First Word: December 2010


As we report on page 18 of this issue, those days arent just behind but are rapidly receding. While we werent looking-and it seems like were always looking-the market hit an inflection point for glass panel upgrades. Weve hit the perfect mix of price, capability, demand and customer preference to ignite a downturn in

the desirability of mechanical needles in legacy airplanes.

And while that trend was sneaking up on us, so was another one: the ability to construct a new-age glass panel for an older airplane that doesnt require mechanical backup of any kind. That means no mechanical pitot-static and no spinning mass gyro. Frankly, I didnt expect to see this so soon, but as I noted in my blog on Avweb (, Aspen is much further along in this direction than most of us realize.

I was out in Albuquerque last month visiting Aspen and flew with company founder Peter Lyons, who, along with a partner, bought our Mooney 231 three years ago. Its a personal airplane for him, not a company ride, but hes fitted it out with a three-display Aspen system with dual ADAHRs, so the only backup required is a mechanical attitude indicator operated by the airplanes vacuum system. Lyons told me that Aspen is we’ll on the way to FAA approval to certify these systems with no steam gauges at all. Theyre working on a means to get around the single-point failure of the pitot-static source, which is the FAAs reason for not approving it now.

Once thats tidied up and owners run the numbers on it versus mechanical backups or upgrades, many will have second thoughts about retaining much less installing any kind of mechanical gyro or HSI; the justification and cost/benefit just wont be there. This has wider implications than might be obvious at first. Its going to put a lot of used gyros on the market which will tank their value. In fact, Lyons told me the stuff he removed from our airplane will be difficult to sell and he doesnt miss the irony that the success of Aspens remarkable Evolution products made it so. And it didnt take very long. By the time you read this, there will be close to 4000 Aspen systems flying, although not all are the two- and three-display versions.

Marketwise, this puts the aggregate of owners in a peculiar place. Support for mechanical HSIs will be available for awhile, but the expiration date on some of these instruments will loom into view eventually. So if youre thinking about buying a bargain mechanical HSI, you need to go into the deal with clear eyes. Even if you get the unit for a song, the complex installation will cost just as much as it always did.

The other side of the squeeze play involves the declining value of airframes. If you take a pass on the HSI in favor of glass, you could easily spend one third to half (or more) of the value of airplane on the upgrade. Youll have a more capable panel by far, but also one that wont return much of what you put into it when you sell it. That requires some clear eyes going into the glass upgrade, too.

So what has always been true remains true. If youve dreamed of glass, think about buying an airplane that already has it or looks close to what you want. This is probably the smartest buy you can make in the current market.

-Paul Bertorelli

Paul Bertorelli is Aviation Consumer’s Editor at Large. In addition to his valued contributions to Aviation Consumer, his in-depth video productions on sister publication AVweb cover a wide variety of topics that greatly contribute to safety, operation and aircraft ownership. When Paul isn’t writing or filming, he’s out flying his J3 Cub.