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Project Panel:
Mix-and-match approach assures you get what you want.

According to The Rolling Stones- on their November 1969 Album ‘Let It Bleed’- “You can’t always get what you want- but if you try sometimes- you just might find you get what you need.”

On one of his last trips in a highly capable propjet before upgrading his aircraft- a close friend discussed with me his thoughts about keeping the plane and embarking on a cockpit makeover. He faced two choices to achieving the same goal – and neither made him particularly happy. “There is what I’d like to install- and then there’s what I need to keep the airplane as useful as a new plane – which is as I’d like it-” he explained.

The problem with the former approach – doing a one-brand sweep with a new integrated package would make the airplane too expensive to sell later if he hoped to recoup more than a fraction of his investment.

“What I need- on the other hand- is workable within budget constraints while keeping the airplane from becoming too pricey to let go – but it involves utilizing a blend of boxes from different outfits- because no one makes all the pieces I want at a price I’m willing to pay- and with the functionality I need-” he explained.

In the end- my friend settled for a couple of upgrades – and sticking with the same manufacturer labels already in the panel – but largely he left the airplane with the vestiges of its original-equipment profile. That means an all analog- steam-gauge six pack- a mix of navigation and communications boxes controlled by myriad switches- and only minimal integration (and that between his standalone GPS navigator and autopilot- and the MFD- with traffic and weather also available on the stand-alone display).

The next owner got a very capable- old-school airplane with a newer IFR GPS – but without WAAS- PFD- and no electronic instruments whatsoever. It was functional and capable- but hovering at the ragged edge of obsolescence- with an HIS nearing its service-life limit and an expensive overhaul.

The new owner seems happy – it’s a step up for his needs- but what of the old owner? He got exactly what he wanted – he just got it in a new airplane instead. And that change is a whole different story…

“Some days I wonder whether I wouldn’t have been happier with the costs of the old plane outfitted with a new panel-” he mused. “It wouldn’t be as nice as the new plane – but it wouldn’t be as costly- either.”

He rightly worried that going with the mix-and-match approach would add new complications – and- as a result- higher maintenance costs- when needed to a panel already a bit complex to install and maintain. “Ultimately- I wanted glass and integration… I got them - even if I did it the expensive way.”

So what are the considerations and options to upgrading a panel with a mix-and-match approach? What can you accomplish and what should you watch for? How do you shop wisely? Actually- it may surprise you to learn- you can generally get what you want and what you need when it comes to a panel mix-and-match…

There’s a line of thinking that sticking with boxes from the same manufacturer automatically makes installation easier. Once there was some truth to this belief. Some hardware items – such as a glideslope receiver – mated more easily when matched up with a VHF navigation receiver made with the glideslope box in mind.

Autopilots from the same company would be easier to link to that same VHF nav box- and any external inputs – such as a directional gyro – would often plug right up. Yet beyond that- installers say- much of the work installing avionics from one company still involved painstaking wiring work to make switching and inter-box connections work properly.

Just look at the audio-control panel- which switches receivers – comm.- nav and ADF – into the path of what the crew hears- or on the cockpit speakers- or both; and changes which transmitter is used – maybe both- but split between captain and first officer. It’s not uncommon for the audio panel to survive an upgrade that brings in nav/comms from another manufacturer. The above should illustrate how things can get complicated.

“There was some across-the-board ease by sticking with one brand – but it wasn’t all plug-and-play- either-” noted a retired installer who now consults with aircraft owners on upgrade plans. “To be honest- until a decade or 15 years ago – before we started seeing all this glass and integration – the differences between manufacturers weren’t all that tough to adjust to-” the licensed technician explained.

“We didn’t have the variety of today; a VOR receiver- a Localizer and Glideslope receiver- they all worked pretty much the same; they needed the same antenna- and a little bit of switching to change autopilot inputs from the DG to the Nav radio to the Localizer of ILS set-up… if the plane’s autopilot actually supported the glideslope function.

“Then came GPS- which changed things only a little. It added a new item to switch with-” he noted. “There followed Glass: MFDs- PFDs- new weather inputs- different autopilot inputs – AHRS and ADAHRS boxes – and that’s when the landscape got more involved.”

In his post as Avionics Sales Manager at West Star Aviation (www.weststaraviation.com)- Marty Rhine stays abreast of the advances in the avionics arts- both across the industry and within his company. “It can be complicated-” he summarized- as he offered his view of the mix-and-match approach to upgrading a panel. “But we do it with some regularity.”

As a matter of fact- mix-and-match prospects seem to dominate the offerings of shops across the aviation landscape. In recent months upgrades that replace CRT displays – the television-tube screens first employed in EFIS packages – are among the hotter upgrades.

As Rhine noted- the replacement LCD packages deliver increased reliability- greater functionality- reduced weight and lower power demands - packages such as Honeywell’s CDS/R upgrade – available on a variety of popular business jets such as the Falcon 900s- or Rockwell Collins’ IDS display upgrade for the Falcon 50EX and Falcon 2000.

“That’s an upgrade to the older ProLine systems-” Rhine explained- “that modernizes the displays. It’s the same basic thing- getting rid of the old CRTs and putting in LCDs. But you keep the same radios.” (Depending on the upgrade- engine instruments may also remain unchanged). With the Honeywell package - a four-display set-up - the airplane can then also use XM weather- for example. “But it does not include engine indication on the Falcon 900-” he explained. “And this continues to work with the existing navs and comms.”

“FMS (flight-management system) upgrades are the big thing these days-” Rhine noted. “People see a value in these upgrades because they do new things for the airplane. You can also go in and upgrade the radios- too- depending on what you’ve got; you can get ADS-B Out on a transponder; ADS-B Out is required by 2020 under new rules published earlier this year by the FAA”.

Further- Rhine observed- a client can go with a WAAS update and really improve the aircraft’s capabilities with both navigation and terminal-approach options unavailable without. (West Star holds about a dozen WAAS LPV STCs for a variety of aircraft- Rhine noted- and several other shops also hold approvals for adding to older aircraft new equipment that brings WAAS capabilities).

Those capabilities can go so far as contributing to the aircraft and crew’s ability to meet Required Navigation Performance (RNP) regulations- opening up terminal departure- terminal arrival- approach and en route options unavailable to aircraft lacking RNP approval.

WAAS alone- in an approved installation- brings access to thousands of new approaches to thousands of runway ends – the majority of them new- with better minima than prior Non-Precision Approach (NPA) minima.

The Universal Avionics EFI-890R upgrade is one that covers those capabilities – and it’s growing in popularity at West Star and other shops. Falcon 10s- 50s- 900s- 2000s- Lear 35s- Lear 60s- and Cessna Citation 550- 560 and 650 models – all are designs for which West Star holds STCs to upgrade the cockpits with more-modern displays and FMS hardware.

The company offers the Alliant Flight Deck upgrade for Part 23 airplanes – such as the Cessna Conquest II turboprop and other twin propjets and light jets. Based on hardware from Avidyne – two EXP5000 PFDs and one or two EX5000 MFDs – working with an S-Tec IntelliFlight 2100 flightcontrol system- the package eliminates a huge amount of electro-mechanical hardware- adds flight-control and situational-awareness capabilities – among them satellite-datalink weather- color radar display- GPWS/TAWS- electronic charts and more.

Rhine noted other advances available in a mix-and-match manner. “We have completed some Rockwell Collins WAAS/LPV FMS upgrades as well. Rockwell Collins owns and is marketing its STCs.”

Meanwhile- Honeywell recently received certification on its NZ-2000 FMS- Rhine noted adding that West Star is actively chasing WAAS/LPV upgrades known as 6.1 on the Honeywell platforms. Elsewhere across the industry- there are other options- some coming up- some going down.

Aspen- Avidyne- Bendix King- Garmin- Innovative Solutions & Support - in a world heavy with Honeywell- Rockwell Collins- and Universal badges- these names are familiar among propjet and piston sets- where all enjoy excellent reputations for their modern- integrated systems – some of which (as we saw above) are finding solid homes in the realm of business turbine aircraft too.

Garmin broke into the turbine world through Cessna Aircraft- which almost a decade ago first adapted a tailored two-screen version of the G1000 system to its single-engine piston products- then the Caravan turboprop and- most recently- the Citation Mustang entry-level jet.

The three-screen version in the Mustang stands among the most-capable systems flying – and STCs have made it available for a variety of in-service aircraft- including versions of the Hawker Beechcraft King Air and some Cessna propjet twins. While you’re looking at six figures for these STCs- the makeover is as complete as you could ever wish for.

More information from www.garmin.com.

Avidyne’s Entegra Release 9 system is another option at somewhat less money and no less capability; some view it as having better redundancy and reduced management demands. The best way to sort this out involves getting some serious demo time behind the systems under consideration. The demos should include a couple of flight legs with the flight management system used to plan a few typical flights; even absent flying the full missions- you’ll get a sense of what goes into typical use.

More information from www.avidyne.com.

Autopilots can be part of either Garmin or Avidyne packages- as well – with capabilities and utility somewhat above the systems standard in these aircraft.

Innovative Solutions & Support has developed an offering for legacy Citation owners (including Citation 500- 550- S550 and 560 aircraft)- for Pilatus PC-12/45/47 turboprops- and Eclipse 500 aircraft.

The AdViz glass cockpit retrofit is designed to replace aging flight instruments in Citation aircraft and is available as either a two- or three 10.4- inch display providing enhanced situational awareness- increased functionality- reduced crew workload and weight savings. Options include Jeppesen e-Charts- XM Satellite Weather- coupled WAAS/LPV- and the display of enhanced vision systems and wide area augmentation system data. AdViz is available through the various Cessna-owned Citation Service Centers.

Pilatus PC-12 owners can choose to upgrade with two 15” displays- two- three- or four 10” displays- or a mix of 15” and 10” displays. All are STC’d architectures from IS&S. System options include Jeppesen Charts with own ship depiction on the charts and taxi ways- and coupled WAAS/LPV with all annunciators integrated on the glass.

In addition- the company’s Vantage Cockpit/IP upgrade offers operators of aircraft such as Hawker- King Air- Lear- and others a Part 23/25 approved system designed to replace the EADI and EHSI displays- altimeter- airspeed- and vertical speed indicators and provide a broad variety of MFD functions.

Further- IS&S provides a fully integrated solution for the Eclipse 500. Eclipse Aerospace is replacing Avidyne displays with IS&S Avio NG displays. The system uses two 10” PFD with MFD functions overlaid on the HSI and a large 15” MFD in the center. The system provides primary flight displays- multifunction displays- engine instruments- electrical and Hydraulic systems- electronic circuit breakers- Fuel management- environmental systems- flight control monitoring- de-icing system- weight/balance- audio control- and Caution Advisory system. Updates are available that include electronic flight charts and Sat Wx also.

All of the above IS&S display systems include the patented “ZOOM” function where the parameter that is being adjusted enlarges to 2.5 times magnification for enhanced awareness.

More information from www.innovative-ss.com.

Aspen Avionics recently won TSO for its Evolution 1000 Pro Primary Flight Display (PFD) allowing use in turbine aircraft weighing up to 12-500 pounds; and that opens the door to many an older jet and propjet- either for a field-approval installation via Form 337- or an installation covered by STC.

At under $10-000 the Pro PFD can be installed with its complementary Evolution MFD – giving an older turbine aircraft a two-screen glass panel with its own integral stand-by battery and GPS redundancy. Compatibility with a variety of autopilots makes the choice a flexible one; and the ability to display datalink weather- lighting- and traffic puts the upgrade within reach of a major overhaul at less than the costs of most turbine-system multifunction displays.

Aspen is wrapping up work to certify its own Synthetic Vision System capability- promising it will be the lowest-costs SVS offered… thousands less than other options.

More information from www.aspenavionics.com

Honeywell’s Bendix King line includes some new level Primus Apex and Apex Edge components which offer yet another path to glass-cockpit conversion – with options that can add a large-screen PFD and MFD/WAAS GPS/Comm/Nav/VOR/LOC/ILS.

Honeywell’s KSN 770 all-in-one/MFD box and the company’s KFD 840 PFD deliver capabilities far in excess of their costs – under $30-000- plus installation- and Honeywell’s Primus Elite system is being made available for retrofit and refurbishing- and will offer an advance in SVS unlike most others flying today.

SmartView combines the imagery we expect of SVS with flight-path and energy-management graphics more typical of fighter-aircraft Head-Up Displays (HUDs).

More information from www.bendixking.com or www.honeywell.com

The rate of change seems unrelenting in its pace- a velocity which means that equipment continues to emerge onto the market with every new niche identified. If the plane doesn’t have any STC’d options available – and the fleet numbers support it – somewhere- someone is working to STC an enhancement.

For others- similar use of an STC’d upgrade in another airplane can be done with field approval – making almost anything eligible for advanced panels- radios- navigation- flight-management and flight-control improvements.

From flat-panel displays to advanced GPS- WAAS and ADS-B- finding what you need should be getting easier by the month. Satisfying what you want… well- that too may be easier than financing the change. But where there’s a want there’s often a way to at least get what you need.

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