AEA Pilot's Guide 2019-2020 - 34

WHAT'S NEXT FOR EXPERIMENTAL AIRCRAFT?
Continued from page 33

built aircraft j oin the fleet each year. G oogle was no
help; it j ust led me to the FAA sites that itemized the
certification steps. After querying the FAA Aircraft
R egistry, the kind people there said I would have to
contact the individual Flight Standard District O ffices to
compile that number.
Without a doubt, the number fluctuates annually,
because an amateur builder is not a predictable
production line like you'd find at C irrus or Textron. Still,
the experimental fleet continues to grow. U sing the
annual fleet numbers to interpolate an average growth
rate, my best guess is 1 ,5 0 0 homebuilts of all types,
with the R V kits from V an's Aircraft predominating.
From the start, in the forward-fit homebuilt market,
ADS-B has been a capability checkbox rather than a
driving force. "With new panels, it has been a baseline
forward-fit capability for the last three or four years,"
said Aerotronics' Smith.
Some builders employ a sequential forward-fit
strategy. The base panel gets them into the air, and
they add advanced capabilities as their budgets allow.
"It would be foolish to build any airplane today that
is not equipped with ADS-B," Smith said. "Y ou may
never fly in controlled airspace, but what about the next
owner?
"What I'm seeing most often is extremely well
outfitted forward-fit with no space left to add anything.
They are serious IFR panels; they are going allout to begin with." And the same has been true for
experimental retrofits, which most shops that cater to
the market say has been growing for the past several
years.
"When I say retrofit, I don't mean adding a few
things. I mean, for the most part, new panels," Smith
said. "It is engine monitoring, a new stack, new
autopilots that work with capabilities of the integrated
avionics systems. E ven if it had an autopilot before, the
old one is coming out."
Typically, they are second owners of millennial
homebuilts, amateur-built experimental aircraft that
made their first flights earlier in the second century
of powered flight. G iven the average age of P art 23
airplanes, which are well into midlife, the experimental
aircraft don't seem that old, but at "1 2 years old, is it
time to remove the panel and start over?" Smith asked.
"Well, yeah! The original builder put it together on a

steam-gauge budget, a hodge-podge of equipment.
The new owners got into their airplanes at the right
price, but they were lacking in capabilities, so they
wiped the panel clean and started from scratch."
L ocated at Florida's Spruce C reek, Avionics
Installations serves a unique client base of
experimental and P art 23 aircraft, according to P ahan
R anasingha. C ustomers who own both types of
airplanes fall into two groups.
The first is "a new owner who bought the airplane
from a guy who parked it because of the ADS-B
mandate," he said. U sually, it's an older guy who
decides that it is no longer prudent to invest in flying
at this stage of his life. The second type "is an ADS-B
early adopter who's back for a lifecycle upgrade of his
other avionics."
The dividing line between steam gauges and
the first generation of glass is close, according
to R anasingha. "Anyone on the other side of the
line is making the j ump to the latest generation of
experimental glass," he said.
Bruch concurs. SteinAir has seen a growing number
of retrofit j obs that trade "old Dynon for new Dynon,
old G armin for new G armin, old G P S for new G P S, old
audio panel for new audio panel."
R etrofits dominate Avionics Installations'
experimental work. A number of local R V s have
upgraded from steam to glass. "We j ust finished
the first G armin G 3X integration that replaced a
C helton system in a turbine L ancair from N ew Y ork,"
R anasingha said. "And we did a full panel for an R V -8
from West Texas, replacing a Blue M ountain system
with a G 3X ."
From his perspective, "We cater to a unique
experimental crowd. They treat their amateur-built
experimental airplane like a type-certificated aircraft."
They know the capabilities they need to accomplish
their airborne missions, and they make avionics
investments that are commensurate, in some cases
well on their way toward six figures.
But in talking with other shops that serve the
experimental market, Avionics Installations' customers
may be the growing norm rather than the exception.
O r maybe the willingness to write the check to acquire
a turnkey avionics installation that meets their flying
needs is more common among the subsequent owners
than it is among the amateur builder who created the
airplane. E ither way, their need for forward-fit and
retrofit avionics will continue and likely grow. q
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AEA Pilot's Guide 2019-2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of AEA Pilot's Guide 2019-2020

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http://www.brightcopy.net/allen/pilotsguide/19-20
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