Project Update: It's all about the glass

November 11, 2009

By Ian J. Twombly

2008 Sweepstakes logoWelcome to the new year and your new sweepstakes airplane—a completely refurbished, glass-panel-equipped 1976 Piper Archer II. The year 2008 is all about AOPA’s “Get Your Glass Sweepstakes.” This year marks something new in the modern history of the AOPA sweepstakes airplanes. Whereas in year’s past there was no central focus to any one portion of the airplane, this year it’s all about the glass.

What used to be a new fad is now the norm. Especially from the major manufacturers, electro-mechanical instruments are being phased out for more modern, computer-like glass displays. In the retrofit market, companies such as Garmin, Avidyne, Bendix/King, L3 Communications Avionics Systems, Chelton, and Aspen Avionics have been working hard to bring new options for older airplanes. This new trend sparked the idea for AOPA’s sweepstakes and means the focus of the project will be on the panel. That’s not to say we’re not going to do this thing right and give the winner a completely “new” airplane. On the contrary, the Archer is already in the hangars of Oxford Aviation in Oxford, Maine.

Oxford is a major sweepstakes partner this year, completing all the work except for the panel. That includes new paint, a brand new interior with premium materials, airframe enhancements, and work forward of the firewall. When Oxford is finished working its magic, the Archer will go to Penn Avionics in Brandywine, Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia, for the panel.

The Archer

Piper’s Archer is a classic design that is instantly recognizable to pilot and non-pilot alike. Ask a non-pilot about a small airplane that they may have had a ride in, and without question the answer is usually a four-seat high or low wing. In the case of the low wing, it’s almost always an Archer, or its earlier brother, the Cherokee. Both the Cherokee and the Archer are PA-28s. Although the Cherokee has been around since 1964, the Archer II started production in 1976, the model year of our sweepstakes airplane. In fact, N22ZT is one of the first 75 off of the line from Vero Beach. Although the differences are slight, the Archer II, officially a PA-28-181, features a slightly tapered wing, a 180-horsepower Lycoming O-360, and a few other minor improvements. One reason we looked for an earlier Archer II was the useful load. The sweepstakes airplane has a useful load approaching 1,000 pounds. Compare that to Piper’s new Archer III from the factory with a useful load of 878 pounds. With a full fuel payload of more than 700 pounds, the sweepstakes winner will truly have a four-seat general aviation traveling machine.

The front office

Aspen Avionics displayAspen Avionics’ Evolution Flight Display is the cornerstone of this year’s sweepstakes airplane. It makes retrofitting our Archer with a glass cockpit possible.

It’s been a long time coming. Glass cockpit retrofit options are finally available, and at least one company, Aspen Avionics, is making the price attractive enough to take a serious look. Aspen’s Evolution Flight Display has generated a lot of buzz since being introduced at EAA Airventure last July. The company’s primary flight display (PFD) comes in three basic models—Pilot, Pro, and ATP. All the models feature an integrated air data and attitude heading reference system (ADAHRS), altitude pre-select, a GPS moving map, and an internal battery backup. The Pro and ATP take that further and include an electronic HSI, autopilot, comm, and nav integration, integral GPS steering, and terrain, traffic, and weather overlays. At $5,995, $9,995, and $12,995, respectively, the price of Aspen’s PFD makes it an interesting centerpiece for the sweepstakes panel. But that’s just the beginning. The winner will be lucky enough to also fly behind an S-Tec Fifty Five X autopilot, a PS Engineering audio panel, dual Garmin GNS430 WAAS GPSs, an Avidyne EX500 multifunction display with traffic and weather, a new Garmin transponder, and a J.P. Instruments EDM-800 engine analyzer.

In addition to the work that Penn Avionics will do to the sweepstakes airplane, we will also feature many of the other players in the market throughout the year, both online and in the magazine. The Garmin G600, Chelton FlightLogic, Avidyne Envision, Bendix/King KFD 840 PFD and KSN 770 MFD, and L3 Communications Avionics Systems SmartDeck, are just a few examples. We’ll also discuss the considerations of retrofitting an older airplane for glass. From primary and backup power issues to shops that can handle the job, many questions remain on such a project.

The cosmetics

Certainly one thing that’s not in question is the look of the airplane. In the coming days you’ll have the chance to vote on a color scheme for our “Get Your Glass” Archer. But in the meantime, the folks at Oxford Aviation have been hard at work on the airplane. They’ve had N22ZT since late November, and in the meantime the shop’s army of skilled employees has descended on our Archer and literally torn it apart. The interior is out. The paint is stripped. The engine is off. During the next few weeks, the crew will be adding everything from sound installation and premium leathers on the seats and headliners to new carpet, new paint, and a few choice modifications. There’s simply too much good to mention here, so check back often in the coming weeks for a full discussion on Oxford’s expert work and the products and contributors that are helping to support the project. We thank them all in advance for what promises to be one of the best sweepstakes projects yet.

As in past sweepstakes projects, your AOPA membership entitles you to an automatic entry. Participate in AOPA’s Automatic Renewal program and you’ll receive two additional entries. Make sure to read AOPA Pilot for monthly updates, and check this space often for weekly project updates. We’ll also be adding new interactive features during the year, new photos to the gallery as work is completed, and a map with scheduled barnstorming stops along the way. Here’s to a wonderful 2008. We’ll see you on the road!

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