Sorry for the ridiculously long hiatus – a lot has happened since I last posted. J and I are now living (and flying) most of the time on the west coast of Scotland, and our RV-14 project has moved with us. We’ve got a bigger workshop space and have joined a community of other self-build enthusiasts (there is one Europa flying and another in the making, and that’s just in our village!).
Progress on the build has taken a significant hit in 2017. Despite vowing we would not be taking on a house requiring major work, we bought a lochside property that’s over 130 years old, and have had a lot of work to do to get it habitable. It has been worth the effort but incredibly time-consuming. There’s still a lot to do, but what remains is mostly cosmetic and not urgent so we hope to get back into the habit of doing regular work on the RV as well.
More on the Scottish move later and we’ll introduce the new workshop in a separate post.
For now, we’re down in London with work for a couple of weeks and concentrating on more ‘remote’ aspects of the project.
One of the best things about building your own aircraft is that you can design certain things to suit the way you like to fly – one area where that’s especially true and valuable is the instrument panel.
We were delighted to hear that as of December 2016, the LAA now allows sign-off for night & IFR equipment and flight in permit aircraft (including self-builds like ours). The process for getting approval will be long, but given our ambitions for long-distance touring, the value of doing so will be considerable. J already has an instrument rating and I’ve begun my training this year, so by the time we finish the build we should both be able to make full use of an IFR-equipped aircraft.
This means we now have the exciting task of designing our panel and choosing the various instruments to go in it. We have both flown in a number of different aircraft and have some views on what works and doesn’t work for us. J, having done his full IR training, is considerably more clued-up on the options and bells and whistles than I am, so his experience has guided the process.
As we’re both pilots, we’d originally planned to make our panel as symmetric as possible. This would have allowed us to switch command during a flight and have an aircraft where the left seat/right seat distinction is minimal. Most light aircraft with side-by-side seating are very left seat-heavy because the pilot normally sits on the left. Whilst it’s always good to know how to land from the right seat in case of emergency, or if you’re an instructor, it’s not something you’d otherwise plan to do except for practice. We have now thought it through further and we think it’s quite rare that we would actually get to the point of exhausing one pilot and needing to switch command mid-flight – it’s actually far more likely that a fuel or comfort stop would be needed well before that happens. Of course we can save an awful lot of money on avionics if we stick to having back-ups where there’s a genuine safety benefit, and we will also save space by having only one large primary flight display (PFD). So we’re abandoning the fully symmetric idea and instead just bearing in mind that the person sitting on the right needs to be able to see clearly at least one version of the main information they’d need to fly and land the aircraft safely.
Goals influencing our panel design
Full IFR/night capability
- Electronic flight instrumentation system (EFIS) – primary flight display (PFD) with altitude, attitude and airspeed indicators, heading and vertical speed; navigational display (usually a map). We are considering the Garmin G3X Touch system for ours, mostly because we are familiar with Garmin systems from our TB-10 aircraft. The main competitor would be Dynon Skyview range.
- Suitable back-ups – required for airspeed, altimeter, attitude and navigation displays. These don’t be as nice as the primary one, but there has to be an alternative in case the primary fails. For airspeed and altimeter we will go with ‘steam’ back-ups (if the electrics fail, these will still work), and for attitude and navigation we plan to install a Garmin G5.
- Navigation and other radios – IFR navigation is all about the electronics. We plan to install a Garmin GTN650 GPS/COM/NAV radio, a GNC255 COM/NAV radio, a BendixKing KN63/KDI574 DME slaved to both NAV radios, and an ADS-B out transponder.
- Audio Panel – for space reasons, we’ll probably go with a remote-mounted audio panel. This will be controlled from the EFIS touch screen instead of having its own dedicated buttons.
- Autopilot – long distance touring is much easier, and IFR is much safer, with a good autopilot. There are some excellent systems available at very reasonable prices for homebuilt aircraft. The choice will probably be driven by which EFIS system we go with – Garmin and Dynon both have well-integrated and capable options.
- Interrupt for autopilot and trim – in case of malfunction, ensuring you can take control again and the plane isn’t flying you!
- Alternate static – in case of failure or blockage of the main system producing the information shown on the primary flight display.
- ELT – An Emergency Locator Transmitter is required for flight in many parts of the world. If we only wanted to fly in north-western Europe this wouldn’t be necessary, but because of the round the world plans, we need to install one.
Long-distance touring capability
We will be flying the aircraft over long distances and sometimes with limited alternates. There’s therefore the assumption that we won’t always be able to land immediately in case of problems, i.e. lots of back-ups needed.
We are planning for a full dual electrical system, which deserves (and will get) its own blog post. The main reason for this is reducing the likelihood of encountering total electrical failure on a long-distance IFR flight at night. This would be Bad News.
We’ll also be installing an oxygen system as it allows us to fly at higher altitudes for efficiency and also weather avoidance – going over the top of some monster clouds is infinitely preferable to going through the middle or underneath them. We are thinking of the MountainHigh EDS-2ip system, having used the MountainHigh portable system in our previous flying.
We’ll be grouping similar tasks in similar places, simplifying the standard instrument scans by having things in a logical order. Intuitive and consistent controls are also important – buttons for things that ‘feel’ like they should be buttons, levers/switches for others, and also ensuring all switches are standardised (‘off’ position is the same across them all) to reduce the risk of confusion. Different people will have different preferences in this respect, so we’ll be going with what feels right to us in most cases.
We will also bear in mind standard practice across existing aircraft – keeping colours and layout simple and according to normal conventions. This means that whilst we want to influence our design, it shouldn’t be tailored to our individual quirks to such an extent that another suitably-qualified pilot couldn’t get in and fly it reasonably easily.
We plan to have a push to talk (PTT) button on the panel for when the autopilot is in use, so that when our hands aren’t on or near the controls we can still communicate easily on the radio. This is something we’ve rarely had in an aircraft we’ve flown, but we’ve decided to put it in based on the fact that it’s difficult to press a button on something you’re trying not to touch or move!
Being Steiner-educated, J (far more than me, it has to be said) likes to take time ensuring things look nice. Normally with good results, I hasten to add! If we are going to create something ourselves from pretty much a blank sheet of paper, as with the rest of the aeroplane, it should at least look nice 🙂
For colour scheme we will be thinking about how we’re painting the exterior (it’s going to be bright red, so we probably need a relatively neutral interior to compensate :)) and also ensuring that we bear in mind the standard colours of the instruments so that the final setup looks good as a whole.
We’ve both flown a number of aircraft and seen a great many more. Inevitably we’ve seen things we like and don’t like, so in our design we are influenced by things we have seen.
Designing our panel
We’ve been working on the design for our panel using the Front Panel Designer software from Schaeffer AG, (Front Panel Express in the US) which is free to use and allows you to draw up a design that you can then send to them to be cut by a computer. This has been really good to work with, and it’s incredibly helpful to be able to draw things in to scale and try out different arrangements.
Here’s how it’s looking so far…we tried to nick pictures of all of the individual items and photoshop everything into place, but it took forever and looked rubbish, so we might just have to share a picture when it’s actually done! We ordered a sample and it looks really nice, but we are considering going with different colours than the blue and green for some of the lettering, as it doesn’t show up as well as the red and white. There will probably be at least one more post on this subject before we’re finished.