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Winging It! With Dr. Paul

Avionics Shop

I remember Darrel from High School, on his big black Schwinn one-speed with the balloon tires and the coaster brakes. It seemed an appropriate conveyance for him, not nearly as fast as my own English racer, but solid and substantial. In its own plodding way, it bespoke reliability. Darrel and I shared two passions, aviation and electronics (we had not yet discovered girls). We were going to become engineers, and fly to the moon. The year President Kennedy proclaimed "we will go to the moon, and do those other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard," it no longer seemed so far-fetched.

A lifetime later, when the time had come to treat my airplane to a new panel, I trod over to the local avionics shop, and was surprised to see that same black Schwinn leaning on its kick-stand in the corner of the hangar. I found Darrel at the bench, bent over an autopilot, troubleshooting, methodical as ever, deliberate, plodding and precise. "I see you didn't make it to the moon," I greeted him. "Next best thing," he replied.

Darrel wouldn't let me cut corners on equipment or installation. That wasn't his way. An airplane is like a wife, he reasoned. Treat her to the best, and she'll stick around to take care of you in your old age. It wasn't exactly bait-and-switch, but somehow within an hour he had me talked into the latest in microprocessor-controlled, digital avionics. A decision I was never to regret.

A proper avionics installation requires gutting the interior, removing every cable in the airplane, and starting from scratch with a new wiring harness. This is the only way Darrel works. It's costly and time consuming. It also saves you from becoming bogged down in a troubleshooting morass if something should fail downstream. My plane was down for two months. When I got it back, I hardly recognized it.

Darrel had to give me more than a little dual instruction on the coupled autopilot, the IFR-approved RNAV, and the ten standby memories in the number one Comm. But once I started flying serious cross-countries, I knew he'd not led me astray. Advanced avionics are like stepping up to a complex airplane for the first time. You start out a mile behind, but eventually you grow into them. After a while you wonder how you ever flew without them.

Darrel moved up to a big fancy hangar at Jet Center, and is now equipping the corporate fleet. He's still slow and methodical, still charges top dollar, and still runs the best avionics shop in the state. And he hasn't forgotten his roots; he still works on those piston singles whose owners care enough to pay for the very best.

The old black Schwinn still leans on its kick-stand in the corner of the hangar, as a reminder.

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this page last updated 14 June 2007
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