A problem I see often lately is someone who bought a partially completed project and now wants to get it registered and an airworthiness certificate issued, but they don’t have the paperwork from the previous builder or builders.
To get a plane registered, you will need to have a bill of sale from the manufacturer to the first owner, a bill of sale from each subsequent owner and a bill of sale from the seller to you. Every time a project changes hands, there should be a bill of sale from the seller to the next owner. This can get rather messy if the kit you are buying has passed through several hands. Ideally, the bill of sale is on the FAA Form 8050-2, but that is not an absolute requirement. If the kit started as plansbuilt (not a kit) you would need the first builder’s paid receipts for major components and then bills of sale for the project from all subsequent owners.
The bill of sale from a manufacturer is usually pretty straightforward, with this caveat: the kit maker will only issue a bill of sale to the original kit buyer, not any subsequent owner. If the manufacturer is no longer in business, the FAA will usually accept a letter of explanation stating that it is not possible to get a bill of sale because the company is no longer in business. This does not always go smoothly, however. In my case, I bought a GlaStar project and asked Glasair Aviation, the successor company to Stoddard-Hamilton, to sign a bill of sale for me. They declined to do so, forcing me to hunt down an officer of the original company to get his signature on a bill of sale.
The point is you need to have bills of sale for all transactions between you and the original kit manufacturer or original plansbuilt builder. This is called the chain of title or ownership. If you are missing one or more of those, expect to get a lot of grief from the FAA Registration Branch, grief that may well include refusing to register your plane.
If someone along the way registered the project, getting bills of sale before it was registered is eliminated. In any case, buying a project without a complete chain of title is risky business. I strongly recommend against it. You will also need a form 8050-88 Affidavit of Ownership to register your plane, but this can be completed entirely by you. It does, however, need to be notarized. The DAR cannot begin the airworthiness process until your plane is registered!
A big part of the DAR’s job is to determine whether or not your plane was majority amateur-built. The primary tool for making this determination is the builder’s log. You will need to collect the builders’ logs from the previous owners roughly covering the work they did. If these are not available, you may have trouble convincing your DAR that there is sufficient evidence to make a determination of amateur-built status.
This can also present a problem when you go to apply for your repairman certificate from the FAA. You will be pushing your luck with your DAR if there are big gaps in your builder’s log. He may be forced to issue a denial letter or switch you over to Experimental/Exhibition. This is not the end of the world, but it is certainly not the desired outcome.
Some Possible Scenarios
Let’s look at some examples of cases that may occur. For example, the first builder did quite a bit of work on his kit but died before he finished. His widow is now selling the project. She has a number of photos and a few notes that her husband left. She also has the original invoice for the kit but no bill of sale. The kit maker will issue a form 8050-2 to the deceased original builder. His widow can show by means of a will or trust agreement that she is the rightful owner now and will give you a bill of sale and all of the photos and notes. This should be sufficient to register the plane and satisfy the DAR.
Here is another case. The builder, who was the second owner, died. There was no bill of sale from the first owner, who has also died and no construction records or photos of any kind from either builder. The work completed is very well done, and the price is right. Unfortunately, you will have a very hard time registering this plane and a very hard time convincing a DAR that it was amateur-built. This is one you need to walk away from.
Here’s a bizarre case that came to me. The new owner of a plansbuilt plane called me and said he needed to get his plane registered and an airworthiness certificate since it already had 7 hours. The seller told him a DAR could handle all of this for him. Of course, I told him it was illegal to fly an unregistered airplane with no airworthiness certificate. I also told him that DARs don’t handle registration at all. All I can do is help people with advice. A DAR’s official job begins after the registration has been issued. Where this will go is anyone’s guess. At the very least, he is off to a poor start.
Each owner/builder needs to maintain the chain of proof of ownership and amateur-built status. The better job each owner has done, the easier it is going to be to get the plane registered and rendered worthy for an Experimental/Amateur-Built airworthiness certificate. If there are holes in the paperwork that may be possible to remedy, you could consider making an offer to the seller contingent on solving those problems. If the seller is unwilling to do that, it is time to move on.
If you are looking at a project with no builder’s log and no clear chain of ownership, the smart advice is to walk away. If you are looking at a project with a few holes in the chain of ownership and parts of the builder’s log missing, you may elect to make an offer contingent on being able to recover the missing paperwork. If you are buying from the original builder who has a builder’s log and can get the bill of sale for you from the manufacturer of the kit, you have a doable deal. Just be sure to get an FAA bill of sale from the seller and all of his builder’s log material, plans and notes.
Each sale of an airplane project should be made with an FAA Form 8050-2. This form is available online at www.faa.gov/forms. Note that when selling a partially completed project, the word “AIRCRAFT” on the bill of sale form should be crossed out and replaced with “KIT.”