AOPA Get Your Glass Sweepstakes Update -- Coming to a panel for you

January 5, 2008

Sweeps Update

Project Update: May 1, 2008

Coming to a panel for you

By Ian J. Twombly

Now that Oxford Aviation in Oxford, Maine, is finished repainting and refurbishing the interior of AOPA’s Get Your Glass Sweepstakes Piper Archer, and Penn Yan Aero has overhauled the Lycoming O-360-A4M engine, it’s time to get down to business on the panel. Over the next few months we’ll discuss what “Get Your Glass” is all about, primarily from the equipment, installation, certification, and training aspects. As an introduction this week, we’ll go into detail on what will be incorporated in to the final panel, including radios, autopilot, GPS, and, of course, the liquid-crystal display, or glass.

Retrofit options for general aviation instrument panels are extraordinarily complex. In most cases, there are multiple manufacturers for one type of product, and each manufacturer offers slightly different options. Start to mix and match those manufacturers in one panel, and the complexity goes up exponentially. Because modern electronic radios and navigation equipment talk to each other, and to other pieces of equipment in the panel, full integration is often possible, if not difficult to understand. Such is the case with the Archer. With a different company for the primary flight display, multifunction display, GPS, autopilot, and so on, getting each device to work independently and together is a monumental task.

Thankfully Penn Avionics in West Chester, Penn., is completing work on this year’s panel, and the company has many years of experience with these issues. Its technicians have hundreds of years of combined experience, and its business extends from tailwheel airplanes up to cabin class twins and turbine helicopters. Penn Avionics is also a dealer for the biggest names in GA avionics, including Garmin, S-Tec, Avidyne, and Aspen Avionics. We thank them for their work, which we believe will speak for itself when all is said and done.

The equipment

Central to the panel will be the Aspen Avionics EFD1000 primary flight display. The Aspen PFD is a newly certified unit, intended as a direct replacement for an airplane’s primary instruments. It fits in the space that would otherwise be occupied by the attitude indicator and directional gyro or horizontal situation indicator (HSI), and provides that information electronically, and much more. The system is modular, allowing owners to upgrade with the multifunction display (designed to fit in the space once occupied by the altimeter and vertical speed indicator) at their own pace. The Archer has the world’s first certified installed unit, and flying with it has been a great experience. We’ll have much more about the Aspen in a future update.

Since Aspen is a new company and is in the certification process for its MFD, we reached out to Avidyne to fill that role. The features and capabilities of Avidyne’s EX500 MFD are well known and respected, and we are happy to have it on board. Recently the company improved on an already good system by offering some integrated capability from one source that others don’t. With the MHAS6000 package (Multi-Hazard Avoidance System), the EX500 now has integrated weather, moving map, terrain, and an active traffic avoidance system. The TAS600 is an active dual antenna-based system that works everywhere, not just in radar coverage. Think of it more like a traffic collision avoidance system (TCAS). Flying the Archer will also be made easier through the use of CMAX, the electronic chart service displayed on the MFD, as well as Sirius satellite radio. Finally, for real-time lightning detection, we’ll be installing an L-3 Communications WX500 stormscope to be displayed on the MFD.

Communication and navigation radios will come in the form of dual Garmin GNS430W GPS/Nav/Comms, a reliable, easy-to-use system that the winner will be able to operate starting on the first flight. Those radios will be managed through a PS Engineering PMA8000B audio panel, a great piece of equipment with capabilities well beyond its basic functions. We’ll discuss more features of the PMA8000 as we travel with the airplane around the country.

All of the instruments and equipment are irrelevant if the pilot doesn’t use the data correctly. To help the winner do this, we’ve turned to S-Tec, the market leader in GA autopilots. A proper autopilot is a key piece of safety equipment, especially when operating in instrument metrological conditions as a single pilot. The S-Tec Fifty Five X is a two-axis autopilot, including GPS steering (although it is also integrated in to the Aspen EFD1000 PFD). Altitude preselect is optional and will be installed on the Archer.

Keeping Penn Yan Aero’s new engine running in top shape is a priority, and to help do that, we’ll be installing a J.P. Instruments EDM 800 engine analyzer. The EDM 800 monitors exhaust gas temperature, cylinder head temperature, fuel flow, oil temperature and pressure, and copious amounts of other data, all of which is downloadable for later review.

All the airplane’s antennas are also being replaced, thanks to Comant. We’ll be replacing the ELT with a 406 MHz version made by Kannad, a new entrant to the light GA market. Finally, Penn Avionics will fashion a new one-piece flat metal panel, and Piper will be helping us update the look with new switches and other nice touches.

Between new entrants to the market and reliable, proven equipment, we think the avionics in the Archer will be better than some business jets and airliners flying today. Stay tuned in the coming weeks as we put it all together and barnstorm around the country.

Next week: The panel layout

E-mail the author at ian.twombly@aopa.org