Decisions, Decisions

Installing a radio and GPS system — what’s involved?

During the past month and a half one of the helicopters my other employer operates underwent all the trials and tribulations associated with a major inspection. This also included numerous component overhauls.

The mission of this machine is multifaceted and in addition to VIP transportation, a significant amount of operating time is devoted to wild game management. We planned to take advantage of this maintenance event to have a company radio installed along with a new portable global positioning system (GPS).

None of my previous aviation lives yielded any significant rotary wing experience so I was looking to this occasion as a learning situation. Fortunately, I work with some very knowledgeable people and most of the technicians employed by the helicopter manufacturer’s authorized service center have more grey hairs than I do. The prospect of installing a radio and GPS during the inspection did not appear to generate any concerns. Like with any other project of this magnitude we devoted a significant amount of time to research and planning. Standard practices used by the airframe manufacturer were reviewed, tech reps were contacted, the work-scope was finalized, and a timetable was created.

Installing GPS system/radio

The portable GPS had been selected on the premise it could be used in the helicopter while surveying various areas as it contained road maps along with geographical highlights and points of interest could be saved as waypoints. In addition to position information, this device could receive digital weather information and pertinent flight advisories that would be displayed to the observer along with warning of power lines. Data base updates can be purchased from suppliers such as Jeppessen for aviation information. There are of course information packages for a road atlas and even nautical charts. In order to load this information in the GPS a patch cord, tethering it to a laptop, is required along with Internet access.

An annual subscription service for XM Satellite Radio is available allowing the helicopter occupants to listen to news, sports, and music. When the aircraft lands, the device could be removed and transferred to an all terrain vehicle which could then return to the noted waypoints at a later time. The plan was to utilize 28-volt aircraft power converted to the 14 volts for primary operating power plus a charging source for the device’s internal battery.

When operating outside the aircraft the battery was intended to allow continuous operation for up to eight hours.


While perusing the accompanying operating manual, I noticed a paragraph written in bold print starting with the word “WARNING.” Of course my previous years of being involved in aircraft maintenance has provided me with keen insight, having learned (in some cases the hard way) that failure to pay attention to such things sometimes can be painful and always expensive. In any case, I figured if I did not read the entire manual, I should at least read that one paragraph. It was outlining the possibility of overheat by the lithium-ion battery along with the possible result of prolonged exposure to heat.

Gee, we planned to operate this thing in the desert during the summer months. I wonder if that will be a problem? Being a firm believer in Murphy’s Law, I knew it would!

Fire regulations

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has seen fit to issue Advisory Circular 120 – 80 which is titled “In-Flight Fires.” In my opinion this is a piece of information that should be required reading by everyone involved with aircraft. It does contain an area where various flammable substances are listed and recommended types of extinguishing agents to use.

On Jan. 5 of this year the FAA published an additional document related to in-flight cabin fires. This document is in the form of a “Safety Alert For Operators” (SAFO). The subject is specifically in-flight fires caused by lithium batteries. The background of the document reads:

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