Is it risky to buy a used ELSA or E-AB LSA?

Talk about airplanes! At last count, there are 39 (and growing) FAA certificated S-LSA (special light sport aircraft). These are factory-built ready to fly airplanes. If you can't afford a factory-built LSA, consider buying an E-LSA kit (experimental LSA - up to 99% complete).

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Re: Is it risky to buy a used ELSA or E-AB LSA?

Postby drseti » Sun Dec 13, 2015 9:58 am

Poring through NTSB records, it stands out that the vast majority of E-AB accidents occur not to the original builder, but to second and third owners. This might suggest that purchasing an used experimental aircraft is risky, but let's dig deeper -- the problem might not be with the plane itself.

Yes, there are a few maiden flight or flight test accidents, but these usually involve the more radical, untested designs. The rest are in well-known and highly popular kitplanes, many with hundreds to thousands of successful flight hours under their belts. This suggests that the problem (at least in those cases) has less to do with design, construction, and materials than it does with pilot familiarity.

A case in point was the Long-EZ accident in October, 1997 that killed Henry John Deuchendorf Jr. (AKA John Denver). The pilot had just acquired the aircraft, received a cursory checkout, and experienced fuel exhaustion on his second solo flight around the pattern. Unfamiliar with the aircraft's unconventional fuel system, he then lost control of the aircraft while attempting to turn around and reach a fuel selector valve that was mounted behind his shoulder.

Could a more thorough checkout in this plane have prevented the accident? One can speculate, of course, but it's clear that an aftermarket buyer doesn't know the plane as well as the original builder, and thus needs additional training. This extends beyond piloting skills ("airplane driving") to understanding the mechanical details of the specific aircraft. If you're buying an experimental from the original builder, make sure he or she gives you very thorough training in the peculiarities of that particular bird. This should include a partial dis-assembly and inspection of the airframe (a meticulous, extended annual inspection) conducted by the builder, with the buyer present and participating. This might not be the way to go for somebody who's not particularly mechanically inclined!

But, if you're a hands-on sort of person, and like getting intimate with the machinery, buying a used ELSA or E-AB might just save you a few bucks. An even better way to both save money and improve safety is to buy the kit and build the plane yourself! Consider the investment in time as being the best training you can possibly get, in knowing your plane so you can both maintain and fly it safely.
The opinions posted are those of one CFI, and do not necessarily represent the FAA or its lawyers.
Prof. H. Paul Shuch, Ph.D., CFII, LSRM-A/GL/WS/PPC, iRMT
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Re: Is it risky to buy a used ELSA or E-AB LSA?

Postby snaproll » Sun Dec 13, 2015 1:21 pm

Thanks Paul. Getting intimate with the machinery is the best solution. Appreciate the wisdom... Don

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Re: Is it risky to buy a used ELSA or E-AB LSA?

Postby designrs » Sun Dec 13, 2015 6:42 pm

Excellent points Paul.

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Re: Is it risky to buy a used ELSA or E-AB LSA?

Postby howardnmn » Sun Dec 13, 2015 11:54 pm

IF john denver stuck to factory-built airplane he would not have crashed.

flying is risky. flying experimental is risky-er [i'm Not Saying 'Don't Fly Homebuilt' or don't take risks]
Remos GX nXES. N999GX
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Re: Is it risky to buy a used ELSA or E-AB LSA?

Postby howardnmn » Sun Dec 13, 2015 11:55 pm

IF john denver stuck to factory-built airplane he would not have crashed.

flying is risky. flying experimental is risky-er [i'm Not Saying 'Don't Fly Homebuilt' or don't take risks]
Remos GX nXES. N999GX

smith ranch/san rafael airport (CA35)

california

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Re: Is it risky to buy a used ELSA or E-AB LSA?

Postby SportPilot » Mon Dec 14, 2015 12:37 am

.......
Last edited by SportPilot on Sun Mar 20, 2016 6:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Is it risky to buy a used ELSA or E-AB LSA?

Postby Wm.Ince » Mon Dec 14, 2015 1:46 am

SportPilot wrote:Any airplane is risky if you don't know how to manage the fuel.
BINGO!
Bill Ince
CTSW
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Re: Is it risky to buy a used ELSA or E-AB LSA?

Postby FastEddieB » Mon Dec 14, 2015 8:31 am

N918KT wrote:Hello all. I was recently browsing LSAs on Barnstormers when I noticed the prices of used SLSAs vs ELSAs and LSAs that are amateur-built. Most used SLSAs I see are in the $50,000 to $80,000 range, give or take. However both used ELSAs and E-AB LSAs are quite a bargain with prices in the $20,000 to $40,000 range give or take.

With ELSAs and E-AB LSAs that cheap I would be inclined to purchase a plane like that over a used SLSA if I do have the money and a SPL to purchase one. However, I always thought experimental aircraft's safety record is worse than a certified aircraft or SLSA.

Is it true that flying a used ELSA or E-AB that somebody else built is riskier safety-wise than flying an SLSA and if it is so, would it be worth the cheaper purchase price?


I promised a response - sorry it took me a while.

Allow me to present a slightly different perspective, as an owner of a converted E-LSA.

My 2007 Sky Arrow was delivered in 2007 as a factory-built S-LSA, and spent its first several years as such.

In late 2009, I had a DAR fly into Blue Ridge, inspect the plane for conformance with its original S-LSA standards, and convert it to an E-LSA.

Why?

Mainly I wanted to be able to…

1) Work on it myself without the severe restrictions of the AMM and FAR’s.

2) Make minor modifications and parts substitutions without needing LOA’s from 3i.

3) Have the ability to do my own annual condition inspections after taking a basic 16-hour course.

#2 was a big factor - 3i, the manufacturer, was in financial difficulty and getting LOA’s was problematical, if not impossible. This made even a simple battery replacement a big deal, since without an LOA an owner could not vary from the one specific approved battery - a lead-acid FIAMM only available from Italy at a total cost with shipping of over $300. Similarly, even installing different tires or tubes was of questionable legality.

Of course, the conversion to EXPERIMENTAL status also has potential downsides…

1) The plane can no longer be used for rental or flight instruction. This might not concern me, but could affect #2, below.

2) Since the market for an E-LSA might be smaller, it likely adversely affects the value of the plane. My insurance company agreed, only willing to insure it for $50k instead of the $65k I had preciously had it insured for. Bear in mind, the plane as delivered in 2007 was $75.5k. Of note, the conversion did actually lower my insurance rates slightly, probably due solely to the lower insured hull value.

3) By law, my plane now has a large “EXPERIMENTAL” decal on the side, and a passenger warning inside. I thought this might be a problem with passengers, but no one has ever expressed any trepidation about flying in it in spite of the warnings - even parents sending their kids off on Young Eagle flights! Talk abut blind faith!

Overall, I’m 100%, positively and enthusiastically glad I made the change. The whole ownership experience is far less restrictive and far more immersive. Not to mention a lot cheaper.

This is getting kinda long, so let me take a break here. Part 2 will consider how a potential buyer might view and/or be affected by the conversion.

To be continued…
Last edited by FastEddieB on Mon Dec 14, 2015 9:23 am, edited 1 time in total.
Fast Eddie B.
Sky Arrow 600 E-LSA • N467SA
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Re: Is it risky to buy a used ELSA or E-AB LSA?

Postby designrs » Mon Dec 14, 2015 9:07 am

Excellent post Eddie.
A key issue here is that your airplane was factory built as an S-LSA.
The build quality is not in question.
Your experimental status is mainly relevant to maintence and minor parts replacement.

For comparison:
Buying a home builder's RV-12 would be a whole lot different than buying a factory built RV-12 that was later converted to experimental.

Looking forward to part two!

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Re: Is it risky to buy a used ELSA or E-AB LSA?

Postby roger lee » Mon Dec 14, 2015 9:13 am

An ELSA can be as well maintained as any SLSA. This is all dependant on the owner and or the mechanics they use.
I see too many SLSA's that have terrible maint. that is not in keeping with SLSA practices. I happens all the time.
Some SLSA's have been taken back to ELSA and were factory built, but can have poor or good maint.

So you want to buy a used SLSA or ELSA then check the logs and ask lots of questions and have someone do a pre-buy that works on those aircraft.

This is one reason I believe documentation is everything. Garbage logbooks and paperwork and lack of detailed entries does not allow the next owner or mechanic to know what was done or not done. It won't show poor maint. practices or good maint. practices

Good detailed documentation is a far better indicator of how this aircraft was maintained since you weren't there to watch.
I'll take a full page annual documentation logbook with signed maint. checklist paperwork any day over the 3 liners some mechanics and or owners use.
3 line logbook entries are legal up to a point, but the FAA considers them the bottom 1% and the bare minimum.
Every single time (100%) I have quizzed mechanics on what was done after a 3 liner logbook entry I have found issues of things not done because of either not using maint. check list, not having the maint. manual and following it, not knowing about current SB's and just plain laziness.

Since we don't have cameras that watch all our maint. then the next best thing is a legal detailed document. The logbook. Lazy logbook entries many time equate to lazy and or uneducated maint. Now you are held accountable.

We have the bottom 10% of mechanics and owner maint. and we have the top 10%.

Which plane do you want?

It can be either SLSA or ELSA.
It's no different in the ammeture built and certified world.
Roger Lee
Tucson, Az.
LSRM-A, Rotax Instructor & Rotax IRC
(520) 574-1080 (Home) Try Home First.
(520) 349-7056 (Cell)

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Re: Is it risky to buy a used ELSA or E-AB LSA?

Postby FastEddieB » Mon Dec 14, 2015 9:19 am

designrs wrote:Excellent post Eddie.
A key issue here is that your airplane was factory built as an S-LSA.
The build quality is not in question.
Your experimental status is mainly relevant to maintence and minor parts replacement.


Stipulated.

I just read the original post as being rather all-encompassing, so I thought my "middle ground" conversion reflections might be of interest.

Putting the final touches on Part II - on a very stormy N GA morning!
Fast Eddie B.

Sky Arrow 600 E-LSA • N467SA

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Re: Is it risky to buy a used ELSA or E-AB LSA?

Postby FastEddieB » Mon Dec 14, 2015 9:28 am

Part II...

Remember that converting to EXPERIMENTAL allowed me to, well, experiment, making minor modifications - or even major ones.

So far, here are the modifications I've made, all minor..

1) Installed a lithium-iron battery in place of the lead-acid original.

2) Installed an LED landing light in place of the incandescent original.

3) Relocated the voltage regulator to a more easily accessible and better cooled location.

4) Relocated the fuel pressure sender off of an engine baffle to a location with less vibration.

5) Installed one additional inline fuel filter.

6) Installed Desser Monster retreads on the mains.

7) Installed a fire extinguisher.

8) Installed a non-aviation digital OAT gauge, utilizing the location of the original battery drain hole for the sensor. (The plane had no OAT gauge as delivered)

9) Installed a secondary latch on the oil tank access door, which tended to pop open during a flight.

10) Modified the drip trays so they can be removed by simply loosening, not removing, the attachment hardware.

11) Re-pitched the prop for 1º less pitch for better takeoff and climb performance.

12) Installed hubcaps.

13) Installed an ELT remote panel. The plane was delivered without one, I guess since the ELT can be reached by the pilot. The DAR insisted I install one, correctly pointing out that the installation manual for my ELT mandated it.


It is, of course, speculation as to how a potential buyer might view said modifications. Its also worth mentioning that any and all of them could easily be “undone” by a new owner if they so desired. Good place to mention that once converted to E-LSA, there is no going back*.

If I was ever selling the Sky Arrow, I would encourage any potential owner to assist me in an annual condition inspection prior to the sale. The plane is very well built, and I’m always pleased that when I remove panels my time spent with lubing and applying Corrosion-X or Pledge or whatever has resulted in much of the plane’s internals looking brand new, in spite of being over 8 years old.

Finally, some may see the EXPERIMENTAL status as a plus. Many buyers of new Carbon Cubs are electing to have them roll out of the factory as E-LSA’s - I believe I read that a majority are. I can only say if I were looking to replace my Sky Arrow with another LSA, I would probably consider having the E-LSA status already in place as a plus - albeit with an accompanying need to look at the plane very, very closely before purchase. But that’s good advice when purchasing any plane!


*In theory there’s path to going back to S-LSA status, but in practice I think it borders on impossible.
Fast Eddie B.

Sky Arrow 600 E-LSA • N467SA

FastEddieB@mac.com

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Re: Is it risky to buy a used ELSA or E-AB LSA?

Postby MrMorden » Mon Dec 14, 2015 9:43 am

howardnmn wrote:IF john denver stuck to factory-built airplane he would not have crashed.

flying is risky. flying experimental is risky-er [i'm Not Saying 'Don't Fly Homebuilt' or don't take risks]


I think it's more correct to say "If John Denver has been a safe and cautious pilot, he would not have crashed". Factors involved in the crash:

1) Non-standard fuel valve mounted over the left shoulder instead if between the legs as Burt Rutan designed. Investigators determined that the position made it nearly impossible to change the fuel selection *without* pushing on the right rudder pedal.

2) Unconventional and confusing fuel valve layout, where left position selected off, right selected left tank, up selected right tank.

3) Fuel valve selector was broken, and had been replaced with a PAIR OF VICE GRIPS.

4) Denver checked the fuel in the sight gauges with the airplane in the wrong position (nose gear retracted, fuel is to be checked with airplane up on gear), causing indicated fuel to be much higher than actually existed in the tanks.

5) Denver was flying without a medical, his having been revoked due to alcohol abuse.

The investigators determined probable cause: a few minutes into the flight the selected fuel tank ran dry. As Denver attempted to change the fuel tank with the selector over his left shoulder, he probably let the speed decay too much (held the nose up), and pushed the right rudder pedal as he twisted around. The result was a snap stall/spin with insufficient altitude for recovery, and the airplane impacted the water nose low at high speed.

There were a lot of factors in that crash. Very few if any of them had anything to due with the fact that the airplane was an experimental type.
Andy Walker
Athens, GA
Sport Pilot ASEL, LSRI
2007 Flight Design CTSW E-LSA

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Re: Is it risky to buy a used ELSA or E-AB LSA?

Postby 3Dreaming » Mon Dec 14, 2015 10:03 am

designrs wrote:Excellent post Eddie.
A key issue here is that your airplane was factory built as an S-LSA.
The build quality is not in question.
Your experimental status is mainly relevant to maintence and minor parts replacement.

For comparison:
Buying a home builder's RV-12 would be a whole lot different than buying a factory built RV-12 that was later converted to experimental.

Looking forward to part two!


I don't completely agree. When building a ELSA it is supposed to be an exact copy of the original ASTM compliant airplane, right down to every nut, bolt, and rivet. There is no latitude to make any changes from the factory design per regulation, so in theory it should be just as good as the factory airplane. The one gotcha is after the airworthiness certificate is issued changes can then be made.

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Re: Is it risky to buy a used ELSA or E-AB LSA?

Postby MrMorden » Mon Dec 14, 2015 10:11 am

3Dreaming wrote:
designrs wrote:Excellent post Eddie.
A key issue here is that your airplane was factory built as an S-LSA.
The build quality is not in question.
Your experimental status is mainly relevant to maintence and minor parts replacement.

For comparison:
Buying a home builder's RV-12 would be a whole lot different than buying a factory built RV-12 that was later converted to experimental.

Looking forward to part two!


I don't completely agree. When building a ELSA it is supposed to be an exact copy of the original ASTM compliant airplane, right down to every nut, bolt, and rivet. There is no latitude to make any changes from the factory design per regulation, so in theory it should be just as good as the factory airplane. The one gotcha is after the airworthiness certificate is issued changes can then be made.


You are correct, at the moment in time the DAR signs it off. Past that point, an E-LSA can no longer be guaranteed to be the same as the S-LSA counterpart.

If you wanted to make changes during the build process, the way to go would be to register it as an E-AB. It could still be LSA compliant and you could do anything you wanted to do during the build process (provided a DAR would still find it airworthy!)
Andy Walker
Athens, GA
Sport Pilot ASEL, LSRI
2007 Flight Design CTSW E-LSA


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