“William, you ignorant troglodyte”…….(instrument options)


If you are old enough, you can remember when the last 5 minutes of the show 60 Minutes was given to Shana Alexander and Jack Kilpatrick for “Point counter point.” I thought of this when I read the first word in Andy Elliott’s letter. Andy and I are friends, and at the very core of this is our mutual need to get the other guy to concede an intellectual point, even just once. (don’t hold your breath for this, we are both stubborn and opinionated enough to qualify for honorary Irish citizenship.) Andy and I arrived in home building from polar opposite starts, so any discussion between us will cover a lot of perspective. In the end, each builder must decide what is right for his needs. Andy and I are just here to shed a little light…and get the other to see the error of his ways. For a little humor, the link below is Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin spoofing point counter point: http://www.hulu.com/#!watch/2306 Dan Aykroyd always started his part by saying “Jane, You ignorant slut.” Thus the title of this story.

On the serious side, at the end of the letter I write a bit so builders can see something of the consumer/marketing forces they face in our industry. It’s the kind of writing that has not made me friends with ‘the system.’ Once upon a time I wrote almost 50 articles that were published by the EAA, I was on their masthead, I wrote for many other aviation magazines and was welcome on industry discussion groups. Over time people in our industry found out that I have never been a “go along to get along” type. If the industry has a dirty little secret to keep from builders, I am the wrong guy to tell. If there is an angle/system/ way-its-done that keeps things from builders, it is now understood that I’m not going to keep quiet about it. For this reason, I have a lot less ‘friends’ in industry than I once did. You write stuff like “Ponies vs Unicorns” and point out the new head of the EAA has a fake engineering degree, they don’t invite you to the cocktail parties anymore. Thats ok, I got into homebuilding to learn, build and fly, not be part of a marketing industry.

From Andy Elliott:

Counterpoint:  – Some of us *do* have flying missions that take us far from home, over nearly unpopulated mountains and deserts, day and night and in the clouds, and therefore require more than a minimalist VFR panel. I wouldn’t disagree that many people install way more avionics than they will ever need or use. (I saw a Grumman Tiger once with a 530/430 combination, a two-axis autopilot and a 496 on the canopy bow, where the pilot was not and had no plans to become instrument rated!) But that doesn’t mean that modern computerized avionics are “bad”. It just means that some people are not thinking clearly about the mission vs. value proposition.
I don’t know why you’re on the warpath against MGL. IMHO, they offer a wide variety of useful instruments, RF and EFIS/EMS products that are highly customizable, are specifically designed for experimenters and amateur-built aircraft, and have a pretty good price vs. performance ratio. They are built by a small private company where the president and CEO does most of the engineering and testing, that supports its users, and that has real pilot/engineers providing excellent customer service out of an office in Torrance, CA. They’re not a Garmin by any means.
I am not a fan of Apple, but I do carry a $200 Google Nexus 7 (Android) tablet in the plane. It’s built by Asus in Taiwan, an erstwhile long-term ally of the US, not the People’s Republic. My $100 annual subscription to AnywhereMap on the tablet means I never have an outdated chart, never am missing the approach chart for somewhere I end up after diverting, and always know the TFRs, at least as they were when I took off.
The Nexus 7 has a much better built-in GPS than the iPad (and better than the Avmap in the plane!) and also has excellent 3-axis accelerometers and gyros that work as well as my MGL EFIS. For $5 (Yup, five!) I found an app called “Flight Instruments” that serves as a backup EFIS, equivalent to the $1400 unit that Dynon is foisting on the community. I think this is a major flight safety improvement.
So I think the key point is that the builder should *think* about putting in a panel that is *appropriate* to the plane and adequate for the mission being flown. One size does not fit all.
Andy Elliott
515 hrs since Nov 2008

Andy, To start with, I have to object to your use of the acronym IMHO, as anyone who has met you will testify you have opinions, but not humble ones. In all seriousness, I think your letter does a good job of illuminating some well researched options on the other end of the instrument options. We are certainly in agreement that no instrument of any kind is a substitute for pilot skill. From an engine builders perspective, I think that anyone flying over unforgiving areas first and foremost needs to have a first class engine and airframe. I have seen a number of planes that have $5,000 in the panel but don’t have a 5th bearing or a decent set of heads. I am all for what ever people want in front of them after they have addressed reliability ahead of the firewall. I am also going to point out that it is human nature to gravitate toward things that operate on skills one already has. I am not speaking of my love of mechanical things: My point is that many people spend hours learning to program their GPS, because working with computers is a skill they already have. I meet many of these people a year who have not devoted 10 minutes to learning how to use a timing light or a differential compression tester. Anyone who bought an EFIS before owning both of the other tools needs to re-think wether or not they are interested in learning about an engine, or are they just viewing their Corvair as something cheap to pull the panel through the sky.

On the subject of MGL, here is my issues: A) For a long time the promoted a plastic barbed fuel flow unit as airworthy and suitable for installation in your cockpit. People covered in skin grafts are allowed to call this amoral. B) In the last 12 months they sent an email to a 601 builder telling him to directly wire his tach to the ignition, which made it fail (on the ground.)  C) I have had several of their sending units fail., and D, the big one) They have a marketing strategy that makes every tom, dick and harry a dealer. Here is why: They offer virtually anyone with a .com website a dealership. You don’t have to stock anything. If a person clicks on the link on your site, the order actually goes directly through MGL, and drop ships from them, and they instantly pay you off with 20% of price. How this works for MGL is that they have people everywhere who simply appear to be a friendly voice offering testimonials about their products. These people write for every magazine, are on every large email list, and work at nearly every experimental aviation company. To a builder that is yet to understand how many pockets are getting lined, MGL appears to have incredible grass-roots appeal. Take away the money, and most of the testimonials dry up. As long as the money is there, builders will get an endless stream of stories selling them on the idea that this stuff is a “must have.” The strategy works, because there are many Corvair powered planes with MGL avionics but no 5th bearing. I have had a number of builders say “I like MGL because when I email them they send an email back in minutes!” If the email they sent back told you to hook your ignition directly to the tach signal, they are just a marketing tool, not an asset to home builders.

The only positive note I have on MGL/Corvair stuff is that MGL recently made Dan Weseman a dealer. He didn’t even ask about it, they just sought him out because of the Panther project. MGL has made several other people ‘the corvair dealer’ before, but has never contacted me on this. I don’t take this personally, I don’t think they know anything about corvairs or who has developed them. If they think that Dan is going to blindly sell stuff to people, they are mistaken. 5 years ago he developed a tach sensor for an MGL that works off the flywheel. It has hundreds of flight hours on the “Son of Cleanex.” This is the system that Dan would like to steer MGL users to. I have no doubt that Dan would advise any builder that an EFIS of any brand, is something you consider buying for your corvair powered plane after is has a 5th bearing and a real carb.-ww

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