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By Howard Deevers

There is a popular TV Program on the Home and Garden channel called “The Fixer-Upper.” There are several other similar programs showing people rebuilding old houses, or remodeling homes to new specs. Other programs show people restoring old cars. I enjoy all of these and have tested my skills at both endeavors with some success.

Every airport has its derelict airplane sitting somewhere on the ramp, in a hangar, or shade port. As much as we hate to see these neglected former things of beauty, they exist, just as old houses or cars do. Some of the TV programs actually tell how much the investor paid for the property, how much it cost to restore, and how much profit they made from the effort (if in fact those numbers are true.) Houses and cars seem to have a ready market for the restored property. Why not airplanes?

the fixer upper cessna 172n

Unlike houses and cars, airplanes have a different perspective. Houses and cars DO have regulations that must be complied with, such as building codes, and roadworthy requirements. Airplanes, much more so. After all, we really don't want things falling out of the sky on us. Those regulations are there to protect you, the pilot, and everyone else around or under you. The regulations alone discourage many would-be restorers. Other restoration projects go on for years, or even decades. The most notable projects are usually seen at the EAA Oshkosh annual show and convention. Some of them had taken up to 25 years to restore to flying status. Some of them also require considerable financial investment to restore, such as the aging warbirds.

But, what about that older Cessna 172 or Piper Cherokee 180? If purchased for a reasonable price, the investment to restore that plane to flying condition could be satisfying. Naturally, the first thing you think about is the avionics. With all of the new electronic displays and instruments all built into one package, those are tempting to jump into. Those might not be considered “restoring” but “upgrades,” and might not be something that you will want to do yourself. More about that later.

You, as the owner of the Cessna, Cherokee, or other vintage model, can do a lot of work on your prize, if you want to. The thing to remember is that this is not a car, and you can't do many of the things that you would do to your car rebuild. The objective here is to make the airplane air-worthy, not to redesign the hood and taillights. Some of the same skills you used to restore that “old Ford” still will serve you in the restoration of the airplane but remember that the plane and the car are made out of different materials. Cars are mostly steel, and planes are mostly aluminum.

the fixer upper piper

Although aluminum does not rust, it does corrode, so it would be a good idea to inspect all metal parts before you go too far with the work. Find a good IA, have the plane fully inspected, and get a list of items found that will need repair, cleaning, or other service. Make friends with a good aviation mechanic, too. You will need supervision on many items needing repair, and after repair, or replacement of many parts they will have to be inspected and signed off by a certified mechanic. Even though you are doing the work, pay the mechanic for his time.

Another good place to find guidance for your restoration is your local EAA chapter. If you are not an EAA member, join early on. In your local chapter you will meet many talented home builders that will give you advice on your project.

The time, talent, and skills to do a restoration project are important. And it is also important to have a good set of quality tools. No matter how complete you think your toolbox is, you are likely to need some special tools that you had never heard of before. Be prepared for those surprises, but don't let them discourage you. We all find that out as we go.

the fixer upper hawker nimrod ii

The hardware items you will need for many repairs or replacements are not likely going to be available at your favorite local hardware store. Many nuts, bolts, and screws may look like the right size and thread, but the construction of these items will be much more important in an airplane than in a car. Use only the correct parts. No one wants an aileron to malfunction during flight because you didn't use the correct fasteners to secure it, or a flap to jam in the up or down position because the cable was not correctly installed.

What about those avionics? The advances in the panels have passed the advances in the engines long ago, but they need another skill set. This is not just turning screws and pulling wire. You will need a good avionics shop to assist you in most of these installations and get them signed off for use. Don't forget that there are regulations on how avionics should work and are used, and how often they need to be re-certified. Read your FAR/AIM for more about that subject.

Just like rebuilding an old car, or house, it will be a lot of work, some frustrations, and expenses that you didn't expect. In the end, you can admire your work, and, in this case, fly it! Check your local airport for prospects. Some may be simple repairs and service, others may require a complete tear down and reconstruction, and everything in between.

While you are at the airport, think about the next phase of the WINGS too. Find a safety seminar near you. Check the ARIZONA PILOTS ASSOCIATION for locations and times, and, “don't forget to ‘bring your wingman.’”

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