The low-level airshow flying was exhilarating – but cross-country trips in extremely range-limited VFR airplanes were downright scary. A stronger-than-unanticipated headwind, a deviation around a thunderstorm, or a low stratus cloud layer required making rapid decisions with potentially severe consequences.
Even though I don’t fly airshows anymore, the searing experiences of having been stuck on top of clouds, scud running, racing darkness, or stretching fuel reserves made an impression. When I had an opportunity this year to transform the instrument panel of my single-seat RV-3, I went ahead and did it – even though the maneuverable little sport plane was never meant for flying in clouds.
The project added a Garmin G3X PFD/MFD; an SL30 nav-comm radio; a GTX 330 transponder; AeroLED lights, and a TCW standby battery.
It’s avionics overkill – and putting avionics worth $20,000 in a sport airplane with an insurance value of $35,000 is financially dubious. But the new panel (designed and installed by Avionics Systems LLC) has safety tools that combat the main pilot killers: weather, traffic, and terrain. And instead of adding weight, the airplane is actually a few pounds lighter now that the clunky electro-mechanical gauges are gone.
Flying approaches with synthetic vision is much like VFR flying in that you “see” the airport at 10 miles, and the GPS-derived representation of the runway is in view from the final approach fix to touchdown.
I never intend to fly this airplane in low-IFR conditions. But it sure is comforting to know that clouds, complex airspace, and darkness aren’t nearly as intimidating as they used to be.
Look for the full story about the panel transformation in the December issue of AOPA Pilot magazine.