In my last blog I talked about how I believe that 2021 will be a great year for business and general aviation – I also think that uptick will continue into the foreseeable future.
I also said that, from what we’re seeing, aircraft owners are accelerating their efforts to enhance the capabilities, reliability, and safety of their aircraft through avionics upgrades. Just what kind of upgrades, you’re still asking?
Well, we see everything from the simple addition of a few USB chargers in the panel, up to complete rip-and-removal of legacy avionics and instruments, and the installation of some really cool touchscreen “glass.” Today, the sky is the literal limit when it comes to panel upgrades.
So, with all that said, let’s take a look at some of the most popular upgrades.
#1: Digital autopilots. As I discussed in my “Oh, b’gosh; we’re not at Oshkosh,” blog, autopilots are at the top of every aircraft owner’s wish list. And for a lot of good reasons. They’re so much more capable and reliable than legacy units, offering features like Envelope Protection, Straight and Level Protection/Alerting, Level Mode, Altitude Hold, GPS to ILS approach sequencing, VNAV, and lots more.
And they do not just benefit on instrument flights. There’s plenty of safety and situational awareness enhancing features for even Sunny Sunday VFR flyers.
#2: Glass displays. Not long ago, the term “glass” meant EFIS-type upgrades, but not today. Sure, you can take out the standard 6-pack and replace it with large-format touchscreen glass. But you can also install glass displays like the Garmin G5 or GI275, or Aspen’s popular drop-ins into the existing panel cut-outs.
Any of them will give you a lot of “big-screen” features like synthetic vision, terrain and traffic warnings, weather, and much more, without having to replace the whole left side of your instrument panel. These options make upgrading to glass easier and less expensive than you may think.
#3: Touchscreen GPS Navigators. It still amazes me when I see the old, I mean really old, Cessna ARC, King, and Bendix NAV/COMs in today’s panels. Heck, early Garmin 430/530s are over 20 years old. Hello owners, the last century called, and it wants its avionics back.
Today’s touchscreen GPS Navigators provide so much more capabilities in that same panel space. The real question is, what don't they do? I can’t think of much. Even if you left your other avionics and instruments alone and just upgraded your COM/NAV/GPS to a new Avidyne or Garmin unit, your airplane would take a major step into the 21st century. And, like many other upgrades, the prices are a lot more affordable than you’re thinking.
#4: Garmin GI275 touchscreen electronic flight instruments (EFIs). I separated these units from the other “glass” upgrades because I truly believe they are in a class by themselves. I can’t think of any plug-in replacement instrument that provides so much capability in so small of a space – and at such affordable prices.
If you’re tired of having unreliable mechanical and/or vacuum-driven instruments in your panel, check out my earlier blog on the GI275 units (LINK HERE).
#5: Digital engine displays. Even with all of my considerable number of hours in the left seat, one aspect of flying a piston-engine airplane that I never really mastered was proper engine/power management. Back in my early days of flying. – yes, I’ve been doing this that long – we had to rely on a single-probe EGT to manage the engine(s).
Lean-of-peak. Rich-of-peak. Was the probe even reading the right cylinder? Who knew? Today’s multi-probe digital engine monitors eliminate all of those problems. Now you can fine-tune your engine’s performance for not only maximum power or efficiency and in doing so, you can help extend the life of your cylinders and engine. How cool is that?
So, there you have my shortlist of the top avionics upgrades for 2021. No doubt some manufacturer will introduce something that will jump to the top. But until then, you have a pretty solid starting point to start planning your upgrade.
And as always, if you have any questions, I’m here to help you in any way that I can. Just give me a call at 863.709.9714 (ext 112). If I don’t have the answer, we have a great staff here at GCA that does.
Until next time, fly safely and have fun,