Safety Margins

By Lisa Turner, EAA Lifetime 509911

This piece originally ran in Lisa’s Airworthy column in the September 2020 issue of EAA Sport Aviation magazine.

I picked up the phone in our small restoration shop in South Florida.

“You’re a technical counselor, right?” the caller asked.


“Oh good. This is Jason. I’m four doors down and one row over from you here at the airport. I’m having a problem. Can you come look?”


I picked up my notebook and walked down the row of T-hangars to where Jason was building a beautiful composite two-place kit. It was an overly hot summer day, and the pavement shimmered with rising mist after a short afternoon thunderstorm.

“How’s the project coming?” I said as I walked in.

“Fine, fine,” Jason said. He looked irritated. His face was red, and sweat dripped from his brow. “Here I am at the end of the build, and I’m having all kinds of problems.”

He wiped his face with a shop rag and frowned.

“What kind of problems?”

“I forgot, totally forgot, sump drains for the fuel tanks. I think the electrical wire sizes I used might be too small, the exhaust pipes are contacting the inside of the lower cowling, and I can’t get the canopy to close and latch. And I want to taxi test it tomorrow.”

“It does sound like you’re having a bad day,” I said. “Let me take a look.”

A cursory inspection produced 15 serious problems on my notebook pad — and I was just getting started.

“Jason, where is your technical counselor? Most of these problems should have been prevented easily at each build stage with the checklists and inspections. TCs are volunteers, and they don’t charge anything. The best EAA benefit ever.”

Rivulets of sweat ran down Jason’s forehead again as he sat down at the workshop table with me. He sighed.

“You’re right, I should have gotten a TC. I just figured I’m pretty handy with things, I maintain all the machinery at home, and I’m good with tools. It’s not like I don’t care about doing it right.”

“Of course, you’re good at all that stuff. But no matter how good we all are, we are each just one person. It always helps to have another set of eyes on it. Hey, I’ll help you figure out what you need to do now to get this beautiful airplane airworthy. You’ve got quite a bit of work to do.”

Jason nodded. My heart went out to him. As I said, he had an enormous amount of work ahead of him before he could get his airplane in the air.

* *

From EAA’s Technical Counselor handbook:

“The Technical Counselor program was developed to accomplish two goals. First, increase safety by improving the mechanical reliability of amateur-built and restored aircraft, and second, to promote the building and restoration of aircraft by making the process easier for amateur craftspeople.”

Tom Poberezny’s vision has stood the test of time. The hundreds (actually more than 1,000 as of the writing of this article) of TCs making our projects not only safer but easier and more fun to build have also made it easier to keep our freedoms in building and flying because we’re all doing a pretty good job of it. Without the framework and structure of the education and training surrounding homebuilding and restoring, it would be much more difficult to accomplish and keep what we have.

But not everyone is using this free help. This conclusion is based on discussions with designated airworthiness representatives (DARs), EAA chapter members, and builders I’ve visited or talked to at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh and other fly-ins. More than a third of the homebuilders and restorers decided to go it alone.

Why don’t builders and restorers automatically enlist the nearest TC? I did an informal poll of builders over the last two years. The top three reasons why builders do not find and use the services of a TC were that they didn’t think they needed one, they didn’t understand exactly what TCs did, and, lastly, they thought the nearest TC was too far away or would charge for travel or services.

It’s true that TCs might be hard to find in rural areas, but I’ve also found robust EAA chapters with TCs in very rural locations. If there’s an airport, there’s usually some EAA presence. Technical counselors love helping those needing it, and it’s rare to find a TC that can’t take the time to travel to a project unless it’s hours away.

Five Reasons Why You Should Engage an EAA Technical Counselor for Your Build or Restoration Project


When your friends say, “Are you crazy?” you will laugh and say no. Or you might say yes knowing that building a kit airplane or restoring an aircraft is something only a relatively few of us lucky souls on the planet will do. That, in turn, may create some doubt in your mind about proceeding with a build or restoration project.

Enter the technical counselor. One of the first things a TC will do is become your therapist (okay, I’m kidding, but sometimes it feels like it). A TC will listen to your doubts and help you assess whether you’re likely to finish and fly the project. This is not the same as planning; this is a discussion about aptitude, passion, and resources. This is a good reason to engage with a TC as soon as you can in the project.

Another side of the psychology is how to engage your family in the build. While this may feel intuitive, it often is not, and it can turn up some surprises. Since we’re excited, we assume everyone else will be excited. I’ve even seen family members get jealous of an aircraft project. The TC has probably seen all of these issues and can offer advice.

In one situation I encountered as a TC, we solved two problems at once by getting a reluctant spouse actively involved in the project. They ended up enjoying the time spent on the airplane so much that they completely changed their opinion of the entire undertaking.

The TC will also be a welcome cheerleader when you need it. Since you know they are being honest in their assessments, a pat on the back from them will feel great.

Project Planning

There is so much more to an aircraft project than the building. Things we might not include in our grand plan include workshop setup, tool and equipment lists, goal setting, training resources and time, and developing an as-you-go pilot handbook.

Without calibration from someone qualified like a TC, we’re likely to charge full speed ahead and then come to a halt at the first setback. Setbacks are normal and should be expected, but we may need some help to get through them. I know of two builders who did not engage a TC that told me that just about halfway through their project they decided to abandon it because of some calamity. One got through the roadblock, and the other didn’t. A TC can help us anticipate these stoppages and help us navigate past them.

Most TCs are adept at planning and understand the need to sit down early with calendars, checklists, and instruction manuals. Once you see how they lay out the first project chunks, you can do the rest yourself. Builders tend to be overly ambitious, and this can lead to disappointment.


As both a builder and a technical counselor, it took me years to fully understand everything the EAA has to offer. From workshops to webinars to articles, books, manuals, and helpful guides, most of the builders I helped did not know about all of the things that could help them. Not knowing what’s out there adds time and complexity to a build.

I had one builder in the “don’t worry I can do it all and I don’t need you” category call me once a week asking questions about regulations and paperwork. He could have simply spent $17 and bought the step-by-step airworthiness certification kit from the EAA.

The TC will also direct you to resources you might not have thought about, such as builders groups, type clubs, and EAA chapters nearby. When I was building my Pulsar, my TC asked me to check the builders group for a spare engine block I could use for engine mount placement. Sure enough, there was one circulating in the group. It saved me a ton of time and added precision to the installation.

Skills Assessment and Hands-On Training

When I started my Pulsar, my fiberglass experience was contained to a weekend of repairing a gouge in a boat’s hull. When my TC showed up for the second visit, he found me loading resin into a layup to attach portions of the fuselage together. He shook his head and then politely showed me how to do a layup designed to be both light and strong.

“If you really want to add weight to your airplane, use these correct techniques, and then when you are finished building the airplane, you can add bricks to weigh it down.”

Teary-eyed from laughter, I never forgot what he said.

Safety, Safety, Safety

Did I mention safety? This is the main reason to use a TC on your project. Time and time again as a DAR and as a TC late to a project I identified items that never would have been built into the aircraft had a TC been performing inspections. Examples include incorrect fuel system routing, wrong electrical wire sizing, incorrect hardware in the wrong places, and alterations and additions that the manufacturer was never consulted on.

These items are typically not done on purpose. The builder wants to get it right, but we return to the “you don’t know what you don’t know” factor, and the builder really believes they know how to get these things done correctly. Another informed set of eyes will make all the difference in the world and save enormous heartache when the DAR turns down an airworthiness certificate application.

Other magical things your TC can help you with are:

  • Writing a complete and thorough preflight checklist.
  • Developing a pilot’s operating handbook.
  • Finding a flight advisor and helping you get ready.
  • Reviewing your project for common “gotchas.”

Remember that this column is commentary. So, here’s my opinion. Everyone who is building or restoring an airplane should engage the volunteer services of an EAA technical counselor. Even if you’re an A&P building your third aircraft, why not engage another set of eyes? The TC might learn something from you, too.

If you begin a build project and your neighbor stops by, you know it’s normal to hear, “You’re building an airplane in your garage?” and get a strange look. Most people don’t see what we see. That’s not only okay, it’s a badge of honor. Yes, we did build our airplane. The rewards are just so satisfying, it is really hard to explain to the neighbors, and even sometimes to our friends and family. Use all the help you can get.

Note: You can find Lisa’s ongoing series of technical counselor articles at EAA’s Hangar Flying blog, at In addition, you’ll find a lot of helpful information in her books. See her website for details. — Ed.

Lisa Turner, EAA Lifetime 509911, is a manufacturing engineer, A&P, EAA technical counselor and flight advisor, and former DAR. She built and flew a Pulsar XP and Kolb Mark III, and is researching her next homebuilt project. Lisa’s third book, Dream Take Flight, details her Pulsar flying adventures and life lessons. Write Lisa at and learn more at

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