Avionics Upgrade / Twin Lakes Avionics

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  • #84097

    On Friday I picked up the 310 from the avionics shop. We’d had them replace the #2 Nav/Com with a 430W, install a WX-500 StormScope, do a pitot/stat/transponder check, a cooling fan for the avionics, and look into an issue I’d been having with the Aspen’s compass not lining up with the magnetic compass. Twin Lakes Avionics (at 8A7) did the Aspen install on our plane about 18 months ago, and did an excellent job when they did, providing a great panel setup and also removing 65 lbs (literally) worth of unused/broken avionics. They also donated the labor portion of the install on the Aspen, for which we have been very grateful. I wanted to return to give them some paid business to say thanks.

    We’d decided to add the 430W to the plane (which has a 530W) to provide a second GPS, second display for nav/stormscope/terrain data, and second glide slope. The 530W made for a single point of failure for a number of key features, which we didn’t like with the sort of flying we do. The WX-500 compliments the on-board radar for detecting lightning, and after the Aspen failure, I started paying more attention to heat generation and noticed that there’s a significant amount back there that I wanted to address. Then there’s that annoying pitot-stat check that comes due every two years.

    I can be a bit of a tough customer, at least that’s what avionics shops have told me. Every time I’ve gone to one I’ve gotten annoyed at them for expanding workscope without authorization (which I don’t mind until it literally doubles the cost of the bill), being unable to get the plane done anywhere close to the quoted time, and also being unable to follow work instructions. Twin Lakes did stick to the workscope, but also didn’t try to oversell me. If anything, they tried to talk me out of the expense of adding a cooling fan, to which I said “Well, it won’t hurt anything, and I want it in.”

    In this case, the work was done ahead of schedule if anything. They said it would take 2-3 weeks to do the work, and I asked that they do it in 2 weeks if possible as I had to be down in the North Carolina area for work purposes and it would save me a trip if I could fly it home. Robbie made no promises, but said they’d try. They were able to get it done on time, including getting all the tests and paperwork completed. No test flight – I’m not sure if they will fly it or not, but I don’t let anyone else fly the plane.

    In addition to getting the requested work completed, they also updated the firmware on the 530W already installed, updated the firmware on the Aspen, and noticed an intermittent problem I’d forgotten to mention where the 530W would throw an error code on start occasionally, which was fixed by resetting the unit. They also attached the transponder to the Aspen’s altitude encoder. While not necessary, the benefit this has is that if the backup altimeter goes out, we can replace it with a non-encoding unit (i.e. much cheaper).

    Some people asked why I was taking the plane to a shop around 300 nm away when there are obviously closer shops. This makes the 4th avionics shop I’ve been to (excluding autopilot work), and the only one that’s done good quality work, meeting quoted price, on or ahead of schedule, and met or exceeded my expectations.

    In talking with various people (even the avionics shop), I got a lot of questions as to why we chose this set of work to be performed, and why a 430W. The kind of flying we do benefits from having a second GPS since we go to remote areas where GPS navigation is all you’ve got, and sometimes even into areas where you have no contact with ATC and thus you can forget about radar vectors. Previously, our #2 was an old Collins Nav/Com that worked marginally well and had no glide slope. Since we already have a 530W and I know how to use the 430/530 series extremely well, it makes sense from a human factors perspective to stick to what you know. Plus the 650/750 costs more, and doesn’t add any features that are particularly useful for the flying we do. The second glide slope is also very nice to have.

    Although we have on-board radar, I also like having a Storm Scope, so the WX-500 made sense. Knowing where lightning is as well as precipitation intensity is useful. With the 430W, I can use its display for nav data, WX-500 data, or terrain data. I’ll play around with it some, but at the moment my intent is to leave it on the terrain page. I hate CFIT.

    The test flight home showed no issues after shooting an LNAV/VNAV and ILS approach using the 430W and then flying home, and I’m very happy with the new setup. Looking forward to flying it more.

    Attached picture of the panel now on the flight home. Also highlights the blue prop knobs, JTA switch covers, cruise speed near the top of the green 😀 and headwinds 🙁

    #98108

    Ted,

    Beautiful panel, and thank you for the details of your update. It is so nice to hear that there are decent shops out there to deal with.

    I agree with your choice of a stormscope. In my “pre-radar” (and pre-Nexrad) days, I became a huge believer in stormscopes. I have one in my 421, and when dealing with bad weather, keep my #2, 430 on the stormscope page.

    I have been in heavy rain many times, however, if the stormscope has been clear, the ride has always been tolerable (maybe loud, but tolerable). To me, it gives a lot of extra info about that cell or line of precip that I see ahead on the radar.

    John Koziarski
    421c
    N31C

    #98112

    I would have otherwise given up hope on finding a good avionics shop. My luck with them has been almost universally bad, and so I’m glad to have a shop I can go back to. The 600 NM round trip cost we figure ends up costing about $1500 round trip including my ride home and back for ferrying it, but with the reasonable prices and good service, it’s worth it.

    I’ve talked to a number of pilots who think that there’s no point in a stormscope when you have on-board radar or XM. I’d disagree – all of those tools give you different information, and so having all three gives you a more complete picture with which to make your decisions. I remember on one trip in the Navajo I had a passenger tell me “Don’t you get bored? You aren’t doing anything.” She didn’t notice the bunch of red on the radar, and the stormscope allowed us to get through the line safely and while avoiding the lightning areas. Once we got through it I turned to her and said “You see what I’ve been doing?”, which received a vigorous nodding.

    My wife and I are happy having a plane to fly with a panel this complete. With her background in the transport category world, she especially likes having extra safety features. The baby probably heightens that a bit. 😉

    We also both have backkground flying some real junk. While it builds character, we also appreciate being able to move up to something we can have some confidence in, and that will help ease workload rather than make life harder.

    #98117

    Found this picture from the day I took delivery of the 310. It wasn’t a bad panel then, but has definitely improved. Upgrades were mainly due to things breaking or needing additional capability.

    The AI/HSI broke, and an Aspen was a more economical replacement.

    The JPI was a necessity from my perspective, and has saved us a great deal on fuel.

    530 upgraded to 530W when our home field got an LPV approach (actually 3)

    Broken junk removed (65 lbs worth!)

    Collins transponder broke and replaced with 327

    Radar added

    Switch covers old and worn, replaced with JTA color-coded covers

    Prop knobs painted blue

    And… 430W/WX-500 added preemptively before the Collins parts broke, and for extra safety/capability

    #98122

    They are good guys at Twin Lakes. To bad they don’t have a better runway situation there.

    #98129
    quote DMOORE1:

    They are good guys at Twin Lakes. To bad they don’t have a better runway situation there.

    Yeah, their runway is definitely less than optimal for our planes. But the 310 makes it in and out just fine so long as you’re comfortable with short field with obstacle procedures.

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