General Aviation: Retrofitting An Old Model With Modern Avionics

In this video, a couple is flying a Cessna 310, a model that went out of production in 1980. However, the avionics on this machine are obviously 21st Century - witness the touch-screen whatever in the middle of his dashboard(?).

How big of an ordeal is it to retrofit a four-decade-old aircraft with modern bells & whistles? Did this require a complete dismantling of the craft’s interior? Or are these machines built to be updated as technology improves?

Also, if that craft had sat in a garage for 40 years and someone decided to take it out for a spin, would it even be possible to fly it with 1980s instrumentation? Or does the FAA require avionics to meet certain standards?

The Mod:
You’d be disassembling all of the instrument panel for sure. Then fabricating a new panel and installing lots and lots of wiring and remote data transducers. Big job. There was no specific concept of upgrades in the old days, but at least all the old stuff is discrete gizmos that other than an electricity supply have very little connection to each other.

Removing the fancy integrated 2020s rig and replacing it in 2040 years is gonna be the more intricate chore.

Funny enough just yesterday I was talking with a guy who mentioned that he’d done a similar conversion on an old C-172. He said the hardest part was that the fancy avionics company really didn’t want to support a DIY job (although it’s legal). They really wanted him to take the plane to an “authorized service center” who’d charge an extra $LOTS to do the work.

I didn’t have reason to ask him what it cost or how many man-hours it took. Next time I see him (later this week) I’ll ask.

The Old Stuff:
Depending on the specifics of what exactly was installed and where the airplane is located, they may be able to fly it as-was, at least under visual rules. The equipage requirements for instrument ops has progressed to where at least a couple gizmos would need to be upgraded from 1980s standards.

Of course all the old instruments would need to be checked, recalibrated etc., before that first flight. And almost certainly some of them will have corroded, gotten stuck, or had their rubber seals or wiring insulation rot in the intervening years necessitating they be overhauled or replaced with an already-overhauled similar component.

So a pretty extensive = expensive inspection and partial rehab would be required just to restore it to its 1980s glory.

I’m definitely not an aviation expert, but have flown as a passenger on several small planes in recent years with friends and relatives.

My understanding is that installing a so-called glass cockpit is a fairly common upgrade and also very expensive (tens of thousands of dollars). Also, many more instruments can be replaced with digital versions than the one or two displays shown in the OP’s video.

A much cheaper upgrade is for the pilot to simply utilize an iPad with GPS and the appropriate software. This can be strapped to the pilot’s leg, or attached to the windshield. The iPad can provide lots of location-based info like the display shown in the OP’s video, including other air traffic, weather, and airport info.

Even pilots with a glass cockpit will now typically use an iPad as a supplement and/or backup.

My Wife and I flew across Costa Rica in a small plane about 10 years ago. I think it was a Cessna Caravan, so not that small. Anyway, our destination airport was socked in with weather, so they decided to get us as close as they could and would arrange for ground transport.

Well, I’m not sure about the avionics of that particular plane, but I did see the ground crew give the pilot a GPS unit which he rubber banded to the steering yoke since he was going to a different airstrip than he was used to. Perhaps the avionics where out.

My Wife does not like small planes. I like em. But that was a bit stressful.

Fun flight.

Another flight to Belize I got stuffed in the co-pilot seat of a Cessna Caravan, I had instructions though “DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING” An interesting flight. What was really scary was that I could see he was going to touch down in the middle of the runway, I thought for sure he was going to overshoot it. But on the end of the runway was an asphalt run out instead of the concrete runway that he stopped on (wasn’t really a runway at that point) . Stopped right in front of the hanger. That was a clencher… um, um, um, shit we are gonna crash.

Took a golf cart to the hotel. Nice place.

I didn’t watch the whole video, but there’s an interesting dynamic between the two of them; her doing all the radio calls and him explicitly calling out each step he’s taking. Does anyone know if she’s a flight instructor?

I did watch the landing. He was very close to touching down before the displaced threshold.

I’ve legally flown an airplane with 1940’s instrumentation - which amounts to “not much”, including no radio. However, where you can fly such an airplane is limited.

1980’s instrumentation? Unless there’s been a drastic change in the last 10 years you should be able to fly it everywhere you could fly it in 1980. It’s like asking if you drive a 1950’s car on 2020 roads - yep, you sure can. You might not have GPS and backup cameras but it’s still road-legal. Likewise a Cessna from 1960 or 1980 without avionics changes is still sky-legal in 2020.

If it’s been a garage for 40 years, though, it will need some maintenance before it’s safe and legal to fly, though.

Yes, certain standard are required but what’s required for what is not what the public thinks it might be.

It’s not unusual to split the cockpit duties into “fly the plane” and “fly the radio” - doesn’t rule out her being a flight instructor, but doesn’t require it, either. Even in small scale flying splitting cockpit duties is pretty common. I’ve taken a lot of flights shotgun where I ran the radios and navigated while the pilot in command flew the airplane and I’m not an instructor.

The big recent change is the requirement for an ADS-B compatible transponder. Which became generally mandatory in Jan 2020 subject to the details below.

Akin to the Mode C mandate from umpteen years ago, it’s required for ops above 10,000 feet anywhere, or within 30 miles of Class B or C airspace or over the top of class B or C airspace. Plus / minus a bunch of minor exceptions and gotchas.

Translated into non-pilot speak, it means you now need one of these new expensive ($10K?) gizmos to fly near any moderately busy airport. East of the Mississippi you might be hard-pressed to get there from here because all the too-busy airports leave you only a difficult or impassible route between their 30 mile buffer zones. And you’re flat screwed if your home airport or destination airport is within 30 miles of a bigger one. And “busy” in this case isn’t really very big. If bizjets come and go a few times a day, it probably qualifies as “busy” enough.

Conversely, wandering around ruralia or the uninhabited West you don’t need this gizmo.

ADS-B out (which is required in the above mentioned areas) can be obtained for as little as ~$2000

(Installation is pretty easy)
ADS-B in (totally optional, but works pretty slick), can be obtained for $500 (plus the cost of an iPad, plus software cost). It is really nice to see traffic on your screen (of course you still need to look out the windows)


I just remembered that ADS-B in ~$125 (Raspberry Pi + some software defined radios + misc)
(You still need some sort of display)