My ADS-B Experience

_MG_2201.jpgBy James Brewer

An Avionics Technician & Aviation Enthusiast

I know, I know. You’ve been hearing about ADS-B non stop for the last 5 years or more. I know you’ve heard every single reason to get a system installed; from the benefits to the requirements. I know you’ve heard that at midnight of 2019, your airplane will magically never be able to fly again. You’ve no doubt heard all the regulations and requirements over and over again, as well as the applicable air spaces. I know I have long since reached saturation on the subject some time ago. More importantly, I know what the burden means to you. Really, I do.

I have the opportunity to live a dual life. One half as an avionics technician, and the other with a small partnership on an airplane so I understand the myriad of costs associated with airplanes from both sides. The hanger fees, the maintenance costs, the fuel, tie downs, endless inspections, and of course, that bulb that keeps blowing right before you want to get in the air. Every time you turn around, there’s some other thing you have to comply with. So adding on yet another burden is less than pleasant. Don’t tell anyone else in the industry, but I really disliked ADS-B when it was announced. I saw it as another overbearing requirement to fleece “the rich guys with airplanes.” Especially when you hear comments like “well, it’s only $5000. Be glad you don’t have (insert fancy jet name here) its $100,000 on one of those.” That’s great. But on a $15,000 Cessna 150, $5000 is a big chunk! Or the classic “well if you can afford an airplane, you can afford (insert outrageously priced aviation item here).” I hate that one.

But. I have become a convert and I am singing the praises of ADS-B now. All it took was one flight.

I have a friend who was looking to upgrade his aircraft to be compliant. It just so happens I was attending an ADS-B training session at the same time. Fortunately my boss, Joe Braddock, pulled me aside and told me about the Freeflight RANGR products. He knows I have a tight budget so he presented them to me as an affordable solution. I’m not yet at the point of doing the upgrade myself, (like I said, tight budget) but I did pass the information on to my friend, and for a lot less than he was expecting to pay, he had an ADS-B solution.

Fast forward a few weeks and we go up in his ADS-B (in and out) equipped 172. Wow. It was cool! I really stink at spotting traffic, but having that Ipad displaying the aircraft with their info and velocities right there in front of me, it was like a whole new world opened up. We had WAAS GPS, traffic, and weather! In a 172! For less than 5 grand! With no weight or amperage penalties from a heavy radar. Win-win-win! Plus there were no functional changes in cockpit duties. We still set the transponder when we had to and the ADS-B updated its information accordingly with no input from us. The amount of information and situational awareness we had was amazing for that price. Being a bit of a tech geek, it was a lot of fun to play around with too. I’m glad I was in the right seat!

As we were flying, the technician side of me came out too. The install was a lot faster than we expected, and a lot simpler with digital communication instead of big round bundles of wires and adapter modules. I was pleasantly shocked at the minimal panel real estate that the ADS-B control head took. We were both smiling big on that flight.

On the other hand, I also get to back seat a Super Decathlon from time to time. There is something beautiful about a small bird with minimal distractions and a lack of flashy electronics to take away from actually flying. If that’s you, then I have nothing constructive to offer. Flying like that is a treat in life and on the ADS-B ruling, you’re getting the short end of the stick. The only consolation is that the prices for minimal systems are coming down and there’s still enough competition for your business to keep labor costs reasonable. For now. But as a guy with an inside view of the avionics world, that tipping point is coming soon.

If you have the opportunity to go up in an equipped airplane, by all means do it. Take the right seat and play around. I’m sure you will be very pleasantly surprised and the pain of upgrading will be lessened significantly.

Stay tuned for an informational chart to help guide you to the right system for your needs and budget.

Modifying Older Aircraft


By Nathan Hernandez

So you find your aircraft. You’ve wanted one, looked for one, and finally found one. It’s a great aircraft and was a great deal but the avionics are old and maybe outdated. Where do you start?

421c-beforeMost people start looking at before and after pictures on various websites and get some ideas. Then they get a quote for that full glass panel upgrade they saw online and….once their heart starts beating again and the sticker shock sinks in you ask the real question – what do I really need?

First of all, please remember this is about avionics. If your engines are past TBO, then get that done ASAP!

Avionics can perhaps be broken down into 3 sections- radios, flight instruments, and your autopilot. I tell people that electronic flight instruments and a great autopilot are wonderful tools but they are not practical without a good foundation. Your foundation tends to be the radios. That is, your audio panel, GPS, NAV, COMM and transponder. Those are the foundation of a good avionics package.

Start with your audio panel and transponders when you shop. You can have the biggest and best GPS/NAV/COMM on the market but if you cannot communicate with tower due to a failed audio panel or report altitude due to a failed transponder, well, then you’re grounded. That big awesome display means nothing at that point. Make sure your installers are putting in all new wiring and jacks for your intercom. The transponder needs a good serial encoder. This will reduce the risk of failures later and good shops will require it. No one wants to spend good money on their aircraft and have issues because they saved421c-after a few bucks with old wiring or an old encoder.

After those important details, at this point, you can look at the new displays with the GPS/NAV/COMM all built in. Personally, I recommend you aim for one really good unit and a strong secondary. Most of us are not going to buy an aircraft and spend the aircraft’s value on new avionics. Installing 2 large GPS/NAV/COMMs is great and looks cool but one with a solid back up will save you money and keep money in your pocket for the EFIS, autopilot, or maybe something like fuel? Just a thought.  Great avionics manufacturers like Garmin, Aspen, Sandel, Universal, Rockwell Collins, etc. have done their homework and produced systems with not only great features but great reliability and quality.

Don’t let yourself get caught off guard when you look to modify your aircraft. It’s always fun to go big and your avionics shop will be happy to help you do that. Make sure the shop you go to is looking out for your best interest. I have had clients ask me to install a nice EFIS with old unsupported radios. That does not help when you’re on final approach and your audio is not clear enough for ATC to give you clearance. What’s behind your panel or not in directly in your field of vision can be as critical as that nice looking big display in front of you.

For questions, comments, or even just to chat about anything avionics related, feel free to give me a ring or shoot me an email whenever you want.

Nathan Hernandez (321)255-9877 ext.291