If you’re looking for a reliable, durable and easy handling training airplane, it’s hard to beat a classic Cessna 150 or 152. For more than 50 years, these fun little airplanes have inspired and delighted thousands of pilots of all ages. At Holladay Aviation, we are the proud owners of three of them: a 1969 Cessna 150, N60254; and two 1978 Cessna 152s, N152SJ and N152DM. We acquired 2DM earlier this year and immediately sent it to Ormond Aircraft Brokers for a fresh paint job. It had a low-time engine and a nice interior, but the avionics were badly in need of an update. We flew it VFR for a few months after the paint job was completed, and then brought it to Bragg Avionics here at Craig for a complete IFR panel makeover.
Mike Bragg and his team carefully reworked all the panel wiring in 2DM and prepped it for the new equipment: a pair of Garmin G5s, a Garmin GTN 650 navigation system, and a Garmin GTX 345 ADS-B transponder. The old vacuum gyros were removed and the vacuum pump disconnected, making this a true “glass cockpit” aircraft.
This was no small investment on our part. The new avionics cost nearly as much as the airplane, but will make 2DM attractive and highly functional for years to come. It is our intention to do a similar upgrade to our Cessna 172, N65842, in the next year or two.
Why invest in this new technology? Gyroscopic instruments rely on fragile mechanical components that have an expected useful life of about 500 hours, and likewise for their associated engine-driven vacuum pumps. In the last four years we’ve already replaced several pumps and gyro instruments throughout our fleet. If you know anything about computers, you probably know that solid state electronics are far more powerful and reliable than their spinning-disk predecessors. A similar analogy can be made with general aviation avionics. While electronic flight displays have their limitations too, they are far more reliable and user friendly than the legacy gyroscopic instruments they replace.
Electronic flight instruments and navigation displays provide pilots with critical information that can enhance flight safety. Instead of scanning an arrangement of six analog dials for basic aircraft control information, the pilot only needs to look at one electronic display. During my recent flights with students in 2DM, I intentionally did not give them any instructions on how to interpret the G5 displays, I simply let them observe and fly. As I suspected, each one quickly and easily figured out how to use them in both visual and simulated instrument conditions. Garmin did a fantastic job of creating a “miniature G1000 PFD” in the G5.
The GTN 650 is a bit more complex than the G5, but pilots who are familiar with the Garmin suite of GPS navigators will quickly become proficient at using the 650 for both VFR and IFR operations. The 650 offers a touch-screen interface and integrates with the GTX 345 ADS-B transponder to allow traffic and weather information to be displayed on the 650 as well as on compatible portable devices such as an iPad or and Android tablet. The airplane is now fully IFR certified and meets the FAA mandate for ADS-B which will go into effect in January 2020.
Before we fly 2DM in actual instrument conditions, we’re thoroughly testing the new avionics in VMC to make sure they are performing as advertised. The G5s have independent backup batteries, so if the airplane’s battery dies they can still function. Also, each G5 can display attitude information with a few clicks of a button, so if one fails the other one can do the job. If both were to fail for some strange reason, the IFR pilot can still revert to standard “partial panel” aircraft control using the legacy turn coordinator, altimeter and airspeed indicator.
There is one limitation to these avionics that the pilot has no control over, and that is the availability of GPS signal. Last week when I was flying 2DM with a student pilot, we lost and regained GPS signal in 2DM about half a dozen times during the two hour flight. This was due to a scheduled outage that was published by FAA as a NOTAM. The outage did not affect our local VFR flight, but I realized that if this had occurred during an IFR flight in actual IMC, we would have had to notify ATC and get radar vectors to our destination, or use VOR navigation as a backup. It just goes to show that regardless of the instruments and navigation equipment installed in the airplane, if something fails a good pilot should always be able to control the airplane and get to an airport safely.