AOPA Get Your Glass Sweepstakes Update -- Installing the Aspen

May 22, 2008

Sweeps Update

Project Update: May 22, 2008

Installing the Aspen

By Ian J. Twombly

At the cornerstone of this year’s sweepstakes panel is the Aspen Avionics EFD1000 PFD. It, along with the Avidyne EX500, is what makes up the glass in Get Your Glass Sweepstakes. Incredibly, things aligned perfectly and Aspen received certification of the unit while the Piper Archer was in the avionics shop prior to Sun ’n Fun. As a result, one lucky winner will be flying the first certified unit ever installed.

Penn Avionics in West Chester, Penn., installed the Aspen and the radios, GPS, audio panel, multifunction display, and transponder prior to the show. We were worried that we were asking too much of the shop to do all that in less than a month. But, it came together nicely, and everything even interfaced. That’s no small feat.

How did it go?

Aspen Avionics is billing the EFD1000 PFD as a direct replacement for an airplane’s attitude indicator and directional display, be it a directional gyro or an HSI. Install is supposed to take about a week, and no panel modification is necessary in most cases, according to the company. Pretty impressive stats when you consider what the unit does for only $10,000. But was it as easy to install as Aspen says it is? “It’s really simple,” said Chris Vinciguerro, the technician completing N208GG’s panel transformation.

Most of the installation process was spent on the bench building harnesses, according to Vinciguerro. This step ferreted out a minor snag because the manual calls for a double-shielded wire. Vincguerro said that is a bit unusual, but that he simply ordered it and continued without issue.

Last week we talked about Vinciguerro’s installation technique, but for a quick recap, it’s very systematic. After building the harnesses at the bench, he starts at the airplane with antennas. Thus, the magnetometer went on the fuselage before anything else. Then it was inside to the peripheral boxes. In the case of the Aspen, that’s an auxiliary control unit (ACU), which allows the display to interface with an analog autopilot (as most of them are), multiple GPSs, and other devices. Finally, he ended up in the panel, which is where we left off last week.

It turns out that actually placing the display in the panel is one of the easiest parts of the job. One single bracket is mounted externally in six of the eight preexisting screw holes. Then the display slides in the bracket and two clips hold it in place. Vinciguerro didn’t even have to go behind the panel. He made the wire long enough to pull through. Installing it meant simply plugging in the harness and clipping in the unit.

According to Vinciguerro, one of the main reasons modern avionics have become so easy to install is serial data. Companies like Aspen Avionics and Garmin throw out the term RS-232 and RS-429 often, but what does it mean? Simply put, serial data is a way for devices to communicate digitally. RS-232 indicates one stream of data, while RS-429 indicates two. Take the EFD1000 PFD as an example. Because the unit needs to communicate a lot of data with the GPS, it requires an RS-429 connection. But two Garmin GNS430Ws interfacing with each don’t need to say much back and forth, so in that case only an RS-232 connection is required. The beauty of the system is that instead of connecting one wire for heading, one for bank, and so on, it’s one or two wires that do everything. Combine that aspect with the fact that the Aspen doesn’t require a flux in the tail, or a remote gyro, and it’s clear why it’s getting so much attention in the marketplace.

Does it turn on?

The final step had to be the hardest on the nerves, although Vinciguerro was understated about it. After building the harnesses, installing the magnetometer, the ACU, and the display itself, it was time to turn EFD1000 on and actually see if it worked. “It was nice,” said Vinciguerro. Once the unit powered up, some configuration was required, though less than with some other liquid crystal displays. Aspen requires the compass be swung to ensure accuracy. The time tolerance is tight to make the 360-degree turn, so this will take most shops a few tries, even if only on the first install. Then there are seven pages of parameters that must be set. Everything from knots or miles per hour to V speeds is set by the avionics shop at this time.

All in all, Vinciguerro said, it was a pretty easy install and went as advertised. Like any new system, there are issues that will need to be worked out. In the case of the sweepstakes airplane, one of those came up recently when Vinciguerro began work on getting the EFD1000 PFD to interface with the Avidyne TAS600 active traffic system. Aspen hasn’t tested this particular set-up yet, so some improvising will be in order. Minor issues aside, the rest of the installation is now on its way and we’ll be revealing the look of the new panel soon.

Next week: The one-piece metal panel

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