Date:Apr. 04, 2020


Brief Description:A few changes to the panel for my style of flying.

Updating the panel for my style of flying.

After flying with the panel configured the way we bought it I wanted a few changes to tailor it to my personal preference and flying style.  I added a Garmin G5 (in exchange for the backup analog airspeed and altimeter it came with), a flap position sensor, a GD-40 carbon monoxide detector, the Dynon Autopilot Control Panel, dedicated Ident button, dedicated go around button on the stick, panel mounted USB power supply, and a little re-arranging of the panel.  

There are three parts to a minor panel upgrade.

  1.  The design of the change (50% of time spent here).
    1. Physical layout of parts (interferences between parts and airframe).
    2. Electrical connection of parts (study the manuals and draw a diagram).
  2.  The physical mounting of the parts (20% time spent here).
    1. Laser cut panel, rivet nut plates, rivet and drill aluminum angle for radio stack, paint panel, print and apply labels.
  3.  The interconnection of electrical connections to each other (30% time spent here).
    1. The physical wiring is simple.  Knowing what pin connects to what pin is what takes time.  A good diagram makes this part easy.  I had a pin that was slightly bent so that it would not make contact with the audio panel when I slid it into place.  I spend hours and hours trying to figure out what was wrong with my design.  By chance I looked into the end of the tray and saw the spring pin just ever so slightly bent more than the others. This ended up being the issue.

I ordered a blank panel from Vans and was getting ready to start cutting it out by hand when I decided that having a laser cut it out would provide a much better quality product significantly faster.  Not having access to a cad program I signed up for Autodesks 30 day free trial of Autocad.  Luckily you can get autocad files for all of the avionics provided by their manufacturer for free.  Vans will give you the file for the panel blank too!  The hardest part about designing the panel is working to get a tight tolerance between the components and the airframe.  I took the blank panel and bolted it to the plane,  took a sharpie and outlined the interferences on the back side of the panel and took it back to the house.  For the most part drawings the panel is a simple process that requires moving the pieces around the panel to see how they interact.  The challenge comes in trying to minimize the distance between the components to make everything fit.  

Once the initial design was done I got some coroplast and cut out my mock panel to go hangar fly with it.  I decided that it could use some improvement.  Symmetry gave way to functionality.  Once I was done updating the cad file I emailed it to my favorite laser shop and dropped off the blank I ordered from Vans.  6061 is not a common aluminum in Orlando and is very costly to buy in small quantities so buying the blank from Vans was much more cost effective.  To locate the aluminum blank I provided on his laser, Cody the operator decided to cut a blank out of a sheet of drop they had laying around.  Took the cut blank out of the sheet on the laser bed and dropped my Vans supplied blank in.  This worked well.  

Once the laser was done, a few nut plates and aluminum angle gets riveted to the back of the panel and into the plane it went for some final fitment and more hangar flying.  I was a little nervous that the components would have a conflict but luckily it all fit.  A little filing around the edges of the panel and it fit perfect.  Back to the house for paint and labels. 

Tips for next time – 

  1.  Make the hole cutouts a few thousandths larger to account for paint, otherwise you will be filing every finished edge in the cutouts on the panel.
  2. Make sure you have the proper orientation of the panel blank as there is a left and a right on the panel blank sent from Vans.

Original panel.

Original panel on the bench.

Hangar flying with temporary mockup coroplast panel.

Final Autocad rendition.

Carl (the original builder) built the panel so that it can be removed in about 20 minutes.  Everything bolted on the panel can be unplugged quickly from the permanent ship side plugs.  This is really nice and works really well.

At the laser cutter picking up panel.

Steel blank that was cut to locate my aluminum blank to their laser on top.  Bottom is my cut aluminum panel sitting ontop of a second blank I bought just in case.

Flush mount G5 tray from Aircraft Spruce.

Super sweet shrink wrap label printer.  See my tools section for more info.

New panel waiting final fitment in airframe sans paint and labels.

After a little bit of filing it fit great.

Finished new panel after paint.