by Michael J. “Mick” Kaufman
© Copyright 2022. All rights reserved!
Published in Midwest Flyer Magazine October/November 2022 Digital Issue
So, what is the perfect panel for your needs should you decide to do an upgrade? It depends on many factors. I first need to make a statement before we begin; panel upgrades will not make your airplane fly higher, faster, or safer, nor will it reduce the operating cost by finding cheaper fuel. On the contrary, a study by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) showed flat screen glass panels were not as safe as the standard six pack. When we manually fly (without autopilot), I have personally found pilots can read and interpret the six pack much easier than reading numeric tapes and synthetic vision displays. A study done by McDonnell Douglas several decades ago confirmed this… we can read and interpret the pointer on a conventual altimeter or airspeed indicator much easier than a number on a tape.
Part I and the first paragraph of Part II of this series was dedicated to embarrassing pilots who spent more for their new instrument panel than they originally paid for their aircraft, only to find out later it was no safer than that old six pack was. It is, however, time to recognize some great advancements made in the avionics world. In my nearly 60 years of flying, I have seen many changes from the Narco Super Homer of my student pilot days, to some great Garmin avionics of today and maybe Dynon avionics in the next generation. There were some avionics that can always be considered the Gold Standard – the King KX 170/175 of the 1960s and the Garmin 430/530 of the last decade.
As a flight instructor who specializes in instrument ratings and recurrent training and equipment checkouts, I see how equipment and human factors react together. It’s interesting to note that about 75% of pilots flying with flight directors don’t know how to properly use them, so how are they going to master the Garmin GFC 700 autopilot, for instance?
While working on this series on avionics and instrument flying, I asked my mechanic, Roger Shadick of Eagle River, Wisconsin (KEGV), about system redundancy after I finished his flight review and IPC in his beautifully restored Globe Swift. Roger’s comment was to turn off the master switch and see what equipment still functions. This is a thought for pilots who often comment on the problem with vacuum pump failures and why they want an all-electric equipped airplane with no vacuum pump. In 21K hours, I have seen three (3) vacuum pump failures with one in IMC (instrument meteorological conditions). We expect vacuum pump failures on a dry pump between 500 and 700 hours as a rule or replace them before they fail. I have a wet vacuum pump on my Bonanza, which will outlast several engines (my engine has nearly 4K hours and has never been overhauled or failed).
Think about this… With an all-electric airplane in IMC conditions, one switch, one relay or one wire could be the weak point of your airplane.
When Cirrus introduced its SR series, it threw all other aircraft manufacturers into a tailspin with their glass cockpit – two separate avionics busses, two alternators, two batteries and a ballistic parachute recovery system. I have delivered many new Cirrus airplanes from the factory and instructed their new owners. I adapted instantly to the glass display using airspeed and altitude tapes after flying the six-pack forever, and I concur. In my opinion, the scan and response time on a glass panel is not as good as on the six pack.
So, what are my likes and dislikes of avionics equipment and why? As an instrument flight instructor (CFII), I have seen and used most of the popular avionics currently in airplanes while flying with customers. The Garmin Aera 660 is probably the best piece of avionics for the dollar I have ever spent, and I installed it in my Bonanza for about $800.00. This piece of equipment was recommended to me by a knowledgeable friend. It is a portable unit but fits in the panel with the help of an Air Gizmo adapter. It provides most of the navigation and display functions of a Garmin 650 or 750 less VOR and com functions, and also provides most of the GPS functions. It has an attitude heading reference system (AHRS), a base map, a sectional chart and IFR enroute charts, as well as all approach charts. It talks to my Garmin GDL-52 which provides AHRS and displays ADS-B traffic, Sirius XM or ADS-B weather via a hardwire link. The unit has Garmin CONNEXT like Flight Stream and provides an interface to transfer flight plans and data between my Garmin 480 navigator, the Garmin Aera 660 and ForeFlight on my iPad via Bluetooth. The Garmin Aera 660, together with the Garmin GDL-52, can also provide Sirius XM radio entertainment to the cockpit, and have internal batteries that will provide approximately 3 hours of safe navigation and AHRS should you turn off the master switch. Another positive goes to Garmin for the G-5 and GI-275, again for their battery backup.
Giving up the redundancy of vacuum pump instruments to all electric instruments needs careful consideration as electrical failures are quite common (I have had several).
Here is a YouTube link I found covering the functions of the GI-275 and its redundancies. I have flown with several pilots having the GI-275, including my mechanic, who has one in his Globe Swift. Should I have a financial windfall, the GI-275 would find its way into my Bonanza. With so much information available to the pilot, it is important to declutter our instrument panels of unneeded functions to keep from over cluttering our brains!
As we age, we are not as sharp as we were in our younger years. In doing a survey of pilots and instructors alike, my conclusion is if you are over the age of 60 and fly less than 100 hours a year, I think it is better to stick with legacy avionics as you will never be able to learn and stay current with many of these complex systems. I also recommend pilots staying away from any avionics packages that is a complete touch screen, due to an experience I recently had trying to insert a waypoint in heavy turbulence in IMC conditions. I descended 1000 feet below my assigned altitude and came close to being added to the CFIT (controlled flight into terrain) fatality list. Any pilot who disagrees with this has never been in severe turbulence. The Avidyne box allows the ease of both touch screen programing and knobs and buttons while in turbulence – great idea!
In conclusion on my series, “The Pilots New Panel,” if you should do that dream panel upgrade, I recommend getting some professional instruction on its use. There is no better place to get that training than from an instructor who is familiar with the avionics in your airplane. With so many new avionics products on the market, it is hard to be proficient on all of them, so shop around for an instructor who knows your equipment, both aircraft and instruments.
Tomorrow I will get an introduction to a Dynon panel. This flight will be done in VFR conditions, not on an IFR flight plan and in non-demanding airspace. I don’t plan on being an expert on this equipment with one day of training and will keep notes on similarities and differences with other equipment I have used, so look for an evaluation in a future issue of Midwest Flyer Magazine.
Some words to remember from the experts at one of the most respected pilot training organizations in the world, Flight Safety International: “The best piece of safety equipment in your aircraft is a well-trained pilot.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or call
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.