Robert Zemeckis' Cessna 182
Like any other aircraft owner, Mr. Zemeckis had his own "DreamWorks" as to how he wanted his Cessna 182 to look in time to come but it happened sooner than he thought it would. I met Mr. Zemeckis about five months prior and bid on removing his sick 300A autopilot and installing a S-Tec System 55 with altitude pre-select and auto-trim. What the heck, if you're going to install a top of the line autopilot, why not get all the options. After accepting the autopilot bid Mr. Zemeckis asked if we could install a Sandel SN 3308 EHSI and slave it to his present King HSI system. My answer was sure, nothing fancy about that.
Upon delivering the aircraft Robert decided he would like to remove the old KLN-89B GPS and KX-155A which would be replaced by a Garmin GNS 430. I agreed, this was the time to upgrade the equipment. Our bid included metal custom panels and lower switch panels but because of time restraints (on both parties) we elected to complete the panel installation in the winter months. Our goal was to have the installation complete by mid-May, ready for the flying season ahead.
But as we all know, life is like a box of chocolates, you don't know what you have until you bite into one. Dave Bost was the chief install boss on this job. As you can imagine, Mr. Zemeckis has a way with words, he preferred to call Dave an "Avionics Artist", Dave liked that. As Dave disassembled the aircraft, he found a lot wiring problems that borderline on, shall we say, marginal. In fact some of the wiring used for the already installed BFG SkyWatch was the wrong type and by downloading the SkyWatch data, Dave determined the unit had over 30 stored faults. In other words, the SkyWatch wasn't operating as it should due to the poor installation. We reported to Mr. Zemeckis what we had found and asked that he stop by and view the problems. A week or so later he did and Dave explained each problem to him. It was decided at that time to "properly wire the aircraft" and since the May schedule was out of control, to go ahead and fabricate the custom panels, lower switch panels, GPSS and some other items Mr. Zemeckis desired.
Now the plan was to install the Sandel EHSI, Garmin GNS 430, S-Tec 55 with auto-trim and altitude pre-select, Garmin AirCell, S-Tec GPSS all new circuit pull type breakers, custom lighting, dual 12Vdc outlets and a host of other goodies. Dave basically ripped out just about every avionics wire in the aircraft and started from scratch and that is what was needed. TheSkyWatch can now be displayed on the StormScope indicator and/or the GNS 430. The AirCell phone is connected directly to the #3 position on the PS-Engineering audio panel, just use it like a normal phone. The Sandel SN 3308 EHSI will display the marker out of the marker panel, the King KN-64 DME, the KX-155A displays a RMI needle on the Sandel and the Garmin GNS 430 displays just about anything imaginable including a multi-leg flight plan.
As you can tell, there's still ample room in the panel for future growth. We've found AirCell has little use on the west coast at the present but that should change within the next few months. Notice the size of the telephone antenna. This is really two antennas in one and in the future some avionics will be available to utilize the other part of this antenna. At first I thought this antenna looked like an engine kick start, much like a Harley motorcycle; well I still think it does. Later I'll have an article on how this Garmin phone operates. The installation turned out great thanks to Dave, our avionics artist.
I delivered the aircraft to Mr. Zemeckis in Santa Barbara, CA (SBA). We blocked out a day to test fly the aircraft to see if any problems would arise and to check Robert out in his remodeled Cessna. I had flown the aircraft for hours prior to delivery and determined all the systems were up and operating as they should. I briefed Robert for several hours with the APU plugged in on how the equipment operated. As only he would, a video camera was set up and recorded our training session. What amazed me was how fast this gentleman picked up on the equipment. I'd show him once and he had the system down, very impressive I thought. Now Mr. Zemeckis was ready to fly the aircraft. He gave the machine a good pre-flight and we were ready to go. Normally a person who hasn't flown for almost three months is a little rusty but he picked up his clearance from SBA and taxied out just like you would expect from an airline pilot. We flew for several hours testing out the equipment in every mode we could think of, no problems appeared. Normally I don't comment on how well our customers fly, it really isn't any of my business but I'll have to say Mr. Zemeckis was always ahead of the aircraft and managed the systems and engine as well as any professional pilot I've flown with. After about five hours of ground training and flying, Robert felt it was time to kick me out and fly some more. I heard he flew over five hours that day, not including our ground time. I do know he's flown more than fifteen hours since I delivered the aircraft and is very happy with the installation. When I left that day, Mr. Zemeckis thought the S-Tec GPSS was the best thing since sliced bread.
What would I do different if the aircraft was mine? I'd add a JPI 450 fuel flow but that's about it. It's a well equipped Cessna 182 and we were proud of the installation we completed. It should provide years of trouble-free use.