Shopping for a Second-Hand Project

Bargains are out there, but do your homework before writing a big check.


Buying a new kit from the factory is easy, but the convenience comes at a price. Bargain shoppers can save some cash by looking for an orphaned kit or one that’s been started and abandoned. It’s not unusual for a kit to change hands several times before the project is completed. Life gets in the way, mission requirements change, or people realize they’ve bitten off more than they can chew.

Sadly, the labor invested into an unfinished project rarely adds value. Projects are typically sold for the parts value (or less), and poor workmanship will reduce the price further. A patient buyer with time to inspect and research before purchasing can get a good deal.

Many projects start with the tail, and this is where many end, once the first-time builder realizes it’s beyond his or her skills and offers the kit for sale.

As with any kit purchase, define the mission first. If you only have access to a 1000-foot grass strip next to the house, a canard-pusher that requires 2500 feet of paved runway will not be a good buy unless it comes with an engine or instruments that can be used, and you can resell the remainder of the project. However, ancient instruments may not be worth anything, and engines that have been sitting for a long time may need an expensive teardown.

Once you’ve identified the models that fit your mission, scour the classifieds. Bookmark the web sites for Barnstormers, Trade-a-Plane, EAA chapters, Kitplanes, and builders’ associations and visit them daily. Put the word out you’re looking for a project, and you may get someone from “thinking about it” to actually offering their kit for sale.

Kits still being marketed by the manufacturer will command a higher price than discontinued ones or those from companies that have gone out of business. Even though a model may no longer be available from the factory, the manufacturer may still be offering parts and support. This is where your diligent research comes in. As you’re looking at classified ads, look at manufacturers’ web sites, builders’ associations, and online forums dedicated to the particular model you want—there you will quickly learn how good the support is and whether parts are still available. These things change and suppliers go out of business without notice, so be sure the information you’re getting is current.

Try to inventory all parts before the purchase. It may save you headaches and money if you bring the kit home and discover it is missing a box of parts.

With plansbuilt projects there is less worry about parts availability, but support from the designer, other builders, and sub-assembly suppliers can make the difference between a project that languishes under layers of dust and one that gets completed.

Support from a builders’ group is one of the most valuable elements in your project’s life—during construction and after. An active community of builders and owners will help you get through the steps that leave you scratching your head. You will learn about maintenance issues and solutions that never made it into the construction manual. Being part of a builders’ association is almost like having an extended support team.

Peek inside the wings and control surfaces to assess the workmanship and determine if good construction practices were followed.

Solicit the advice of those who have built the model you’ve set your eyes on, and bring an expert with you to help with the pre-purchase inspection. Ideally, you should make a parts inventory and determine if what’s missing can still be obtained or if you’ll have to fabricate it. Check out the workmanship and find out who did the work. Logs and notes can be tremendously helpful later, so be sure to review and get them if they’re available. Having an expert with you will be especially helpful if the original builder is no longer around, and the family member selling the kit can’t offer much guidance.

You will be applying for a repairman’s certificate, so learn as much as possible about the already completed sections. In his regular KITPLANES column, “Ask the DAR,” Mel Asberry has explained the process and legalities of registering a homebuilt when more than one person performed the work. You’ll be happy to know that it’s generally easy to do.

Depending on the project’s stage of completion, getting it home could prove challenging. Check with companies that specialize in aircraft transport, freight companies, and services like If you don’t mind driving a truck or pulling a trailer, doing it yourself is an option. You can rent a truck or a trailer with a box big enough for most projects. You can also purchase a trailer and sell it after you’re done. Be sure to check with your insurance company about coverage while in transport.

Transporting the kit home by yourself is not rocket science, but be sure to understand your limits and your insurance policy.

When your new (to you) project is safely in your shop, start from the beginning of the plans or construction manual and understand and retrace the steps the previous builder(s) took to get it to its current state. You will be responsible for obtaining the airworthiness certificate and for maintenance, so it will be in your interest to know the aircraft inside out regardless of your starting point.


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