Upgrading Avionics


There are many different ways to upgrade an instrument panel.  Putting in a 696 here, a JPI engine monitoring system there, even an Electronic HSI.  But, if you want to swing for the fences and get a serious upgrade, you have to go for a complete glass instrument panel.  For good measure, you might as well throw in a touch screen GPS while you are at it.

Which panel to go with?  There are two mainstream options (Garmin and Aspen) and a handful of other companies that make glass panel replacements (Avidyne being one, King for a short period of time at the end of the last decade being another with the KFD 840).  Around 2010, there were a lot of companies trying to get into the glass panel retrofit game, but many of the products didn’t gain a whole lot of popularity, leaving Garmin and Aspen at the top of the heap.

What about the touch screen GPS market?  Garmin has this pretty much cornered as well, with Avidyne and King just getting into the game.  The gap between Garmin’s GTN series and Avidyne and King is pretty wide.

Garmin GTN Series

The answer is pretty easy when it comes to the GPS (go with Garmin!), but not so easy when it comes to the panel.  The G500 and the Aspen Evolution series are both excellent interfaces with strong reliability, so which one do you go with?  Feature-wise, both have a lot of the same features: traffic, weather, terrain, synthetic vision, to name a few.  The presentation for each feature is a little different between the two interfaces.  It just depends on what you like better.

The nice thing about the Aspen system is you can go glass, but you have options on how much glass you want:  1 screen, 2 screens, or 3 screens?  With the single screen PFD, you have all your instrumentation, traffic, weather, and optional synthetic vision.  You don’t need the synthetic vision for the traffic and weather, as it shows up behind your HSI.  It is an honest to goodness glass panel retrofit.

When you decide to upgrade to 2 screens, this is where Aspen has a leg up.  The second screen is a completely redundant PFD and, if you get the 2 hour emergency backup battery installed, acts as the backup instrumentation to the main PFD.  This means you can take out the old steam gauge standby instruments.  This helps clean the panel up.

I personally don’t see the need for 3 screens, but maybe there is someone out there who needs it.

One selling point that Aspen has over Garmin is the wide variety of autopilots and GPS units that Aspen units are compatible with.  The G500 is only compatible with King autopilots, it’s own GFC 700 autopilot (which would be a retrofit), some Collins autopilots, and the Century 21, 31, 41, and 2000.  This does cover a wide array of autopilots, but it keeps some on the outside.  Aspen, on the other hand, is compatible with most autopilots on the market.

Finally, let’s talk price.  Going with an Aspen EFD 1000 PFD (this is the single screen Aspen) will run you somewhere in the area of $12,000.  The price will vary based on the shop and the airplane.  When you want to add a screen, it’s an additional $6,000.  This is for the base, so if you want to add weather or synthetic vision, it’ll run you a little more.

The Garmin G500 comes in around $20,000, again depending on the shop and the airplane.  The screens are bigger on the G500, which is kind of nice, and you are buying a Garmin product, which has a fabulous track record in the aviation industry.

Decisions, decisions.  There really is no wrong answer here.  Both are excellent products with very good track records.  Both have really nice features and don’t hardly fail.  Really, the choice comes down to what you want.

Need training on your upgraded GPS or glass panel retrofit?  Contact Texas Top Aviation for thorough training on your new avionics today.

Dallas Airspace Changes


As was the case with the Class B Airspace around Houston several months ago, the Class B Dallas airspace has been overhauled as well.  These changes were implemented at the last database update on September 18th.  If you’ll be flying into any of the Dallas airspace airports IFR, make sure you have current charts and your GPS databases are updated.

According to AOPA, 14 SIDs and STARs were deleted, a number of new procedures were added, and changes were made to most of the other remaining procedures.  The new procedures in the Dallas airspace consist mainly of RNAV procedures for turboprops and jets, so most GA aircraft won’t be affected by those.  The legacy procedures that remained in place over went changes, including new frequencies, so piston aircraft going into the Dallas airspace are still affected.

From AOPA, departures from Dallas Love (KDAL) that file their flight plan with special equipment /G in their flight plan will automatically be given an RNAV departure procedure.  This does not appear to affect piston aircraft as all the new RNAV SIDs in the Dallas airspace are for turboprops or turbojets.

The reason for the changes to the Dallas airspace?  Similar to the changes in Houston, these airspace changes are meant to streamline departures and arrivals in the Dallas airspace area, reduce controller workload, and give continuous descent angles for arriving high altitude traffic.

Don’t be surprised the next time you are in the Dallas airspace area if you receive a clearance that states:  “Descend via the arrival.”  In that case, just check the chart and aim for the appropriate altitudes at the appropriate fixes.  As we move closer to the ADS-B requirement, I believe we will see more and more of these terminal procedure overhauls, so be prepared and keep those charts and databases up to date.

Lightspeed Zulu 2 vs. The Bose A20


The debate about which headset is the better product will never cease.  We do know this for sure, though, Lightspeed and Bose make the best noise canceling headsets out there.  David Clark’s offering doesn’t match up with these two.  Newcomer AKG has a light (weight-wise that is, as the headset is equipped with a pair of LED lights as well) ANR headset that the jury is still out on.  For now, Lightspeed and Bose sit atop the ANR kingdom.

The comparison for this article will be between the Lightspeed Zulu 2 and the Bose A20 headsets, both of which I have used quite extensively in my flying career.  I am officially in the Lighspeed camp at this point and after reading my comparison below, you’ll see why.

ANR Functionality

Bose A20

Between the two, the Bose A20 cancels out more noise, no argument there.  This isn’t to say that the Lightspeed Zulu 2 doesn’t.  Quite the opposite, actually.  The Lightspeed Zulu 2 does a great job of canceling the noise.  But with the A20 on in a C172, you can barely hear the engine running.  The difference before you press the power button and after is extremely noticeable.  I had one client turn to me after turning on the noise canceling function of his new A20 headset and state, “These things are awesome!”

The other advantage Bose has is a continuation of the noise canceling.  About the only thing I don’t like about the Lightspeed is if you don’t have the headset sized just right on your head, each time you turn your head to look at something, then the suction gets broken around the ear cup and you get some ambient noise.  My glasses probably don’t help with this.  It’s not that big of a deal, you just have to readjust the size of the headset, but, since I’m a little OCD, it bugs me.  Once I get the set sized right, it’s smooth sailing.


Lightspeed Zulu 2

Far and away, the Lightspeed Zulu 2 is much more comfortable than the Bose A20.   I flew for 5 hours in the right seat with my Lightspeed set on the other day.  I switched to the left seat for the last leg and used the owner’s A20 headset since it was plugged in on that side already and I noticed quite a bit of difference.  The ear cups seemed to press against my head more.  The pad on top of my head didn’t seem to be as cushiony.  It just wasn’t overall as comfortable as the Lightspeed Zulu 2.

Bose has made a lot of progress from their original noise canceling headsets.  Those didn’t have much of a cushion on top at all.  After about 2.5 hours, the slim ear cushions began to dig in to the side of your head.  So, the A20 has made some progress, but the Lightspeed Zulu 2 takes the cake in comfort.

Weight Distribution

“Wait!”  You Bose boys scream (no pun intended).  “The A20 is lighter than the Zulu 2!”  While this is true (the Zulu 2 weighs in at 15.7 oz while the A20 is only 12 oz), the way that weight is distributed makes a massive amount of difference.  The Lightspeed Zulu 2 feels lighter on top of your noggin than the A20 because the weight of the A20 is firmly planted on the top of your head in a single point.  With the Zulu 2, the weight is distributed evenly across the top of your scalp, so even though the set is heavier, it feels lighter on your head because the weight is not all concentrated on one point.

All this adds up to why I like the Lightspeed Zulu 2 more than the Bose A20.  As for a practical example, I wore my Lightspeed Zulu 2 set for 9.1 hours one day two weeks ago.  Needless to say, it was a long day.  But, once I climbed out of the airplane, I had no pain on the top of my head and only a very little where my glasses ran along the side of my head.  Now I call that a winner.

The Glass Panel Cockpit Seminar


Have you looked longingly at the Aspen PFD or Garmin G500, imagining those beautiful glass panels set in your airplane?  Think it’s too advanced for your flying skills?  Well, think again!  Hank Gibson of Texas Top Aviation will be hosting a seminar at the Redbird Skyport FBO at the San Marcos Airport (KHYI) on Thursday, September 25th  at 7pm to enlighten everyone on all the different glass panel and modern GPS options out there.

Aspen 2500 The Glass Panel Cockpit Seminar

No panel is too complex!  No GPS is too complicated!  Come hear about how you can upgrade your steam gauge airplane to a modern, glass panel cockpit that will be the envy of all your pilot buddies.

The seminar begins at 7pm in the large conference room at the Redbird Skyport.  Come see this beautiful facility which hosted the AOPA Fly In this past April.  There will be two drawings for free flight training in your airplane, so make sure you get your entry in once you arrive.  WINGS credit will also be given.

Redbird welcomes pilots flying in for the event.  If you are flying in, please show your support for Redbird by purchasing fuel!  

Signup is required for the event.  To sign up, please click here.

We hope to see you there!!!

The Flight Director as a Backup


I’ve noticed that a lot of general aviation pilots tend to ignore the flight director on the attitude indicator.  A lot of pilots don’t even know what it’s there for or how to use it.  Talk to any airline pilot, though, and he or she will tell you how important the flight director actually is.

In most high performance airplanes, the flight director comes on when the autopilot comes on.  Essentially, the autopilot is following the flight director, which tells the autopilot where to go.  The flight director can also be used with the autopilot off, when hand flying an approach, for example.  By turning the flight director on, it will show you where you need to fly to stay on course and on glide slope.

Flight Director

The flight director is most often controlled by the autopilot controller.  The same buttons you use to put the autopilot in heading mode also tells the flight director to follow the heading bug when the autopilot is off.  When you move the heading bug (or change course on the GPS, depending on which mode you have selected), the flight director will show you when you need to turn and when you need to stop turning.  It directs your flight attitude, hence the name.

I recently discovered it’s a great backup when you have some instruments on the fritz.  I went on a long flight in a steam gauge Piper Malibu and the attitude indicator started reading erratically.  While flying straight and level, it would randomly indicate that I was in a 10 degree bank to the right, swing back and show wings level, then show a 3 degree turn left.  This went on for a while.  We were in VMC conditions, so legality wasn’t a problem, but it was kind of disorienting.

After a little while of this, the autopilot started acting up.  It would start oscillating the pitch up and down, making it seem like we were going through a moguls course in the air.  I ended up turning the autopilot off and hand flying the airplane.

This led to a conundrum, since my attitude indicator was unreliable.  I could definitely look outside, since it was VMC, seeing when I was level and when I wasn’t.  That would create a higher workload for me, which on a long flight like I was on, would lead to an increase in fatigue.  The solution?  The flight director!

I turned the autopilot off, but I left the flight director up.  It wasn’t referencing the bank angle that the attitude indicator was showing since the KFC 150 goes off of the turn coordinator.  So, if I just followed the attitude indicator, I could just keep scanning the instruments and relieve a little bit of my workload.

It actually worked really well.  By just following the flight director, I was able to stay on course and on altitude with only minor attitude adjustments whenever we hit turbulence.

So, if you’re attitude indicator and autopilot decide to stop working on you, then bring up the flight director, push the same buttons you would if you were using the autopilot, and it works as a great backup.