Before laying out the panel, I must first decide what instruments I need to support my Cozy mission. Well, I am not sure . I plan to fly VFR most of the time, IFR only if I am in a jam, no night flying (if I can avoid it) and certainly not in IMF conditions. In addition to planned missions, I wanted to be able to get the instruments - cheap! I started looking into Cozy flyers' IP and asked a lot of questions. After months of poking around, I finally ended up with a list of instruments that I am comfortable with.
There are many panel layout software available in the web. Some panel makers even offer them for free to attract your business. I used a graphics program (Corel Draw) for most of my work, so I decided to stick with it. This graphics program has the layering capability, which, in my opinion, is perfect for the task. For example, I like to put the outline of my instrument panel (IP) in the outline layer, so that I can just print out the outline on paper and trial fit it to my actual panel before cutting metal. One the other hand, I put the cut outs (i.e. holes for toggle switches, instruments, dials, etc.) on a different layer such that I can trace out the cutout positions onto the fiber glass IP. I put the instrument images on the instrument layer such that I can see how the layout looks like. Lastly, I made a construction line layer such that I can place all the alignment marks for attaching the print out to the actual IP precisely and consistently every time. The software allows me to show (or print) each individual layer or a combination there of. Here's a picture of my IP outline and cut outs.
As we all know, our fiber glass panel was build in Chapter 4. My workmanship was not that good - its not symmetrical for sure! My computer drawn panel is not going to match up to the real panel exactly - and I am not planning to re-make my fiber glass panel. That means I have to modify my drawing to match the real thing. After many trial matches with papers and transparencies, I finally got a relative close representation of my actual glass panel on paper. Picture to the right shows the cutout layer over the fiber glass panel.
First Aluminum IP
Using the paper IP as a template, I was ready to make my aluminum IP. Though I have seen some builders cut off the entire original fiber glass panel and mount a thick aluminum IP in its place. I believe it is because one has to remove so much of the glass panel behind the aluminum panel, its no point in keeping it. The drawback, is that they must build some kind of structure to prop it up. I chose to leave the glass panel in place and cut a whole bunch of holes as needed. I think in a long run, its less time consuming, and above all, I am maintaining the Original structure in tack - almost anyway!
Here's a picture of my first aluminum IP. I used 2024 T3 0.063" thickness. It took considerable amount of trimming and sanding to get it to fit nicely without any interference to the IP cover.
Here are a few more subsequent trimming and fitting of the aluminum panel onto the glass IP.
As shown above, I fitted my GRT HX EFIS to the aluminum panel. I bought the GRT EFIS used, but in really good shape and good price. It came with dual AHRS, and two (2) magnetometers. Note that I started to add angle aluminum (shelf support beams) between the IP and F28. It is because I need additional shelves to mount my Vertical Power (VPX Pro), Skyradar and the dual AHRS. At this time, I have not received my radio stack instruments. I ordered them from SteinAir for the Garmin GTN650, PS Engineering 8000BT, Trig Transponder TT31 and a back up Com radio Garmin 200.
As I was mounting the aluminum IP over the original glass IP, I have to put a few counter sink screws through them. Regardless how careful I was, it just shows the cut marks, nicks and scratches on the aluminum. I decided to try a printed overlay on top of the aluminum IP. With the advancement of ink jet printing, one can print a multi-color polycarbonate IP as an overlay. Since I have a ink jet color printer at work, I printed out a temporary overlay on thick paper and try it out.
One of the requirement is that all instrument/switches must be identified or labeled. Printed overlay can be so flexible and one can put unlimited coloring and shading for enhancement. I plan to include a picture of my control stick and it's switch labels on the panel because I heard that it was difficult to print lettering onto my infinity stick grip. Note my first trial with fading color on the overlay!