The dreaded FAA inspection

When I tell people that I’m building an airplane, the answers generally go like this.

“What, like a real plane?”

“Wow, that’s amazing. I could never do that.”

“Who is going to fly it the first time?”

But eventually, no matter what their first reaction is, they get around to carefully asking, “Um, so does someone inspect it or something.”

What they are politely saying is, “I’ve known you for years, and while you are a nice guy and all. And reasonably competent when it comes to things that aren’t really that dangerous like tic tac toe, or maybe marbles, please, PLEASE tell me that someone that actually knows something about airplanes is going to look at your work, fix all the stuff you screwed up, and then, after MUCH oversight, will let you go fly this contraption you’ve stupidly put together.”

Or at least that is how it sounds in my head.

And I always answer that, yes indeed there is an inspection process. The FAA comes and inspects my work and then signs off on it before any flight takes place. Knowing the big bad government is going to protect me from myself, they always visibly relax and we move on to other topics.

What I don’t tell them is, the FAA is the last one to inspect anything of mine. All they usually inspect is the paperwork. I’ve heard stories of FAA inspectors not even looking at the airplane, or giving it a cursory inspection (read: quick glance out the window). I didn’t want that. I wanted a real inspection, because I love my life and my family and getting killed in a contraption I made does not sound like a good plan to me. Plus most importantly, it would hurt my pride. I’m not saying pilots are prideful, but…

So I contacted Lisa Burwell, the FAA’s Designated Airworthiness Representative (DAR). Lisa and her husband, both long time airplane mechanics came out to do my inspection on July 14th. They both crawled all over the airplane. The entire process took about three hours and at least two of those three hours were the physical inspection process, times two people, so four hours of intense inspection. Then, and only then, did we do the paperwork.

They did find a few things that needed to be tweaked, including one missing bushing that I’m very glad they found. Not because of safety, but because it saved from needless repairs several years from now.

So after fixing a few things as they inspected, and noting a few things that needed to be fixed after the inspection, we completed the paperwork and BAM! I no longer had a box of parts that might some day be an airplane. We had an actual airplane, ready for test flight.

After inspection for SuperSTOL with Lisa Burwell, FAA DAR
Lisa, Carter, and I after inspection and when N41RW became an airplane
Carter and I after the inspection on N41RW
The build process ends. Test flying begins

Now, all we had to do was to fly 40 hours, fix everything that went wrong during that time, change the oil, and fly to Oshkosh. In a week. Sure, no problem. I’m already working 80 hour weeks anyway, so nothing is different. I was losing Carter to another commitment he had so this would all be solo. But flying is solo anyway so no big deal. I hope.

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