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

Cabin Air Controls And Vents
The cabin air-flow system on a lot of legacy GA aircraft stinks. Engineers were probably too busy worrying about other things to give consideration to the lowly air vent. All of this becomes apparent on a hot day while waiting to taxi. But, several manufacturers have introduced a better mousetrap when it comes to cabin air vents. Options range from the self-installable "Vista-Vent," to the "Ventube" systems manufactured by Vantage Plane Plastics ( Vantage also makes an innovative, solar-powered ventilator (SPV) for aircraft cabins called the "Solar Skies." It works by exhausting heat in the cabin while introducing fresh air from the aircraft's intake vents and recycling cabin air every two to three minutes. Using only solar power, it also can run a cell phone, GPS or other accessories for under $300. Sporty's ( makes an airline-quality Precise-Flow air-vent system that's STC'd and comes with a 337 form. It's a precision, quality system that far outperforms the original vents.

Replacement Yoke Or Stick Grip
Too many pilots fly with a loose or partially broken yoke or stick grip. It's one of those parts that pilots rarely consider. But a broken yoke or stick grip at the wrong time could spell disaster. Another issue is that new technology has given us the ability to put more controls within fingertip reach. Simply switching out your controls can give you far more capabilities. Consider, too, that the cosmetic impact of a new yoke or grip is immediate. Pioneer Aircraft ( makes some gorgeous wood control grips that would add the ultimate touch to any classic aircraft. For high-tech fans, the Ray Allen Company ( manufactures modern grips with the capability of adding switches that control everything from GPS units and flaps, to radios, lights and more. Infinity Aerospace ( also makes some cool military-style controls that are perfect for high-performance or vintage aircraft.

New Door Seals
Replacement door seals may not sound sexy, but anyone who has flown with new door seals knows the difference they make in noise and pilot fatigue. A large part of the "tiredness" we feel after a long flight is due to the noise battering our brains, nerves and senses. Door seals also make a big difference on leaky aircraft, helping to stave off corrosion and other damage. The "go-to" company here is Aircraft Door Seals, LLC ( Their revolutionary seals are made of a special mil-spec rubber compound that conforms to the shape of the door, molds itself to the rivets and seams, and makes an airtight and waterproof seal. Instead of mounting to the door, as in conventional applications, these attach to the fuselage around the door openings (they also now offer door-mounted seals). Today, some 20,000 aircraft door seals later, the company offers a growing line of products, including upgraded glare shields and special polishes and cleaners.

Restore Plexiglass Windows
Anybody who has priced replacing a full set of windows on an average GA airplane will tell you they almost fainted when reading the quote. But hazed windows are a true safety hazard, as anybody with the sun in their eyes through a scratched windshield will tell you. Fixing this is something you can do yourself, and has proven effective if done correctly. "Plexiglass" is just a trade name for acrylic plastic. Polycarbonates are a different breed (used in bulletproof applications), the most popular being "Lexan." GA aircraft normally have acrylic windows. With enough care and elbow grease, nearly all the Plexiglass-restoration products will work, though the most pilot-friendly are from 3M ( and MicroMesh ( The 3M version is the Finesse-It Plastic Repair System. Both will provide outstanding results, and both are used in the best aviation museums to restore complete clarity to badly hazed windows. You can source these systems for around $100 at aircraft supply stores.

New Plastic Parts
One company that's a virtual Disneyland for pilots who are refurbishing on a budget is Vantage Plane Plastics in Alva, Okla., ( Their catalog has so many OEM replacement parts, custom fittings, cosmetic refinishing supplies and customizing parts, that you could almost build an entire airframe just from their catalog. This is the place to start for anybody with plastic woes relating to their aircraft. Vantage makes just about everything imaginable to restore or upgrade your aircraft to pristine condition. They're a known source for paint and prep products, carpet, replacement plastic and hardware. One of their latest offerings is their Hush Kit, which replaces key components in an aircraft's interior to yield an ultraquiet airframe. Excellent prices and great service make this a first stop in your refurb project.


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