Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Upgrade Your Plane! Part II


A new panel



After receiving a brand-new exterior paint job, the author’s 1971 Piper Cherokee PA28 was outfitted with an upgraded panel.
In the December 2009 issue, we took you through the process of upgrading your aircraft’s exterior (see "Upgrade Your Plane! Part I"); now, we step inside and guide you through a panel upgrade.

While having a modern, state-of-the-art panel may be a dream, this is no dream article. Given today’s economy, we’re taking a practical look at the best real-world solutions for getting maximum functionality without having to sell a kidney for financing. Effectively upgrading a typical aircraft on a real-world budget means considering the confluence of purchase price, installation cost and functionality.

Project Considerations
At the onset of the panel upgrade project, we established three important parameters. By adhering to these parameters (budget, upgradability and integration), we hoped to limit exposure to “scope creep.” As research commenced, every product decision would need to pass a litmus test of how it impacted the total upgrade budget, future upgradability and integration with other selected components. Additionally, a significant portion of the upgrade project was devoted to enhancing safety by improving situational awareness, reducing pilot workload and adding redundancy.

Effectively upgrading a typical aircraft on a real-world budget means considering the confluence of purchase price, installation cost and functionality.

The “Before” Panel
When I took the keys, the 1971 PA28 was equipped with a very basic IFR panel that previously had been upgraded with a GX55 en route GPS. NAV/COM functions were managed by a pair of Bendix/Kings: a vintage KX 170B and a more modern KX 125 with digital CDI. The panel also had the obligatory Mode C transponder, an ADF and a single NAV head with glideslope. To say the least, without even the most basic autopilot, the original panel configuration was a challenging single-pilot IFR platform. It was finally out with the old and in with the new—well, sort of.

A More Robust GPS

These days, a GPS device is the heart and soul, and primary navigation source, of most panels. While I’m a firm believer that primary flight training should be done in minimalist fashion on steam gauges, the reality is that a great number of aircraft are flown primarily by reliance on satellites, thanks to the advent of GPS for civilian use. Even if an aircraft isn’t equipped with a panel-mount GPS, many pilots carry aboard a handheld, yoke-mount or other type of portable GPS.

Having a GPS unit is an invaluable resource, but we wanted more functionality than what the decade-old GX55 had up its sleeve. And if one is good, two are better—we wanted the convenience and redundancy of two GPS units in the new panel. So space was allocated in the panel and budget for a pair of refurbished Garmin GNS 430s. In this case, using two reconditioned 430s was more affordable than purchasing one new GNS 530W. Plus, the 430s are upgradable to WAAS capabilities and also support a host of other functionality and integration features.



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