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Red tape can also be reassuring
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You have to hand it to God. He sure knows how to get to the point.

Imagine all of life - the nuances, parameters, and right versus wrong, all condensed into just Ten Commandments, seven deadly sins, and one compact book.

Conversely, take a moment to ponder the omnipotence and omnipresence of the United States' Federal Government. At the federal level, our government is divided into three main branches - the Judicial, Legislative, and Executive. The Executive Branch is then further divided into the Office of the Presidency, a number of independent agencies, commissions, boards, committees, and 15 - count them, 15 - Executive Departments.

You've heard of at least some of these 15 departments. They include the Departments of Energy, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Defense, Treasury, Homeland Security, etc. Among these is the Department of Transportation.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) is further divided into 13 separate agencies. One of these 13 agencies is a regulatory body known as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). I am a pilot, and I own an airplane. Boil the entire Federal Government down to one agency that directly affects my particular interest, and there you have it - the FAA.

Sitting next to me on the desk as I type this article is the most recent FAR AIM manual from the FAA. It lists the rules, regulations, and procedures to airmen just like me. It is not for aviation mechanics, nor does this particular manual deal with aircraft repairs or procedures. The manual is only for General Aviation, Sport Pilots, and Instructors. If one is feeling particularly masochistic, try reading it.

This manual is more than 1,000 pages long, and lists everything from the official government definition of what makes your ears pop as you increase in altitude, to the rules as regulations regarding dropping objects from an airplane. Want to scatter the ashes of a deceased loved one? Not so fast - there are stipulations as to when and where such an event can occur.

Let's take this analytical flowchart and stand it upside down, to further illustrate the top-heavy and bureaucratical nightmare that the Federal Government has become. Again, I am a recreational pilot. I fly for fun - never for hire. There are over 1,000 pages of rules, regulations, and procedures that I must know in order to own and operate my own airplane.

The FAA is only one of 13 departments within the DOT. The DOT is only one of 15 departments within the Executive Branch, which is one of three branches of the overall federal government. How's that headache now?

Before I feign outrage and dismay, I must point out that there is a reason this type of oversight exists. How would you feel if your neighbor built a commercial aircraft in his or her backyard out of bed sheets and started hiring scenic flights over downtown Chicago? Just imagine...

The bottom line is, there are rules, regulations, procedures, and limitations placed on my dream of owning and operating my own airplane. Some of it is head-scratchingly baffling, while a great deal of it exits for a reason.

Take the example of the Fairchild. Even though I own it, I am not technically allowed to work on it. Literally, I cannot even change the oil. The FAA designates and licenses people to work on private, certified aircraft like the Fairchild. These people are called A&P mechanics, which stands for Airframe and Powerplant. All of the work done on a certified aircraft like the Fairchild must be inspected and signed off by an A&P. Every airplane then has two logbooks - one for the airframe, one for the engine. From the moment each rolled off the assembly line, every oil change, every inspection, and all of the work performed is entered into the appropriate logbook.

So then, take peace of mind in knowing that every time you hear a certified airplane roar overhead (unless it's an ultralight, which sounds more like an average-sized mosquito), it is only flying because it has been deemed airworthy by a certified, licensed individual other than the owner of the aircraft.

This is exactly why my relationship to Mike Weeden throughout the Fairchild restoration process was so special. Mike is, obviously, an A&P. Legally, all of the repair work and modifications done to the airplane must be inspected and signed off. Since I simply could not afford to hire the work done, Mike offered to take me under his wing (no pun intended), and guide me through the restoration process. There would be plenty of work I could do, but he would ultimately have to inspect and sign everything off.

As mentioned previously, we started with the wings. For this work, the FAA does issue a manual, which pertains to airframe repair and alterations. Literally, it designates how long a splice is allowed to be, and how many are permissible, on the individual rib cap. It even stipulates what kind of glue can be used.

One day, I flipped through the manual. It went so far as to explain the proper method of tying an inter-rib knot, and how many twists are permissible when applying safety wire. Mike remarked, "Yeah, they're strict about some of that stuff."

Anyone want to argue that we live in a free country?

- Dan Wegmueller of Monroe writes a column for the Times each Monday. He can be reached at