Ok you have your nice new shiny Microlight NPPL in your hand and you are about to buy your very own aircraft, so how do you go about it?
Most of us buy second hand, this gives wide variety of types and prices. As well as the ads in the Microlight Flying magazine you can find them advertised here
If you look at these you gain an idea of the type of aircraft available at the price that you are willing/able to pay. Prices cover a wide range typically from £40,000 to £2500. The aircraft themselves will range from the latest, must have ďhotshipĒ to a good old fashioned plodder all well proven aircraft.
Right, you know roughly what you want/can afford so what do you look for?
Microlights are amongst the aircraft that fly with what is known as a "Permit to Fly". This must be renewed every year and a BMAA or LAA inspector carries out the required inspection, there is an exception to this in sub 115kg machines, this is covered further on.
This inspection is of the entire aircraft airframe and engine and its paperwork that is the logbooks, engine and airframe and all the receipts for any replacement parts. That last is to prove that only the correct parts from a suitable source are fitted. Does the aircraft that you are considering have a current permit? As the permit, like an MOT says that the aircraft was in good shape when inspected, how long ago was it inspected?
You can find out the answers to both of those questions here
Just type in the aircraft registration.
The reason for the inspectors from different organisations is that some kit build and plans built are administered by the LAA. Most microlights however including all flexwings are looked after by the BMAA.
Now you have decided that a particular aircraft is worth looking at it is wise to gather information on the aircraft and engine type. If your chosen type is a BMAA factory built type this is easy, firstly you look here
These documents are the TADS or data sheets for the aircraft they have masses of information about the particular type of aircraft. This includes any mandatory modifications that must have been carried out; there is also a list of items for inspectors to pay particular attention to that you find useful when checking your prospective new mount.
Should your aircraft be a BMAA kit built type you will find similar information here
Similar data for vintage types (pre about 1983) can be found here
† So now you have something to check against when looking at the aircraft log books.
Unfortunately the LAA does not make all of these readily available due to the great variations between aircraft of the same type so you may need to join or maybe buy a member a few beers to gain access to information on that individual aircraft. Make sure that you have got the right kind of member though as not all have access to their engineering section. However if you are lucky you may find copies of the TADS here
You need to be aware however that some types come in both light aircraft and microlight varieties, so you will need to sort the wheat from the chaff.
If you are interested in a particular aircraft of one of these types and wish to find which side of the fence it actually is, that information is again in the CAA registration site, here
The next thing to try to obtain is the Service Bulletins for the aircraft, these should be obtainable from the manufacturer or importer. It also pays to get prices for replacement skins and tyres. You can find where to contact them for BMAA types in the Microlight Flying magazine
Again if you have chosen an LAA type check the same web site as before, or if you are unlucky you can either indulge your friendly member again or do a web search for the kit manufacturer.
Something else well checking is that any Mandatory Permit Directives have been complied with. These are issued by the CAA and a Permit to Fly cannot be issued if these have not been done, lists of them can be found here
Next you will want information on your engine, I would suggest that you get not only the service bulletins but also information on the service intervals.
Engines commonly fitted to microlights are
Rotax 2 or 4 Strokeshttp://www.rotax-aircraft-engines.com/desktopdefault.aspx
Robin. A bit more difficult this one as they are out of production. Spares are still available (and if you get stuck I can copy an owners handbook for you. Ginge)
†Now you are ready to go for a look, get your local inspector to go with you if you can but donít leave it all to him. Armed with this information you are in a good position to check the logbooks. I always recommend that you do this first as it can be an expensive mistake to fall in love with the aircraft before checking its pedigree.† There will be either a logbook for the engine and another of the airframe or entries on different sections that are designated for those entries but in the same book. Go though them carefully they will give a flavour of how the aircraft has been cared for (or not). What you are looking for is, has all the routine servicing been carried out to engine and airframe? Have all the mandatory modifications been carried out? Have all the advisory service bulletins be done? (Not an essential but a indication of how well cared for the aircraft has been) There should also be a collection of receipts for items bought for the aircraft, take a look at these they should correspond to the work done in the logbook. If they donít you donít know that the correct parts for the job have been used.
Once you are happy with the paperwork itís time to look at the aircraft. Apart from the general condition one of the first considerations should be has it been fitted with unauthorised mods? If it has these can be a right pain in the neck. For instance, I once went to look at an aircraft with one of our students and made the mistake of first looking at the aircraft. It was a pretty little thing and I liked it straight away then I looked at the books.† The Ultralam skins were immaculate but the aircraft had been built with Dacron skins and there was no record of the modification. Ultralam skins on this type of aircraft weigh in at 2kgs more than those in Dacron and that is as much or more weight than these aircraft had to stay legal. That is unless we traded fuel for weight, that would leave us very close to the minimum fuel allowable. If the trading fuel for weight had already been agreed in would have been in the logbook. This was just the start though; the aircraft was fitted with an electric starter along with its battery, again heavy stuff. This wasnít in the book either and there was no way that without either an expensive factory modification that could ever be legal. It was possible of course to remove the offending items and refit the aircraft as it should be but that would be hideously expensive. Then to cap it all the logbook entries looked as if the last 6 months had been entered at the same time. It was a terrible shame but I had to advise that we walked away from it. So itís well worth a bit of research, it would have cost our guy a lot of money to put right.
†It is important that you know what a modification is, as it is not legal to customise or add extras to an aircraft without the correct procedures being followed. So here is a description of what is needed for modifications
There are also Minor Modifications as listed here
There is also some very useful information here
Most of the general condition of the aircraft is fairly obvious but the next gotcha is the condition of the skins. Remember that Dacron is badly affected by UV, if the skins are faded ask if your inspector can carry out a Betts test, even if they pass ask his opinion.† Ultralam skins stand up well to UV degradation, but are still worth checking and on both kinds check the stitching. Look for broken strands, pick at it with your fingernails. If you have doubts figure in the cost of replacements.
†There will be jobs needing to be done unless you are very lucky; just try to avoid the ones that will cost a lot of money, or if you want the aircraft negotiate to reduce the purchase price.
The best advice that I can give on foreign registered Microlights is, donít touch them unless you have studied the type and are aware of changes made to meet British airworthiness requirements. More information is available here
All that applies to permit aircraft but what about non-permit aircraft that are currently on the British register.† These can be foot launched types of which I have no knowledge whatsoever, or the new kid on the block the Sub 115kg aircraft. The definition of a sub 115kg type is here
†A general guide to what exactly is a microlight can be found here
Sub 115kg aircraft, sometimes know as SSDR (single seat deregulated) aircraft do have logbooks that you can check against information from manufacturers web sites, these should have any safety related service bulletins but there are no airworthiness requirements, no inspection regime. So you are pretty much on your own, but if you are willing to accept responsibility for your own safety many of them are cheap for a new aircraft and you are free to design and fit your own modifications.†
Nothing in this text should be construed as accepting liability for your purchase.
The old expression Ďcaveat emptorí (let the buyer beware) still applies.