lancair mail list. He was a bright young engineer who was very over-confident when it came to airplanes and the flying business. On the year in question he attended  a forum that I conduct for Lancair owners. He sat in the second row to my left in the first seat on the aisle. I reviewed prior accidents, explored “what went wrong” and offered some thoughts on aeronautical decision making. The next morning I strolled by the Lancair tent near the home-built flight line and ran into Tim Ong. Tim told me the young pilot perished in an accident on the way home that morning. Tim, of course, was very upset.

As the investigation unfolded, we learned that the pilot was cruising south towards his home in Kentucky when his engine failed. The pilot attempted to glide to the Madison, Wisconsin airport and came up short, crashing into a power pole on a city street. There was an airport much closer but he did not attempt to land there. We also learned that his IO-550 engine had an experimental supercharger, and he had been having overheating issues. We know that at least one gentleman, well known in the industry, counseled the young pilot to stay at Oshkosh and let them look at it. Unfortunately, that advice was rejected.

Other pilots have come to grief in similar fashion. The following is an excerpt from an NTSB report on another Lancair accident:

On March 8, 2014, about 1858 eastern standard time, an experimental amateur-built Lancair IVP, N724HP, was substantially damaged when it impacted terrain near Hartsville, South Carolina. The private pilot/owner/builder and the two pilot-rated passengers were fatally injured. The flight originated from Darlington County Jetport (UDG), Darlington, South Carolina.  According to witnesses, the pilot had been having problems with the airplane's landing gear system and had been receiving a "gear unsafe" indication. Earlier on the day of the accident, a witness also saw the pilot/owner working on the airplane, and when queried, the pilot/owner advised him that he was troubleshooting an electrical problem. Later that day, the pilot/owner and a pilot-rated passenger, departed UDG, flew around the local area, before landing at Hartsville Regional Airport (HVS), Hartsville, South Carolina. At 1510 the pilot/owner refueled the airplane with 50 gallons of fuel, and then at approximately 1610, took off alone and returned to UDG. About 1740, the pilot/owner departed from UDG on the accident flight, this time with two pilot-rated passengers aboard.

The NTSB further added:

At approximately 1819, a relatives of the pilot/owner received text messages asking them to come to HVS, as the accident airplane's landing gear would not extend. At 1836 they received a second message to "Call 911." Around the time that the messages were received, a witness observed the airplane pass by him numerous times, at a "low" altitude, during an approximately 15 minute period. On the last pass, he could hear the airplane's engine running, and observed the airplane fly over the HVS about midfield point, at 600 to 700 feet above ground level. Then airplane then banked sharply to the left, pitched to about 25 degrees nose up, then descend rapidly in a nose high attitude until he lost sight of the airplane. Moments later, he heard the sound of impact, and a large fire and accompanying smoke were observed.

Attitude and Flying

These cases epitomize the old saw that it's better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air than in the air wishing you were on the ground. In many of these cases pilots disregarded good advice. The FAA literature identified “disdain for the advice of others, including advice from flight instructors, designated examiners and other experts” as a personality trait of many accident pilots. I couldn't agree more. Many of the accident pilots in the cases we reviewed at the GAJSC exhibited this characteristic. Whether it was rejecting advice from flight instructors concerning routes and weather, or dismissing an A&P’s counsel concerning aircraft airworthiness, this personality trait can be deadly.

Before I became a Lancair owner I owned an older V-tail Bonanza.  I instructed for the American Bonanza Society Bonanza Baron Pilot Proficiency Program, Often we would have 50-60 Bonanzas and Barons on the ramp for a weekend of flight training. It was rare to have an aircraft experience an airworthiness issue and not be able to complete the weekend training. On the other hand it is more common for me to see Lancairs come for training exhibiting serious airworthiness concerns. Why? As our fleet ages and Lancairs pass from owner to owner, many airworthiness discrepancies get passed along as well, with owners often rejecting sound advice to get this or that repaired. Examples I have seen include overheating engines, oil leaks, incomplete fuel servo set up, pressurization issues, to name a few. Some were just poorly built or cared for.

Is That Normal For An Experimental Aircraft?

Of course, many prospective and new Lancair owners are not familiar with typical Lancair airworthiness issues we have been seeing now for decades. One particular engine shop built “experimental” engines for many Lancair owners. Unfortunately some of those owners experienced engine failures attributed to poor workmanship. More than one owner wisely followed sound advice and yanked the engine and had it overhauled prematurely.

Conversations with new owners and posts give one the impression that “low time” engines and aircraft are a bargain. The prospective owners proclaim the aircraft is “low time”, as if “low time” is a magic bullet.  “Low time” is relative. A Lancair 360 built in 1992 with 300 total hours is not “low time” in my book. It is a 26 year old aircraft that has very little annual use, often causing internal corrosion problems. Disuse or ”low time” in this case often is a cause of internal engine corrosion which can lead to a whole host of problems. Both Continental and Lycoming recommend engine overhauls at an operating hour limit AND a calendar year limit (usually 12 years). Hartzell has a six year limit on propeller overhaul periodicity. Other accessories like your alternators and magnetos have similar overhaul requirements.

As a Lancair flight instructor, I will ask the prospective trainee to describe his or her aircraft. I am interested in when it was built, how many hours and years on the engine, prop etc., any issues with the engine (particularly overheating), pressurization, air conditioning (if it is pressurized), etc. A malfunctioning or inoperative air conditioning system in pressurized aircraft is a non-starter. Cabin temperatures can exceed 120 F in a IVP without ac. Pressurization and ac problems are easy to troubleshoot and repair. Just ask and we can walk you  through it. 

I would much rather fly an aircraft with a thousand hours on the airframe and engine over the last five years than one that has 90 hours and was built twenty years ago. Pilots should understand that I am interested in my personal safety and their safety, as well. If issues pop up in discussion, I advise the owner to consider getting the maintenance issue repaired and if the engine is elderly I advise an overhaul soon. I know that one popular A&P advises owners to fly beyond TBO. However, understand his frame of reference is his aircraft that he has maintained for decades and thousands of hours, not an airplane recently acquired with an incomplete or a questionable history. I am sure he would not recommend you ignore warning signs that the engine is sick and needs attention.

What Are The Rules?

The Federal Aviation Regulations and standard of care assign responsibility for the care and maintenance of an aircraft to its owner(s) and operator(s) under 14 CFR Part 91 and other guidance documents.

Pilots are taught about the aircraft, the aircraft systems, aircraft components, and maintenance during training. FAA and industry documents, such as the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge (FAA-H-8083-25A), are used to teach pilots about the various systems and components of the airplane. In addition, aircraft operating handbooks outline information specific to an aircraft and its systems. A pilot is responsible for knowing about the various systems and components of an aircraft and how they work, as well as how the information from those systems affects the safety of flight. Pilots are tested in regards to this knowledge during the written, oral, and practical tests prior to obtaining a pilot certificate. The FAA Practical Test Standards (PTS) outline the tasks to which pilots are tested in regards to the aircraft and aircraft systems. In addition, pilot applicants are expected to know and apply the normal, abnormal, and emergency procedures associated with each of these systems. Applicants must also exhibit knowledge regarding the content contained within the POH (Pilot’s Operating Handbook) as it relates to the various systems and components. Knowledge of these systems helps pilots understand why they are important for safe flight and aids pilots in determining the airworthiness of the aircraft.

Pilots are required by the federal regulations to operate airworthy aircraft. Pilots are prohibited from flying aircraft that are not airworthy. In order for an aircraft to be termed “airworthy”, it must conform to the type design and be in a condition for safe operation. 14 CFR § 91.7 addresses civil aircraft airworthiness and the responsibility of the pilot in command for determining that the aircraft is in a condition for safe flight. Other regulations shown below outline the owner's responsibilities for aircraft maintenance.

§91.403 General.

(a) The owner or operator of an aircraft is primarily responsible for maintaining that aircraft in an airworthy condition, including compliance with part 39 of this chapter.

§91.405 Maintenance required.

Each owner or operator of an aircraft—

(a) Shall have that aircraft inspected as prescribed in subpart E of this part and shall between required inspections, except as provided in paragraph (c) of this section, have discrepancies repaired as prescribed in part 43 of this chapter;

(b) Shall ensure that maintenance personnel make appropriate entries in the aircraft maintenance records indicating the aircraft has been approved for return to service;

(c) Shall have any inoperative instrument or item of equipment, permitted to be inoperative by §91.213(d)(2) of this part, repaired, replaced, removed, or inspected at the next required inspection; and

(d) When listed discrepancies include inoperative instruments or equipment, shall ensure that a placard has been installed as required by §43.11 of this chapter..


§91.407 Operation after maintenance, preventive maintenance, rebuilding, or alteration.

(a) No person may operate any aircraft that has undergone maintenance, preventive maintenance, rebuilding, or alteration unless—

(1) It has been approved for return to service by a person authorized under §43.7 of this chapter; and

(2) The maintenance record entry required by §43.9 or §43.11, as applicable, of this chapter has been made.

(b) No person may carry any person (other than crewmembers) in an aircraft that has been maintained, rebuilt, or altered in a manner that may have appreciably changed its flight characteristics or substantially affected its operation in flight until an appropriately rated pilot with at least a private pilot certificate flies the aircraft, makes an operational check of the maintenance performed or alteration made, and logs the flight in the aircraft records.

(c) The aircraft does not have to be flown as required by paragraph (b) of this section if, prior to flight, ground tests, inspection, or both show conclusively that the maintenance, preventive maintenance, rebuilding, or alteration has not appreciably changed the flight characteristics or substantially affected the flight operation of the aircraft.

§91.409 Inspections.

(a) Except as provided in paragraph (c) of this section, no person may operate an aircraft unless, within the preceding 12 calendar months, it has had—

(1) An annual inspection in accordance with part 43 of this chapter and has been approved for return to service by a person authorized by §43.7 of this chapter; or

(2) An inspection for the issuance of an airworthiness certificate in accordance with part 21 of this chapter.

No inspection performed under paragraph (b) of this section may be substituted for any inspection required by this paragraph unless it is performed by a person authorized to perform annual inspections and is entered as an “annual” inspection in the required maintenance records.

(b) Except as provided in paragraph (c) of this section, no person may operate an aircraft carrying any person (other than a crewmember) for hire, and no person may give flight instruction for hire in an aircraft which that person provides, unless within the preceding 100 hours of time in service the aircraft has received an annual or 100-hour inspection and been approved for return to service in accordance with part 43 of this chapter or has received an inspection for the issuance of an airworthiness certificate in accordance with part 21 of this chapter. The 100-hour limitation may be exceeded by not more than 10 hours while en route to reach a place where the inspection can be done. The excess time used to reach a place where the inspection can be done must be included in computing the next 100 hours of time in service.

(c) Paragraphs (a) and (b) of this section do not apply to—

(1) An aircraft that carries a special flight permit, a current experimental certificate, or a light-sport or provisional airworthiness certificate;

Plane Sense

FAA publication, Plane Sense, states, [t]wo conditions must be met for a standard category aircraft to be considered airworthy:

  1. The aircraft conforms to its type design (type certificate). Conformity to type design is attained when the required and proper components are installed that are consistent with the drawings, specifications, and other data that are part of the type certificate. Conformity includes applicable Supplemental Type Certificate(s) (STC) and field-approval alterations.
  2. The aircraft is in condition for safe operation, referring to the condition of the aircraft with relation to wear and deterioration.” (FAA-H-8083-19A Plane Sense; 2008; pg. 2-4)

The owner/operator of an aircraft is responsible for maintaining the aircraft in an airworthy condition. Since experimental amateur built (EAB) aircraft do not have a type certificate, conformity to a type certificate is not possible, therefore owners/pilots must ensure the aircraft is in a condition for safe operation. The following regulations and advisory material describe owner/operator responsibilities for maintenance and airworthiness. It is the owner/operator’s obligation to comply with these regulations concerning proper maintenance and airworthiness standards.

It is the owner/operator’s responsibility to ensure compliance with 14 CFR § 91.409 describing inspection and approval for return to service.


14 CFR § 91.417 and aviation standards of care require owners to maintain records of all maintenance on their aircraft including records of overhaul, maintenance, and compliance with airworthiness directives. It is the owner/operator’s responsibility to insure that the aircraft records are maintained in accordance with this regulation. This requirement is frequently neglected in the EAB world. If you work on your Lancair-- you should make a record entry in your logbook. If a shop inspects or repairs your Lancair they make a record of the work in your logbook and you should make certain do so.

Defering Maintenance

The FAA further explains owner/operator responsibilities with respect to maintaining an aircraft in the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge (FAA-H-8083-25A Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge; 2008; pg. 8-13, 8-14).

When a piece of equipment on an aircraft is inoperative there are two means of determining if an aircraft is airworthy:

  1. Utilize an FAA approved Minimum Equipment List (MEL) outlined in 14 CFR § 91.213(a).
  2. Utilize the requirements outlined in 14 CFR § 91.213(d), if eligible.

Inoperative, as defined by [Advisory Circular] 91-67, means that a system and/or component has malfunctioned to the extent that it does not accomplish its intended purpose and/or is not consistently functioning normally within its approved operating limits or tolerances (AC 91-67 Minimum Equipment Requirements for General Aviation Operations under FAR Part 91; June 28, 1991; paragraph 6(k), page iii). Most Lancairs do not have an MEL. Maintenance deferrals should be done via the guidance in the advisory circular. Turbine aircraft may not defer maintenance unless it is done via an approved MEL obtained from your local FSDO. 

An aircraft I was in recently had a malfunctioning horizontal situation indicator. The pilot was ready to depart in VMC with the malfunction. I asked him if we could fly it that way. He replied “yes.” I asked how he knew that. He could not explain. I got out the regulations and explained 91.213 regarding deferral and looked at 91.205 to see what was required for VFR flight. An HSI is not required. I also explained he had to comply with the rest of the requirements, including placarding the HSI “inop.”


Note, these regulations all fall under Part 91; just because your Lancair is an experimental amateur built aircraft doesn't mean you get a “pass.” Even if it did, would it make sense to ignore rules meant to ensure the aircraft you fly is functioning normally for the intended flight? Maintain your aircraft as if your life depends on it. If you have any questions about the airworthiness of your aircraft or anything mentioned in this article give us a call. LOBO and the Lancair community have a wealth of knowledge and experience. Tap it often!

For questions/comments about this post contact Jeff via email: j.edwards [at]