Sunday, December 26, 2010

Finishing Kit ordered

As usual, I think I waited too long. The estimated lead time on receiving a finishing kit is eight weeks. Doing the complex mathematical conversion, that works out to roughly two months. At this point, I would be surprised if I was still working on the wings two months from now. That said, it won't take too many days with temperatures in the teens (or less!) to burn through those days, so it may turn out that I timed it just right.

The 'Finishing Kit' is comprised of almost all of the little bits and pieces that converts a piece of aviation-themed sculpture into an actual airplane. Amongst the major components are things like the seat cushions, seat belts, engine cowling, wiring harness, landing gear components (including wheels, inner tubes, tires, and brakes), and fuel tank components. I have a few comments on a couple of those items.

First, the wiring harness. This is a wonderful thing! While there will be wiring tasks such as pushing pins into connectors, stripping wires and splicing them to other wires, and crimping on terminals, there will be none of the truly difficult work like planning and laying out the entire electrical system on a blank page of paper. That said, there is a potential cost to ordering the finishing kit right now. It comes down to the avionics; by ordering a wiring harness today, I have virtually committed to the Dynon D-180 as my major avionics component.

Dynon D-180

There's nothing inherently wrong with that; the D-180 is a wonderful piece of equipment. The problem (such as it is) is that there are strong rumors floating around that Van's will soon offer the newer Dynon SkyView as either a replacement for, or an alternative to, the D-180. The SkyView has a number of advantages and it is arguably a better piece of equipment, but I remain unconvinced on the merits that the additional capabilities are really necessary in a plane as simple as the RV-12. What is inescapable, though, is that it will be well supported by Dynon for a much longer time horizon than the soon-to-be considered obsolete D-180. For that reason alone I would consider it as an upgrade, although it would have to be very competitively priced in comparison to the D-180 for me to opt for it.

Why do I have to decide now? Well, there will undoubtedly be changes to the wiring harness. After spending hours installing the current harness, I will not be likely to want to pull it back out again to install a new one, particularly as it will be much harder to do in a completed airplane. And, as you would expect, I would take a bath on the dollars already invested in the D-180.

This uncertainty is one of my beefs with Van's. They keep things like this very close to the vest, making it impossible to make well-informed decisions. I'd say they could announce the availability of the SkyView option tomorrow, but they won't. I say "they won't" with such confidence because of an even more irritating thing, which is the cagey way that they announce new options. Which is to say, they don't. The first you'll know about it is when the option suddenly appears on the order form. This is exactly what happened with the optional prefabricated fuel tank.

You have to understand that I have read a lot about other builder's difficulties with various parts of the construction process and from what I've read, there is no more painful process than building the fuel tank. More precisely, the difficulty seems to be more in the building of a non-leaking fuel tank. The tank is assembled from components in much the same way that the map box was. Because it is comprised of bent aluminum parts, there are large holes and gaps that need to be sealed to make it air/fuel tight. Having had the unhappy experience of using the tank sealant on other parts of the kit and reading about the numerous failed attempts on the part of others that have gone before me, and considering that the fuel tank in question is going to be sitting right there in the cockpit with me, I opted for the now-available prefabricated tank. It was exorbitantly expensive at $445, but I think it's worth it for the peace of mind that comes with it.

My argument isn't with the price, though. What bugs me is that there was no announcement of a newly available product. Van's, oddly enough, is not run like a business. They don't seem to market to existing customers at all, relying instead on word-of-mouth. That works out okay for people that spend a lot of time online, but I wonder how less connected people ever find out about this stuff.

Anyway, I opted for the prefab fuel tank, decided to bite the bullet on the D-180, and decided what color the seat cushions will be. I went with plain old tan cushions to match the interior paint and to guarantee that the colors won't clash with whatever exterior paint design I finally come up with.


Torsten said...

I had the same concerns about the wire harness a few weeks ago when I ordered my Finish Kit. I am still hoping for the SkyView option coming out in summer before I plan to order my Avionics package, mainly because of the bigger screen size (I wonder though how that could fit in the panel).
As far as I understand the differences of the Skyview and D-180 cabling req's, it should come down to having double wiring for the data bus, which is optional and used as a backup if the other pair fails. I am planing on identifying those wires and run additional blind pairs while putting the harness in. If the Skyview option really becomes available and I'd really have the money to get it ;-), I can hook up those additional wires without too much work.
And if not, well, I guess having some spare wires in the tunnel might become handy later for any other kind of addition I might feel the need for.

J.R. Willett said...

Hi Dave,

I work for Dynon, and while I obviously can't comment on what Vans is planning, I can assure you that you will be well-supported no matter which Dynon product you end up with. We work hard to make sure that users of even our oldest products are fanatically happy. As you can probably imagine, our word-of-mouth reputation among our existing users is critically important to our future success.

Skyview has many improvements over the D180 generation of products (and many more Skyview software features are on the way), but if you are happy with what the D180 offers, you don't need to worry about the availability of support and repair.

Dynon is thriving, and we'll be there for you!

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