March 25, 2013
By Ian J. Twombly
AOPA’s eighteenth annual Fly-In and Open House was a big success last weekend. We estimate around 5,000 people came out for the event, in which one of the highlights was the Get Your Glass Sweepstakes Piper Archer. By far the most-asked question was, “Is it finished?”
If you’ve been following along on this site, you know the answer is yes. Well, almost. Last Thursday, only two days before Fly-In, we flew to Brandywine Airport in West Chester, Penn., to pick up N208GG from Penn Avionics. In only a few weeks, Penn Avionics’ technicians had finished the entire panel upgrade and made the airplane into a beautiful, capable glass cockpit-equipped machine. Here’s how it all came together.
Bringing the panel together was easier than expected, according to installer Chris Vinciguerro. Since most things on the panel are talking to each other, it takes a careful eye to ensure that the systems are wired correctly. Of course, with almost everything being serial data on modern avionics, Vinciguerro said, that makes the job a lot easier. Take the Garmin 430W, for example. Each unit has four 232 ports, two 429 input ports, one 429 output port, and a dedicated nav 429 output port. (For more on serial data, read “ Installing the Aspen.”)
All of the 232 ports were used in the Archer’s install: one each for traffic, fuel information, transponder altitude, and the other 430W. A 429 port was used for the Aspen, and of course the nav 429 was also sent to the Aspen Avionics EFD1000. What that means is that each 430W will talk to the other GPS, get fuel flow information from the engine analyzer, obtain traffic data from the Avidyne TAS600, get altitude reporting from the transponder, and send gobs of information to the Aspen. The dedicated nav port is a unique and smart feature on the 430Ws. It was put in place so that if the GPS function on the unit failed, the user would still be able to obtain VOR information. Without it, one failure on the GPS would wipe out all the airplane’s nav data as well.
The 430Ws are just one example of the integration of modern panels. The complexity is astounding, which is why Vinciguerro quoted us a conservative estimate of one week just to ensure all of the systems are working and communicating. Physically making that happen is similar to what you would see on a home computer in many cases. With most units, the manufacturer provides a wiring diagram showing how other systems should be integrated, just as a monitor can only be hooked up to one place on a PC. The 430 is an exception. Garmin recommends certain wiring configurations, but the exact sequence, or port, as it’s called, doesn’t matter.
As Vinciguerro is completing the installation, he said he strings out all the wiring and tries each piece of equipment. In a home PC, a new piece of hardware is automatically detected when it’s plugged in, whereas avionics work only in raw data. So Vinciguerro opens up the specific port where the item is wired in the unit’s set up menus. If he’s done everything right, which he usually does, all the units recognize each other.
Some older avionics require an additional step, Vinciguerro said. An example is L-3 Communications Avionics Systems’ Skywatch traffic unit. In this case a laptop is directly connected through serial data and the installer configures it according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. With Skywatch, that means programming and setting the parameters for the antenna. The Avidyne TAS 600 traffic system used to require that, according to Vinciguerro, but new programming negated the need for it in this installation.
After the install is complete, the technicians go about completing their extensive quality control program. This entails a 27-page checklist containing everything from whether or not each piece of equipment is talking to one another to how well the wiring is tied off. Once the primary installer completes the checklist, a second installer completes the same list. It’s another set of eyes. Finally, Peter Stelzenmuller, the shop’s owner, flies the airplane and completes another set of checks. When all is said and done, the airplane is free of squawks and ready to be delivered.
We arrived at Penn mid-morning to an enormous binder full of paperwork, an airplane with more fuel in it then when we dropped it off, and a new glass panel free of issues. It was quite an experience flying it back to Frederick for Fly-In. Here’s a sneak peek: We’re getting to the point where all you have to do is get in the airplane, say “Frederick” and take a nap. It’s almost that easy.
Next week: The DER process
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