June 2008

I went over to the airport on Saturday to check up on the progress that was being made on 42G. While I was there, I took a bunch of new pictures of the work that has been completed so far, and stuff still in progress. Overall, the progress is great, there is a LOT of stuff getting done to 42G to get it exactly the way that I want it, so it going to take time.

One of the first things that was installed on the second round was the new Kannad 406AF-H 406Mhz ELT interfaced with the Garmin 430 GPS. In this particular configuration, the ELT gets updated position information directly from the GPS. In the event the ELT is set off, your current position along with your Tail Number (tied to your contact information) is transmitted to the COSPAS SARSAT system for almost instant notification to Search and Rescue crews of your exact location. All units using the COSPAS SARSAT system must be registered with them and include contact information to aid in identifying false alarms. The other nice thing about this system is that it uses lithium manganese batteries which are said to last 6 years.


As you can see, the ELT is located just to the side of the hydraulic pump and installed on an angle due to the flight characteristics of helicopters as opposed to airplanes. Once installed, we had to register it with the NOAA.

Here is the new ELT antenna mounted and ready to go. The puck behind it is the XM antenna for the Garmin GDL69A.


Next on the list of things still getting installed is the mounting system for the MX-20. Doug from Pabas Radio did not like the way the mount installed against the metal of the instrument panel, so he installed an backing plate to strengthen the bar and prevent movement. Without it, there was some play in the bar itself due to the flimsy nature of the metal that makes up the pedestal of the instrument panel. This backing plate fixed this issue.


The plate is riveted on and nut plates hold the cross member that the MX20 is attached to when its installed.

Below is the final design of the hood for the MX20. We did not like the plastic/fiberglass hood that came with the cross bar mount from Robinson, so Doug created one that not only fit better, but had room for two cooling fans as well. It will be painted black and matches the curves of the main instrument panel on the left side. Once installed, directly below the MX20 will be the remote head for the ICom ID-800 HF Ham Radio.

Adding the XM System is next on the list of stuff getting done. Since the R44 did not come with XM weather/stereo we had to install it somewhere. We choose the passenger rear seat as the mounting location for our new radio equipment. Since the total of the radio gear is less than 5 pounds, it did not do much to my weight and balance. We installed the Garmin GDL69, the Astron Power unit (28V to 12V) and the Icom ID-800 HF Ham Radio base station. The ham radio has a light weight, small remote head that will mount directly below the MX20 and be tied into the COM3 position on the Garmin 347 audio panel. This allows the same kind of freedom using the HF rig as the normal radios.

This picture is of the Icom (on the left) and the Astron on the right. This plate gets mounted in the vertical position on a mounting jig and is held in place by nut plates.

This is the GDL69 (far left), power inverter and ID-800 Ham Radio in installed position below the left rear passenger seat. Because we are attaching to existing structures and not invading the crush zone for the seats, there is not an issue with having the units installed under the rear seat. It ends up outside the crush zone for the seat.

Here is a side view of the GDL69 mounted under the rear seat.

So overall we are making great progress on 42G. There is still a lot to be done. After everything above is completed, we still need to complete the installation of the backup GPS, a Garmin 496. This backup GPS will tie into the GTX 330 for TIS, it will also provide secondary weather via XM as well as providing the music source for MUSIC1 on the Garmin 347 audio panel. I choose the 496 as the primary music for the front seats simply because I can operate it from the front seat. The GDL69 has a remote control that the folks in the back seat can operate without having to bother the Pilot/Co-Pilot. So it goes into MUSIC2, the primary music input for the back passengers.

There will two rotary three position switches, one in the front and one in the rear that will allow the front seat and rear seat to select XM1 (Garmin 496 input), XM2 (GDL69 input) or AUX (3.5MM stereo plug (IPod, DVD player, etc)) as their audio input into the 347. That way we can all listen to something different if we want to, or keep some sanity depending on who is riding in the back seat! There will also be an out jack to plug into my CamCorder to allow videos that I post on YouTube to have the radio audio instead of just background noise.

Another interesting issue with the 496 is the mounting hardware required. In the end we ended up having to design our own bracket. Since all instrument holes in my 10 hole panel have been filled with instruments, none of the available mounts (including the Robin-AV in both configurations) worked without blocking my visibility to my EDM-800, something that I want to keep my eyes on at all times. So after several hours in the cockpit with my master crafter, we finally figured out a way to mount the 496 so that it is easily usable, can pivot on its mount towards the co-pilot position or pilot position and not block any instruments or movement of the cyclic.

This will require the design and building a special mount that will allow the unit to sit behind the cyclic (towards the rear of the helicopter) and just below the teeter part of the cyclic. This location gives me fantastic visibility of the 496, easy operation without having to stretch and the ability for it to swivel all the way over to the co-pilot. We will be running the wiring for the unit in the cyclic and for all intensive purposes it will be hardwired with the antennas mounted under the instrument panel and out of sight.

Beyond that, we have the avionics master switch to install. We are replacing the cheap interrupter relay (breaks all electrical flow to the avionics stack when you engage the starter) and we are replacing it with a heavy duty master relay solenoid commonly found on more expensive aircraft with higher electrical loads (which I now have). This will be driven by a dual locking heavy duty switch which will prevent both the accidental turning on or turning off of the avionics stack.

We are adding an Ident button to the cyclic so I don’t have to bend down to hit the ident switch every time someone asks me to ident. I know it seems like a little thing, but its the little things that matter sometimes!

The Bose single point headset jacks are next. This presented an interesting issue all by itself. Seems in their quest to same a few pennies on each ship, if you did not order your ship with Bose powered outlets, the jack holder only has room for a single jack. But wait – thats only in the front. Yes, in the rear, the jack holders have the plug for the second jack so its pretty simple to unscrew it, add the Bose jack, run a power lead (extra lead already ran and not connected – Thanks Papa Frank) and bang – your done. So in the front, we just ordered replacement jack holders like are in the rear. The problem came when we realized its a different screw pattern. Not too bad you say…well it screws into the overhead and the external skin of the helicopter.

hummm….so……back to the master crafter. Doug came up with the idea of creating a piece that screws to the original three screws hard set in the aircraft skin and then have small nut plates that the replacement dual jack holder would screw into once its all done. Problem solved – and without having to drill and rivet a new set of hols into the overhead of my beautiful machine! I am not sure why they run the wire so you can have powered jacks and then install the double jack holder in the rear but leave you with single jack holders in the front, but that is the way it came from the factory, so it was up to us to resolve the issue.

Next, I will be replacing the standard anti-collision beacon strobe on the rear tail with a new Whelen LED Strobe light. In addition to lasting about 1000 times longer than the traditional strobe, it outputs the same intensity light with a LOT less power than its electric strobe cousin. I can remove the power pack from behind the right rear seat which powers the rear strobe – the new strobe does not require a power pack. I will also be adding a second one of these new LED strobes to the belly of 42G to increase the visibility of the helicopter.

To top off my “Maximum visibility” project (at least this time around) is the addition of the Precise Flight High Intensity Discharge replacement system for the landing and taxi lights on 42G. Currently you can order this new from the factory, but my ship missed the availability date. So away to Precise Flight I went to get the kit. You see, PreciseFlight sells this kit to Robinson to install at the factory. They also have an STC for the R22. However they do not have an STC for the R44. Why I asked…? Well, I was told that Papa Frank was just getting ready to issue a Service Letter that addresses the installation of the HID kit in the R44. According to the engineers at Precise Flight, we should see this SL anytime. So I have my fingers crossed and I am waiting patiently for my letter to show up in the mail.

Now many of you that know me know how much patience that I have – which is to say not very much. So baring a SL from Robinson, I will have the lights installed and get a field approval based on the fact that Precise sells the exact same kit to Robinson. I know it won’t be super easy, but I feel that the safety of 500,000 candle power able to run 100% of the time with a life of 2000+ hours is worth the effort. In the world of “see and be seen” – the cost and effort are no contest to the safety issue. I will keep everyone up to date and hopefully that service letter shows up before I run out of patience.



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!

Garmin GMX 200

Sometimes I wonder how pilots ever got along with out all the cool stuff we have today. I fly with several friends in my Cirrus SR22 and they are amazed at the quality and the quantity of flight information that I have available to me in real time. I am told often that I have a more advanced flight deck than the 737s and 747s that they are flying. A quick glance into the cockpit when I fly commercially reminds me that they are right!

By my very nature, I am a gadget guy. In the aviation world, that is an expensive problem, but one I am happy to have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. My Robinson R44 helicopter came from the factory with a Garmin 430, a Garmin GTX330 and a couple of other radios. I quickly decided that what I wanted in my R44 was not offered at the factory and so I set out to build it like I wanted it done. With the help of a fantastic artisan Doug Hughbanks of Pabas Radios, I recreated the R44 cockpit with as much information that I could stuff into it.

I added a second navigation and communication radio (King KX165A) with 32 memorys, a second navigation head, Traffic alerting, engine and fuel monitoring systems, new audio panel with dual inputs for music (front and rear) and phone and a few other goodies

Then I flew it for awhile while we waited for the second round of hardware to arrive. Right now, 4142G is apart again getting a GMX200 (MX20) installed. The picture above is where the unit will be mounted. We are using standard Robinson mounting hardware for the base of the unit, but I did not like the horrible ugly casing that went over the radio. In this case, Robinson expected a Garmin 530 to be put there..but hey, its my bird right..?

Garmin GMX 200

Doug is a master at creating something out of nothing, something he has been doing for my aircraft for a good number of years. After explaining that I didn’t really like the Robinson cover for the MX20 he said he could make something. He also wanted to include several small fans to keep the unit cool. So he set off and made a first draft out of sheet metal. Giving me a call, he explained he wanted me to take a look to see if I was going to like it.

When I first saw it, it was raw sheet metal with screw holes and course metal bends all around. I liked the basic design and he assured me that it would look a lot better after he applied some TLC to the sheet metal and sanded it out, smoothed it over and applied some primer (later to be painted black). Well as you can see below, he did a fantastic job!

It fits perfectly and will have rubber striping where it meets the main console as well as two small fans at the rear of the unit to keep the MX20 cool.

Once installed, the MX20 will be tied to the Garmin 430 for primary navigation, the GTX330 for the traffic information and a Garmin GDL69 XM weather and stereo. That unit is getting installed right now, look for some pictures of that installation soon. The GDL69 will provide realtime XM weather to the MX20 as well as be one of two XM satellite stereo inputs to the helicopter. The second XM stereo input is being provided by a Garmin GPS 496 which will be mounted on the Cyclic and hard wired to power, XM antenna, GPS antenna and the GTX330. It will provide XM weather as a backup toe the GDL69, traffic information from the 330 and provide backup GPS navigation in the event I lose the Garmin 430.

The new Garmin 347 audio panel has inputs for two music sources where the rear seats are fed music two and the front seats are fed music 1 in isolate mode. So I decided that I would have Doug install user selectable inputs. Both the front and rear have a three selector switch allowing the selection of XM1 (GDL69), XM2 (496) or AUX Input (Ipod). These are then outputted to Music 2 for the rear and Music 1 for the front. I did order the Garmin remote control for the GDL69, so that will remain in the back seat and the front seat can use the 496 to manage its music selection. Overall a great setup that will work well with the kid that fly mostly in the back.

Doug also installed a 406mhz ELT that is tied into the GPS system. In the event of a problem, my exact Lat & Long are transmitted to satellite along with the ELT code, my tail number, my name, address and phone and emergency contact number. A LONG way ahead of our old 121.50mhz ELTs. In the end, very much worth the peace of mind knowing that my exact location and information will get to search and rescue in seconds via satellite.

Along with all of that stuff, he is adding an avionics master switch (much needed), the powered Bose headset jacks for all four positions, an Icom ID-800 ham Radio interfaced into the Garmin 496 and some other odds and ends. I cannot wait to get her back in the air and check out all the cool stuff.

I will continue to post additional pictures as Doug send them over to me so you can see the progress. Of course, once its completed, I will be writing another article on how it all works complete with pictures, so check back often!

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 please email me at richard@sears.net

Parents are more than welcome to ride along and get hooked!