Gear of the Year: RedHawk 172 Trainer

Redbird, with its Cessna 172 RedHawk refurbishment, wins our Product of the Year award for its forward-thinking contribution to the training market.

Every summer we look back at the editorial year for products and services that stand out for value, innovation and credibility. While this wasn’t a bad year, we weren’t overwhelmed with products that we consider game changers. Still, there were a select dozen that were worthy of our editors’ choice award.

At AirVenture 2013, Redbird—which invented the inexpensive, motion-based simulator market—unveiled the RedHawk training aircraft. It’s a remanufactured Cessna 172 fitted with a Continental Centurion 2.0 FADEC-controlled, turbo diesel engine, modern avionics, fresh interior, a creatively educational paint scheme and a $249,00 price tag.

We think the timing and price is right. After all, the market isn’t exactly oozing with modern and affordable training aircraft. Moreover, Cessna proposed a diesel-powered 172 back in 2007, but bailed out when former engine-maker Thielert ran into trouble.

Each RedHawk is a true airframe-up refurbishment that includes stripping nearly all of the old wiring, inspecting (and replacing, if required) critical parts, corrosion-proofing the airframe and retrofitting off-the-shelf avionics, including a Garmin G500 flight display, GTN650 touch navigator and Garmin’s GNC255 radio.

This isn’t a personal cruiser, remember. It’s intended to provide the training environment with a simple aircraft that’s economical to acquire and operate, and has just enough modern gee-whiz appeal to attract a new breed of students. Visit

Recognizing there are still aircraft that need affordable yet modern avionics upgrades, PS Engineering developed the PAR200. It’s a combination audio control panel and intercom with integrated comm transceiver (the TY90-series radio is provided by Trig Avionics.) While bargain-priced at $2995, the PAR200 doesn’t shortchange on features and it did we’ll on our test bench. It has Bluetooth, PS Engineering’s proven IntelliVox smart intercom with pilot and crew isolation, plenty of unswitched audio inputs for external systems, plus a rugged bezel and decent mode display. See

If your idea of effective cabin lighting consists of a flashlight held in the mouth, it’s time for a lighting upgrade. While there are several options, we like the Aveo Engineering EyeBeam Touch overhead lighting the best. The EyeBeam Touch has a swiveling enclosure, LED backlighting and capacitive touch controls.

What we really like is the lack of fragile mechanical controls. Additionally, the vibration-proof EyeBeam Touch allows for focused cabin lighting, with swiveling LED lamps that have linear dimming. The system is available in a variety of colors (white and red are standard) and sells for around $200. Visit
The flush-mount, 3-inch Electronics International CGR-30P eliminates some panel work during primary engine gauge upgrades because it’s designed to fit an existing tachometer or manifold pressure gauge cutout. Unlike other monitors, the CGR-30P won’t overhang adjacent instruments and doesn’t require a lot of depth behind the panel.

The unit replaces up to seven primary engine gauges and up to five secondary non-limited gauges, including EGT and CHT. There’s also fuel quantity and fuel flow. We like the simple layout (the main page displays RPM and manifold pressure side by side) and the easy expansion of other secondary functions that spill over to a secondary screen.

With TSO approval for primary replacement, entry-level packages for four-cylinder engine applications start at under $4000. Still, don’t expect a drop-in installation, but do expect installation costs to vary, based on functions and engine model. Visit

Buying additional training is one way to reduce the risk of getting hurt in your aircraft, but installing passive shoulder restraints could be the best safety mod you can make.

AmSafe and Hooker Harness offer multi-point harnesses that fit the front seats of most aircraft, in addition to STC-approved restraints for a variety of rare applications. For rear-seaters, B.A.S. offers a line of inertia reel four-point restraint systems (made by AmSafe) for everything from old Beech Travel Airs to Luscombes. Buckle up that torso for the best safety.

Practicing IFR under the hood is a time-honored tradition for all pilots. We went beyond the usual last-minute grab-one and let’s-go drill and took a hard look at a variety of models for comfort, the ability to block the view outside (one peek is worth a thousand scans), ease of scan and ease of removal when it’s time to spot the runway and land on it. Prices ranged from $8.10 to a stunning $46.74—and weren’t an indicator of quality.
The clear winner was the ASA Jiffy Hood, purchased for $8.10 through It’s a view-limiting device reduced to essentials—an elastic headband snapped to a curved piece of plastic. It was comfortable for long slogs, easy to doff and don, didn’t break when dropped and, most importantly for our reviewers, allowed a scan without much head movement and didn’t interfere with sunglasses. See

The $299 SwitchBox is a convenient way to remotely control a plug-in engine heater or portable cabin heater. The unit independently switches two 115-volt lines and handles loads up to 15 amps and 1500 watts. It’s controlled by texting, calling or with a smartphone app that sends confirmations of commands and answers questions regarding signal strength and how long it’s been on. For security, it won’t respond to any phone number not on the user-inputted list. See

Panel-mounted intercoms dominate the market, but there’s still a place for battery-operated portable sets—especially in legacy airplanes with no electrical systems. Priced at $349, we think the Headsets, Inc. DRE-205e is the most advanced and generously featured model we tried. It performed we’ll in our flight trials—nearly as we’ll as a high-end panel-mounted audio system. The DRE-205e excels at music input and accommodates external audio inputs, plus it has a handy stuck microphone indicator and pilot isolation. See