Before we started the installation on Phil's TR-182 I asked him to write about the installation; giving his feelings on time, price and how he was treated.  I didn't realize the he was keeping a Diary on the progress of the job and the events during arose during the installation.  Starting 2004 we are asking all aircraft owners who have a major installation completed at our shop to write about their experience. Good or bad, I'll put it up on the website without editing it.  Below is an "unedited" letter I receive from Phil with regards to the installation we recently completed on his nice TR-182. 

Dear Tom 

I thought I would start this letter just after I saw your first note about the 182 on the Website.  Part of my reason for doing so was that I thought that by doing this narrative style, I could capture more of what went into this avionics redo and what it was like to work with you and your team over a long period of time.  Up until now, although we are still early in the process, it has been, frankly, an incredible experience that has surpassed all of my expectations.   

A few words (for those who might be wondering) about how I came to the current avionics list.  I had been looking for a TR182 for quite sometime.  After about six months of looking I came across this 182 which only had about 1200 original hours on it and has been hangered all of its life.  Everything about it was in excellent condition.  After an extensive pre-buy and eventual annual inspection, the deal was done and this TR182 had a new home.  The Cessna avionics (RT385’s etc) are just fine and they all worked (amazingly) and for that era aircraft, they are not too bad.  Unfortunately, this is the year 2004 and they are a bit long in the tooth. 

After quite a number of hours flying with a King 550 MFD and a KLN 94 in another aircraft, I initially thought about an entire King package.  However, during the course of my research, it appeared that I would be able to get more functional bang for the buck if I did a best of breed approach.  This would mean that the choice of avionics shop would be critical as not only would they have to know their stuff but be able to function as a true systems integrator. 

The first requirement was for an HSI.  While I know that excellent approaches and navigation can be done with traditional VOR heads and perhaps I am getting lazy in my old age, but an HSI was a must have as part of the upgrade (five years as a commercial airline pilot made me really miss not having one).  The main candidate here was the Bendix King KCS 55…the only question was Sandell or the standard King head.  After consulting not only with Avionics West but other avionics shops, I decided on the King KI-525 HSI head.   

Next on to the GPS portion.  I was spoiled by the King KLN 94 and the 550 combination (it is an excellent one) and seriously considered this as a possibility.  I had already reluctantly eliminated the Garmin 530 from this competition.  It does not have the built-in capability of displaying airways on the screen.  While an excellent device (I have flown it several times), displaying airways was also a must have.  This led me to consider both the Avidyne and the CNX-80/MX-20 Combination.  I eventually settled on the CNX-80/MX-20 combination.  While a bit nervous about the Garmin acquisition, early indications are that Garmin is going to throw its full support behind this potent combination. 

I also wanted weather to be displayed near real time in the cockpit on the MFD.  This posed some challenges.  I really liked the infrastructure of the King system (did not like the current Garmin approach).  I also took a long look at the Avidyne MFD system for quite a while as well.  The 500 looked like an excellent piece of gear but it seemed that the MX-20 was better matched for the CNX-80.  Since I decided to stay with the CNX-80?MX-20 combination, WSI won this round. 

For the second NAV, I chose a KX 155 and a KI 209 VOR/GS head.  This gave me a redundant Nav/Com capability as well an additional glideslope receiver independent from the CNX 80.   

Then came the most controversial item of all innocently disguised as an ADF.  I took more heat from more people about the ADF than I could have possibly imagined.  Of course, everyone told me about how I didn’t need one (in spite of the current AIM recommendation about primary navigation and GPS)…but from my perspective, there is nothing as satisfying as flying a good ADF approach…”push the head, pull the tail” is a mantra that still rings in my head.  I also thought that having a slaved ADF indicator provide some degree of backup in the event that the HSI head would give up the ghost.  Plus, at some point, I plan on flying the plane to Europe and an ADF will still qualify as a secondary long range navigation system…plus I just “plane” wanted one!!! 

The next disguised controversial item came up soon thereafter; the DME.  Again, perhaps as a throwback to my previous flying, I could not imagine a panel without a DME installed.  I had specified a KN-62 as part of the total package and once again was subject to lots of grief from my flying family as everyone wanted me to give up both the DME and the ADF. 

Finally, came the collision detection/avoidance system.  I looked very hard at simply installing a mode S transponder and relying uniquely on the TIS system…my brother had this in his airplane and while he is very happy with it in terminal areas, it does have major coverage gaps.  What really convinced me was a relatively recent trip to the SF Bay area.  During our approach and decent into Livermore, we received no TIS information.  So, on to active Collision Avoidance Systems, I went.  The Skywatch system was the finalist here.  Since I had active CAS, I elected to purchase previously referenced family member’s GTX-327 for the transponder and install a Garmin Audio panel. 

Finally, the Autopilot.  The original Cessna autopilot was pretty marginal at best.  I selected an S-TEC 55x with altitude hold.  That rounded out the basic package…and it was this package that went to three of what I consider the best avionics shops in the country including Avionics West, for bid. 

During the course of creating this package, there was lots of discussion about various options.  I even took a trip down fantasy lane and considered installing a Chelton system.  In order to afford that (yes, there was a limited budget here), I would have had to keep the old analogue avionics.  Having an old RT-385 drive a Chelton for the VOR/ILS portion did not seem like such a great idea.  So I left my fantasy on my laptop and stuck with the originally spec’d gear.  As it turned out, that was the right decision as there would be additions along the way that I had not anticipated Had I done the Chelton, I would not have had an ‘extras’ budget. 

While all the shops were responsive to my questions (with this much gear, I kind of expected that), Avionics West was ‘over the top’ in terms of being responsive.  Tom’s knowledge of how these systems work from a pilots perspective and his ability to give real world input was invaluable.  Kevin who does the actually system engineering is an uncanny source of all sorts of little known gotcha’s that will help you keep out of trouble. 

In addition to being astonishingly responsive and knowledgeable, they were by far the most competitive on price.  They beat the other shops hands down.  They are also the most open shop that I found.  They put their work up on their website for all to see.  When I checked out there website, I was amazed.  Not just one or two ‘showcase’ airplanes but DOZENS of examples of their work.  Nothing hidden here.  After visiting their facility, there was little doubt in my mind that this was the place to have this relatively significant amount of work done. 

With that, I gave Avionics West a deposit, reserved a slot and started to wonder how I was going to cope without having my baby for eight weeks. 

As we approached the day to deliver the aircraft, I began to realize that there were several major areas that I had overlooked.  For example, this being a TR182, I had not thought about an Engine Monitor.  In addition, the sight of all this modern equipment sitting next to my almost 25 year old Cessna gauges started to cause concern.  Then during the panel planning process that I was doing on my own, it happened….what to do with the WX-10a that is currently installed in the airplane. 

Don’t get me wrong, the WX-10a is a terrific piece of gear…I have used it several times and it works great…but in discussing its potential relocation on the panel, I discovered that the existing cable was too short and that a longer (and relatively expensive one) would have to be ordered from the factory.  Then came the bad news…WX-10a parts aren’t made anymore.  Yes they can be found on the secondary market but. . .if the wrong thing breaks and you can’t find it…no more WX-10a.  In addition, one of my FUTURE plans (along with a Radar Altimeter) was to install a WX-500.  I discovered that there is a fair amount of wiring that needs to be done for this installation and that by waiting, I was guaranteeing myself a fairly large effort for a secondary project.  I wanted to try and do this once and not have to tear into the aircraft again and again to add things later. 

With the thought processes about additional project scope relatively under control, I began discussions with Avionics West about changing the scope of the work; by some measures, fairly significantly.  The first addition, of course, was the WX-500 to replace the WX-10a and free up one of those valuable 3 inch holes.  Next came the EDM 700.  Just having a single CHT and a single EGT gauge on a Turbocharged aircraft did not seem like quit enough (the original Cessna gauges).  A Fuel Scan 450 was added to be interfaced with the CNX-80 for fuel to waypoint/destination calculations and an STEC 360 to add altitude preselect capability for the autopilot.  We also added a series of EI gauges to replace the original Cessna’s. 

By this time the airplane was at Avionics West and a few squawks had surfaced.  The old original Cessna encoder did not have an RS-232 output and would have to be replaced.  Avionics West also had an IA look over the aircraft (by now it was REALLY apart) and he recommended that the Corrosion Proofing treatment (ACF 50) be renewed.  There were a few other items that came up but nothing (so far) significant. 

The true measure of a company is not how they treat you when you are a perspective customer but how they treat you when you ARE a customer.    Avionics West were just as aggressive on the pricing of the additional work as they were on the original bid.  It is rare these days to find a shop that has as much conscience and ethics as they do.  No leveraging the fact that my aircraft was already disassembled in their hangar…no inflation of prices…just honest, up front people whose word is as good as any written contract.  It would have been easy for them to take advantage of me but they did not.  In my opinion, this speaks volumes about the business ethics here…other aviation maintenance facilities should take note.  

As I write this, Kevin and I are working on the final design of the upper panel layout.  Lots of questions and lots of thinking about where you want to have what.  After all, these are not decisions that can be changed easily afterwards.  A few words about panel design, it is HARD.  When you buy an aircraft from Cessna or Piper, there is really not too much to think about on the panel.  What the factory designed, you get.  Here, you get to rearrange everything and anything (except the basic T) so you really have to think through how things are set up and how you work in the cockpit.  You begin to think about your cockpit workflow or checklist flow and how you want to integrate those activities into your new panel.  A lot of sitting and thinking about the various scenarios and which button or knob you want where. 

TRAINING:  Don’t skip this part. I am writing this section several days later.  I wanted to add something about training.  While I consider myself a fairly proficient pilot (about 5,500 hours and four type ratings), there is a paradigm change happening in General Aviation and it all surrounds the introduction of GPS.  In the old days, you could pretty much jump into any airplane that had a pair of nav/coms, GS, MB and transponder and you would know how to make it all work.  The VOR heads looked or worked pretty much the same way and the information was presented to you pretty much the same way.  The human interface to the equipment (knob twisting) was pretty much the same as well. 

With the introduction of GPS, that is no longer true.  These are complex systems with an incredible array of both technology, features and sophistication (and accuracy).  A pilot who is extremely proficient at the use of a KLN94 will be pretty much all thumbs in front of a CNX-80 or a Garmin 530 and vice versa.  Can they learn it…sure…but that is exactly my point.  TRAINING is a requirement and to that end, I discovered that Avionics West offers hands on training in both the Garmin 530 and the CNX-80.  I enrolled in the CNX-80 and spent an entire day in their training facility (yes, they have a real one with REAL gear to work on) learning the basics of the CNX-80.  The instructor’s knowledge of the device was extensive but more importantly, the course followed a specific curriculum and had specific goals and objectives.  It wasn’t a “Let me show you a few things” but a formal structured presentation of how to get the most out of the device.  While I am far from proficient with the device, I won’t be intimidated by it either and can now boast a firm understanding of its “Principles of Operations” so that I can focus my real attention on becoming proficient in its use. 

Avionics West also sells a docking station for the CNX-80…I have ordered one.  This will allow me to dock the CNX-80 at home and put it into simulator mode and really learn how to use the unit.  While I have not picked up the airplane, I believe that this will significantly reduce workload when I do pick up the airplane.  When I receive mine, I will comment on my experience. 

Avionics West also offers a series of CD’s…again, these are VERY worthwhile.  They are computer based training CD’s and so far, I have completed the ones for the Skywatch system and the Stormscope (WX-500).  While I had experience with TCAS II as a commercial pilot, I found that a lot had changed with the development of active TAS or TCAS I systems.  Even thought I have not yet flow a single hour with the Skywatch system, I feel very confident that I know how to use it…how to interpret it…and more importantly what its capabilities and limitations are.  If you are getting a bunch of new avionics…GET TRAINED. 

An additional few days have past and we have encountered what I would consider to be the first real setback on this project.  Bad news came today in the form of a phone call from Kevin.  Of course, as any pilot, I had wanted the maximum number of radios and displays in the avionics central stack.  Initially it appeared that we would have a stack that looked like the following:  Audio Panel, Autopilot, MX-20, CNX-80, DME, KX-155.  When I had initially proposed this to Kevin, he was not sure that it would work since there are cables and hydraulics in the back and that until they got everything out and started building the Center stack, they wouldn’t know for sure.   

For some reason, Cessna decided to route the gear hydraulic lines right behind where the Autopilot would normally go (at the bottom of the panel).  These autopilot control heads are relatively shallow and normally there is not a problem.  Unfortunately, the KX-155 is deeper than just a few inches so this means that something has to give.  Do I move the DME to the substack on the right side?? Do I move the KX-155 and move the transponder down?  Bummer, bummer, bummer.  This is the first real glitch in the installation and unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be an easy way to violate the laws of physics.  We could saw the KX-155 in half to ‘make’ it fit but Kevin said the guarantee would change.  He guaranteed it would fit but couldn’t guarantee it would work.  He did suggest that I consider an SL-30.  Being very thin (and thereby ‘elevating’ the stack), it could pass where the KX-155 couldn’t.  The problem is that the SL-30 does not simulataneously display the nav and com frequencies.  UGH. 

After lots of discussion, we decided to move the DME to the right side of the panel…we would install a plate under the stack and install the handheld jack there.  That would make access to that jack a bit easier in the event of an emergency rather than having it on the co-pilots side but it is still a bummer not being able to have the DME in the center stack. 

More bad news came in today.  The bell crank for the aileron had some corrosion in the bolt attachment.  I have learned that one of the bellcranks is specially designed to accommodate an autopilot and the other is a standard bell crank.  Avionics West suggested that I consider having the other bell crank inspected just in case there was any corrosion that needed to be corrected.  The inspection is about an hours worth of work but if there are issues, it looks like possibly five hours of labor with the local A/P. Corrosion makes me very nervous (former 1979 172 owner) and I decided to proceed.   There are some other areas of surface corrosion but there is no visible corrosion at the seams and no corrosion on the main spar which I have been told are two of the most important items.  I have been reassured that fogging the aircraft with ACF-50 should take care of this in the short term and prevent it from becoming a significant problem in the long term.  I have also been advised that the ACF-50 treatment should take place with no more than a two year interval between treatments.  The plane is normally hangared so hopefully I will get a two year run out of the treatment. 

READ, READ, and READ some more.  During the course of this final phase of the panel planning, I have been peppering poor Kevin with question after question.  The Internet is a wonderful place where you can download not only operating manuals, but in many cases (as in the CNX-80) installation manuals.  These are important as they show EVERY single interface possible with the device.  The wiring of your avionics ends up being custom down to which buss do you want which device on as well as the interfacing which also ends up being custom.  For example, in the CNX-80…there is an input to receive the serialized code (25 foot increments) from the encoding altimeter.  This can be passed from the 80 to the MX-20.  The advantage here is that when you make a Baro correction to the 20, it is also passed to the 80.  Interesting interaction that I would not have been aware of without digging through the manuals.  My strong recommendation is READ the manuals in detail…understand the exact interaction between devices…and ask lots of questions. 

A few more days have passed since my last update to this now six page letter.  There has been a bit of good news.  The bell crank inspection went very well.  In fact, the A & P said that it was in very good shape and looked almost new.  Since the airplane has been pretty much hangared all of its life, that was reassuring.  How the other bell crank got corrosion on its bolt will forever be a mystery BUT that is one less thing to worry about.

Yesterday, the docking station for the CNX-80 came.  WOW…I would strongly recommend that you get a docking station for this whatever GPS device you are purchasing.  I was able to spend almost two hours last night going through the basics of the device.  Even though I have been to a day-long class, this really lets me take my time and try things over and over again until I am sure that I understand them.  With the 80, there are some very unique features that can be real time savers…you can go without them and use it as a ‘normal’ GPS but there is so much capability built into this unit, if you don’t practice and understand it, you won’t be able to take advantage of it. 

A few more days have past since I last added to this letter.  Tom is posting to the Avionics West website pictures of the plane as it goes through the various phases…and it is clear that really good progress is being made.  For almost two weeks, Kevin and I spoke every day…discussion various options and interfaces.  Discussing in detail how this or that particular item would work or would be wired.  Friday was the first call from Kevin that I had in three days…I think that this is a sign that things are finally calming down and that the majority of the detail has been worked out. 

The last item was how to arrange the switches for the Skywatch and the DME.  The autopilot requires three toggle switches.  We decided that we would have a row of five toggles just beneath the Autopilot Altitude Preselect.  The first three would be the three for the autopilot, the next switch would be for the Skywatch system followed by the DME channeling switch. 

A few words about the Skywatch system.  We are going to wire this system to the avionic bus.  That takes care of the basic on/off functionality.  Within the Skywatch, there are three modes of operations.  One is Standby…pretty self-explanatory…the second is Sensitivity A where the unit will issue a Traffic Advisory within .2 nautical miles and plus or minue 600 feet…this is designed for terminal operations.  There is third mode call Sensitivity B where the unit will issue a Traffic Advisory within .55 nautical miles and plus or minue 800 feet….so the fourth switch would be a three position toggle.  Lowest position would be standby, the middle position would be for terminal operations and the upper position would be for enroute operations.  This switch could also be wired to the landing gear (up would give you enroute, down would give you terminal) but Avionics West suggested that having a separate switch gives you more flexibility.  For example…want to look at local traffic while you are still on the ground…no problem….want to keep it in enroute mode even though the gear are down…no problem. 

The last switch is the standard DME channeling switch.  Up will be for Nav 1 (the CNX-80) and down will be for Nav 2 (the KX-155).  Pretty standard stuff here. 

I know that I mentioned the docking station earlier but I wanted to come back to that item.  GET ONE!!!.  I have been able to program in checklists for my airplane as well as several flight plans that I will be able to use when the unit is installed in the airplane.  I have done all sorts of flying in California (in simulator mode) and have gotten relatively proficient with the unit (I still have lots to learn, no doubt).  The ability to get familiar with the unit BEFORE you use it in the airplane as well as being able to customize it beforehand is extremely valuable.  This is one piece of gear that, just like in the simulator, I will be very familiar with even on the very first flight.  While I don’t know as much about the Garmin units, I suspect that these would be invaluable for them as well (I sure wish I had one a couple of years back when I was learning the KLN-94). 

Nits:  As you might imagine, Avionics West is quite a facility when it comes to avionics.  They also have an A & P (who happens to be an IA as well) who does the non-avionics work.  They inspected the bell crank referenced above and installed the standby vacuum pump.  As it turns out, during the inspection of the aircraft, a few ‘interesting’ non-avionics items came up.  First, and somewhat surprisingly, the oil filter safety wire was on backwards.  I have the picture and you can be sure that the shop that did the 50 hour inspection the day before I took the airplane to Santa Maria and I will be having quite a conversation.  As you can also imagine, areas of the airplane are exposed that normally don’t get exposed…especially in the headliner…so the addition of some new rubber fuel hoses (they were original and starting to crack), the replacement of some static wicks that were broken and a visual inspection of the MLG saddles and swivels (why not, the airplane is wide open) will round out what will happen that is not avionics related. 

Kevin called today.  One of the items that I had asked A/W to complete was the replacement of all of the coax.  It seemed silly to put in this much avionics and still be using the same 20 year old coax.  I also asked them to carefully evaluate the condition of the antenna’s.  Unfortunately, the rear antennas for the VOR’s have to be replaced.  Antenna’s have something called a p-static coating.  This was completely worn off on my antenna.  A couple of choices here….just replace the rods for $360 dollars and use the old base or get a new antenna including rods and base for $400.  That was a no brainer and proceeded to give the OK.  If that is the worst of the ‘bad’ news I receive during this project, I will be very happy. 

Again, a few more days have passed and it was time for lower panel planning fun.  This took a bit more work than I had originally thought it would.  There are two things that you have to decide at this phase of the project.  The order of the switches and what each switch and circuit breaker label will be.  The order of the switches was probably the most time consuming.  What order do you normally turn switches on in?  How do you want the switches grouped?  What exact labelling do you want on the switches (should it say BCN or Rot. Bcn.)?  Lot’s an lots of decisions here.  Rather than working with Kevin (who has been the major planner in the project), I worked directly with Tom Knoll who is the technical supervisor of the project and who is featured in some of the pictures on the website.  

One of the pleasures of dealing with A/W is their practical use of modern technology.  It is not ‘gadgety’ but effective.  The layout that Tom sent me was in ‘spreadsheet’ form but actually showed how the physical layout and relationship between the switches and circuit breakers would be on the panel.  This allow us to both be looking at the exact same thing and any corrections that I made could immediately be sent back for Tom to review…even while we were on the phone. 

We spent about an hour on the phone working throught the lower switch panel layout…and decided that we would have the Avionics Master…some space…then the Rotating Beacon, Nav Lights, Strobes, Pitot Heat, Prop Heat, D-Ice Light…some more space (at this point we are right under the yoke) with the Taxi and Landing light to the far right side.  What is great about this is that I have three spare switch spots in the event that I decide down the road to add additional functionality.  We then got to plan out the order and labelling of the avionics on the avionics bus.  Again...lots of tiny decisions to be made here as to exactly what you want things to say and exactly what order you want them in.  We even went ahead and pre-labelled an empty CB slot with “RDR ALT” in the event that someday I actually add one to the airplane.  This is one of the true joys of having a completely custom panel set-up…everything is custom and exactly the way that you want it. 

Mode S woes:  Earlier in this article, I mentioned that I was planning on flying the airplane to Europe.  It has been something that I have long dreamt about doing in a single and have tentatively set the Summer of 2005 as the trip date.  I had initially rejected a Mode S transponder as I had the active Skywatch system which provides much more functionality than TIS.  The bad news is that I have recently been able to confirm that after March of 2005, ANY aircraft that wishes to fly IFR in Europe MUST have a Mode S transponder which meets the requirements of Level two elementary surveillance.   

Back into research mode I went to discover exactly what the heck that meant.  I knew that Garmin’s GTX 330 met the requirements according to the website but I had been hoping that perhaps a remote Mode S might become available that I could channel with the CNX-80.  That option no longer appeared practical…so back to Europe’s requirements…here they are in a nutshell: 

This also means that the transponder must be wired just so.  A/W immediately started researching this subject as we were getting different answers from Garmin U.S. and Garmin U.K. as to exactly how this worked.  Garmin U.S. said that the transponder will transmit a mode S signal even when in Standby…Garmin U.K. said nope, Standby means Standby and that you need an Air/Ground switch to transmit Mode S on the ground.  As Mode S in not a requirement (yet) there is no formal recommendation for the air ground mode item (the last item) for GA aircraft here in the states.  In many European airports, ground interrogation of Mode S transponders is common.  Aircraft that weigh more than 12,500 lbs or go faster than 250 knots must also have Mode S with diversity (meaning two antennas one top-one bottom).  Fortunately the 182 does NOT qualify for diversity. 

What was the upshot of all of this…I had to make a very late change with A/W and ask that at GTX 330 be installed.  The good news is that they had not yet closed up the panel…and that it would primarily require the installation of a different plug in the back of the rack to accommodate the GTX-330 rather than the GTX 327.  On the business side of things…again, true to form, A/W gave me a very aggressive price on the GTX-330 and even took in trade the GTX-327 making this an extremely easy decision on the financial end of things. 

As I write this, we have not quite figured out how to enable the flight status reporting.  One possibility is that we hook it up to the Skywatch three position switch so that mode S in enabled when the Skywatch switch in in the StandBy position (which is where it will be most of the time…)… 

Quality work takes time.  We were rounding the final curve when WHAM.  Further delay.  The process for producing the custom panels is pretty involved.  After being properly prepared and cut, the panels are sent to a special shop that applies the powder coating which forms the base color of the panel (pacaderm gray in my case).  Once the coating is completed, it goes back to A/W for QA (yes…they even QA the coating) and from there, they send them off to a special engraving shop in Nevada.  This shop actually engraves the panel markings into the powder coating (not the underlying metal).  What this does is provide permenant white lettering which does not discolor or rub off over time and looks very professional.  When this engraving is completed, the panels are shipped back to A/W for further QA verification.  Unfortunately, when the right lower switch panel came back, the flap degree markings were in the wrong place…so the lower switch panel is going back to the powder coating shop to be stripped and recoated…QA’d…then off to engraving…again…and back to A/W for installation.  Unfortunately, this will result in an unplanned delay of about 10 days.   

The good news is that during this avionics down time, the mechanics are busy on the airplane putting in the new rubber fuel hoses, inspecting the MLG actuators and installing new static wicks on the airframe.  They will also be fogging the aircraft with ACF 50 so I should be corrosion proofed for at least two years.   

In the meantime, the Mode S controvery continues.  Garmin UK has told us exactly how Mode S operates on the ground.  Unfortunately, this is in exact contrast to what Garmin US has told us.  Kevin got suspicious when calling Garmin US and was getting slightly different answers.  In discussions with the Garmin UK folks, the answers changed again.  I am sure that somewhere within Garmin, there is someone who knows EXACTLY how the Mode S will work on the Ground (GND) mode. 

I had to give up my CNX-80 this past weekend.  I had been  using the CNX-80 quite a bit in the docking station (but about 22 hours of ‘flying’ on it) learning as much about its operation as I could…the good news here is that Tom needed it back as it was time to start programming the unit for the airplane.  I rented a 182 and flew to SMX…that also gave me a chance to take a look at the airplane and realize that it is starting on the path of being put back together rather than being taken apart.  We also finally go the definitive word on the Garmin transponder…for ‘proper’ mode S operation, the unit should be left in the ALT position.  When on the ground and there is no appropriate Mode S inquiry, the unit will stay in standby…(it knows it is on the ground via a 429 interface with the GPS unit)…if there is a mode S sweep, the unit will sense it and go into GND mode which means that it is ‘squittering’ mode S.  Of course, when airborne, you end up with modes A, C, and S. 

Unexpected glitches and honesty.  Last Friday, the truly unexpected glitch hit.  When the lower left panel (pilot side) arrived at A/W (it was on a slightly different schedule than the lower right due to its complexity and customization), it appeared to be properly put together.  Upon much closer examination as part of their QA process, it turned out that the Battery/Alternator switch position labels were reversed.  What does this mean?  Unfortunately, it means that the cycle has to start again except this time it is the lower left panel.  Back to the powder coater…back to the engraver…with QA stops in between.  I had a chance to speak directly with Tom this morning.  He told me that while the flap indicator was a definite error on the engraver’s part, the mis-labeling was caused by a glitch in one of the computer programs that A/W uses and that it was not the engraver’s fault on this one.  Tom did not have to tell me this.  He could have very easily blamed the engraver and I would have been none the wiser.  But, again, the ethics of A/W really surfaced during this incident.  Am I happy that a glitch occurred?  Of course not.  But I am happy that it is being professionally handled by folks who are extremely picky about what goes into my avionics panel and by folks who are not afraid to admit to making an error and who do the right thing to correct it. 

It’s is ALIVE.  Today I received a series of pictures that were actually taken by the IA that works in Tom’s area.  It seems that after the panel incident, Tom needed a few days off of picture taking duty to recover.  In the meantime, progress has apparently been fast and furious.  The lower right panel arrived and by the next day the lower right panel was installed with the upper right side following shortly thereafter.  The next day the lower left panel arrived as well and the upper left was also quickly installed.  The pictures that I saw were the one’s of the first ‘power’ on tests of the aircraft.  It is interesting to know that this is not the first time the equipment has been powered on.  Apparently it gets powered on before the harness is installed…after the harness is installed and then upon actual installation.  That way, A/W can be sure that nothing gets missed as this extremely complex installation comes to life.  One interesting problem was discovered as part of the integration testing.  The Skywatch system would not work.  Turned out that a factory supplied coax had an RF short in it.  Not visible at DC voltage levels but when RF was applied…it simply would not function.  A quick replace of three coax cables (they all must be the same length) and we were back in business. 

If all goes well, they will be doing ground run tests and hopefully the actual flight test.  A/W has warned me that even though they test everything on the ground first, it is not unusual at all for there to be a series of small squawks that need to be worked upon after the test flight.  And then, of course, another test flight to verify that they have been corrected.  The good news is that we are starting to get close to the end of what has been a very major project.  There can still be delays but now we are really closing in on completion. 

The last minute glitch.  As any good story should have, there should be some last minute glitch just to make sure that everyone stays on their toes.  One of the advantages of the A/W approach to things is testing, testing and more testing.  They discovered that my rotating beacon was causing the new Horizontal Situation Indicator to swing as much as 20 degrees everytime it flashed.  So a quick trip to the supply shop for the installation of a Whelen strobe.  Once installed, the HSI was as solid as a rock. 

The day of the pickup was as professionally handled as all of the rest of the items that have been dealt with.  Everything was incredibly organized.  Kevin had a three ring binder already set up with every 337, the new W & B, and all of the other paperwork (and there was a ton) that came with the equipment.  Nothing to get lost here and it was clear that a ton of work (by Kevin) went into the production of this binder.  Now, I have everything relating to this install in one place…a very professional approach to a very complex paperwork exercise.   We did a quick update to the CNX-80 to make it IFR current…and a quick load of the ChartView functionality into the MX-20 (very easy to do…we loaded all of the airports in the Western US) and we were set.   

Tom and I spent the entire day together.  We first spent about an hour in the airplane on ground power…just reviewing everything…then I spent another hour on my own in the airplane…then a thorough test flight by Tom and I…and I mean thorough…we tested everything…decided that the autopilot needed a slight tweak…tweak done…plane solid as a rock…everything works EXACTLY as it should.  I have made three flights in the aircraft since this work has been completed…the CNX-80 is a dream to operate…and the situational awareness provided by the MX-20 is hard to describe.  Overall, this has been a very satisfying experience. 

But what about the folks at Avionics West…these are amazing people.  Would I do this again…absolutely.   Avionics West is a contradiction.  On one hand they have one of the most modern facilities you could imagine.  They REALLY know their stuff and you won’t find anyone who leverages technology better than Avionics West.  On the other hand, they believe in doing the right thing.  They are almost ‘old fashioned’ that way.  They are conscientious, honest, fair and EXTREMELY competitive.  

They represent the best qualities of the ‘old days’ while embracing the best qualities of the new days.  These are people who are honest to the extreme and have the kind of integrity that is hard to find.  Their guesses are better than most peoples facts, their promises are better than most peoples guarantees, their commitment to doing the right thing is better than most people actual results. 

If you are considering major avionics work on your ‘baby’, this is a place that I would recommend without hesitation.  Half of the adventure is the journey and the other half is the result which is an incredible experience when you ‘take delivery’.  In the meantime, fly safe and keep the blue side up. 


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