Saturday, October 15, 2011

The instrument panel

As with so many parts of building my RV airplane, I wasn't sure I was up to the task of designing, cutting, and wiring my instrument panel. Wiring, as I've written many times, was particularly scary to me.

Last night, I finished the instrument panel.

Hard as it is to believe, I started the process two-and-a-half years ago, but that's the nature of (a) going slowly while learning what I'm doing and (b) paying as I go and (c) making changes along the way.

Here's was my final design at that time:

When you're designing a panel, it's really easy to forget a lot of the little details, so it was important to remember some of the initial advice I had received, especially in the area of not designing a panel that would preclude changes.

As it is, I sectioned the panel off into clusters. A systems cluster on the left -- the electronic flight information display, engine monitor, backup altimeter and backup airspeed indicator -- a "switch cluster" in the center -- the Vertical Power system, mag and electronic ignition switches as well as switches for flaps, boost pump and master switch -- and a "communications cluster" on the right, all within an arm's reach. This section includes the GPS, transponder, and communications radio, as well as an input under the panel for an iPod.

The wing-leveler (autopilot) and fuel gauge are tucked under the Vertical Power system.

On the far right is a "nice to have but not-necessary-to-keep-the-shiny-side up" section which includes a remote switch to activate the emergency locator beacon, a power adapter (which I'll use to power a traffic avoidance system of some sort) and a compass.

A lot of people install a map box here but I couldn't -- or at least, didn't -- because it would have meant cutting into the subpanel behind it and I would've lost this...

...the story of which you can read about here.

Oh, and way over on the left is the "keep it away from the passengers" cluster which is the starter button (actually, I put it there to (a) keep it out of the way from being accidentally hit and (b) allow me to keep my right hand on the throttle when starting) and the cable to allow the "emergency air" into the air intake of the fuel servo in the highly unlikely event the snorkel on the cowling gets plugged up in flight.

The two switches under the Vertical Power unit are for the left mag and the right electronic ignition (Lightspeed). The switches just above the throttle knob are (left to right) master switch, engine monitor power (I really didn't need this switch but it was simpler to wire it this way in order to include the red warning light),  flaps, and fuel boost pump.  The boost pump switch is powered by the Vertical Power system when flipped "up," and powered off a separate bus if I flip it down.

I like this panel a lot, partly because we've come to know each other over two years. It's the nature of the beast now that it's probably outdated even though it's never flown, but it is a functional and affordable panel.

I know a lot of people think, "an airplane you built yourself? How can that be safe?" But take a look at what one is able to do building one's own airplane? Compared to renting the factory-built Warrior II at the local airport, I'll have a traffic alert and avoidance system, better displays of airspeed and situation, an autopilot wing-leveler, immediate engine information that will alert me to problems with an engine before the big fan in the front stops turning, and a system that monitors my electrical infrastructure. That's a lot of safety right there.

I'm a VFR pilot and a lot of the big bells and whistles stuff  I don't need. Most of the information I need to fly an airplane, I actually get from looking out the window and listening at the same time.

Flying is fun like that.


  1. Look out the window? Listen? What radical notions!

    On the other hand, with such habits, I'd trust you over a pilot who is completely reliant on the gadgets.