Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, June 21, 2011

It’s The Little Things: Refurbishing On A Dime

A dozen ideas to upgrade your airplane without breaking the bank

With recent news of declining new-aircraft sales, it's pretty clear that we may be in it for the long haul when it comes to a full economic recovery. In the aviation world, most pilots are hanging on to their current aircraft, at least until there's a sure indication of better times. While there's plenty of interest in brand-new aircraft and lots of activity at industry shows, aircraft owners are mostly watching cautiously from the sidelines. Meanwhile, GA's current stable of some 175,000 piston-engine airplanes is plying the skies across the country, faithfully carrying their owners to destinations near and far.

Of course, new airplanes are exciting because of the prospect of brand-new gear, new capabilities, more efficiency and possibly safer flying. Technology has changed aviation quite a bit in the last couple of decades, and maybe the idea of a plain-wrap, legacy GA airplane is outdated. But is it?

In fact, with even a miserly budget and some creative thinking, you can transform your trusty machine into an updated, more comfortable and safer airplane. You can get the "bang" of a new airplane without actually having to pay the "buck." While big-budget goodies always are available if you have the funds, there's also a whole grab-bag of stuff you can do to make your airplane feel new, and you can do it without mortgaging the farm. Like those popular home-improvement television shows that prove you can "design on a dime," we'll show you how you can refurbish your airplane for just a little more than that.

Seat Upgrades
No part of your body takes more abuse in flying than your derrière. Sitting in a cramped space for four or five hours, bouncing around rough air in a typical GA airplane will prove that quickly. Yet most of us don't give a second thought to our seats. Oregon Aero ( manufactures well-known and respected seat upgrades—in addition to an array of products to improve your aviation experience. From OEM replacements to custom seats and portable-cushion systems, Oregon Aero is known for adding comfort to everything from warbirds to jets. From an owner's perspective, new seats sell airplanes, and it's a low-cost upgrade that's immediately noticeable. From $199 for a portable-cushion combo up to a full cockpit redo, seat upgrades should be on every pilot's list. While you're at it, check out the company's headset-upgrade kits. They're as good as its seats. Both your ears and your rear end will thank you.

LED Lighting
Lightbulbs quickly are becoming a thing of the past, at least in aircraft. Light-emitting-diode (LED) lighting takes aircraft illumination to a new level by yielding unbelievable performance for an equally unbelievable price. LEDs are ultraefficient lighting sources. They give off bright, clean light without heat, and last for thousands of hours (many are rated at 100,000 hours!). The cost to replace LEDs (if they ever need replacing—most will outlast their owners) is a fraction of that for incandescent bulbs. LEDs are now available for interior or exterior aircraft lighting. Aircraft owners can install battery-powered cockpit lighting without any major modification (or 337 form). Ranging in price from $30 for a battery-powered map light, to $250 for the popular Aveo interior lighting kit, LEDs give you a lot for a little. Be sure to check out LED strobes, beacons and landing lights. Manufacturers include Whelen (, Kestrel-Air ( and others.

Seat Belts And Harnesses
These are upgrades that could save your life. While seat belts usually last a long time, belt webbing on older airplanes or belts that have been subjected to harsh conditions should be replaced. Today, there are many options to choose from. Pilots with older aircraft simply can install new lap belts, add a shoulder harness or an even better five-point harness. There are so many new colors to choose from, that new belts can add cosmetic flair, as well.

Even newer aircraft gain value from upgraded belts or those with airbags built into them like replacement seatbelts from AmSafe ( While Hooker harnesses ( are probably the most recognized STC'd harnesses, a well-known auto-racing seatbelt manufacturer, Crow Enterprizes (, has been getting rave reviews in the LSA, Vans and experimental world with their very affordable and rugged five-point, U.S.-made harnesses.


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