Jan Lyczywek's New Panel

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Picture 1

Picture 2

Picture 3

Picture 4

Picture 5

Picture 6

Last winter I built a new and somewhat radical instrument panel for my Cirrus. During this season's 200 hours of XC flying, the new panel has done very well, so it's time to present it to the group.

My old panel (pic 1) which I had built in 2003 when I bought the glider was a CNC-milled aluminium plate with lots of instruments - a good idea by then, since it served me well to find out what bits of information I actually want to have and which are not really needed.

The main objectives for the new panel were:

  • reduce the number of instruments to the minimum needed for cross country flying
  • get rid of the aluminum panel to prevent leg injuries
  • facilitate emergency bailout
  • allow the sun to warm my legs and feet

So I omitted both the mechanical vario and the compass and changed my trusty but bulky LX 4000 final glide computer (taking one 80 mm cutout and three (!) 57 mm holes) for the new tiny LX 1600 (one 57 mm hole). As it turned out, all the remaining instruments fit into one single column, one above the other, without obstructing vision, i.e. the top of the new instrument panel was still going to be well below the front canopy frame. To plan things roughly, I used a very simple drawing software (it was Paint I think, see pic 2) to edit a photo of the old panel. Things seemed to fit though the resulting instrument 'tower' looked rather bizarre.

I decided to go for it anyway. The panel itself consists of a very simple U-shaped GRP profile mounted vertically into the cockpit, with the instruments installed into the base of the 'U' which is 100 mm wide, while the sides of the U (about 300 mm deep) help to keep the front upright. Several horizontal shelves inside the U prevent twisting and serve as mounting trays for the radio and the FLARM.

This basic panel structure is bolted to two massive glass brackets on the cockpit floor, so it can easily be removed (at least in theory :-). The whole thing is covered by a light GRP cover bolted to the basic panel. Not quite as comfortable as the original panel which is readily accesible after opening the canopy, however so far I only had to remove the cover once for a FLARM software update. The original panel shroud was cut away from the canopy frame to let the sun in.

After I finished the work, I was very doubtful about what I had done... . It does look weird indeed (pics 3 & 4). However the first flight (on March 4th, finally) totally convinced me - everything worked right from the beginning, and it was such a different feeling not to sit in front of a massive airliner type wall of clocks & dials any more! Even a bit like hanggliding, with just the necessary information easily available. During the season, the panel turned out to provide a few more advantages:

  1. fewer instruments means less temptation to watch them. Indeed, I look out more.
  2. I can take my feet off the pedals during straight glides, thus pulling my legs back and bending my knees and generally move about, which is very relaxing.
  3. I feel a lot safer to be able to just drop out of the glider in case of bailout becoming necessary.
  4. sun on legs & feet is so much better! Less freezing, finally! (pic 5)
  5. the long flat sides of the panel are much more comfortable for your legs to rest against than the narrow side of the lower part of the original aluminium plate. This also gives more feel for the glider in thermals.

So what about the disadvantages? Well:

  1. with all the instruments piled up in one column, you need one separate movement of the eyes to scan each instrument separately, whereas a clever side by side arrangement can allow for two gauges to be scanned simultaneously. However, in real gliding life one doesn't scan all the instruments all the time like a jet pilot anyway. In fact, during glide, I only visually scan the netto vario display to find lifting lines, whereas the ASI is of no importance since the Speed-to-Fly sound roughly commands my speed. When climbing, I visually scan the ASI for safety reasons whereas the sound now contains the vario information, so there's not much need to look at the vario during climbing.
  2. without the aluminium panel serving as a crossbrace from one fuselage side to the other, the cockpit sides get rather soft, which in case of a nose first crash landing could be dangerous. I think Stefan Melber has stiffened his fuselage for this reason. Cutting the shroud away from the canopy to my surprise did not change its stiffness much, so this is less of a problem.
  3. this mod might not be legal.

Overall, I believe my flying has become better with this panel. This however is merely an impression and might well result from the simple feeling to have exactly the setup I want - which is a performance factor in itself.

Jan Lyczywek