By H.G. Frautschy

(Reprinted from Vintage Airplane April 1994, and revised February 29, 2000.)

Satisfaction in restoring a vintage airplane can come from many areas. You may be fulfilled by simply knowing you have restored an otherwise neglected or worn airplane back to airworthy status. Perhaps you rebuilt an airplane that had served you well for a number of years, or brought back an aircraft found unused in the back of a dusty hangar. For many restorers, just doing the restoration is reward enough, but for many others, the idea of a little competition whets their appetite.

It’s fun to compete in a friendly way with your fellow rebuilders, and chide each other over this or that detail.

Judging at EAA AirVenture is governed by the EAA Judging Standards Manual, a short (20 pages for all Divisions) booklet that sets the guidelines for the volunteer judges to follow.

As long as we’re on the subject, a short pause is in order to recognize a group of volunteers with some of the toughest jobs at any Fly-In – the Judges! Let me quote from the introduction page of the Judging Manual:

“The judging of contest aircraft is a difficult, demanding, rewarding and sometimes thankless job. The primary effort is to be objective and as professional as possible in evaluating the aircraft. The resulting decisions represent the consensus of a number of judges who have devoted a considerable amount of time and effort and who are aware of the importance of their decisions to the exhibitors.

“Judging is a voluntary activity with the only rewards being the satisfaction of a meaningful job well done. The judges are to be commended for the dedication which they all bring to this effort.”

All of us should keep that paragraph in mind the next time we see a group of judges gathered around a showplane on the flightline – they’re VOLUNTEERS, and they deserve our thanks.

The Judging Standards manual covers all the categories and classes judged at EAA AirVenture or at a regional or local fly-in. Of course, we’re interested in the Vintage Aircraft Association’s guidelines, and to make it a bit easier for all members to be sure they’ve kept abreast of the rules, we’ll repeat the standards verbatim here in the pages of VINTAGE AIRPLANE, along with a short discussion regarding some of the rules. Ready? Here goes . . .

The purpose of this manual is to lay the groundwork for a viable set of restoration, maintenance, and construction standards against which vintage aircraft can be judged. The philosophy of these standards must meet two basic criteria. One, the system must be simple. Two, the system must allow consistent and fair competition between common and exotic types.

Throughout these standards will be found the one concept that reflects the opinion of the majority of those individuals contacted during the development of these guidelines. That concept is authenticity. The standards are constructed to encourage the individual to complete and maintain a “factory fresh” aircraft. If the individual’s desire is to deviate from this goal for personal whim, or other reasons, the “cost of not conforming to pure authenticity is known in advance.” A portion of the guidelines pertain to the documentation of authenticity as it relates to the aircraft. The exhibitor is encouraged to prove the authenticity with pictures, letters, factory specifications, or any of the means which will alleviate the need for “judge’s opinion” in determining authenticity.

The exhibitor may assist the inspection by the judges. Judges will not remove inspection plates nor open panels without the presence and permission of the owner.

A. Antique Aircraft
An aircraft constructed by the original manufacturer, or his licensee, on or before August 31, 1945, with the exception of certain Pre-World War II aircraft models which had only a small post-war production shall be defined as Antique Aircraft. Examples: Beechcraft Staggerwing, Fairchild 24, and Monocoupe.

B. Classic Aircraft
An aircraft constructed by the original manufacturer, or his licensee, on or after September 1, 1945, up to and including December 31, 1955.

C. Contemporary Aircraft
An aircraft constructed by the original manufacturer, or its licensee, on or after January 1, 1956, up to and including December 31, 1970.

D. Continuously Maintained Aircraft
An aircraft with proof of construction by the original manufacturer, or his licensee, which has received periodic maintenance, repair, recover, and/or replacement of parts, but which has never been completely disassembled and rebuilt or remanufactured to new or better-than-new condition.

E. Restored Aircraft
An aircraft with proof of construction by the original manufacturer, or his licensee, that has been disassembled into its component parts which were then either replaced, refurbished, or remanufactured to new or better-than-new condition.

F. Customized Aircraft
An aircraft with proof of construction by the original manufacturer, or licensee, which has been obviously modified from its original appearance. Such modifications could include airframe structural changes, paint schemes, interior and upholstery, instrument panel, or engine and cowling, etc.

G. Replica Aircraft
An aircraft constructed exactly to the original manufacturer’s plans, full size in scale, but not constructed by the original manufacturer or his licensee.


udges will be selected by the Chairmen of the respective Classes subject to approval by the Board of Directors of the Antique/Classic Division.


A judge should be a current member in good standing of the EAA and a member of the Antique/Classic Division. Exceptions can be made in special circumstances subject to the approval of the Judging Standards Committee. He should have a thorough knowledge of the aircraft type and vintage being judged, this knowledge having been gained from actual experience flying and/or maintaining such vintage aircraft. Qualification may also be acquired by historical research or actual restoration experience.

Judges should be guided by the following general policy. The prize winning aircraft is either in, or has been restored to, factory fresh condition. In the case of restored aircraft, the quality and authenticity of the completed restoration is the main issue. The best restoration is the one which most closely approaches factory fresh condition. Authenticity is to be emphasized. Any alterations, for whatever purpose, with the exception of safety items and necessary alterations to meet current FAR requirements, should be discouraged. These are covered in the standard deductions on the judging sheet. Duplication of parts should be as close to the original as possible. Penalties should be given for lack of restraint in “over restoration.” Judging for cleanliness should take into consideration the extent to which the aircraft is used. An authentic restoration should not be penalized when it bears only the oil and grease normally accumulated in operation of the aircraft. This will not excuse a poor presentation for lack of the routine cleaning and polishing which a show plane deserves. Aircraft must be flown to or during the convention.

The proof of authenticity should be a book which documents the history of the aircraft. The purpose of this presentation book is to authenticate the restoration or preservation of the aircraft. Preferably, photos will document the state of the aircraft before, during, and after the restoration.

Replicas should be judged as a separate category. If there are sufficiently large numbers of replicas entered in competition, they can be sub-categorized into all the classifications and subclassifications presently used in judging antiques and classics.

Listed below are complete categories and subdivisions that will apply at the annual Oshkosh International Convention. The date range of the basic categories has been standardized and will remain intact. The contemporary years may be extended as experience dictates. New categories may be initiated as progress warrants.

Awards will be given only where indicated by the presence of aircraft of superior quality which warrant this level of recognition. Special awards may be given at the discretion of the judges subject to the approval of the Judging Standards Committee.

Any Antique or Classic aircraft which at one time was owned and/or operated by any recognized military organization should be judged on the basis of its former military appearance, unless a comparable civilian model of that aircraft was offered for sale by the original manufacturer or his licensee.


PIONEER AGE (Prior to 1918)

Runner Up

GOLDEN AGE (1918-1927)

Runner Up
Outstanding open cockpit biplane
Outstanding closed cockpit biplane
Outstanding open cockpit monoplane
Outstanding closed cockpit monoplane

SILVER AGE (1928-1932)

Runner Up
Outstanding open cockpit biplane
Outstanding closed cockpit biplane
Outstanding open cockpit monoplane
Outstanding closed cockpit monoplane

BRONZE AGE (1933-1941)

Runner Up
Outstanding open cockpit biplane
Outstanding closed cockpit biplane
Outstanding open cockpit monoplane
Outstanding closed cockpit monoplane

WORLD WAR II ERA (1942-1945)

Runner Up
Outstanding open cockpit biplane
Outstanding closed cockpit biplane


(Any antique aircraft age)

Runner Up


Runner Up


Runner Up


(Any antique aircraft age)

Runner Up


Runner Up


CLASS I (0-80 HP)
CLASS II (81-150 HP)
CLASS III (151-up HP)
Aeronca Champ
Aeronca Chief
Cessna 120/140
Cessna 170/180
Cessna 190/195

Piper J-3
Limited production




Beech Single Engine
Beech Multi Engine
Cessna 150
Cessna 170-172-175
Cessna 180-182-210
Cessna 310
Piper PA18 Super Cub
Piper PA22 Tri-Pacer
Piper PA24 Comanche
Piper PA23 Apache-Aztec
Limited Production
Best Continuously Maintained
Most Unique

Judges should understand that the maximum attainable would be a perfect score grand champion without qualification. It could never be surpassed, and it could only be tied by another perfect score grand champion. Consistency and fairness should be the main criteria in judging.

1. General Appearance

This is the only category which covers the aircraft in its entirety. Workmanship, authenticity, cleanliness, and maintenance of the aircraft should be the criteria. Judges should consider the aircraft and its airworthiness as a whole and not as individual pieces. A non-authentic color scheme, modern finish, fabric other than original, non-authentic striping or decorations should warrant the use of negative points. Markings, done in good taste, should not be penalized. Aircraft showing use of metal that has replaced the original use of fabric or plywood skinning should be penalized substantially. Use of non-original type nuts, bolts, cable splices, safety wire, etc., should also be penalized.

2. Cockpit

Anything visible within the cockpit and passenger compartments comprises the items under inspection in this category. Authenticity should be stressed in the finish, upholstery (or lack of), instruments, controls, and other components. The operational condition of all components, the workmanship and the attention to detail are considered important. Installation of modern electronics should not be penalized providing the installation does not detract from the authenticity of the instrument panel or other components. Deductions should be made for alterations made to the throttle, stick, or control wheel. Non-authentic upholstery material or patterns should result in deductions. Chroming of parts not originally chromed should earn minus points.

3. Engine

Consideration should be given to the correct engine as well as to its mounting, cowling, accessories, and propeller. Again, authenticity should be stressed. There should be nothing on or in the engine compartment that was not there originally. Everything should be installed in a first class manner according to the way it was when it left the factory. Plus points should be given for authen-ticity. Any non-original engine, component, accessory, engine mount, propeller, or spinner, as well as any non-authentic chroming should receive minus points. Later or increased HP models of the original engines should receive little or no penalty

4. Landing Gear

This category should include brakes, wheels, tires, landing gear fairings, and wheel pants or covers, if any. Smooth tires should be given plus points if the aircraft was originally equipped with them. If streamlining was accomplished by balsa wood and wrapping, the quality of workmanship and authenticity of this should be considered. If the wheels are retractable, the wheel wells should be part of the inspection. Credit should be given for flying an authentic tail skid. Credit should be given for tail wheels that are authentic. Points should be deducted for non-authentic tires or tires of improper size. Non-authentic material used for fairings of wheel pants should be causes for penalty points.

5. Fuselage

When judging the fuselage, the first consideration should be its general all-over configuration. Has the restorer been authentic in duplicating the shape via stringers and woodwork where applicable? The entire fuselage including all struts, mechanism, gear mountings, and covering should be examined for workmanship and authenticity. If possible, the judges should view the fuselage interior for quality of inside restoration. The point should be stressed that it is the exhibitor’s prerogative to refuse removal of any inspection covers; however, it is urged that the exhibitor be cooperative, since the inside of the fuselage is a major portion of the restoration of an aircraft. The quality of workmanship of formers, woodwork, general finish, inside tubes, pulleys for the cables, the condition of the cables, and the interior finish on the tubes are all points that should be considered. Points should be deducted for fairings, cowlings, or windshields that are non-authentic.

6. Wings and Tail Surfaces

The judges should examine the exterior covering and finish reinforcing tapes, struts braces and wires, ailerons, flaps, navigation lights, fairings to center sections, the center section, gas tank and gas tank cap (if mounted in the center section), wing-walk and wing-to-fuselage fairings. The tail surfaces, including the horizontal stabilizer, elevator, fin, rudder, bracing wires, and attach fittings should all be considered. If the exhibitor, as suggested in the fuselage section, will allow a look inside the wings for condition of the structure, it should be considered. Again, he has the right to refuse such entry if it means removing a cover plate, and he does not wish to do this; however, an uncooperative exhibitor should be prepared to lose a couple of points. The inside condition of wings will show the quality of the restoration. A judge should not be looking for brand new wings as much as for workmanship in the restoration. The important aspect should be to observe that the wings are in a generally new condition showing the wood to be clean and freshly varnished, excellent craftsmanship is evident in the finishing of the fittings, and warped ribs have been replaced. There are many wings flying that have not been restored prior to recovering, or that have never been recovered. Non-authentic wires, struts, pitot, landing lights, or other related items should receive negative points.

7. Presentation Book

Proof of authenticity contained within the presentation book should be judged on details of the contents relative to the authenticity of either a continuously maintained or restored aircraft and not on the beauty or artistic quality of the book itself.

8. Degree of Difficulty

The difficulty involved in the reconstruction of a restored aircraft or in the preservation of a continuously maintained aircraft should be taken into consideration if it’s significant.

If there is any one item that the judges would like you to remember regarding an original restoration, it is this: “Duplication of parts should be as close to the original as possible. Penalties should be given for lack of restraint in ‘over restoration”‘. If you really want to chrome those valve covers, remember that it will cost you points if you want your airplane judged in the “original” types of classifications (Class I, Class II, Class III) instead of the custom classes (Class A, Class B, Class C).

Another point to keep in mind relates to the “Outstanding in Type” awards. In the Antique and Classic categories, the airplanes, both custom and original, are judged together, with the aircraft with the highest point totals coming out on top. Higher scores in the “Best in Type” categories usually result from aircraft that lean towards the more original restorations.

The Grand Champion and Reserve Grand Champion Antique and Classic aircraft will be judged in relation to their originality. The more original aircraft will be favored in these two awards.

For Contemporary airplanes, the judges will take into account that those aircraft have a higher incidence of changes, particularly with regard to instrumentation and radios, and will judge the “Best In Type” categories with that difference in mind. On the other hand, the Grand Champion and Reserve Grand Champion Contemporary aircraft will be judged in relation to their originality. The more original aircraft will be favored in these two awards.

Some members have asked about documenting originality. The most obvious method, but not always the easiest, is to have a copy of the factory drawing, factory sales order, and other factory documentation concerning your particular airplane, down to the serial number, if possible. With it, you can easily document the part or finish, and if you are able to also show originality using photographs or old magazines and factory brochures, the judges will not be left wondering if something has been customized or has been restored to original specifications.

A note is also in order concerning fabric and finishing. If your airplane was covered with Grade A cotton and then finished with butyrate dope, the new fabric and finish should duplicate, as close as possible, the finish on the airplane when it was first constructed. Needless to say, that can vary widely – a custom cabin Waco built in 1932 for a well-to-do customer may have had a hand-rubbed 30-coat finish that was so smooth no fabric surface was discernible.

In that case, a similar finish with more modern materials would have minimal deductions. The flip side of that might be a Cub or Champ, where the cotton fabric weave was quite visible through the butyrate dope.

Even if the restoration is covered with Dacron synthetic fabric, the color finish should attempt to replicate the appearance of the cotton and butyrate finish. A multiple coat hand rubbed finish on the Cub may look nice, but it will result in higher authenticity minus points. Some aircraft from the pioneer era of aviation were covered with cotton or linen and finished with nitrate dope. Because of the extremely flammable nature of cotton or linen fabric coated with nitrate, substitution with an appropriately finished more modern fabric and paint would be considered a safety issue, and would not result in the deduction of authenticity points. The use of nitrate dope would not result in a substantially higher score.

The judges would like to emphasize that theirs is not a secret society, and that they are quite willing to help when it comes to answering questions about restorations. They have the expertise to help you wade through the maze of questions and often, you may find an expert on your airplane, just by asking the judges for a little help. If you have any problems or questions regarding your restoration, and you’d like a little guidance, feel free to contact the chief judge in each of the categories. Since many of the questions members have would be of interest to most members, we’d like to publish the questions and answers. Finally, if you wish to have your own copy of the EAA Judging Standards Manual, the newly revised version of the booklet (including the listing of Contemporary awards) is available on the EAA AirVenture Awards website. For an article concerning the Judging Presentation Book, click here.

EAA Aviation Center
P.O. Box 3086
Oshkosh, WI 54903-3086
Phone: 920.426.4800