AOPA's Catch-A-Cardinal Sweepstakes - Project Update: Stocking the Panel

November 11, 2009

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March 15
Stocking the Panel

All the right info, in all the right places






As we envisioned what kind of avionics we wanted to install in the 2007 Catch-A-Cardinal sweepstakes airplane, we kept in mind the mission that most members would embark upon: a VFR cross-country flight to do business, see family and friends, or just to enjoy the sky. We also wanted to give our winner the flexibility of a stable and capable IFR platform for single-pilot operations.

So we picked some of most user-friendly avionics in the arena, a sharp multifunction display, a prince of an autopilot (to engage before you need to be rescued), and great information sources such as lightning detection, engine monitoring, and datalink traffic and weather.

The goods
Garmin International debuted its GNS 430W and 530W navigators with WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System) capability late last fall. But after measuring the height available for the radio stack in the 177B, we discovered that two 430Ws would fit nicely - but installing a 430W and a 530W would entail moving the 530W (with the transponder) to the co-pilot's panel. I wanted to stay away from anything resembling "Franken-panel," so we went with dual 430Ws. These navigators give you GPS and VHF nav capability, including localizer and glideslope, plus the WAAS features of LPV precision approaches and vertical navigation profiles to nonprecision approaches.

We chose the Garmin GMX 200 multifunction display as well. The high-res screen depicts not only a detailed terrain and hydrology base map, but also the ADS-B (automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast) traffic and weather information in areas with ADS-B coverage through the GDL 90 universal access transceiver (mounted in the tail of the airplane). Rounding out the Garmin avionics is the GTX 330 Mode S transponder, also with datalink and traffic capability (displayed on the 430s), and the GMA 340 audio panel with up to six-place intercom, dual stereo music inputs, and independent volume controls.

The Honeywell Bendix/King KCS 55A flight control system includes the familiar KI 525 horizontal situation indicator (HSI), but it's also a complete automatic slaving compass system. The 525's combination directional gyro and omni-bearing selector (OBS) solves reverse-sensing problems and helps you synthesize course information with heading information.

To complement the datalink weather information delivered to our Cardinal's cockpit, we chose the Stormscope WX-500 lightning detection device by L-3 Communications Avionics Systems. Real-time lightning strike information marries well with the Nexrad radar graphics and textual weather uplinked by ADS-B.

For more data on the powerplant up front, J.P. Instruments provided us with its EDM-800 engine analyzer. With the EDM-800, you can keep tabs on 24 engine parameters and record that data for assessment on the ground. A fuel computer comes with the package as well. The results are displayed to an accuracy of a tenth of a percent.

We've improved timekeeping in the cockpit with a new SC-5 digital clock, courtesy of Electronics International. The SC-5 marks time several ways: local time, Zulu time, up and down timers, and an engine timer.

Tool from the trenches
Build a panel in 5 steps

1. Determine your budget. You need to know at the outset what you can spend; set aside some money for periodic maintenance items, such as instrument overhauls, that cost a little more but increase the life of your panel.
2. Assess your needs. You can buy the latest gee-whiz gadgetry, but are you going to use it? Sometimes more is just more distracting - but some upgrades pay off with added safety and situational awareness.
3. Look at your backups. Put together a series of failure chains that show you what will fail under what circumstances - and what components will continue to function. For the ultimate safety, aim for a panel that only goes completely dark under the direst circumstance.
4. Know it if you're gonna install it. Plan into your schedule (and budget) the time (and expense) to get to know your new avionics with training and practice both in home study and flying VFR in the local area.
5. Keep your options open. For example, many pilots report that the most bang for your buck comes from getting weather information in the cockpit - but there are several ways to do it. You can go for a panel-mount display or a handheld; you can sign up for commercial datalink weather or (in an increasing number of regions) opt for ADS-B. - JKB

We have installed two more safety items to help you stay upright in the clouds, if your flights take you there (on purpose or not). First is the SVS-V standby vacuum system from The Vac Source. Operating on the differential between the pressure inside the engine manifold and ambient air pressure, the system opens a shuttle valve to draw manifold pressure by which to power the primary attitude indicator (AI) - a freshly overhauled RC Allen RCA11A provided by Precision Avionics & Instruments. Your second ace in the hole is the Castleberry Model 300-14L backup electric attitude indicator, just to the right of the six pack, locked and loaded.

Adding autopilot, auto trim
The S-Tec Fifty Five X fills out the center stack on your 1977 177B. A rate-based autopilot such as the Fifty Five X uses the electric-powered turn coordinator for roll and pitch reference rather than the attitude indicator. This is where S-Tec's experience with light general aviation aircraft shows. On single-engine piston aircraft, the primary AI has traditionally been driven by the vacuum (or pressure) system, as it is on the Cardinal, and in many light singles there is no backup vacuum system to come online in the event of a vacuum or air pump failure.

And the AI itself has some limitations - the gyros wear over time and can fail. (Ever see an AI spin like a top? I have.) The attitude indicator's gyro stands a good chance of tumbling if the airplane enters an unusual attitude - such as you might experience in an inadvertent encounter with clouds or low vis. The turn coordinator's gyro doesn't suffer the same fate. Plus, rate gyros continue to work even after high wear - it pretty much takes a failure of the motor within the turn coordinator to fail the unit.

A two-axis autopilot controls aircraft in roll and pitch - for both heading select and altitude hold functions. The two-axis Fifty-Five X adds to this control wheel steering, digital vertical speed select, and approach intercept functions. We've also added GPSS (GPS roll steering) to smooth out course changes on GPS approaches, altitude preselect, and automatic electric trim. In fact, we gained an electric trim system in the airplane by going this route - because it was not originally installed on the Cardinal.

After GPS, datalink weather information tops the technologies that have made the most difference in pilots' lives in the past 15 years. So we couldn't let your Cardinal go out the door without this capability, quickly becoming standard on new airplanes, as well as in the aftermarket.

Choices abound, and the desire to keep this year's sweepstakes project simple and cost-effective loomed large. We sorted through the options, and came up with what we think is an elegant solution.

The GDL 90 mentioned above delivers weather and traffic information through ADS-B - which includes radar graphics, textual weather information, and other flight information that is projected to expand widely in the next five years as ADS-B undergoes its next round of development through 2012 (see " ADS-B: The Future is Now," November 2005 Pilot). Traffic info comes through TIS-B (traffic information system-broadcast); this is the data provided by air traffic control (via secondary surveillance radar position reports). In conjunction with the GTX 330 Mode S transponder, which broadcasts the airplane's position to ATC and other so-equipped aircraft, this system is supposed to form the foundation for the future of air traffic control.

In other words, we're equipping you for the future. At least the future as far as we can see it now.

But what about areas where ADS-B hasn't reached yet? If you live anywhere but the East Coast, Alaska, and certain very localized areas, this is a critical question. Luckily, there are plenty of handheld options that give you datalink weather anywhere you fly in the United States - and further afield. And we'll be giving our winner the latest in handheld GPS receivers with datalink weather capability - we can't disclose the details just yet. So that lucky pilot will have both a backup navigation system and a backup - or primary - datalink weather system to use in the airplane, or during preflight preparation at home or at the airport.

A backup in more ways than one - an elegant solution indeed.

- Julie K. Boatman

E-mail the author at [email protected].

   Sarasota Avionics Inc.
Sarasota Avionics International
Sarasota Avionics International, of Sarasota, Florida, started business in April 2000, but everyone on board has even longer-standing ties to the general aviation industry. Led by co-founders Vince Veltri (in the avionics business since 1991) and Bert VanKirk, and co-owner Kirk Fryar, and supported by Bert's son Ryan VanKirk, avionics consultant, and Dave Clarke, avionics manager, the Sarasota team is replete with pilots who love avionics.

The talented team includes professional technicians like Larry Viergiver, who knows his avionics - from legacy to cutting edge - after many quality years at Bendix/King, and Arleigh Yeomans, who had the requisite patience and keen eye to shepherd the painstaking overhaul of the Catch-A-Cardinal's electrical system. Visit the Web site or call 888/289-0997.