Flying the “Fully Loaded” 42G to Arizona

There is nothing quite as nice as jumping into a airplane or helicopter and heading out for a flight. I happen to fall into the category of pilots that fly both helicopters and airplanes, and love them both. When asked which I like better, I often respond with my own question: “Do you need to hover?” If the answer is yes, then the helicopter is the only way to go! That is kind of a cop out I know, but honestly, they both have their place in my life. If I want to go fast (185 KIAS) and I need to fly IFR, then I take the Cirrus, if I am not in a hurry and the weather is decent, I take the helicopter.

I have put 195 hours on my R44 since I brought it home from the factory in mid February 2008, so that should give you some idea of how much I like to fly it.

For those of you that have been following my blog, you will know that I have spent a great deal of time and effort to take my new Robinson R44 (N4142G) and transform it into something that was purely mine, in the sense that I designed exactly what I wanted and how I wanted it to work. I absolutely love my R44, but it was lacking in many areas. Some of those areas I consider critical, others I consider just nice to have.

New 406Mhz ELT with Navigation Interface

Overall, the list of improvements that I wanted to make to the R44 was long and extensive. A broken foot and two torn ligaments helped me to make a decision to take the helicopter out of service for the necessary work I wanted done. The list includes: Removal of KY196 and installation of King 165A with 32 memory locations tied to the com buttons on the cyclic, removal of AAC audio panel and installation of Garmin 347, installation of GI-106 second NAV head, installation of EDM-800 fuel and engine computer, installation of MX20 MFD, installation of GDL69A XM Weather and music receiver with remote for MX20, installation of Garmin 496 with XM weather and music on a custom designed mount, installation of Icom ID-800 Ham Radio tied into COM3 on Garmin 347, installation of Bose single point headset jacks, reconfiguration, wiring and installation of an Avionics Master Switch, installation of new 406Mhz ELT tied to the GPS, installation of two audio selector switches (one in front and one in rear) which allows XM1, XM2 or AUX inputs to be routed to any location. XM1 is music from the GDL69 and XM2 is music from the Garmin 496, installation of a power converter to allow for 14 volt electronics in the back seat, installation of new LED strobes and installation of new HID Landing and Taxi lights. To date, everything has been completed except the last two items and that is because we are waiting field approval for the installation..

EDM-800

An excellent engine and fuel monitoring system, in my mind, is critical. The R44 comes with three engine gauges not counting a % of Rotor and Engine RPM (not even actual RPM, just a % of total). As I have done in the past, I choose JPI’s EDM for the job. This time, an EDM-800. I now have a great deal of engine and fuel flow information at my disposal and with a quick 1 second glance, I can monitor the health of my engine, instantly see all EGTs, CHTs and oil temp. A far cry from three gauges from the factory.

Some would argue that it is not necessary, I would argue that while it is not “mandatory“, it certainly gives me far more insight into the health of my engine than Oil Pressure, Oil Temp and a single CHT! I would much rather notice a rapidly falling CHT/EGT combination on the EDM-800 and make a precautionary landing, then wait for the cylinder to give out and make an auto rotation. In my mind, a pilot cannot have too much information at their disposal about the health of the one major thing keeping them airborne.

Not only does the EDM-800 give me instant access to all 6 EGTs, all 6 CHTs, Oil Temperature and  % Horse Power, but I have full access to Manifold Pressure, OAT, RPM, battery voltage, instantaneous fuel flow, fuel quantity, time-to-empty at current fuel flow rate, fuel consumed since start and a very accurate low fuel alarm. Since I have it coupled to my Garmin 430, I get fuel required to waypoint and fuel available at waypoint. I can tell you that after burning over 1600 gallons of fuel since installing my EDM-800, the MOST it has ever been off (after a 3.5 hour flight) was .8 of a gallon. I suspect that was because it was pretty hot outside when I refueled. I don’t know about anyone else, but I would rather have that fuel system to rely on than the two fuel gauges in the dash!

N4142G Gets Operated On by Pabas Radio

My last plug for the EDM-800 is the little USB plug right under the gauge. The EDM stores all engine information (fuel, EGTs, CHTs, everything it is monitoring) in memory every 6 seconds for up to 24 hours of actual flight time. You plug in a USB key and all of this information is then downloaded to your USB key to be imported into your desktop software for tracking and monitoring purposes. Can you say “Trend Monitoring”? Something that is common place in jet aircraft is now coming to age in piston powered aircraft. Again, I can take a long term look at the performance, temps, fuel flows, etc of my engine and make decisions based on this information as opposed to a problem in flight.

VFR Map with Terrain Profile

The second thing I feel almost naked without is situational awareness “desktop space”. I personally define “situational awareness” as “Where am I”, “What Airspace is near me”, “Who is near me”, “What is the terrain like around me”, and “What is the weather like behind me and ahead of me”? I have gotten so used to maximum situational awareness over the last 4 or 5 year flying the Cirrus SR22, that I feel exposed without all of the extra “situational awareness” information.

I have had several “real pilots” scoff at me and claim that I am not a “real pilot” because I have all of this stuff, but the last time I climbed into the cockpit of an airliner, or sat in the seat of an F-18, they had all the same things and I am pretty certain that they are “real pilots”. :-)

Terrain Displayed on the MX20

Line of Rain Showers displayed on the MX20

Since I could not drop in two Avadyne computer screens in my R44, I choose a Garmin MX20 backed up with a Garmin 496. The MX20 is slaved to my Garmin 430 for position and flight plan information and it is slaved to a Garmin GDL69 for near real time weather and TFR information as well as XM Stereo. I also have a second subscription on my 496 for both weather and music. Traffic from a Garmin 330 GTX is shown on my 430, my MX20 and on my 496 all at the same time.

Cloud Cover and Rain shown on 496

So now that I have all of my situational awareness stuff covered, how about some “pilot enjoyment” stuff? On both the GDL69 and the 496 I opted to subscribe to the XM stereo service. Why two different subscriptions you might ask, just in case one fails? Nope. Basically I have two different subscriptions so that whom ever is riding in the back of the ship can listen to a different channel then the people riding in the front. When I replaced my audio panel with the new Garmin 347, it came with two music inputs. One you can pipe to the front and one to the back. I took it a step further and had switches installed in both the front seat and the back seat to allow the passengers (or pilot/co-pilot) the ability to select from XM1, XM2 or AUX. This provides maximum flexibility and helps me to keep my sanity when flying with kids as I often do.

So how did I mount all of this equipment you may ask….? Well, the MX20 was mounted using a standard radio mount purchased from Robinson.

This is the mount not yet installed and the MX20 shelf attached to the mount. A new cover had to be made since the mount was actually intended for a Garmin 530.

We opted to install two small fans in the hood to keep the temperatures of the MX200 down while in flight. This hood then gets painted black before installation into the R44.

After that, we removed the King KY196 radio and installed a new King KX165A along with a new GI-106 indicator. I did not like having just a single LOC/GS indicator (yea, I know its not IFR rated), and I liked 32 memories on the 165, so in it went.

Here you can see the KX165 in the lower stack below the 430, the Garmin 437 Audio Panel, the EDM-800 in the lower left corner of the instrument panel, the GI-106 in the lower right hand corner of the instrument panel and the MX20 in front of the pilot. You can also see the 496 installed on the cyclic.

The 496 was a bit of a problem to locate. All of the mounts that I tried either did not work well, or worked well but blocked my visibility to my EDM-800. So I had my avionics guy figure something out for me. Doug designed a new bracket and did all of the wiring to go along with it. The XM and GPS antennas are mounted under the instrument hood and power and audio cables run up from underneath to the 496 keeping everything nice and clean. It sticks out a bit but that allows 100% movement of the GPS from side to side so a co-pilot can help out with things or look at the GPS. I thought it may cause a problem with having some weight stick out like that, but after 120 hours flying with it there, I don’t feel any differences…thanks to the hydraulics I would imagine.

Here are some pictures of the GPS mount

New Avionics Master Switch in lower right corner of picture along with Garmin 496 cables neatly routed out of the cyclic sleeve into the instrument and switch panel. (Next to friction).

This is where the cables for the GPS route under the panel. You can also see the avionics master switch just to the right of the circuit breaker panel. This power up all avionics and gyros with a heavy duty relay as opposed to having to turn then on and off one at a time.

Some of the other things that were done but cannot be seen were a new 406Mhz ELT and GPS interface were added, new Bose single point headset plugs were added, a new Avionics master switch was added, a new cell phone interface to the Garmin 347 audio panel was added, a new ICOM ID-800 D-Star capable ham radio was installed (see the remote radio head below the MX20) and was tied into COM3 on the 347 Audio panel and a 14 volt system was installed so that things such as kids DVD players and laptops could be powered. Oh, and let’s not forget the cup holder that was installed as well! :-)

So after months of hard work and a lot of waiting, pretty much everything was done on 42G. And to test it out, over the course of three weeks, I put over 100 hours on 42G flying it back and forth to Arizona on business. I flew in the day, I flew at night, I flew in the rain, I flew when it was hot and when it was cold. I can tell you that I am very thankful for my air conditioning and XM weather and radio, not to mention all the hard work done by Doug at Pabas Radio n Carlsbad.

So whats next you ask, well I am waiting on my new LED strobes and HID lights, and then I think I will add pods for helicamping, but for right now, I think I will just fly!

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Richard J. Sears

Hi – I am the author – Richard Sears. I have been a pilot and flight instructor for over 20 years!

If you live in the San Diego area and would like to arrange a free airplane or helicopter flight for your child (age 8 to 18) through the EAA Young Eagles program please email me at richard@sears.net

If you are a Scout Master, I can work with your troop on the Aviation Merit Badge and provide all ground training and flights necessary to meet the latest requirements of the Aviation Merit Badge. I am a registered Merit Badge Counselor with the BSA San Diego – Imperial Council.

All my flight time is donated, there is no cost to the parents or the troop.

Parents are always welcome to ride along and get hooked!

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