Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Buyer Beware

Whether it’s a new or used airplane, don’t rush when doing your prebuy inspection

BE THOROUGH. When considering the purchase of an airplane, take your time and cover all bases. Hire your own trusted mechanic for the prebuy inspection.
You might think that FAA airworthiness, inspection and record-keeping requirements virtually guarantee that any airplane you buy is going to be in superb condition. Think again: There’s a need to put serious effort into your own investigation or hire your own trusted mechanic to travel to the seller’s location. Even if the seller is a scrupulous individual, there could be expensive problems lurking that can be detected only by extensive expert examination. Even when you can rely on a warranty, it’s preferable to discover discrepancies before they bite you. Complicating matters is that detecting an unscrupulous seller can itself be a challenge. When you begin to fly your purchase, you’re entitled to the peace of mind that comes from knowing you did everything you could to diminish chances of ending up in the NTSB’s accident files.

The flight instructor and the commercial pilot/owner had traveled to Maryland to inspect and pick up the newly purchased Taylorcraft 15A, and fly it back to Jack Barstow Airport, Midland, Mich. The commercial pilot wasn’t current in the airplane and asked the flight instructor to accompany him and provide instruction en route. As part of the presale agreement, the seller hired a mechanic to perform an airworthiness inspection of the airplane, which included an engine compression check and airframe fabric test. The mechanic endorsed the airplane’s logbook for day/VFR flight only. The flight to Michigan was being conducted under an FAA ferry permit, which does not permit carrying passengers. For both the pilot and instructor to be on board, they would have to be required crewmembers.

The day before the accident, the flight instructor flew the airplane and questioned its slow climb rate. The seller said that the airplane, “was not a great performer,” and a normal-climb airspeed was between 60 and 70 mph. He said it should cruise between 95 and 100 mph. The instructor reviewed the logbooks and noted that the airplane had not received annual inspections in the previous three years.

On the day of the accident, they flew to their first intended fueling stop, Somerset, Pa. The indicated cruise airspeed was lower than expected. After landing, the airplane was filled with fuel and prepared for the next leg of the flight. After takeoff, the airplane had a minimal climb rate and only got to about 200 feet AGL before it started to descend. The instructor took the controls and maneuvered to avoid obstacles. The airplane struck 40-foot power lines and crashed. Both occupants escaped injury.

Examination of the engine revealed low compression on the #3 cylinder, and no compression on the #5 cylinder. The air filter was found clogged with debris, and when the throttle was placed in the full-forward position, the carburetor butterfly valve only opened about one-third of the way.

The NTSB determined that the probable cause of this accident was the mechanic’s failure to discover several mechanical deficiencies during a prebuy inspection, which either independently or collectively resulted in a subsequent engine failure. A factor was the power lines in the forced landing area.


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