8:43 PM

How to Get the
Inside Story

As I go about the task of finding a Piper Cherokee 235 that will serve me well in my business and family flying, there is one thing that keeps popping up with airplanes built before the Summer of Love...

Damage history.

As I browse the daily listings on sites like Trade-a-Plane and Controller, the one thing that always generates a second look is those magical three letters...NDH. No Damage History. It is one of the two most desirable attributes on an older model plane, right up there with "complete logs":

But when does "no damage history" really mean NO damage history? I have had a couple of recent surprises when a listing said NDH, but a quick search on The Google brought up an NTSB report showing a crash with "substantial" damage. On one of these occasions, I let the owner off the hook after he told me NDH and I found a 1967 crash because nothing about the accident was listed in the logs.
Now I'm using a secret weapon that all airplane buyers should know about...the FAA database. For a crisp ten spot and a few clicks of your mouse, you can go here and order a CD that contains every piece of FAA paperwork ever generated on a particular aircraft. Just plug in the N #, wait about 10 days, and your disk arrives with more 411 then you ever thought was out there about any flying machine ever registered with FAA.

On the disk will be two PDF documents, made from the microfilm archived at FAA. One PDF will show every shred of registration info, including all change of ownership forms as well as some mortgage and loan paperwork. This is a great tool to follow the lineage of the plane right back to day one. One disk I recently ordered showed close to 20 owners for a 1964 model 235, far too many for my blood. Multiple owners had resold the plane just a few months after buying it... an indicator of a possible dog. But the other half of the CD is where the really juicy stuff can be found:
The second PDF shows all 337 forms that have been submitted on the plane. You'll quickly scroll through every major repair or alteration, and get a glimpse into the past life of the plane. Want to know what year the ADF was junked...it's in there. That hangar rash suffered back on '72 when Bubba bounced his pick-up truck off the wingtip...it's in there.
The good news is that I have found a plane in SoCal that suits my mission profile perfectly. I have ordered the FAA disk, and ought to get it this week. If there are skeletons in the closet of this bird, I'll sleuth them out, since the NTSB search on The Google came up empty. I've set up a meeting with the owner in two weeks to look the plane over and fly it...with fingers crossed. This is the one I want, and so far it has passed every test. I still have several more hoops to jump through including the all-important pre-buy inspection, but at least with the FAA disk as ammunition, I'll go into the negotiations armed and loaded ready for a little back and forth as the owner's broker and I work towards the right price.

Stay tuned...this project is starting to heat up. A hangar at EUG has been secured, insurance quote came in low, and the money is collecting interest in the bank, waiting to be sent off to pay for the 235 of my dreams.

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