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      Aircraft Logs and Lie-braries (# 4)

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Aircraft Logs & Lie-braries

Everyone dreams of owning an airplane at one time or another. Of course it´s important to do one´s homework with regard to researching it´s maintenance history, as well as it´s current ownership status. What is often overlooked however, is it´s ownership HISTORY. I feel that is an important bit of knowledge with regard to aircraft purchases. "No damage history" is such a frequent comment in sales materials these days. Such comments are worthless. A damaged airplane may be repaired but it´s not done correctly unless it´s properly documented. Unfortunately just because there´s no documentation doesn´t mean there´s no previous damage. It only means there´s no documentation. There may be a "history" of damage without a word of mention. :{

We all would like to believe that the logbooks, which is a maintenance library of a particular airframe, tell the whole story. Unfortunately, that´s simply not true. Even excellently cared for aircraft frequently have incomplete records. Here´s a rule I´ve created for myself.

Rule: If ALL the logbooks from day ONE are not with the aircraft, ...then the maintenance records are ABSOLUTE FICTION! You are no longer interested!

Now this doesn´t mean that just because all the logs ARE present, things are "hunky-dory". It only means I´m through examining THAT aircraft as a candidate for ownership. I had once found an airplane so nice, that I was willing to forego that personal rule. Almost. Here´s the incredible story, ... and my incredible good luck to find someone associated with it´s previous ownership.

About three and a half years ago, while shopping for a twin, I located a Travel-Air in Calif. that seemed to fit the bill. Owned by another professional pilot who cared about maintenance and who had taken care of the bird for many years, I was confident that I´d found my dream plane. Before spending too much time and money on travel (to avoid the ever frequent junk one finds at the end of the expensive trip), I´d begun to request faxes of 1)the last annual, 2)the last engine overhaul(s), and 3)any logged damage,... before spending any money on an annual inspection. As the seller and I made final arrangements to get together to actually perform the annual inspection (which is the ONLY inspection that I accept as a "pre-buy"), we came to the question of logbooks. (Only a properly performed complete ANNUAL inspection checks an aircraft thoroughly for airworthiness. Only a properly performed complete ANNUAL inspection has a legal definition. There is no such thing as a "pre-buy" inspection and you will not be able to hold any inspector or seller´s feet to the fire should you later find the new bird to be illegal. You ARE trying to buy an airplane that is AIRWORTHY, aren´t you?)

It seems that all the logs weren´t available, which for me, killed the deal. I was ready to hang up. BUT, he explained, there was an irrefutable explanation. The airline pilot he had bought the plane from had once owned a flight school, and the hangar burned in 1971 at "Podunk" airport, (obviously not the real name to avoid embarrassing the seller), and all the flight school records were burned up including the aircraft logs. BUT, he added,...the accountant for the school had all the business records at home working on taxes, and the logs were completely re-constructed from invoices. Besides that, the school and it´s owner had owned the bird SINCE NEW, and the chief inspector of the school had been the one to perform all inspections and repairs since new, so, it was a simple matter to accurately and completely re-construct the logs. The seller stated that the first logbook entry he was in possession of, ...explained all this, and he was sure I would find everything acceptable. I told him to fax that entry to me as well. Since he had owned the airplane so many years himself, and since he was a professional pilot in charge of airworthiness of his employer´s aircraft I gave him a little more leeway than I would have granted anyone else. (Besides, this little Travel-Air really, really, really appeared sweet and I was probably hoping beyond hope that it could be "mine-all-mine".)

But I´ve become a dubious sort, having been in this business for over 30 years, so I followed up on the story. I got very sneaky, and I called the public library in "Podunk" and asked the librarian to research a 1971 hangar fire at the airport. The next day she called me to inform me she would fax me the newspaper article about the hangar fire in hangar #2 which burned up all the local flight schools records, but the planes were safely gotten out of danger. I couldn´t believe it, but it seemed to be true! Perhaps this WAS an otherwise perfect airplane for me. So, just as I was about to break my rule and buy a plane without all the logs, the librarian casually asked, "Why are you interested in that fire?" I explained, and miraculously, she said she wondered because her ex-husband was a mechanic who had worked at the flight school that burned. I couldn´t believe the coincidence.

She went on to explain that he was now a professor of aviation maintenance technology at a leading tech school in St. Louis. I got his phone number from directory assistance, and called the man, simply to glean whatever other interesting memories he might have of what I was now certain was to become my new dream-plane. He and I had an interesting conversation in which he confirmed the fire, and the fact that the Travel airs had escaped damage. In fact, the school had two Travelairs, and they both had been fine aircraft. "Which one are you buying?", he asked. I told him the tail number. "Funny", he said, "You know, it´s funny how time plays tricks on one´s memory. I now realize I can´t even remember the tail numbers of any of those planes. That one doesn´t ring a bell at all." Well, I said, tail numbers can change, of course. I read him his log entry, which had seemed professional and correct.

"That doesn´t sound like the way I make my sentences.", he said.

"Do you have a fax machine?", I asked. "Yes." "Then I´ll fax this to you", I said.

Now, how many people would have gone this far, I ask you? And how many people would have had the good luck to actually talk to a librarian divorced from the man who made the log entry in question? Is there a God, or what?

In less than ten minutes, the man called me back and said, "That´s NOT MY SIGNATURE! That´s a forgery!!" It turned out that this particular airframe probably had a data-tag riveted to it that had at one time belonged to a DIFFERENT airplane! A previous owner had apparently tried to disguise THIS airframe as one that had escaped the well-publicized hangar fire. But clearly, there was no way he could do that without destroying the airplane´s legitimate logbooks. So he destroyed those logs, created the cover story, and then sold the airplane with a "borrowed" data tag to my seller in California.

When I called the seller back and delivered the bad news, he nearly went orbital. His irate comment was to the effect that he was not ABOUT to lower his price! I informed him that I was not trying to induce him to lower his price. I was only informing him I was not interested in his airplane, and that perhaps he might wish to visit with the man from whom he had purchased it, Goodbye.

Moral: Do not buy an airplane without complete logs since day ONE, unless you are wishing to own a fictitious airplane with a lie-brary instead of a library. Be careful out there.


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