Labeling, Marking and Placarding Your Fixed-Wing (Airplane)

George Smith has allowed me to photograph the marking of his Quicksilver  and was kind enough to explain to me the decisions he made when designing the labeling, marking and placarding he did while preparing his airplane for the Experimental Light-Sport (ELSA) airworthiness inspection. This is an excellent example of the various things you will need to do to prepare your aircraft. While this is for an airplane, many if not most, of these things will need to be marked for other categories of aircraft. Certain things will vary depending on the engine you have or the particular list of instruments and other equipment that is installed. 

Here's a close-up of the Quicksilver two-place aircraft used as an example in this guide. Note that it is an open airplane with two separate instrument and equipment pods and has two gas tanks (One mounted on the root tube and one behind the seats). Other aircraft will have different layouts and require different solutions for proper marking.

Overall View

Every aircraft must have an aircraft identification plate and registration number (N Number) markings. The FAA regulations specify what materials, sizes and locations you must use for these. See the end of this document for links to the FAA material and rules. George has used the I.D. plate from the EAA kit. This must be engraved or stamped with the builder, model  and serial number information that you submitted in your paperwork to the FAA. Note how he has met the requirement for permanently affixing the ID plate by riveting it place. Note the location on the side of the root tube. As required, it is located behind the rearmost cabin location. If the airplane had an enclosed structure it could be mounted on the tail structure more aft of this location. If you are worried about putting holes in a structural member you could create a clamp or strap type fixture that goes around the member and rivet the plate to that.

I.D. Plate

The experimental sticker must be visible to people entering the aircraft. This means that most people will need two of them. Note that the EAA kit only contains one. So to save yourself extra time and shipping costs, and be sure to order an extra one when you order the kit. This installation of white letters on a black background is quite effective and very visible. Here it is installed on the diagonal strut in the wing structure. If the wing was double surface the sticker would have to be mounted on a different set of tubes or on a plate attached to the structure on each side. The experimental decal must have 2" letters but they may be wrapped around a tube as shown here.


This view from the rear of his Airplane shows the N Number location (There is one on each side), on the vertical surface. Note that he uses a vinyl N number decal with a solid background to solve the problem of the numbers showing through the fabric from the opposite side. It is difficult to apply a vinyl decal to Dacron sailcloth. George used the stickyness of the adhesive left when he removed the UL registration numbers as a beginning point. He heated the location with a hairdryer and used a backing board ahd a plastic squeege to apply the new numbers. It was still very difficult to apply the decal without wrinkles and without lifting corners when the covering was removed.

View of N Number

This photo shows the marking of the trim and throttle. Trim on this aircraft is unusual and has been custom designed and installed by the owner. You must provide markings that indicate what everything is and how to operate it. George has used labels and arrows from EAA's decal sheet to assemble markings that label the item and indicate the direction and action of each control. This aircraft has throttles and trim controls on both sides so it requires marking on both sides. It is good, and in most cases required, to label anything and everything, as though an idiot was going to get in your machine and operate it.

Trim and Throttle

Each experimental aircraft must have a passenger warning placard displayed where the passenger can see it. Note that the placard is specific for the Experimental Light-Sport Aircraft. A different placard must be used for an aircraft that is registered as Experimental Amateur-Built. The EAA kit is for ELSA so if you go Exp. AB you will need to obtain a separate placard. This placard and the registration number are usually affixed to the instrument panel, but here he has used an available surface on the steerable nosewheel to serve the purpose because not enough panel space exists.

Passenger Warning Placard

The airworthiness certificate (Once the FAA issues it to you), must be displayed in full view. Many aircraft owners are securely attached a clear vinyl pouch, with a closure method, to their aircraft. Make sure that any attachment method you use is secure. We don't want to use the prop as a document shredder. George will mount his certificate on the back of the large instrument pod in the right of this photo. Another good location would be on the side face of saddlebags.

Airworthiness Certificate

The typical open UL has limited instrument panel space as shown in this photo. George has labeled the panel with his N Number and also indicated the minimum pilot weight needed by his weight and balance calculations. He has also labeled his master electrical switch and indicated on and off positions. The factory has labeled the keyed ignition switch with the various positions. Note the red limit markings that have been attached to the faces of the tachometer and dual CHT. The ASI has a red mark indicating minimum speed and yellow and green arcs showing operating ranges. An enclosed fixed wing aircraft with a larger instrument panel and more extensive guages and equipment will have a few more things to mark and any mechanical instruments will require range and limit smarkings.

Some aircraft use an electronic engine monitoring system. This means they don't have a place on each instrument, to place the required range markings, as you do with separate mechanical instruments. It is still important to indicate the operating ranges and limits for things like coolant, CHT and EGT temperatures and RPM's. This can be done below the EIS. The EIS should also be set to produce an alarm for all available out of range conditions

Instrument Panel Markings

The required fuel type, grade and quantity needs to be marked on the tank near the filler cap. This photo shows George's overhead root tube mounted tank. George has used a premade label and then attached his specific requirements to it with stick on labels indicating type grade and capacity. He has also affixed a sticker warning that 2-cycle oil must be premixed with the fuel. Some engines have oil injection and won't need this label, but they will require marking of the 2 cycle oil tank or resevoir with levels. Some people also mark the sides of their translucent tanks with fuel level marks to keep track of remaining fuel levels.

Fuel Type, Grade and Quantity

George has two fuel tanks and both need to be marked. The lower tank is prone to having fuel spilled on it in the location where the labels are affixed. AV/GRAFIX recommended that a clear protective cover sheet be installed over the labels to further protect them. Also, it is a good idea to have extra labels on hand to replace labels damaged in the course of daily use.

Gas Tank

Fuel Type, Grade and Quantity (Second Tank)

The mag switches are located on the back of the auxilliary pod and this photo shows their labeling. This is another example of labeling everything and indicating how it operates.

Mag Switches

This aircraft has an owner constructed plate for the mounting of the extra fuel valve required by having two tanks, and also for the mounting of the navigation (Position) and landing light switches. These valves and switches are labeled and the aircraft empty and max. gross weights are also labeled in this convenient location. Note the additional labeling for the fuel valve located on the bottom of the tank above. Also note the removeable intercom and case wrapped around the horizontal tube.

Fuel Valves and Lighting Switches and Aircraft Weight

The two fuel valves are bothe labeled here. Note how the main fuel valve is labeled on the side of the fuel tank and the on and off indicators are on the switch itself.

Fuel Valves

The owner here has repainted the tubing at some time in the past. He has followed good practice, and showed an attention to detail, by replacing the destroyed manufacturers decals with new ones.

Pre-existing Manufacturers Markings

The typical BRS will usually have adequate markings like the one shown here (Please pardon the out of focus photo). Make sure your safety pin is installed during the inspection. It would be embarassing to scare the inspector by firing it off.


Some more things to think about

Preparing your Aircraft for Inspection
You will need to prepare your aircraft for an airworthiness inspection. This inspection involves the physical condition of the aircraft as well as required markings and equipment.
Many of us have aircraft that need work to bring our aircraft into a condition that is considered airworthy. This is an opportunity to make your aircraft safer. I recommend you do all the things necessary to put your aircraft in condition for safe flight. In addition, I recommend that you make any modifications before getting it inspected. Most modifications are considered major alterations and require FAA paperwork and inspections and even a test flight period. It is easier to do the work now in a less regulatory environment. If you intend to change an engine then be sure to submit the serial number of the new engine on your registration information.
In addition to improving the general condition of your aircraft, the FAA has requirements for the markings of your aircraft as well as equipment that will have to be installed. You may also want to consider installing the equipment necessary to use your aircraft for your Practical Test (If a 2-seater). It is optional for the DPE (Designated Pilot Examiner) to use your ELSA (Experimental Light Sport Aircraft) for the Practical Test, so check to see if he will.

Note: When attaching I.D. plates, placards or equipment, be careful not to damage or compromise structural members of the aircraft with bolt holes. Affix with straps or other methods wherever possible. Another thing to look out for concerns the actual markings and ID plates and other materials you use. Equipment suppliers sell items that seem to be what you need but don't meet FAA requirements. For instance, you need a fireproof (steel or S.S.) ID plate. Aluminum won't do. The plate should say Amateur Built for AB Exp. and Light Sport for ELSA. The passenger warning placard reads differently too. You don't need TSO'd equipment for experimental aircraft but when picking things like strobes and lighting and such the FAA approved items might be better quality. They might also be too heavy and expensive. It's your call.

There are a number of ways that you will need to mark and identify your aircraft to meet the FAA requirements. You will need to provide Identification and registration markings, instrument markings and general equipment marking. You will also have to install an I.D. plate for your aircraft. In general, every device should be labeled and every control should have all of the operating positions labeled.
Many of the aircraft supply companies have kits for the marking of aircraft. The marking of Exp. AB will be similar to Experimental Light Sport but there will be differences. Check Part 45.

Some additional things that might need to be marked, depending on the particular aircraft include:

Solo Flight From Front Seat Only - Tandem seat aircraft need this marking so that a proper weight and balance may be maintained and so a solo pilot has all the necessary controls available to operate the aircraft.

Oil Injection - Aircraft with oil injection engines need this marking. Mark with type and capacity on the tank.

Note: Aircraft with engines that use premixed oil and gas should have a marking indicating this near the fuel filler location. It should indicate the oil type and mix ratio.

Choke or Primer - Label and indicate operation.

Trim Tab Control - For in-flight adjustable trim tab. Label and indicate operation.

Pitot Static Inlet - Provide cover to protect from debris and insects. Mark cover with "Remove Before Flight".

Water Cooled Engine - Markings for coolant type and a warning label to "Check Coolant Level".

Other Information

Identification and Registration Markings
The FAA requirements for identification and registration markings are detailed in FAA Advisory Circular AC45-2B here:

AC45-2B Identification and Registration Marking

Instrument Markings
Here is some helpful information on requirements:

AC20-88A Guidelines on the Marking of Aircraft Powerplant Instruments (Displays)

Aircraft Certification

I have created a website for UL pilots transitioning themselves and their aircraft to Sport Pilot. The site is here:

Sport Pilot Training

It contains a guide to N Numbering, registering and obtaining an airworthiness certificate for your aircraft. It is here:

Sport Pilot Aircraft Certification Guide


Each aircraft has specific needs for marking, labeling and placarding. If you carefully follow the FAA's requirements, and go by the general rule that everything needs to be labeled with what it is and how it operates, you will go a long way toward completing the process of preparing your aircraft for the airworthiness inspection. This page is meant to be a general guide. If you have any questions about particular items it would be a good idea to contact the DAR or FAA inspector who will be conducting the inspection on your aircraft. Ask them what they expect before hand so things go smoothly on inspection day. Good luck.


AV/Grafix - Most, if not all, of the markings and decals used on this aircraft were provided by AV/GRAFIX. They were very helpful in making recomendations about the particular decals needed, including the suggestion of using a clear cover sheet to protect decals that are exposed to gasoline. Their contact info is here:

(800) 352-2296
or E-Mail Us at:

10587 Dupcza Dr.
Durand, Michigan 48429

George L. Smith - Without the help of George L. Smith this page wouldn't exist. It was his idea that a separate page be provided showing fixed-wing marking. He was very helpful in showing me his reasoning in the selection and placement of each marking he installed. George is an Ultralight Flight Instructor Airplane Land (UFI). If you would like to contact him here is his contact info:

George Smith

(989) 670-1940