February 28, 2008
By Ian J. Twombly
By Ian J. Twombly
The inside of an aircraft is an interesting place. Not only do the components have to meld traits such as durability, low weight, and quality, they have to look good too. Redoing the interior involves decisions that are a series of trade-offs between being comfortable and having something that lasts with reducing the empty weight of the aircraft and stretching the value. For AOPA’s “Get Your Glass Sweepstakes” Archer, we were lucky to have Oxford Aviation in Oxford, Maine, at our side to guide us through the process.
Oxford has at its disposal years of experience with different products and techniques that have borne out just the right traits. The new interior is first and foremost practical. It’s more durable than the original and many components are lighter. But as an added bonus, it looks great too.
When we started looking at designs, it wasn’t obvious, but the folks at Oxford had a plan in place to steer us towards what they know to be some of the best practices. For example, the best interiors are designed to be darker at the bottom and lighter on top. And we ended up with a dark gray carpet that will hide the wear and tear, and a light headliner that will remain taut for years to come.
Watching an interior come together is interesting. At the base of it all is of course carpet. Not many pilots think about carpet until it’s time to redo their airplane’s interior. According to Oxford Aviation president and founder Jim Horowitz, almost all of his company’s carpet installs are done with 100-percent wool carpet. The result is a carpet that’s durable—a key consideration for the small cockpit of an airplane. After a color is chosen, the shop creates a paper template. The carpet is then cut, and the edges are bound for strength. Attaching it to the floor depends on the type of aircraft. Some carpets are put on plywood backing, while others may be hooked in. Either way, the carpet has to be removable for inspections, so there’s no tacking it down like at home.
Working up from the floor, the sidewalls come next. Again, depending on the model aircraft, the original sidewalls can be made from aluminum, plastic, or even cardboard. In the case of the “Get Your Glass” Archer, Oxford trashed the original sidewalls and reconstructed new ones out of plastic. Then a thin layer of foam is put over the plastic to add to the aesthetics. Usually the sidewalls are covered with leather, although customers can opt for suede or fabric. “Without question leather is the most durable material,” said Horowitz. The Archer’s sidewalls are unique because Oxford handcrafted special insets for the armrests. And, unlike the stock airplane, the new “Get Your Glass” Archer will have four armrests—one for each occupant. It’s these little touches that will make this airplane one of the best looking in the sky.
A key accent in the each of the armrests, and on other choice places, is wood. Oxford has a cabinet shop where it creates custom cabinets for business jets and turboprops. That turned out to be a nice asset that allowed them to create custom pieces out of solid rosewood. Other than the four armrests, the flap handle and door handle will also have the rosewood accents.
Then of course there are the seats. As I said last week, the seats will be covered in black leather with perforated black leather insets. Think BMW or Lexus and you have a good idea of the quality of the materials and the look of the finished product. Horowitz said the Spinneybeck leather they use is a cut above the common leathers found elsewhere. “It’s called uncorrected leather,” he said. “That means it isn’t treated with a polymer.” Horowitz went on to explain that uncorrected leather is superior because it is more durable and comfortable than the alternative. But the leather is just the surface. Underneath, the seat is filled with five different densities of foam, which range from very dense to very soft. The result is a seat that provides support and comfort over a long trip, said Horowitz. Of course, all of this would not be possible without designated engineering rep approval, as well as burn certificates. Most materials inside an airplane cabin have to be burn tested, and the tolerances are quite small. Oxford does some of this testing in house, but time and resource also necessitate going to specialists.
Finally, the headliner. Although not often given a second thought, a bad headliner can be like an American car from the 1980s. You’ve seen bad headliners sagging and blowing in the wind. To combat the natural stretching properties of leather, Oxford uses synthetic leather that is even more durable to scratching and stretching than the seats and sidewalls.
But all this doesn’t begin to describe the attention to detail that went in to the interior. It has to be seen to truly appreciate it. So come out to a show and take note of the new, updated circular vents, the new plastic generously donated from Piper, and all the other touches—such as a 12-volt outlet at every seat, which makes this Archer a great airplane by every measure.
Next week: Soundproofing
E-mail the author at [email protected]
AOPA Pilot and Flight Training Editor Ian J. Twombly joined AOPA in 2003 and is an instrument flight instructor.
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