Thinking about upgrading your panel? Some things to consider…

Many general aviation aircraft have the same instruments and avionics they left the factory with decades ago. With affordable, comprehensive “glass panel” upgrade options now available, you may be thinking about modernizing your airplane. Here are considerations to think about as you plan your dream panel.

Integrated panel or piecemeal updates?

When thinking about upgrading your panel, it often makes sense to look at a modern, integrated panel solution instead of a set of updates to individual instruments. You’ll find that integrated panels offer a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, both in capability and cost. 

Integrated capabilities

You’ll benefit from the inherent information sharing that happens across features and capabilities, lowering workload in the cockpit. For example, in Dynon’s SkyView HDX system, your system’s engine monitor can talk to your GPS and let you know your real-time range. The transponder can use knowledge about whether you’re on the ground or flying and automatically set your air/ground mode. And since the optional integrated autopilot has full knowledge of the aircraft’s primary flight instruments, it can respect bank, airspeed, and G limits to enhance safety.

Cost savings

Since various options and capabilities are enabled by affordable “behind the scenes” modules rather than completely separate panel-mounted devices, building up a full-featured integrated avionics system can be more cost-effective than buying the equivalent piecemeal, stand-alone instruments. This modular approach also allows you to start small and build capability over time. Just add additional modules: No more panel cutting needed!

Ditching “steam” gauges

Legacy instruments have two things going against them that continuously cost you. First is ongoing expenses: Vacuum pumps and gyro-based instruments such as directional gyros, attitude indicators, and horizontal situation indicators fail, sometimes insidiously, incurring costly and surprising overhauls.

Second is the price you pay in weight. Pilots who replace a panel full of “steam gauges” and other outdated electronics with a modern, integrated system often recover 40 to 75-plus pounds in valuable useful load.

Ease of installation

When looking at your options, pay close attention to ease of installation. Do you have to use specific shops? Or is your credentialed A&P/IA of choice able to do an installation with full factory support? What accessories are available from the manufacturer of your chosen system to make installation go as smoothly as possible? Do they offer pre-manufactured harnesses, for example, to help keep speed installation?

Enhanced IFR and partial panel

Many systems incorporate independent, dissimilar backup flight displays into the panel. While traditional partial panel events can be taxing, having a complete set of backup flight instruments —like the EFIS-D10A that backs up Dynon’s SkyView HDX-based system—can turn these situations into lower-workload events that are much easier to manage.

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