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I'm reviewing my pilot logbook in preparation to move everything over to my EFB logbook. As part of that process, I have been looking up the various aircraft I've flown in the FAA registry to get details about those aircraft to make my log complete (my digital pilot logbook tracks more information on an aircraft than my paper logbook and I'd like to have the details for my own nostalgic purposes).

One particular aircraft I flew in 2005, N7635A, is nowhere to be found. Clearly the plane existed - I flew it! And it's in my logbook 3 times complete with my CFI instructor's signatures in those entries, so he seems to have thought the plane existed as well.

When I look up N7635A, I get a Cessna 180 (circa 1960s). I never flew a 180 (seems like I would have noticed that since the rest of the fleet was made up of 2002 - 2004 Cessna 172SPs and they all had that new plane smell). https://registry.faa.gov/aircraftinquiry/NNum_Results.aspx?NNumbertxt=7635A

My first thought was maybe the FAA drops registration records if a plane leaves the country - but that Cessna 180 is deregistered because it was exported to Canada. Also, another plane I flew, N65460, is also deregistered but still has a record with the FAA: https://registry.faa.gov/aircraftinquiry/NNum_Results.aspx?NNumbertxt=65460

I have tried different combinations:

  • N7635A - 1960 Cessna 180 (wrong plane)
  • N763SA - 1979 Cessna 152 (wrong plane)
  • N7G35A - not valid
  • N7G3SA - not valid

N60432 is another mystery 172S in my logbook but that's from 2013 and I only have a single entry for that one.

Do I have a correct understanding of the FAA N-Number registry? Am I wrong to think it's a complete record of all FAA N-Number registrations (going back to at least 1960)?

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    $\begingroup$ My guess is that the owner of the plane might have liked the tail number and moved it to his new plane. The FAA can also recycle old tail numbers for planes that are no longer flying. But since this is for an older plane, that isn’t likely. A famous example of this is the John and Martha King run-in with gun-toting law enforcement. avweb.com/avwebflash/news/… $\endgroup$ – JScarry Sep 7 '18 at 18:25
  • $\begingroup$ I would have expected the N-Number registration to show the prior aircraft associated with that tail number. For example: registry.faa.gov/aircraftinquiry/… $\endgroup$ – jpoveda Sep 7 '18 at 19:02
  • $\begingroup$ Not that I am aware of. I am curious about unusual aircraft that I see on the field and frequently look up the tail number to find out what kind of airplane it is. I don’t recall ever seeing one with a previous aircraft listed. $\endgroup$ – JScarry Sep 7 '18 at 19:34
  • $\begingroup$ @JScarry - interesting that in that article, the Kings say they "don't look like airplane thieves". I wonder what airplane thieves do look like... :) $\endgroup$ – FreeMan Sep 7 '18 at 20:08
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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps the FAA is just inconsistent about keeping histories for multiple aircraft with the same tail number. For example, N401 has a history of aircraft for that tail-number, but that doesn't mean they all do (?)(registry.faa.gov/aircraftinquiry/…). And perhaps they're just inconsistent with keeping records of deregistered tail-numbers (?). For example: registry.faa.gov/aircraftinquiry/… $\endgroup$ – jpoveda Sep 7 '18 at 20:32
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I think wrong to believe N-numbers are not recycled. The process has changed, but now we (owners) must register every two years (I think two years). //see comment below, registration update is every 3 years and $5 which is background noise compared to an annual

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    $\begingroup$ I would imagine they'd be recycled, but wouldn't the FAA N-Number record have a reference to prior registrations? I've seen that on some of the registrations. For example: registry.faa.gov/aircraftinquiry/… $\endgroup$ – jpoveda Sep 7 '18 at 19:02
  • $\begingroup$ I have no glib answer for you. The FAA works in mysterious ways. I get a snail mail notice (I think every other year) asking if I still own an airplane and demanding a small payment. $\endgroup$ – guycole Sep 7 '18 at 19:04
  • $\begingroup$ @guycole It is every three years and currently can be done on-line for $5. $\endgroup$ – JScarry Sep 7 '18 at 19:37
  • $\begingroup$ This doesn't actually answer my question, though I'm thankful for your insight. My question is why can't I find a specific tail number and whether or not the FAA keeps historical records of all aircraft that have used a tail number. Your answe partially answers the first part of my question only if the assumption is that they do not keep historical records. It appears they do keep historical records in some cases: registry.faa.gov/aircraftinquiry/… $\endgroup$ – jpoveda Sep 7 '18 at 22:06

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