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Aircraft Maintenance: Avionics that evolve with your aircraft

I’m a big fan of the “best in breed” approach to avionics in my aircraft.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Simon.

That is to say that I prefer an open architecture that allows me to select the best piece of avionics for each particular function in the aircraft. My engine monitor is from a company that specializes in engine monitors (J.P. Instruments); my ADS-B transponder is from a company whose flagship general aviation product is the touch-screen-enabled, multi-hazard display Lynx NGT-9000 transponder (L3 Harris); my navigators are from a company whose primary focus is navigators (Avidyne); and my primary flight display is from a company that revolutionized primary flight displays by reducing the cost and complexity to the point that they could be rationally installed in the average Cessna 172 (Aspen Avionics).

In order to survive in the competitive GA avionics market, these companies are forced to do two important things:

  1. Play well with others (lots of integration options);
  2. Constantly focus on evolving their products to support their existing customers.

Every one of the avionics units in the aircraft benefits from continuous improvements by the manufacturer. The Avidyne IFD540 and IFD440 units have been through countless software upgrades with new features each time at only the cost of labor for the software update.  Even the JPI EDM 830 engine monitor went through a software upgrade recently that improved its features and readability.

That said, out of all the companies I’ve worked with, none has been as successful at continuous improvement as Aspen Avionics. When I originally installed my Evolution EFD1000 Pro primary flight display, it was an impressive and cost-effective replacement for the mechanical horizontal situation indicator in SocialFlight’s A36 Bonanza. Soon after, it grew with the addition of synthetic vision. After that came the release of the EA100 autopilot adapter to make it possible to ditch the gyros entirely. This was followed by ADS-B traffic and weather display, an angle of attack upgrade, and now the big one: Aspen’s Evolution MAX upgrade.

Aspen’s MAX upgrade program is a great offering for the avionics industry. For a fraction of the cost of a new unit, Aspen will upgrade both the hardware and software of existing Evolution PFDs and multifunction displays to what is, essentially, a next-generation product. When our Evolution PFD goes into Aspen for upgrade later this year, it will get a new, high-resolution display; a faster processor; a new backup battery; and a slew of new features including altitude intercept and larger fonts for readability when operating certain functions. It comes back a completely refurbished unit with new electronics (sensor board, processor, and graphics card), new battery, new display, and new two-year warranty. For users who are upgrading both a 1000 PFD and 1000 MFD, the MAX upgrade with an external backup battery also includes FAA certification to remove the vacuum system or any other backup attitude instruments.

Taking a “best in breed” approach to the different avionics in your panel isn’t for everyone since there are also advantages to the “one stop shop” approach to a new panel (including simplicity and human factors, among others). However, if you value flexibility and freedom to choose from a variety of manufacturers, the open architecture avionics panel may be for you. My personal experience has been a good one, and I routinely get good news as one or more of my avionics is ready to “evolve” to be more capable, more usable, or both! Until next time…happy flying!

Jeff Simon

Jeff Simon

Jeff Simon is an A&P mechanic, IA, pilot, and aircraft owner. He has spent the last 22 years promoting owner-assisted aircraft maintenance and created the first inspection tool for geared alternator couplings available at Jeff is also the creator of SocialFlight, the free mobile app and website that maps more than 20,000 aviation events, hundred-dollar hamburger destinations, and also offers educational aviation videos. Free apps are available for iOS and Android devices, and users can also visit
Topics: Aircraft Maintenance, Avionics
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Aircraft Spruce

Sponsor of Aircraft Maintenance
Aircraft Spruce provides virtually everything a pilot or aircraft owner might need. As a Strategic Partner since 2012, the company sponsors programs that bring hands-on knowledge and DIY spirit to AOPA members.