Thursday, February 01, 2007

Avionics Upgrade - Part 4

The key to the success of any project is to ascertain exactly what needs to be completed well before the project starts. Goal setting 101: "Begin with the end in mind." I approached 36G's Avionics makeover the same way I approach any project I manage -- I established the scope, time line and set clear expectations.

I developed 36G's scope using a few tricks I've learned over the years. First, I kept a notepad in the plane and jotted down things I liked when flying and things I didn't. Second, I took the picture below and set it as my computer desktop wallpaper. Every day and night as I worked, I would see this picture and add to my notes on things I wanted to change. Finally, I used Trade-a-Plane as a source for ideas. I reviewed every Mooney, Bonanza, etc. posting I could find that had pictures of panels. Everything I liked I wrote it down, kept the pictures, etc. I kept this process going until I got to the point where there was nothing else I could think of that I wanted or needed to do. In other words, the project was defined!

The scope of the project took several months to develop, but there were some key decisions I had to make along the way...

Mooney's are a very capable airplane. The designers knew they would be hard-IFR machines. A lot of thought went into their panels. I stared at this picture for months and only found a few alterations I wanted to make:
  • The Emergency Locater Transmitter (ELT) arm switch. It is hard to see in the photo, but it is above the right radio stack. In an emergency I want to be able to flip it on without having to hunt for it. Most new planes have this located on the pilots side. I decided to move it to a more standard location.
  • The prop deice amp meter. This gage shows if prop heat is on and working. It was also over the second radio stack in front of the copilot. If I am using prop deice it will likely be in a stressful situation. I certainly want to see it! During the upgrade I will move this to the pilot panel.
  • The JPI EDM-700 Engine Monitor is one that I installed right after I purchased N5236G. I installed it over the second radio stack since I didn't have space on the pilots side. This location is difficult to see when flying. After the upgrade I will have the space, so I will move it over to the pilot panel.
The decision to install a Garmin MX-20 Multifunction Display (MFD), a Garmin GNS-430W GPS, a Garmin GTX-330 Transponder with TIS, upgrade the existing King KX-165 to one with a glideslope, and keep the PS Engineering PMA7000 audio panel and King KAP-150 Audio Pilot was easy and fun to make; however, will everything I want actually fit? Yes & No...

I quickly discovered that the Mooney stack isn't tall enough to stack two nav/com radios, the MFD, audio panel, auto pilot, etc., so this was the first design compromise I had to make... Do I want the MFD in the left panel closest to the pilot or do I want to move it in front of the copilot? The MFD is an auxiliary system, so it could be mounted in the right radio stack, but it would be easier to read and use if it is in the main stack. The Garmin install manual also recommends that the MFD is installed in the top left stack. If I put the MFD in the main stack then there is no way to get the second COM into that stack without moving the autopilot or audio panel. The second COM is used more by the copilot anyhow, so I decided to mount COM2 in the right stack. COM1 on the Left, COM 2 on the right.

The right panel will have the second COM radio and the Transponder. This decision was simple enough since that is all that is left. Or is it?

Typically most Transponders are mounted on the bottom of whatever stack they are in; however, there are other points to consider. For example, the FAA is pushing for ADS-B as the primary technology to replace radar facilities in the future. ADS-B is not available in Chicago where I live now, which is why I'm not installing it now, but it certainly will be soon enough. Aircraft live a long life. It is important to keep in mind that when going through an upgrade that plans are made for future technology upgrades. At some point the traditional Transponder will be obsolete. ADS-B does not require panel space since it is controlled by the MFD and the main brain is located on an avionics shelf. If I mount the Transponder above COM2 it will be easier to remove down the road. The decision is made...the Transponder will be on top of the right radio stack.

Another decision I had to make was how will the radios be aligned. Most COM radios are on top of each other (COM1 on top, COM2 on bottom) and some are directly left/right of each other (COM1 on left, COM2 on right); however, the KX-165 is not as tall as the GNS430. If I mount COM2 at the lowest point in the right stack it will not align with the top of the GNS430. It will look better and also leave room for swapping the KX165 to a secondary GNS430 if I align the tops of the units.

As I mentioned above, I will move the current engine monitor to the main pilot panel; however, I may want to add a more sophisticated engine monitor with an LCD display in the future. I will fabricate the right panel with a filler plate and room for this modification. I will couple the extension cable at this location to ease future installation as well.

This drawing isn't my best work, but the equipment is close to scale and gives a visual of what I'm going after. Layout is a critical step in the process. By the way, don't forget to validate the depth of the equipment as well. Some of these boxes go deep into the panel. Trust me, you do not want to attempt to mount the avionics and find out they don't fit! If you get it wrong at this stage, it could take weeks to correct. Not to mention you just bought a bunch of stuff you can't use...

The good news is that everything we want will fit. Now I need to turn my attention to the condition of the panel itself. As you can see in the photo, 36G's panel has yellowed over the years. It looks terrible! Certainly not worthy of 36G's Extreme Makeover. Entirely removing the panel is a difficult decision to make, but the panel has to be removed, striped and painted or the project won't look complete.

There are some other cosmetic items that also can be addressed at this point as well. The first is the Yokes. They were a cool matching white in back in 1988, but now days most high-end yokes are leather. The yokes have lots of wire that will need to be replaced during the install, so it make since to do it now. The glare shield that covers the panel is in very good condition, but I like leather! That decision is easy -- cover everything I can in leather!

I am going for a high-end look. I drew some of my inspiration from high-end products such as cars, planes, boats, etc. They all use real wood for accents, so I believe wood should be incorporated into the design. There is nothing like a beautifully finished piece of wood. I also have a lot of lettering that needs to be silk screened. I can custom design the wood pieces on my PC and outsource the work to a shop that can silkscreen lettering on the wood while they are at it. This will kill two birds with one stone. The final decision is made -- use custom wood overlays.

Next in the series we'll get our hands dirty by Pulling the panel, organizing the parts, and prepping 36G for her Extreme Avionics Makeover.