December 2011 Update
"I see dead planes...everywhere..."
Yes, I see dead planes everywhere. And some sadly have included
stories of pilots who are more dead than their planes. I don't
mean crash victims, the pilot population is aging and with that
comes NON-pilots trying to sell aircraft that were (or still
may be) owned by these deceased pilots, which they know nothing
about. Situations such as these create additional challenges
in researching and buying an aircraft.
The Research Road
I have taken a great deal of time in the last couple of
years in examining aircraft ownership
for myself and the club. In this update I have outlined just some of the initial
research steps involved in getting clarity before there is
even a pre-buy inspection. I started down this road
because I saw a 1969 Cessna 182 in VERY good condition and really
wanted to KNOW WHAT I DIDN'T KNOW in order to sum up a "club
worthy" aircraft which would NOT need an overhaul. The research
starts out like this...
Use the N# to contact the FAA Registration office for
records of ownership (registration) and maintenance. It is
cheap ($10.00) and won't take long to get.
Use the N# on the NTSB site to see if there is any accident
Use the N# to learn what year/model the aircraft is and who it
is currently registered to.
Use the FAA free web site to download the Type Certificate
Data Sheet (TCDS) for the plane.
Use the FAA free web site to obtain a list of
Airworthiness Directives (AD) notes on
the major components of the aircraft (aircraft, engine, prop,
mags, carb or fuel injection, vacuum pump, prop governor, etc)
that are listed on the TCDS, when you review the maintenance
records you MUST be able to SEE PROOF that the AD notes have
been complied with. If there is no proof than they will have
to be compiled with as per the AD note instructions.
Now you will need information from the owner (real
- matter of fact - backed by logbook information).
- When was the aircraft last annulled?
- When was the aircraft last flown?
- What are total times on aircraft, time since overhaul
(TSOH) on engine, carb, prop and all accessories.
How is the aircraft equipped? (Garmin 430, auto pilot, turbo
charger? etc) Begin looking at industry publications to try and find aircraft
prices that are comparably equipped and same time. Use
the AOPA listing or other blue book type listings.
Liens and Title
In the first step we talked about contacting the FAA
Registration office for records of ownership (registration)
and maintenance. You may request a copy of the aircraft
record on a CD for $10 on-line at to review the record for
outstanding liens yourself. However, this is no guarantee
that a lien will be shown on the CD that you buy, especially
if it's a new lien. Keep in mind that the Aircraft
Registration Branch does not do lien searches. For
additional piece of mind you should contact a private
company to do the search for you. Under "AC Form AFS-750-55,
List of Title Search Companies" you can find a list of
companies and law offices that provide lien searches for a
List of Title Search Companies
Terms for Hours and Overhaul Alphabet soup!
Below are terms used in aircraft-for-sale advertisements
showing the engine hours since the last overhaul were carried out
are quoted. Hopefully this information will clarify what some of these terms
mean and why it’s important not to confuse them.
Overhaul is a term used by the general aviation industry
when an aircraft engine is cleaned, carefully inspected, and
repaired or has parts replaced to meet service limits.
An overhaul is an overhaul as per the manufacturers
specifications. There is no such thing as a major overhaul,
just an overhaul, even though you will see the word “major”
used to describe them.
Most overhaul's are defined by the manufacturer with supporting
documentation (usually Service Bulletins) that define what must
be done and what parts must be replaced.
If an engine, for example, is advertised as overhauled, you
have the right to ask how it was done. Was it done to
factory new standards or to factory
Only the very lower quality overhauls are done to
factory servicable standards. It implies that many parts are reused instead of
being replaced. This also applies to other components such as
magnetos, carbs etc.
TSOH (Time Since Over Haul)
Time Since Over Haul is the number of flight hours
since an Overhaul was performed.
TBO or TBOH (Time Between Over Haul)
Time Between Overhauls, an engine manufacturer's recommended
overhaul interval in hours, a rough and not guaranteed guide
to life expectancy of an engine before it will need overhaul.
SMOH or TSMOH (Since Major Over Haul)
Since the overhaul process requires the engine to be taken
apart, it is typically an expensive process. The value of a
used engine decreases if it is close to requiring an overhaul,
so used engines (and aircraft) typically list their time since
overhaul or TSOH.
STOH (Since Top Over Haul)
Top overhaul is a term used by the general aviation industry
when all the cylinders on the engine are overhauled or replaced
with new, possibly due to corrosion.
TTSN, TSN, TT (Total Time Since New) or AFTT (Air
Frame Total Time)
Total Time Since New is usually an airframe time reference
for the total number of flight hours on a used aircraft.
TTAF/E (Total Time Air Frame/Engine)
Total Time Airframe and Engine(s) is usually an airframe
time reference for the total number of flight hours on a used
SFRM or SFRMN (Since Factory Re-Manufactured)
References to the time since the engines were remanufactured.
What does the future hold?
As you can see there is much to learn just to get to a
pre-buy situation. Since we are more
of an idea of a club than an actual club (do we really need
monthly dues and meetings?) we don't have money to gamble on
an aircraft. This means we have nothing to lose by learning
about the process. However, I just want everyone to know
that the process is on-going, that the goals are still the
same. We have an airport expansion on the way and that means
the future is ours to write.
We now have 13 people who have
signed up online and a total of 6
completed surveys. Please feel free to share these links
with others who also have an interest in forming a club
(again) in Canandaigua and being part of something new and
exciting. For many people, plane ownership is not practical
or wise, but when many people come together to share an
aircrafts costs, things become very practical and wise.
Happy Holidays and Fly Safe!
AOPA Airport Support Network Representative D38
If you can help with an aircraft, please email us