Archive for the ‘Avionics’ Category

The Crossover Classic arrives at Sun ‘N Fun

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

It was quite a pleasure to fly the Sweeps 182–fresh from its interior completion at Air Mod–to Sun ‘N Fun. The seats are super comfortable, and noise levels are low thanks to Skandia’s soundproofing package. My route took me from Air Mod (at Ohio’s Clermont County Airport) back to home base at Frederick, Maryland for the first leg. The first portion of the leg was marginal VFR, but by the time I was over West Virginia IFR had setttled in over the entire Mid-Atlantic, thanks to a persistent area of low pressure.

Now’s when a cockpit like the Crossover Classic’s really shows its worth. The Cobham/S-TEC System Fifty-Five X took care of the flying while I got set up for the ILS approach to runway 23 at the Frederick Municipal Airport. The center console, from Saircorp/Flight Boss Ltd., had enough compartments to hold all my charts and approach plates, and its clipboard kept the plate for the ILS close at hand. (The console’s lower compartment holds the airplane’s Mountain High oxygen bottle and regulator). Oh, and there’s a nice armrest, too–which flips up to allow access to a large storage compartment capable of holding larger items, like an Air Charts low altitude enroute chart book.

The ceiling was 800 feet, the visibility one-and-a-half miles, but it was no sweat really. The Garmin G500 showed the way–and the synthetic vision showed the virtual runway dead ahead. The G500’s flight path marker also backs up your nav visual cues by showing exactly where the airplane is flying. So, stay on the ILS and the flight path marker will remain planted on the virtual runway’s touchdown zone. Nice.

After a second,  five-hour flight I was descending into the Lakeland airport traffic pattern with AOPA Live’s Warren Morningstar aboard. We were Sun ‘N Fun bound, and having the airplane’s GTS-800 traffic advisory system (TAS) aboard made a big difference. Targets began to appear on the G500’s PFD (primary flight display) , the dedicated TAS page on the MFD (multifunction display), and on the ship’s two GNS 430 navigators. Talk about situational awareness!

The Crossover Classic is now on display at AOPA’s tent at Sun ‘N Fun, so stop by and  check out the new interior if you;re in the area. More from Sun ‘N Fun to come!

That all-important clock

Friday, February 18th, 2011

That all-important clock - 086 - Davtron M803

That all-important clock - 086 - Davtron M803

To be legal when flying under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) you need to have an operating clock installed on your instrument panel. It can have an analog presentation with a sweep-second hand, or be a digital clock. This sounds simple enough. But some pilots seem a bit blase about this.

The Crossover Classic’s previous owner was one such pilot. He had a clock on the panel, all right. But it had given up the ghost long ago. “Ah, that doesn’t matter. I use my wristwatch,” he kept saying. Sorry, not good enough. The regs say a clock  must be mounted on the panel. To correct the situation, the owner had an “inop” sticker placed under the clock. But that’s no good unless the airplane has an approved minimum equipment list (MEL), which it didn’t. “What’s an MEL?” the owner wanted to know.

To remedy all this, renowned aviation chronometer manufacturer Davtron kicked in with its M803 digital clock. This useful–and did I say required?–unit shows time galore. We located it at the top left of the pilot’s instrument panel, where it has served us well. I mainly use it to keep track of elapsed time between legs. Just push the right button once, and the clock starts counting up. Push it again, and it stops. Easy.

The M803 shows Zulu time, local time, flight time, and elapsed time. It also shows the electrical system voltage and outside air temperature. You use the M803’s lower two buttons to initially set your times, and the ship’s power then keeps the unit running. A backup internal battery keeps the unit running should there be a complete loss of electrical power. In this case, you’d be down to the ship’s battery for powering a (load-shedded) panel, plus the M803’s and L-3 Trilogy’s own internal battery supply (worth up to two hours of flying time, I’ve been told) if everything goes dark.

Davtron is perhaps the largest supplier of general aviation panel-mount timepieces, and for good reason: They’re durable and intuitive to use. You probably have one in the airplane you fly! And what if the M803, by some ill stroke of luck, kick the bucket? Well, there are digital clocks in the Garmin 430s abaord the Crossover Classic, as well as a clock in the Garmin GTX-330 transponder. So we have time covered in spades on this unique airplane.

A new panel hits the road

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Advantage Avionics, of Chino, California, has finished its massive installation, and I was on hand for the shakedown flight tests on January 27. As I’ve said before, it was sensory overload when I first settled into the driver’s seat, but Garmin’s G500 is quite intuitive, and running the dual Garmin GNS 430Ws (which feed nav data to the G500) was a no-brainer since I was already familiar with their operating logic.


The JP Instruments EDM-930 showing engine and fuel parameters at 61% power. At this point in the flight, the fuel totalizer shows that we’ve burned 45.1 gallons of fuel. Note that the left main tank is down to 23 gallons, meaning that we can now begin transferring fuel from the left tip tank into the left main.

The tests were anticlimactic, save for some minor tweaks: turning down the autopilot-disconnect warning tone’s volume, and adding command bars to the PFD among them. The Cobham/S-TEC System Fifty-Five X autopilot flew headings, vertical-speed and altitude preselect commands, instrument approaches, and course intercepts with near-perfection. In altitude-hold mode, there is some hunting in pitch, but I am told that Cobham/S-TEC will fine-tune the autopilot gain levels to eliminate this.


The MFD, showing some of the many XM radio channels available for enroute cruising atmosphere.

Activating the XM WX datalink weather and radio functions proved tedious, as others have told me. At first I called XM’s 800 number and talked to a pleasant, yet not completely English-fluent, call center employee who swore my account was activated. “Just turn on the power and wait for the datalink receiver to lock on,” I was told. I sensed something was amiss when I was quoted a price of some $12 per month for all service levels I’d requested–the Aviatior Pro includes a massive amount of weather data. Anyway, I powered up the panel as I was told, and the download….


One of the GNS 430s shows the status an hour after taking off from Wichita, bound for Clermont County Airport

Didn’t happen. Another call the next day, more waiting, and finally I was receiving all the XM data and music I’d ordered. The bill was now a bit north of $100 per month, though! Seems the $12 per month was for the automotive package of services.

Another item: the Crossover Classic is a 1974 airplane, so its airspeed marking are in miles per hour. Consequently, all the V-speeds and airspeed arcs are in mph to remain in compliance with the airplane’s flight manual. However, the L-3 Trilogy standby instrument system uses knots, and I like the GNS 430s to show knots, too. To someone who learned in mph, then spent a mighty effort to switch mental gears into knot-dom, this dissonance actually drove me to the whiz wheel as I made my way from Advantage Avionics to the airplane’s next stop–Air Mod, our chosen interior shop, located at southwest Ohio’s Clermont County Airport (I69). True airspeeds were mostly in the 150-knot range as I made my way across the southern Rockies at 11,000 feet.

My route went from Chino, through the Banning Pass, then on to the Thermal and Blythe VORs. The first leg–two hours in duration–ended with a landing at Phoenix’s Goodyear Airport (GYR). Most of that leg was flown at 8,000 feet, and the only disappointment was the failure of Garmin’s GTS 800 active traffic advisory system (TAS). Up popped a “FAILED” message, and suddenly I felt naked. I was really spoiled by the 800’s traffic information. The unit really does a great job at directing your attention to airplanes both near and far, and greatly enhances your situational awareness. Advantage says a simple data entry procedure should solve the problem, which will be addressed by Cincinnati Avionics–a shop located just across the field from Air Mod.


A view of Missouri’s Harry Truman reservoir from 9,000 feet.

The next leg was three hours and change, and ended with a landing at Albuquerque International (ABQ). There was the possibility that I could have gone non-stop from Chino to ABQ, but with my high power setting and wind situation, the leg would have lasted a bit more than five hours–and that cut into my fuel-reserve comfort factor. After ABQ, it was on to Wichita Mid-Continent Aiport (ICT) for an overnight. This was an easy leg, lasting just two hours. The hard part came when the flu flattened yours truly while an epic snowstorm/blizzard raged all along my next route from ICT to I69.

As I watched The Weather Channel endlessly, I reflected on my trip so far. What can you say about the G500? Everything. Airspeed and altitude trend information is portrayed with magenta trend lines on the PFD’s vertical tapes, terrain and obstacle info is on the MFD, as is route-, special-use airspace, and weather information. And don’t forget the synthetic terrain! Oh, and the XM radio has a page on the MFD’s “chapter” icons at the bottom of the screen.


The G500 PFD and MFD, at 9,000 feet over IL. Airspeeds are in MPH for the time being. The MFD shows predominantly VFR weather. On the PFD, a wind arrow (beneath the airspeed scale) shows the strength and direction of the winds aloft. The autopilot is hunting slightly in pitch, which accounts for the temporary 400 fpm decent (not that the command bars are calling for a climb back to the target altitude of 9000 ft.

On the PFD, you can seen indicated airspeed, true airspeed, groundspeed, wind vector, and flight path marker information–all at a glance. Again, am I spoiled? You bet. And so will the lucky winner of this fine airplane.

But the refurbishment isn’t finished, of course. As this is being written, the airplane is at I69, where Air Mod is gutting the ship’s funky old interior and preparing the airplane for a top-of-the-line leather interior, complete with Amsafe seat-belt air bags and much more. The old windows are gone, as are all the ancient fiberglass and plastic trim and other components. No mouse nests or noteworthy corrosion, however!

As always, stay tuned. Next time we’ll begin delving into the interior work in earnest.

Good to go

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Today was the first time I sat behind a Garmin G500, and it was a bit of sensory overload! So much capability, so many functions! But bottom line, today’s shakedown flight went well, for the most part. “When you do a big job like this, you can expect some glitches,” said Advantage Avionics’ Mark Krueger. “It’s kind of like open heart surgery.”

The day started with a call to XM WX satellite weather’s activation service, which is apparently based in India. I was told to set aside a half-hour for the activation process, and it came close to that duration. I had to give the datalink receiver’s ID number, the audio unit’s ID number, and the Garmin GDL 69A datalink receiver’s serial number. Then, I opted for both the weather and audio services, and–last but certainly not least–provide my credit card number so the activation could begin. The weather package is $12.95 per month; the audio, $8.99 per month.

Now I can listen to Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen sing “Hot Rod Lincoln” as I cruise over the Sange de Cristos tomorrow. And at the same time, keep an eye on a storm system–another one!–that is predicted to enter the Ohio River Valley area on Sunday and Monday.

To sync up the heading info, Krueger and I made a 360-degree turn around Chino’s compass rose, stopping at 30-degree intervals for the AHRS to do its processing. That setup completed, it was time to taxi to the active–made quite easy by using the airport diagram on the G500’s SafeTaxi display on the MFD.

After taking off from Chino, it was a left turn to cross a bumpy ridge, then on to the calm air over the ocean (low level turbulence makes for bad autopilot test conditions), and a level-off at 3,000 feet. The S-TEC System Fifty-Five X held altitude well–in spite of the bumps–and its heading and vertical speed functions also made the grade. The altitude preselect function was out to lunch, so autoflight climbs were done using the VS mode only. The other issue was the autopilot disconnect alert: so loud it tried to blow us out of our seats!

The traffic advisory system picked up plenty of traffic over south LA. I think I’ll leave it on all the time, and let it play on the #2 GNS 430. There was an intermittent “traffic fail” alert” on a couple of occasions, and then the problem seemed to go away. Finally, the XM WX and XM audio never activated as promised, so no Commander Cody on this flight.

The Fifty-Five X flew a near-perfect ILS to Chino’s runway 26R–Garmin’s ChartView provided the approach chart on the MFD–and then it was back to the shop, where all the squawks were resolved within an hour and a half. Now photographer Chad Slattery is taking some shots of the reborn panel, and near sunset we’ll launch again for some inflight panel shots.

Tomorrow’s plan is to try to reach Wichita, depending. A nonstop leg to ABQ could take as much as five hours, which would cut my fuel reserves uncomfortably close unless the winds cooperate. Also, it will be a flight at 11,000 or 11,500 feet most of the way, and I like to use oxygen when flying that high. Like to, but don’t have any oxygen on this trip (Mountain High is coming through with one of their oxygen systems in a few weeks). Can I make it to ICT after stopping and gassing up at ABQ? Sure–it’s only another 3+50 or so. But that’s a long day’s worth of flying.

Then again, I will have Commander Cody. Do check out “Hot Rod Lincoln.”

Avionics countdown

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Here I am at Advantage Avionics, where the Crossover Classic’s panel is getting its final touches. Barring the unforeseen–and the weather–the plan is for me to leave the airport here at Chino, California on Friday January 28. The route? Still noodling with that. Direct Albuquerque, then direct Wichita sounds doable. More on the final plans later, when the winds and weather are better defined.

As for the panel, it’s a knockout. I can’t wait to see it at work…..which will be tomorrow, if today’s predicted Santa Ana winds kick up. Right now, the installation staff is plugging in the 182’s V-speeds, aligning the AHRS (attitude and heading reference system), and plugging some pitot-static leaks. Seems the last pitot-static inspection left a lot to be desired. The leaks in the pitot-static system reached a level worth 1,400-fpm!

Tomorrow will also be activation day for the XM WX datalink weather, and during the test flights I’ll have a chance to check out the G500’s electronic charts. These include Garmin’s SafeTaxi airport diagrams, plus their ChartView arrival, approach, and departure charts. Garmin’s GTS 800 traffic advisory system will also no doubt be given a workout in the airspace around Chino.

There are always potential glitches in the best of plans, and in this case it’s the airplane’s heavy right wing. A re-rigging sounds definitely in order, and I certainly hope it doesn’t take long to perform. In any event, there’s plenty to see at Chino. There’s a Paris Jet in the Advantage hangar, getting its new G600, an F33 Bonanza getting the GTS800, an F90 King Air getting a dual G600 installation, and a new Robinson R44 being fitted with Garmin’s G500H–the helicopter version of the straight G500. Hmmm, this is news! I’m told this is the first-ever, testbed installation of a G500H. Does this mean it will be featured at the upcoming Helicopter Association International show in Orlando, from March 5-8? We’ll soon find out.

Then there’s the Planes of Fame museum on the field. If I have a chance, I’ll swing by for a look.

Check back tomorrow for a rundown of the flight checks. That’s all for today!

The Mark Krueger story

Monday, January 10th, 2011

Mark Krueger heads up Advantage Avionics, and as I’ve said before his shop came highly recommended. By both Garmin and previous customers. So what’s the key to Krueger’s success? Enthusiasm and motivation top the list.

Back in 1992, Krueger began working in a business you wouldn’t ordinarily associate with a career track in avionics. He installed car stereos and alarm systems. He knew nothing about airplanes back then, but the bug bit when the owner of a Piper Cherokee came by the shop. He wanted to know if Krueger would install a stereo in his airplane. That job got him hanging around airports, and he developed an interest in learning to fly. By 1999 he’d earned his private pilot certificate, then came his multi-engine rating.

He walked away from the car business and developed his avionics acumen by working at several avionics shops in southern California, and in April 2003 he opened up Advantage Avionics. Now he installs 15 to 20 full-blown panel overhauls per year–many of them involving G500s. He has six full-time employees, three of which specialize in installations.

He also has a 1965 Cherokee Six–which looks a great deal like the “Win-A-Six” Cherokee Six that AOPA gave away in our 2006 sweepstakes. Needlesss to say, his has a top-notch panel and a brand-new interior that features video screens in the headrests. Kruger’s Six is parked in Advantage’s large service hanger, and if you stand outside you can see some of the Chino Airport’s unique attractions. These include warbird restoration specialists Aero Trader and Allied Fighters, plus the Planes of Fame museum.

When asked to elaborate on his success, Krueger came right to the point. “I have a marketing background, so I know how to promote the business on our website and other ways, plus I’m very energetic and enthusiastic. A lot of avionics shops don’t make the extra effort to get business, and in this downturn a lot of them just burned out. But I just keep on plugging away,” he said. In a refurbishment project like the Crossover Classic, it’s nice to have Krueger and his team aboard. Two more weeks and the panel will be finished for all to see!

Avionics on track

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

The sweeps 182 is now into its fourth week at Advantage Avionics, a shop located at the Chino, California airport. While almost all of the new avionics components are at Advantage, the panel still is in its gutted stage. The work these days is focused on installing the many antennas and airframe-mounted components that will serve the Garmin G500, the Garmin GTS800 traffic advisory system, the Cobham/S-TEC System Fifty-Five X autopilot and flight control system, and the new comm radios.

“The panel work comes last,” says Advantage’s Mark Krueger. “We have a lot of boxes still to install,  but we’re closing in on the last of them.”

The accompanying photo shows two of those boxes. The photo is of the interior, aft of where the rear seats would be. The large box on the left is the GTS800’s processor unit–the one that detects nearby transponder returns and generates warning symbology on the G500. To its right is the Garmin GDL69A datalink receiver, which handles inbound signals for depicting XM WX satellite weather information.

But there’s something else about this photo. I want you to look at the interior of that tailcone. It is as bright and corrosion-free as the day it left the factory, back in 1974. This is a quite remarkable state of preservation. And, frankly, it’s the main reason we purchased N52832.  When we bought it, the panel was ancient, the paint was shot, the interior was dreadful, and the engine had seen better days.
New Avionics

But in restoration projects like the ones AOPA performs for its sweepstakes airplanes, none of that matters. All those items can be replaced or otherwise improved upon. But corrosion? That’s a deal-killer. Repairing corrosion–or even worse, replacing corroded parts–is too costly and time-consuming for a 10-month upgrade project. Then there’s the ugly fact that’s the title of a Neil Young album: Rust Never Sleeps. You may think you’ve fixed corrosion, but chances are it’ll be back.

We sure didn’t want that. So a sight like that tailcone interior was a green light to go ahead and buy N52832.

Gut, then Modernize

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

I always get unnerved by those in-progress photos you see of instrument panel restorations. I mean, there are wires everywhere, none of the old instruments in sight, and the appearance is one of total chaos. Will they ever be able to put the panel back together again? Or will the technicians throw up their hands one day and take a long lunch?

Old spaghetti gone! The panel awaits the G500, and much more

Not to worry. Advantage Avionics of Chino, California has things under control–although the accompanying photos make you wonder. Advantage has done more than 25 Garmin G500 installations, and that makes them the most experienced G500-retrofit shop in the nation. Annually, Advantage does more than 40 complete panel restorations of all kinds. So the Crossover Classic is in good hands.

This restoration, though, will be one of Advantage’s bigger projects, and it will be late January-early February before the job is done.

A close-up of the now-empty center stack. This is where the GNS 430s will be located.

Here’s why. The list of components to be installed is a lengthy one. Here goes: The two-tube G500 and its wing-mounted magnetometer, dual Garmin GNS 430s with WAAS capability (these feed navigation, terrain, and obstacle data to the G500), Garmin’s GTS800 active traffic advisory system, the Garmin GDL69A datalink receiver (for datalink weather from XM WX), Garmin’s GTX330 transponder, plus all the racks, antennas, and wiring to go along with all that gear. Then there’s the L-3 Trilogy ESI-1000 Standby Instrument System and the PS Engineering PMA8000B-T audio panel with Bluetooth capability. Am I forgetting anything? Oh yes, the Cobham/S-TEC System Fifty-Five X autopilot and flight control system. And a CO Guardian AERO 553 carbon monoxide detector.

Oh, and all the old wires will be chucked in the trash. It makes no sense to install the latest avionics, then hook them up to 40-year-old wiring.

All the components are of exemplary quality. The GTS800 deserves mention because it can report traffic conflicts anywhere. It’s a self-contained unit that reads nearby transponders for advisories. It doesn’t need ADS-B or TIS-B to do its job, so you’re not reliant on ADS-B-equipped aircraft or uplinked approach control radar for traffic information.

Stand by for more progress reports from Advantage Avionics. So far, all components have arrived at the shop–save the autopilot and the AERO 553. I’m working on getting new control yokes so that the autopilot and trim controls can be located within the yokes–rather than mounted on tabs, so wish me luck. Looks like we’ll have to buy a new set from Cessna or Van Bortel Aircraft at this point.

It will be slow going for a while, what with the holidays coming up, but as you can see, the work has begun. Let’s hang in there.