(The mindset of reducing the amount of avionics and equipment to the minimum needed for safe, efficient, and fun completion of any flight)
"Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything
to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away."
- Antoine de Saint Exupéry
You've seen them: panels so full of "stuff" that you're dazzled by its complexity. Panels that have many switches, knobs, indicators, screens, dials, gauges, avionics. Panels so crammed with STUFF that it's mounted in the glovebox, over the vacuum gauge, over the tachometer, over on the left side, mounted under the panel, drilled into the underdash airbox...
Panels so busy that it takes 20 minutes to sit down and soak it up visually in while on the ground. Can you imagine flying IFR in them?
And you know what? Our first reaction is typically, "Wow! This is a cool panel!" while the owner beams with pride about how much 'stuff' he was able to cram in there. Of course, our second reaction, once we've had a chance to really think about it, is "Damn. I could never afford to equip MY airplane like this..."
Why do we equate the amount of stuff in the panel with "good"? Why do we feel that until there is absolutely no more space left then our upgrade job isn't completed and we feel less than the guy next to us with moving map/Radar/HSI/Stormscope, 12-axis autopilot, blah, blah,. ad nausea? This mindset is even supported by all the price evaluation guides which equate "value" with "volume": Got an HSI? Tack on a few thousand. Stormscope? More bucks. 6" tall moving map? Green.
But you know, we all fall for it.
It kind of makes me feel like my wife and I did when we were going through all those bridal magazines: you gotta spend at least 50 Big Ones on your wedding or you're just, well, crap. Same for our airplanes: you gotta have 50 Big Ones in the panel or your airplane is just, well, crap. Isn't this the same mindset that we Tiger owners laugh at when a guy pays more money for a Piper Arrow in order to get those blue and white knobs, only to end up going slower?
Well, I totally disagree with that mindset. With all respect to several of my friends who have these "killer" panels, I contend that not only is such extravagant spending totally unnecessary, it's UNSAFE and a hindrance to safe completion of flight, especially when things start to go wrong. KISS -- Keep It Simple, Stanley.
Tiger N81140 started life with the basic, standard Narco IFR Panel with a King twist, arranged thusly:
In the 3" holes to the left of the stack (and to the right of the Six-Pack) was:
Then, a basic vacuum-powered DG and AI, and a single-axis Century 1 autopilot. Not an overly dramatic avionics stack, but sufficient. I was a relatively new pilot (not yet Instrument rated), and this worked for me. Remember, at this point GPS had not yet really come to the fore, at least not an affordable and functional GPS.
I do remember, though, being amazed at some of the Tigers I looked at before purchasing mine: installations of HSI, high buck LORAN receivers, multi-buck autopilots. Of course, these were WAY out of my price range...
As a new pilot and aircraft owner, I originally had "avionics fever", the disease that had me convinced that I needed to fill the panel with stuff. About this time I began discussions about avionics and electrical systems with AYA's own Steve Williams, who is a friend of mine from when he lived in CT, and with Robert Nuckolls, a gentleman whom I consider to be the light aircraft electrical systems guru. Bob taught me a lot about aircraft electrical systems design. His book (The AeroElectric Connection), web site (http://www.aeroelectric.com), and his nationwide seminars taught me that simpler is better: design a system that works effectively and is "failure-tolerant" and don't over design in the holy name of "fail-safe". He, along with Darryl Phillips of the AirSport Corporation, also taught me to think "outside the box", to keep my mind open to new ideas of engineering and operation practices, rather than follow along with the accepted dogma.
So how did all this electrical and operation stuff lead to the Minimalist's Panel? Well, about this same time, when I was at my pinnacle of open mindedness, along comes Steve Williams. As I expounded on my future ideas for my panel, Steve simply asked me, "Why do you need that?", and asked me again and again to justify the expenses I was so desiring. You see, apparently Steve had already been a student of the "Minimalist Panel" theory and in fact had coined that phrase which I now use freely. Of course, if you look at the Orange Airplane you really get a sense of the word "minimalist"... I wanted IFR capabilities and a little more luxury, but it's the same basic idea.
If you know Steve, you know how persistent he can be. During our conversations my baseline reason for most of those panel desires turned out to be either "I want it" or "that's the way it's always been done." Given my new open-mindedness and demand to simplify for safety, this wish list really didn't fit. So, I began to rethink it.
Soon after I began my IFR training, the NAV-122 (my primary navigation instrument, the #1 VOR with glideslope) began acting up. I had a local avionics shop look it over a couple of times, but my frustration level began to build as the IFR training stalled because the -122 still wasn't fixed. The avionics shop told me that it really needed to be sent back to the factory for a complete overhaul, but they couldn't give me a firm price and they couldn't guarantee it would be fixed permanently. I decided it was time to replace it, permanently.
The Terra (R.I.P.) line of avionics caught my eye. I liked their compactness and digital displays. I found that I could combine both a com and a nav into one "slot" on the center stack, and the digital CDI would fit nicely where the NAV-122 was at the time. Given that I had a COM-120 that had been to the shop 3 times, I saw it as a good opportunity to replace two troublesome pieces of the avionics stack with one. I installed Terra's Package A, consisting of a comm, a nav, and a digital CDI. I also had to install a remote marker beacon receiver which was then ported to the lights in the CP-135 audio panel. Granted, this was a simple replacement of avionics, but the seeds had been sown. Divide and conquer the ideas, combine and remove the excess.
Another thing I did at the same time, was install a PS Engineering PM1000ii 4-place intercom (the Tiger had no permanent intercom installed). Everyone should have one of these. Excellent sound quality.
About this time, handheld GPS receivers began to appear in volume and at prices I could afford. What a technology! Say "Go To" and it points you the right way, even giving you the shorter Great Circle route! For the minimalist, this was a dream: a single navigation device that leads you right to where you wanted to go, doesn't rely on ground-based transmitters that someone could run over with a truck, and has the backing of the U.S. Military to pretty much guarantee its service. Plus, you can go direct and save time and money.
I'd always had my eye on the little Garmin GPS-90; if GPS is the ultimate tool for the minimalist, then the GPS-90 is the ultimate minimalist's GPS (it *is* the ultimate one with an aviation database; the $99 Magellan being the ultimate without). I waited until the next line of feature-laden handheld GPS came out (see? We even have the "disease" in handheld portable products) and I snapped up one of the used GPS-90s that were being sent to the back corners of the flight bag.
I flew that handheld GPS-90 everywhere. The center stack had my attention for the communications needs, and I played with the VOR and DME occasionally (I still didn't have my IFR rating), but my navigation focus was on a little piece of technology mounted on one of Bob Dillon's windshield bow brackets. I became so dependent on that little box that rumor has it I theoretically installed an autopilot coupler to it. Theory and rumors can lie, though.
As things progressed over the next couple of years, I improved as I could (or needed to), all the while keeping the Minimalist's Theory in mind.
When the attitude indicator bit the dust, I saw it as an opportunity to add on a feature that everyone should have: timely notification of vacuum system failure in the form of a Sigma-Tek AI with vac warning flag. Sure, you're supposed to look over at that gauge, WAY on over as far to the right and out of your sight as it could POSSIBLY be, but how many of you REALLY look at it every 30 seconds or so? How far down will your AI and DG gyros spin before you catch it? The Sigma-Tek AI fit real nicely within the Theory, as I now no longer needed to install a vac warning light somewhere on the panel.
Luxury, convenience, and appearance dominated my brain for the next year (as well as a major engine overhaul; I used Penn Yann), and I added a nicer looking (yet time-consuming) metal panel overlay, comfy foam grips on the yokes, and a personally-designed (and more comfy) interior (I added pockets everywhere...) Additionally, I removed and painted all the black plastic in the airplane using interior plastic paint and I fabric-covered all the canopy and side glass plastic.
Things were looking up!
So, eventually I did it: I got that IFR rating. Hardest thing I've ever done in my life, it seems. And I started flying IFR.
The more I did "that IFR thing", the more I realized just how much I was relying on the GPS-90 instead of the legal instruments. Sometimes, I'd even find myself neglecting to tune in the VORs (Bad! Bad Greg!) The more I did it, the more comfortable I became with GPS, and the more I realized that I should make the effort to do it legally, and frankly, more safely. Even though I never attempted an IFR approach with the GPS-90, even relying on it enroute in the soup made me uncomfortable. However, I had several beefs with IFR-approved GPS at the time:
I watched the market, and the longer I waited, the better (and cheaper) it got. I was waiting for the Minimalists product: GPS (IFR approach or IFR enroute), a comm radio, and a moving map all built into one box. There was no point in installing a single product which still relied on other items to stay in the panel. Remember, I was looking to combine as much functions as possible into one box. Soon thereafter, both Garmin and IIMorrow/Apollo came up with those exact products, an all-in-one box that made it really sweet. I still had problems with issues 1, 2, and 4 (still expensive, still had to ADD instead of REPLACE, and the database updates were atrocious). Several things happened which finally turned the corner for me and resolved all my hurdles with IFR-approved GPS:
Issue #1, It had to offer an increase in usefulness over the GPS-90. Well, any IFR-approved unit will allow me to file direct, and that's pretty darn useful. I would not have bought one based solely on this point. At the time, I didn't know how cool it was to fly GPS approaches (and it is cool.) So, I wouldn't have bought an IFR GPS unit based just on this...
Issue #2, It must allow me to replace avionics instead of adding more. Would you believe the FAA helped out on this one?
In June of 1998, the FAA issued a NOTAM allowing the use of any IFR-approved GPS unit to be used in lieu of ADF for any approach (except ADF-only approaches) to identify any DME fix or ADF/LOM. Wow! How cool is that?!?! This was a major success in general aviation navigation! I could now remove the ADF, remove the DME, remove the second COM-120, replace it all with an IFR GPS/comm and lose no functionality! None!
Now, there are those that say, "Well, you can now no longer do ADF-only approaches!" Well, that is true, but let me lay it on the line: there are VERY few airports in this country with only an ADF approach without a GPS overlay, and frankly if the weather is down that bad I seriously doubt I will have the desire to shoot an ADF-only approach to below MVA into Backwoods Armpit. I really don't need to get into Armpit that bad. Therefore, since I won't be doing it anyway, I will be realistically losing zero functionality.
Others reply, "What about an ADFs usage as a electrical charge indicator (i.e. a poor pilots strike finder)?" Well, with respect, do you want to trust your ADF to consistently find lightning so you can fly closer to thunderstorms? When someone tries to justify their ADF by saying they use it for listening to ball games and for lightning detection (what in the hell are you doing flying near thunderstorms and lightning anyway?!?) I know it's time to move on. Use the products in they way they were designed. If you want lightning detection, get a spherics device.
Besides, I'm not the only one that feels this way. A guy named Jim Howard has written an excellent diatribe on ADF.
Issue #3, I had to get over the Too Damned Expensive problem. Well, this goes hand-in-hand with #2.
By removing the COM-120, the ADF-141, and the KN-62, I was able to get enough trade-in and resale value that the price of the GPS was reduced by 35%. In addition, iiMorrow/Apollo was offering a special deal where they were giving away a free annunciator panel with purchase of the GX-60. Killer deal.
Issue #4, The Database Updates: Yep. The Updates. At an expected $500+ per year for database updates, this ongoing cost will kill you. Can you imagine that? Simple, reusable PCMCIA cards and they want that kind of money for the data. On top of that, the FAA TSO requires a current database in order to shoot any IFR approach.
Or does it?
IIMorrow (later Apollo, later UPS Technologies, now dead as Garmin AT) came to the rescue: as part of their TSO approval on their approach unit, they inserted into the POH supplement wording to the effect that an approach can be done using an outdated database as long as the pilot verifies that the approach he's about to shoot is current. Since you must have the paper copies of the approach in your lap, all you have to do is compare the date of the GPS database versus the version date on the paper plate, and if the database is newer, you're golden! You don't have to have a current database! IIMorrow/Apollo/UPSAT is the only IFR GPS manufacturer that I'm aware of that has this approval.
Sealed the deal for me! I installed the iiMorrow/APollo/UPSAT GX-60.
The last piece of original equipment in the Tiger was the audio panel. "So what?" you say. So nothing, basically. All that little device has to do it switch audio. Simple job, and well-handled by a Narco CP-135. However, remember the Minimalist: I get perverse pleasure out of REMOVING items from the panel rather than adding.
I replaced my PM1000ii with the PS Engineering PMA4000 audio panel. The 4000 is an audio panel about the size of a double-height PM1000ii intercom, but combines the audio panel functions and the intercom functions into one small box. There is a toggle switch to flip between comms 1 and 2, and four pushbuttons for monitoring 2 comms and 2 nav inputs. There are also 4 other unswitched inputs and it uses PSE's excellent IntelliVOX automatic squelch adjustment. No full-width center-stack installation required and it will fit into any small space. This allowed me to combine those functions, and sell the PSE PM1000ii intercom and the Narco CP-135 audio panel. Read my review of the PMA4000 as emailed to the company's president, Mark Scheuer.
I like it.
So at this point the stack looked like this:
The four 3" holes just to the left (that used to have the two Narco NAVs):
In November of 2001 a buddy of mine with a YAK-52 wanted to add a good nav/comm, but didn't want to spend a lot of coin. So, he offered to buy the Terra nav/comm from me at a reasonable price, and I replaced it with the UPSAT SL30 VOR/ILS/comm and a Mid-Continent display. Same idea, different hardware. The SL-30 partners nicely with the GX-60, and the -60 sends to it location information so I can easily look up local radio and nav freqs. Neat stuff.
I am convinced that a decent wing-leveler autopilot is a requirement for any extended IFR flight. I'm a medium-time IFR pilot, and I really do enjoy it. However, I take a lot of long trips, and hand-flying IFR en route can get very tiring. Further, I'm always reviewing charts and maps, and it's a Godsend to have an autopilot to keep the airplane "shiny side up" while my attention is diverted. I firmly believe that an autopilot is more than "Nice to Have" for IFR flight, even to the point of calling it a damn-near requirement.
My original equipment Century 1 autopilot seemed to fit the bill. However, this C1 (and maybe it's the nature of the beast) didn't really do an "excellent" job. It kept the wings pointing the right direction, and it kept me mostly on course. However, its gyrations tended to annoy me; I wished it would core the CDI and stay there. Therefore, to the chagrin of my wife, I installed a S-Tec 30 autopilot in the summer of 2001 and soon thereafter added the S-Tec altitude hold to it. It replaced the Century 1 turn coordinator (combining items again) and adds altitude hold (in for a penny...) Yeah, not really minimalist at all, but it's sure a nice convenience. It's sweet and holds altitude with a vengeance. My enroute IFR is much easier, and I can select the altitude hold at MDA while I search for the airport below. It's almost like having a second pilot on board.
At the very least, get or keep a Century 1. You'll be glad you did.
Not too long after installing the altitude hold UPSAT announced a software upgrade to support ARINC 429 output. This allowed the autopilot to accept an intelligent data stream such that it knew where it was in the world and didn't simply respond to "go left, go right" signals. I had my unit upgraded, added a heading hold indicator, and added their GPS Steering (GPSS) system. Now when the auto is tracking the GPS output, it intelligently precedes its turns to smooth the transition, rather than waiting for it to pass the waypoint and then catch up. A very good investment.
Postscript, 2003: To the severe disappointment of many pilots, Garmin purchased UPSAT, and along with it the rights to all of the above neat equipment. As feared, they immediately cancelled production of the best of the GX-60 along with all other iiMorrow/Apollo/UPSAT GPS products. Where's the anti-trust watchdogs when you need them??? I'm ripped that they did this, but I suppose it's obvious why; this package was not only a tremendous value for the airplane owner at half the cost of the comparable Garmin products, it was a direct competition to their bloated and overpriced GPS products (e.g., -430/-530.) I feel sorry for anyone that decides they want IFR-approved GPS equipment in the future; their first move will be to bend over and open their wallet...
So take a look at that panel; what are we missing? What could we possibly need in addition to this for safe completion of flight? Nothing as far as I can tell. We have a value-priced, truly fully functional IFR platform with minimal fluff.
Ah, yes. The Minimalist's Panel.
Boy, that Garmin GNS-430 is a nice box, isn't it? (Let's not even talk about the newer GNS-530!!!) That's possibly what I would have done differently. Why I didn't do it that way was:
So, if I hadn't already had a good VOR w/ GS (and it was available and I could afford it), I may have passed on the Terra setup and bought the GNS-430. Once I became comfortable with the GNS's quality, I'd pull the extra comm and nav. Then, my "backup" would be the handheld radio and handheld GPS-90.
Ironically, as I write this update (August 2001), I'm looking at getting into a project kitplane, and this decision of what to do from scratch has been on my mind. After flying the GX-60 for over two years I've really become a fan of it. In fact, I can't imagine what the Garmin would give me over this, except a prettier color map display.
Therefore, as I've been thinking about "what would I do" if I did build this airplane I'm leaning more and more towards installing the UPSAT full avionics stack, with the PSE 4000 intercom/audio panel instead of the UPSAT audio panel. I think I'd certainly install the GX-60 IFR GPS, the SL30 nav/comm, and the SL70 transponder, and I would give serious thought to the MX-20 display especially given the potential for in-flight weather and the ability to accept info from the BFG 550 spherics receiver. I really do like the way the MX-20, SL30, and GX-60 all work together. (see "postscript, 2003 above...sigh...)
There are some other features that I have added to the Tiger. In many cases these can be argued to be above "minimalist" but in a lot of ways I find them either necessary, or at least super conveniences. Many of these were key to the "Best Equipped Four-Place" win:
Post Lamps/Additional Panel Lighting
It sure is nice to be able to see everything at night without flashlights hanging out of your mouth. I called around to several supplier and got a heck of a discount for ordering a dozen at a time.
Sure, they cost a bit, but it's the best $250 or so you'll spend on panel lighting.
Mitchell Electical Gauges
A few of the engine gauges starting becoming troublesome. In researching the design and replacement of them, I learned that we had high pressure fuel and oil lines running into the cabin to feed these "steam gauges"!!! Would you believe it?!? I could NOT understand how this was approved. Even worse, I noted several service notes where these lines had chafed, and we have a new Service Bulletin for inspection for this very problem.
To resolve this, Steve and I walked all around the vendor booths at Oshkosh '97 and hooked up with Mitchell Aircraft Products. They offer a nice set of value-priced modular gauges which have all electrical senders, including a shunted ammeter (no more fat high amp wire coming inside). Working with Mitchell we got these approved in a Form 337, and Mitchell subsequently obtained an STC for this installation in our Grummans. Score another one for the minimalist: improved safety, improved accuracy, improved looks.
Schroth Inertial Reel Seat Harnesses
How many times have you been flying, IFR or VFR, and you needed to grab something out of reach? Maybe it was a map or chart, or maybe you dropped your pen, or maybe a kid in the backseat needed a good slap. Then, you begin The Harness Dance.
First, you reach for that item. You get stopped by the belt. Then you have to shuffle whatever is in your hands (charts, pencil, yoke) so that you can loosen the belts. Then you have to get whatever you wanted, then shuffle again to tighten the belts.
The approved inertial reel belts solve that one.
Here's a minimalist's instrument quandary. Necessary or wanted? Well, considering that the #2 cause of GA accidents is fuel-related (#1 being weather-related), I contend that a fuel totalizer, and proper knowledge of its operation, is paramount. Those that know me know that I almost got bit hard by this stupid mistake once (once nipped, twice shy...)
I bought Gene Plazak's (DMA, Inc.) fuel totalizer, which uses the good Flo-Scan sending unit and his own display head/computer. It will do everything that other high-priced units will do except talk to a GPS, at half the price. It is STC-approved and comes with all the hard fuel lines already made.
I had to find a place for mine. I decided to eliminate the Hobbs meter (I don't rent the airplane, and I can use my watch to fill out my logbook) I moved the clock over to the far right hand side (I use my watch for the actual time) and installed the DMA totalizer in the upper left-hand 2" hole. Looks and works great.
"Engine Management Computers"
You know what bugs the minimalist more than anything? Useless displays. This will cause a firestorm of protest, but I content that all of these engine "management displays" are wasted panel space, and at best are an unsafe distraction. Despite the fact that they do not "manage" the engine at all (yet they seem to manage the pilot's attention a lot of the time), what can it tell you that you so desperately need to know while in flight? What can be so important that an LCD display can command so much attention while flying around in the clouds?
Is there really anything detrimental to a safe completion of the flight that the engine monitor would tell you that you wouldn't know already from paying attention? It's kinda like how a traffic LASAR detector tells you that you just got a ticket; insightful knowledge into the obvious. I'm sure that someone will be able to come up with a war story where the $1500 display saved them from a $15,000 overhaul bill, but I'm not convinced. Those products dance around and look good, they give you a lot of interesting information, but I stand unswayed in my position that the information you receive is completely unnecessary.
I would have one if, and only if, they had four features:
Given that, it would be a useful tool to warn of potential trouble and could be used to create statistics for long-term health monitoring. Anything else becomes a distracting, dangerous, and expensive video game, detrimental to safe completion of the flight.
In deference to my position, I have decided to leave in the panel the single-point Westach CHT/EGT gauge that came with the airplane when I bought it. It's attached to the #4 cylinder and gives me a rough idea of where the CHT is, and gives me a rough guideline for leaning. Ironically, if I lean by feel/ear, I end up in the same place as I do by using the gauge...I suppose I'm open-minded on this issue, but to date I've not heard valid arguments for it, except those used by the manufacturers in order to sell their gadgets.
Let me take some space to address other's concerns:
"Greg, I don't like having all that stuff combined into one unit...what happens if it fails in IFR? I'd rather have two VOR receivers in addition to the GPS."
"What do you do for backup? Seems like you're putting all your eggs in one basket."
Good questions, and easily addressed.
First, if the GX-60 GPS fails (and thus takes the #1 communications radio with it), I still have a second communications radio with VOR/ILS. If the #2 avionics fails, I have the GPS/comm/moving map (which I'm using anyway.) In either case, I can get down to 200 feet (ILS) or 400-some-odd feet (IFR GPS approach) AGL.
If they both fail, it likely means a total electrical failure, and it won't matter how many VOR receivers I have. In that case I break out the old trusty GPS-90 from behind the seat and sweat it out using ded reckoning until it figures out where it is. Then I "fly the plan" to either VFR conditions (I always know where that is) or make an improvised GPS approach with the handheld and land. Oh, and since I'm IMC I'll drop down to a VFR cruising altitude, just in case there's no primary radar and ATC can't move the metal out of my way.
No brainer, and no (well, not much) sweat.
"What about an HSI? Don't you like those?"
You know, I still like the idea of an HSI, despite the fact that I maintain it's still not necessary. They do make all approaches much easier to visualize, especially the VOR/ILS approaches.
However, after shooting several GPS approaches I installed a DG with heading bug. The biggest problem I have with shooting GPS approaches with the current setup (and ILS/VOR approaches with the Terra digital CDI) is that you have to mentally superimpose the DG reading with the inbound course (which is on the GPS's data/map screen) with the CDI reading (which is on the MD CDI needle). A nice simple reminder of the heading I'm supposed to be on (half the info on the HSI) is nice, and much easier on the brain with the GPS's moving map.
That Sandel display is hot, but to me the price is enough to make a Minimalist break out in hives. However, Steve Williams comments:
I think the Sandel HSI would be a great component of a minimalist panel. It's solid state, it integrates a bunch of stuff into a single instrument, and it simplifies operation. It's not even that expensive.
For example, a single VOR/ILS receiver is still a key element of a minimalist panel, and the NAV122 is a good way to fill that need (if you can find one that works reliably). But it is a separate unit from, say, the GPS/COM.
What would be preferable would be one of the new GPS/COM/VOR/ILS devices, all in one box. Primarily, that's because some operational integration is achieved. The box knows your destination, and lets you choose whether you'd like to fly a GPS or an ILS approach. If you choose ILS, it loads the LOC frequency automatically. Can't do that with a NAV122.
But that GPS/COM/VOR/ILS box requires an external display, so the panel looks MORE complex, not less. (That is, there is still a box and a round display, just as in the case of the NAV122 and GPS/COM. But with the GPS/COM/VOR/ILS, the round display is no less complex, really, and the box is MORE complex.)
The Sandel HSI would fix that. Imagine a panel with nothing but a GPS/COM/VOR/ILS box, a Sandel HSI, a transponder, and an intercom. That would be preferable to a GPS/COM, a NAV122, a DG, a transponder, and an intercom. And more reliable.
And only a bit more expensive.
Now, if only one could get the GPS/COM/VOR/ILS box without the silly moving map. [Note: Steve and I disagree about the value of a moving map. I personally like it, he feels it's not necessary -- Greg]
I can't remember -- does the Sandel HSI include an electric gyro for heading? [No, I don't think so, but I haven't researched it -- Greg] I like things to be simple BEHIND the panel, too.
Me, too, Steve, which is why when I had the GPS and transponder installed, we also rewired the entire avionics wiring harnesses. In addition, we replaced all the factory "pop out" circuit breakers with pull breakers.
Makes things nice and neat, and easy to troubleshoot.
These items come under the "nice to have" category and are not minimally required for safe flight:
The hardest thing for me is to look at an empty hole and resist filling it (residual "Avionics Fever"). I'm facing that issue with the blank plate where the ADF head used to be. Some type of spherics device (Stormscope of StrikeFinder) would look awfully nice there. Lots of coin, though. Same with the reduced height of the center stack. I've got plenty of open space there, perfectly sized for Garmin's (nee iiMorrow/Apollo/UPSAT's) MX-20 display. That's also a lot of money, and maybe overkill for a pretty map. It could be combined with a spherics sensor, though...
Finally, our electrical systems could stand some significant improvement. Next to the vacuum gyro system, the electrical system is the worst designed system in the airframe. There's plenty of room for improvement. Take a gander at some ideas: http://www.gatm.com/flying/electrical/
Thanks for taking the time to go through this diatribe. These ideas are my own, but I'm open-minded. I relish controversy and I appreciate educated debate. Let me know what you think about all this, and I'll add your opinions and concerns to the above.