G1000 King Air Retrofit

Avionics upgrades breathe new life into well-aged airframes

A well-choreographed dance

Jeff Dean, one of the G1000 service team leads and holder of an A&P/IA, says it really begins when an airplane arrives before it ever comes into the hangar with a very comprehensive incoming acceptance check. Dean explains how they accomplish a complete check of all the systems in the airplane, not just the avionics. The induction checks include power runs to check all of the engine instruments and indications, a pitot-static system check, all the way to verifying the position and that cabin lights work correctly.

Dean says, “When the aircraft comes into the hangar, we know everything about it. We do not want an airplane going into final check outs with any problem that we are not aware of.” The aircraft is defueled for weight and balance purposes done later in the program and it’s jacked and leveled. Areas of the aircraft tail section are checked for hidden magnetism that later may affect new sensors located there.

All the technicians involved go through two days of Garmin G1000 maintenance training which provides an overview of the system and typical fault troubleshooting practices. The STC and installation instructions have very specific requirements for even the little things like exact wire termination methods or wire shield lengths.

Elliott uses dedicated teams of technicians specializing in fabrication and installation such as the interior team, structural team, wiring harness fabrication, harness installation, and system check-out and flight test. Each team and the technicians have goals and sub-goals and the install teams have even developed a friendly competition with each other.

Elliott Aviation fabricates as much of the individual piece-parts as possible in-house and feels fabricating in-house provides much better control of the quality and the overall aircraft downtime.

Dean’s team supports the systems maintenance portion and he walked me through a few portions of the program. He described the G1000 as having numerous sensors located throughout the aircraft for any number of systems like the engines, landing gear and flap position indication, flight controls, autopilot systems, and more. All of the autopilot servos are removed and replaced.

It’s not just an avionics package in the traditional sense of installing new communication and navigation radios. Dean says, “Because the G1000 is totally integrated into the aircraft, all of the analog transmitters are removed and new data transmitters installed. Synchronizing the engine displays after installation can be a challenge.”

Dean explains the digital displays have a much greater accuracy of readings than the traditional analog instrumentation and transmitter units. On the analog gauges the pilot may not have been concerned with or even noticed a slight difference between say the left and right needles for a 3-psi difference in oil pressure, a 5-rpm difference between the left and right propellers, or a 10-degree difference in the turbine inlet temperature between the left and right engines. These slight differences are now clearly recognized on the digital display even though the difference may have always been there. “Some pilots now become very particular with this and at times trying to make these types of exact adjustments is like opening Pandora’s Box; one adjustment may affect several other data points,” Dean says.

When I asked Wilken what has made this program a success for Elliott he mentions a couple items. “First the King Air is a great platform for the G1000 upgrade. The airframe ages very well and lends itself toward continual upgrades so an upgrade to a new technology flight deck works well.” Next, he says, “It’s our recipe” — but stops short of describing too many of the details of what goes into that recipe. He sums up by saying, “It’s a well-managed program and a well-choreographed dance by the technicians.”

Dean closes by saying, “To wow the customer is the greatest challenge and the greatest reward. I love doing this; it’s a really fun job!” AMT

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