Friday, February 3, 2023

Gateway Flight Training Provides Avionics Upgrades for Complex Trainer, Part 1

By Carmelo Turdo
Gateway Flight Training will soon introduce a new fleet aircraft that will play a vital role in the comprehensive training of pilots in the St. Louis area: a Cessna 172RG complex trainer/cruiser with a fully modern avionics suite. The "RG," or "Cutlass" as it is also known, will provide even relatively new pilots with a user-friendly learning environment for attaining a complex aircraft endorsement and gaining experience employing navigation/communications systems comparable to those installed on more advanced aircraft. The new avionics and other internal upgrades will ensure that the aircraft will be a reliable and cost-effective resource for many years to come.

In recent weeks, the Gateway Flight Training maintenance staff and avionics specialists have been conducting a very detailed inspection of the aircraft and planning the avionics installation. The Aero Experience has been following that process and interviewing the project team members along the way. Here we present Part 1 of our series covering the initial planning and avionics hardware acquisition prior to installation.  

Piper Cherokee 140
This 1980 Cessna 172RG was purchased from Wings of Hope, the St. Louis-based global humanitarian non-profit organization that serves those in need through aviation. Aircraft are donated to Wings of Hope each year, and after a thorough inspection and any needed maintenance and repairs, the aircraft are sent into service with one of their international partners or are sold to support ongoing operations. Gateway Flight Training supports the mission of Wings of Hope through aircraft purchases that, after additional updates, enter the training fleet. The current Piper Cherokee 140 primary trainer, also acquired from Wings of Hope, can be frequently seen in the pattern at Creve Coeur Airport. 

Cessna 172RG undergoing inspection and avionics upgrade 

Mission of the Cessna 172RG in the Gateway Flight Training Program

As mentioned above, the mission of the 172RG is to provide complex endorsement training for pilots of varying experience levels. This particular aircraft will add significant value to the fleet as an avionics system trainer and product testbed, and this aspect of the mission requires careful planning and teamwork to advance to the installation phase.

“The 172RG is a great complex trainer," Bob Meder, Gateway Flight Training Chief Flight Instructor, told The Aero Experience. "It’s a step up from the traditional trainer, such as a Piper Warrior or Cessna 172, without overwhelming you with speed. A relatively novice pilot can stay ahead of the airplane. While concentrating on flying, they can also concentrate on learning these systems.” He also mentioned that it is also a great transitional complex aircraft for building time towards insurance coverage for more advanced aircraft.   

"It’s a very well-equipped trainer, designed to provide a complex student with total emersion of the systems," added Tony Jestis, A&P, CFI and Safety and Compliance Officer for Gateway Flight Training. "The aircraft has one hundred and eighty horses, constant-speed propeller, retractable landing gear, cowl flaps. It has an engine-driven fuel pump. It has an electric backup fuel pump. All of which for this particular engine is not necessary. However, in the world of a trainer, it teaches students systems management."

Brian Borton, Gateway Flight Training Operations Manager at Creve Coeur Airport, projects the use of the Cessna 172RG in preparing business owners to gain more use from their aviation assets as they move on to higher performance or twin-engine aircraft.

"For professionals who are looking for a way to build their skills – they’ve learned to fly because they see flying as being a tool in their daily conduct of business – this aircraft gives them that step to higher complexity, more security in its avionics, its navigation, its communications capabilities because of all the redundancies in the equipment. It gives us an opportunity to help pilots build time to transition into our even more sophisticated aircraft – into our Beechcraft, into our larger, multi-engine twins. Our Debonair and our 310 are slotted for similar upgrades as soon as this one is completed. This is kind of our proof-of-concept aircraft to provide pilots with a good aircraft to make that transition.”

Gateway Flight Training Cessna 310 undergoing inspection prior to avionics upgrade

Avionics Upgrade: Considerations, Structure and Products

As the planning continued for the avionics upgrade project, the team of both maintenance technicians and pilots combined their talents to develop the layout and choose the equipment needed for installation. Decisions have to be made, such as what systems to retain or remove for the panel and whether or not to use the vacuum-powered backup attitude indicator versus an electronic/battery backup instrument. They had to take into account the reliability of existing systems, aircraft certification requirements, current supply of equipment, cost and a myriad of other factors. When removing the original panel instruments, some corrosion was found in the relays due to age. The battery and starter cables were replaced, the assemblies being rebuilt in-house.   

“All these considerations have to be looked at and addressed prior to installation of equipment," Brian Borton emphasized to the team. "With this generation of modern equipment, we have the ability to remove an entire vacuum system out of the aircraft. The discussion is if we’re looking at an electrical backup attitude indicator that has classically run off vacuum and is now available electrically, the secondary side of it is we have to look at provision of a backup electrical system for it. It’s a cost-factor loop – how does it affect our clients and how do we provide them the best advice.

“How do we bring this aircraft into modern standards to help pilots," Borton continued, "especially pilots that are thinking about either flying for themselves business-wise, younger pilots that may be looking at careers in aviation, and giving them a transitional aircraft into modern, electronic cockpits. We decided that this aircraft made a good testbed. It’s cost-effective to fly. So we now give our pilots that ability to make that change. We give our customers the ability to see some of the products that are available.”

Gateway Flight Training (as Gateway Flight Solutions) is an Avidyne, Aspen, Dynon and Electronics International dealer, and so the Cessna 172RG will be fitted with the latest products from these brands. They provide navigation equipment, flight control equipment, engine management equipment and LED lighting as a package of services. As with this project, the first steps involve evaluating customer needs and budget to determine the best combination of products, training and follow-up service. 

Tony Jestis provided an introduction to the new avionics equipment (see video below) to be installed as shown in the second custom-made panel above. They are, right to left:

Avidyn AMX-240 Blue Tooth audio panel with Bluetooth music 

Avidyne IFD-550 FMS with synthetic vision, 5-inch screen and GPS Nav-Comm 

Avidyne IFD-440 FMS, 4-inch screen, GPS Nav-Comm  

Avidyne AXP-340 ADS-B out transponder 

Aspen EFD-1000E5 electronic attitude indicator and electronic HSI 

It will also have conventional 6-pack instruments, Electronics International CGC-30 engine management system, Skytrax 200 dual band ADS-B in receiver and Genesys System 50 autopilot.

Gateway Flight Training Maintenance Shop Foreman, Steve Stone, has been instrumental in removing the old cockpit instruments and preparing the new hardware for installation. He is seen here working in the aircraft (and in the video below).

Along with the other displays, Stone is impressed with the Electronics International engine management system that will provide a wealth of information using two displays at the bottom of the panel.

"We’re going to have a system that is second to none," Steve Stone said. "Both displays are conveniently laid out and are easy to read. When you’re flying up in the air, you don’t have to take the time to read the instruments – you can look at them and they will tell you everything. You can look at it at a glance and know immediately what your engine is doing. This system is so much more useful to the pilot. It makes it very intuitive. You can make changes as you need to as quickly as you need to just by looking at your engine instruments and you know immediately what you’ve got.”

Chief Flight Instructor Bob Meder emphasized the need for a dedicated avionics trainer that includes the systems encountered in higher performance aircraft.

“With the integration of the glass panel into the modern air carrier fleet, plus the fact that there are legacy aircraft out there with traditional six-packs and everybody is using electronic flight bags these days, this system will introduce them to the complexities, and at the same time the simplicity, of using a glass cockpit. [The complexity comes from the need to learn the systems, but once they are mastered, they are designed to be simple to use]. The logic behind how these manufacturers built their software, built their human interface, will allow them to stay ahead of the airplane and become proficient pilots.”

Gateway Flight Training will move forward with installation and testing of the new avionics configuration in the coming weeks, and The Aero Experience will provide updates in this series as progress continues toward completion of the project. Contact Gateway Flight Training for more information about their comprehensive flight training program and maintenance/avionics services.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

January General Aviation (and More!) Survey

By The Aero Experience Team
The Aero Experience looks back on the month of January in this General Aviation (and More!) Survey. Here we present a variety of aircraft types encountered during our visits to airports while covering stories from around the Midwest. We hope you enjoy this review of our aviation community!

Creve Coeur Airport, Maryland Heights, MO


St. Louis Downtown Airport, Cahokia Heights, IL


Spirit of St. Louis Airport, Chesterfield, MO