Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Upgrade Your Plane! Part II

A new panel

Selecting A PFD
Flying behind large-screen PFDs in corporate aircraft, then getting into the steam-gauge PA28 was a strange and interesting endeavor. I enjoy the “airmanship” of flying on steam gauges, but my father-in-law is right: “It’s easy to get used to whipped cream.” My glass-cockpit experience had truly spoiled me beyond recognition. Thus, this vintage bird was destined to get a PFD as part of the panel upgrade.

The available PFD options for even this level of aircraft are nothing short of remarkable. Prices ranged from $9,995 to $35,000, so once again, the ultimate selection was based on the best blend of price, upgradability and integration.

The upgradability issue was important because the panel upgrade wouldn’t be completed in one fell swoop. Components were selected that could have supplemental functionality—i.e., software—added in the future without throwing money away (by the need to change hardware). This speaks to the critical issue of price.

Do your homework and find a reputable shop that’s a retailer, installer and warranty/repair facility for all of the avionics you choose.

Because you have little control over purchase price, one way to manage the total budget is by limiting labor costs wherever possible—ergo, minimizing the panel modifications required for installing the PFD and other components. For us, all roads led to Aspen Avionics ( The ingenious EFD1000 is designed to be installed in the existing three-inch-diameter hole typically occupied by the attitude indicator. The EFD1000 interfaces nicely with the Garmin GNS 430 and will serve as the heading reference required for an autopilot and GPSS. The Aspen unit is fully upgradable with up to two additional units placed on either side of the PFD to create a wide array of MFD capabilities and redundancy for traffic, weather, terrain, reversionary PFD and more. And perhaps best of all, Aspen’s EFD1000 has a backup lithium battery to power its own GPS and ADHARS in an emergency.

Attitude Adjustment
All digital PFDs require the redundancy of four backup instruments: altimeter, airspeed indicator, attitude indicator and heading reference (DG or compass). Thus, installing the EFD1000 meant the attitude indicator would be retained but relocated. However, since one of the objectives was to improve safety, we decided to eliminate the aged vacuum pump.

We opted to replace the now-backup, vacuum-pump-driven AI with a Lifesaver from Mid-Continent ( The Lifesaver is a fully self-contained, electrically driven AI that also has its own battery-powered life support. Even with a complete ship electrical failure, the Mid-Continent 4300 Series Lifesaver attitude indicator provides the pilot with one full hour of levelheaded thinking to get on the ground, shiny side up. Having already survived both a real-life and simulated vacuum-pump failure, experiencing such a failure again isn’t something I care to “three-peat.” Adding the redundancy of the Lifesaver to the security of internal battery backup in the EFD1000 provides cheap “life assurance.”


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