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The Perils of Advanced Avionics, And How to Avoid Them

"Be careful." You've heard it said about how you actually fly your airplane. In that context, it's certainly good advice. But we want to use the phrase about another realm of aviation -- avionics.

General Aviation avionics have advanced so much in the last five years, some cockpits are almost unrecognizable from their original state. The capabilities of the "glass-panels" you can install in your L-39 are far beyond what even most airliners have. It's a wonderful time in history to be a pilot and own an airplane. But there are hidden perils in the new technology.

If you want advanced capabilities for your airplane, you should be thinking about a few things in addition to merely what brand of "glass" you want to buy. Here are three points all aircraft owner/operators should consider:

1. Is my installation truly failure-proofed? 2. Am I fully willing to learn how to use it all? 3. Who is installing my system?

Is my installation truly failure-proofed? Even a single-screen EFIS contains a lot more useful data than a whole panel-full of "round-dial" analog gauges. Flying IFR/IMC becomes a breeze. But what happens when the screen fails, or the single ADAHRS (Air Data and Heading Reference System) stops providing valid data, or the power stops flowing? What are your backups? How are they powered? What common components do they share with the primary system? Are the backup instruments easy to see, and easy to use? How about your electrical system--is it robust and reliable? Do you have a backup battery?

Am I fully willing to learn how to use it all? Just because your system has a bunch of great features does not mean you will automatically be proficient with it the first time you file IFR and launch into the soup. You'll need many hours of practice in VMC conditions first, and perhaps many hours of sitting in the cockpit inside your hangar, with the plane hooked up to an external power source. Learn how to navigate the menus. Learn how to display all the data you need. Learn each sequence of button presses that you'll need during an intensive flight. Take the time to read the manuals. Practice "what-if" scenarios with a friend.

Who is doing the installation? You'll need to find an established avionics shop that has done your specific type of installation before. They will have the experience to do it correctly and in compliance with the manufacturer's instructions. There are hundreds of wire connections behind those pretty glass screens and all the boxes that go with them, and they all must be made correctly and reliably. Don't skimp on this step just because of price, convenience, or tradition. Seek out the best people to do your installation. Your safety comes first.

If you have any questions about installing a modern glass cockpit in your L-39 (or any other warbird), please contact Code 1 Aviation for more information. And fly safely!

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