Now that the weather is turning warmer, the days are growing longer and you’re having a hard time thinking of anything other than your airplane and all the places you’ll fly this summer, you’ve probably been dreaming about upgrades too. If you’re the typical aircraft owner, your wish list is probably a mile long and includes everything from the latest touch-screen GPS WAAS navigator to a full glass-panel retrofit with a gorgeous synthetic-vision display that will make every flight a sunshiny joy.
Here’s the cold reality: Even if you can afford to buy anything you want, chances are you can’t afford everything you want. That means you’ll have to make choices — sometimes, difficult ones. And, of course, your list will need to be segregated into two columns: the need-to-have stuff versus the nice-to-have. For example, if the display on your GPS receiver keeps blanking out in turbulence, it’s fairly obvious what your next purchase will be. On the other hand, if everything in the airplane is working fine but you have several upgrades in mind that you think would make sense, that’s where the choices become harder.
Every aircraft owner’s wants and needs will differ, but there are certain items that for a great many of us just beg for updating. For many owners, one of the most obvious is the autopilot. That’s especially true if your current rate-based autopilot can’t seem to fly the airplane nearly as well as you can. Of course, if you’re not willing to replace the mechanical servos and actuators that do the actual pushing and pulling on the control surfaces, the greatest autopilot in the world might not be of much help. But if the mechanics are sound, a digital autopilot could be just the thing to make those long cross-countries all the more enjoyable, especially the last 10 minutes as the autopilot deftly captures the ILS and flies a perfect approach.
Another piece of equipment many of us probably ought to consider upgrading sooner than later is the emergency locator transmitter. The FAA hasn’t forced us to switch from 121.5 MHz technology to the new 406 MHz satellite technology yet, but we all know that adding the new box makes perfect sense from a safety standpoint.
With this in mind, here are five products we’ve selected that you may want to consider buying first. They might not all be the flashiest to look at, but they’ll deliver a solid return on your investment — and these days, that’s as important as any factor when it comes to making big-ticket upgrades.
>>> Garmin GMA 350 Audio Panel
LIST PRICE: $2,395
If you haven’t experienced it yet, Garmin’s latest digital audio-panel technology will impress you from the moment you slip on your headset. Turn up the volume, and you’ll be hearing the future of cockpit audio, with 3-D sound that’s designed to mimic how the human brain hears.
For instance, with this state-of-the-art audio panel, you’ll hear calls from the tower in one ear, ATIS through the other, and the voices of your passengers as though they’re coming from their seat positions, even the seats behind you. Rather than hearing all sounds as though they’re originating from the same place and are laid atop each other, suddenly you’re hearing the sounds as nature intended, with the major benefit being the ability to better interpret sounds from different sources.