The Pilot’s New Panel

by Michael J. (Mick) Kaufman
© Copyright 2022. All rights reserved!
Published in Midwest Flyer Magazine August/September 2022 Digital Issue

As I continue to have pilots tell me about and show me the new avionics suites they have in their airplanes, I think of this childhood story called the “Emperor’s New Clothes,” written by Hans Christian Andersen and published in 1837. This story is about an emperor who was sold a magnificent set of clothes by two swindlers. The moral of this story is, we can’t let pride keep us from speaking up when we know the truth!

For those of you who have never read the story, it is how it applies to getting that dream panel in your airplane. In short, people who are pilots like to let the world know they are pilots – it is an accomplishment. I have the tendency to tell people I was the mayor of my city for the same reason…it was an accomplishment. But I would think long and hard before becoming the mayor again.

Some pilots like to brag to other pilots telling them how good of pilots they are, their ratings, the type of airplanes they fly, and now, what kind of avionics they have in their airplanes. If that pilot spends 70-plus thousands of dollars on a new panel and it does not work, or they do not like it, they still like to brag it up, rather than admit they made a mistake having it installed.

This is a two-issue article because of its length, and to keep our readers in suspense. This issue explains the pros and cons of upgrading your panel, and what my last upgrade was like. The next issue will cover what to look for in different equipment to help you decide if you want to do the upgrade, and if so, what works and what does not.

Don’t get the wrong idea that I am against avionics upgrades, as I am an electronic “geek,” amateur radio operator and love new technology. But I try to be practical and promote flight safety. In fact, in a previous column, I described how I almost became a victim of CFIT (controlled flight into terrain) while trying to program a waypoint on a touch screen in heavy turbulence. I decided to write this article to inform fellow pilots of what may be involved in a panel update and have them see some of the pros and cons involved.

An example of a “con” involved a Cessna 414 pilot from Wisconsin who decided to do a complete panel upgrade. He went to a reputable avionics shop and got a quote for what he decided to have installed. The quote was high, so he found another somewhat reputable shop in the state of Georgia that was 10K less and went with the low bid. His airplane has been sitting in that shop all torn apart and the question now is whether to finish doing the upgrade or calling Wentworth Aircraft Salvage to pick up the airplane. So how can things like that happen? Once a shop opens the panel and sees what needs to be done, it may require way more labor and parts than expected to make things work, and we are dealing with pressure bulkheads in a Cessna 414.

A few years ago, when Automatic Dependent Surveillance–Broadcast (ADS-B) came out, and there was a big push to get the entire GA fleet equipped, it became apparent to me that it was time to do upgrade my panel in my Bonanza. My wife gave me an allowance of 5K to spend and we all know that would not go far. So, the following is what I did have in my panel. Further below is what I have now:

S-Tec 50 Autopilot with a yaw damper.
Two King KX 175 Nav Coms, one with MAC conversion.
Apollo 618 Loran.
King KR 87 ADF.
King KT 76 Transponder.
King KMA 24 H Audio panel.
Garmin 396 GPS with XM Weather.
Century Slaved Compass System.
JPI 700 engine analyzer with fuel computer.

It was quite a challenge with only 5K to spend, so I knew I wasn’t going to get everything I wanted, so I had to compromise.

First was ADS-B, and I found a derelict NavWorx ADS600B in and out box on E-Bay for $200.00. Seeing that it needed an approved data source to be compliant, I solved two issues by purchasing a Garmin GNS480 for $900.00, which included a WX10A stormscope that I did not install.

Next came a remote Garmin transponder to match the Garmin 480 for $200.00, again on E-Bay, along with a DAC GPS steering module for $250.00. This was really all I needed, but there was the installation cost that needed to be figured in and there was still several thousands of dollars left in the budget. I now have covered the ADS-B traffic issue, but I wanted to have weather on my iPad displayed on ForeFlight and from my experience, Sirius XM weather was far superior to ADS-B weather, so I chose a Garmin GDL-52 weather box. It connects via Bluetooth to ForeFlight and provides an AHARS source for the ForeFlight synthetic vision. My avionics tech friend suggested adding a Garmin Aera 660 as the Garmin 396 will not interface with Foreflight. I now consider the Garmin Aera 660 the best Garmin device for the dollar on the market for around $700.00. I am lucky that the Garmin Aera 660 takes the same panel space as my old Garmin 396 did. The Garmin Aera 660 was the key to making all the avionics devices work in harmony with one another. I will dedicate an entire column to the Garmin Aera 660 in a future issue of Midwest Flyer Magazine.

My panel now has the following equipment in it, and even though I am happy, I am still in the last century panel-wise:

S-Tec 50 Autopilot with a yaw damper.
One King KX 175 Nav Com with MAC conversion.
King KR 87 ADF.
Garmin 480 (GPS Navigator & Com).
Garmin GDL-52 (ADS-B & Sirius XM WX & Music),
plus AHARS.
King KMA 24 H Audio Panel.
Garmin Aera 660 GPS (with XM Music Selector).
DAC (GPS Steering Module)
Century Slaved Compass System.
JPI 700 engine analyzer with fuel computer.
Navworks (ADS-B in and out).
Garmin (Remote Transponder).
Global Star (satellite phone interface).

There are some cons to what I did that need to be mentioned for those thinking about copying my budget panel install. My biggest savings was my navigator, the Garmin 480, which I could not recommend to most pilots. Yes, I got it cheap, but I know the box well from flying with customers, and it is not Garmin user-friendly as it was designed by Apollo (UPS Technology) and sold to Garmin. It was way ahead of its time and had more capability than the Garmin 650/750 when they were first released with first generation firmware. There is no support for the Garmin 480 should it need to be repaired by Garmin if it fails. If Jeppesen decides to discontinue data base support, it will take $2.00 and a Garmin 480 box to purchase a cup of coffee at Starbucks. All the items I purchased on E-Bay worked – another chance I took. The pros go to the installer who is a close friend and has a PhD in aviation electronics, and he went the extra mile in doing it right. All the components and interfaces were hard wired, rather than use a Bluetooth connection for reliability, except to the iPad for ForeFlight, which is Bluetooth. Yes, I got lucky as everything works perfectly as it is supposed to…simple and practical. Yes, there are some things I would have changed if the budget would have allowed, and I can do everything that the 70K panel will do with good redundancy and no frills.

In my continuation of this subject in the next issue of Midwest Flyer Magazine, I will give my opinion of some of the newer avionics on the market, along with pros and cons from some of my customers and pilot friends, so you won’t need to decide if I should finish my dream panel or call Wentworth Aircraft salvage company once the project is underway.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Michael J. “Mick” Kaufman is a Certified Instrument Flight Instructor (CFII) and the program manager of flight operations with the “Bonanza/Baron Pilot Training” organization. He conducts pilot clinics and specialized instruction throughout the U.S. in many makes and models of aircraft, which are equipped with a variety of avionics. Mick is based in Richland Center (93C) and Eagle River, Wisconsin (KEGV). He was named “FAA’s Safety Team Representative of the Year” for Wisconsin in 2008. Readers are encouraged to email questions to, or call 817-988-0174.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this column is the expressed opinion of the author only, and readers are advised to seek the advice of their personal flight instructor and others, and refer to the Federal Aviation Regulations, FAA Aeronautical Information Manual, and instructional materials before attempting any procedures discussed herein.

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