Chapter 22 – Physical Instrument Panel
This page discusses the design and making of the physical instrument panel versus layout of the instruments, avionics, switches, etc.
14 February 2019 — Today I set my sights on drawing up the Instrument Panel in Fusion 360 CAD. I don’t have the exact dimensions on-hand since my project is down south, but I can always easily tweak those numbers later. In addition, I simply started out by placing and “cutting out” the holes for the major panel avionics and instruments. As time goes on I’ll tweak this drawing to account for switches, circuit breakers, etc.
16 February 2019 — Continuing on with my CAD blitz as I wait out the final stages of being sick, as I noted in my last blog post I undertook a significant item on my to-draw list:
the Instrument Panel.
This has been a multi-day endeavor that in many regards is just a best-guess attempt at getting the numbers right since [again] I don’t have the panel mockup in hand. Moreover, I based the major panel dimensions off of the cardboard mockup that I made up in 2012 and used extensively while both in Tampa, FL and Qatar as I assessed various panel components/configurations.
Not a big deal of course since it’s EZ-PZ to move components around on the panel in CAD. The bigger deal is getting the component holes sketched onto the panel in the first place. To take the drama up even another notch: the biggest deal is the painstaking detail of ensuring all the components are aligned correctly with their mounting holes and the myriad of required clearances —just enough with this tight space— with each other.
In all likelihood –considering all the major avionics are currently dialed in with each other– the most significant changes from here on out will be on the order of moving the entire avionics section a tick left or right, and a smidge up or down. Switch locations and spacing, as well as entire rows of switches, will be highly subject to tweaking as well.
That all being said, here’s another bit fancier version that I rendered up.
5 March 2019 — After departing NC on this last trip to clear out my #3 storage unit and consolidate nearly all the airplane build stuff in the hangar, I headed up to Virginia Beach to spend a couple of days with Marco and Gina.
While at Marco’s, I updated my Instrument Panel CAD diagram with all the dimensions I had taken off the actual panel while down in NC. With Marco’s help, I then shared the CAD file to a shared online folder and he was then able to convert it into CAM to be drawn out on his plasma cutting table with a Sharpie onto cardboard.
This may seem like some underutilization of a fairly expensive plasma cutter to merely use it as a plotter, but not only did it test & confirm some limit capabilities of Marco’s plasma cutting table (better than we initially thought), but obviously it will allow me to cut out the cardboard panel, test it in the actual airplane, and then make any required tweaks if need be before we do an actual plasma cutout of the panel with actual expensive aluminum.
In fact, the pics of the crazy bearded guy below (me!) is with plotted panel version #1, which afterwards I realized that I had forgotten to update some dimensions I had gathered relating to the panel’s upper corner longeron notches . . .
Although I’d like to say it was fairly easy to update the CAD file to redraw the dimensions on the panel longeron notches –and subsequently the top panel contour– it actually did take a bit of drama-filled machinations to get it done. But, with Marco’s help I learned a few new tricks regarding Fusion 360 and was able to update the panel drawing to the correct dimensions.
We then embarked on plotting out Instrument Panel version #2 on Marco’s plasma cutter with no hiccups.
In fact, I took a short video of the last little bit of the panel plotting effort on the Plasma Cutting table. We didn’t film the entire event since to draw the separate circles and rectangles in the panel we had to lift the Sharpie up slightly in its holder (which Marco cleverly designed and 3D printed) after each drawn component to allow the assembly to relocate to the new spot that the next component would be drawn, then slide the Sharpie down in contact with the cardboard.
This pen lift/drop cycle is shown in the video, as is the entire drawing of the Instrument Panel perimeter.
After the instrument panel plotting was done on Marco’s plasma cutting table, I then labeled the components on the cardboard to grab this shot here. Most of the larger component holes will get cut out, which I’ll show in a subsequent blog post.
I’m extremely pleased with how the cardboard panel mockup came out, and am excited about dialing in the panel CAD drawing to enable Marco and I to plasma cut my panel out of a piece of aluminum. I will say that Marco and I (and a few others) are discussing the pros and cons of 2024 vs 6061 and what thickness the panel should be (0.063″ to 0.090″).
9 March 2019 — In one of our conversations my buddy Marco asked if I had cut out the panel yet, so I sent I sent him this . . . Yep! (yuk-yuk)
Of course this is the cardboard panel cutout… that I drew up in Fusion 360 CAD and then Marco precisely drew out for me on cardboard using his plasma cutting machine as a high-end plotter.
As a point of note, I’ve made a final decision to go with 0.090″ thick 6061T6 as my panel material.
10 March 2019 — After all these years I finally made a decision to use 0.090″ 6061T6 aluminum to cut my instrument panel out of. Using this specific aluminum offers 2 benefits over the 0.063″ 2024 aluminum that I had been planning on using for quite some time.
First off, plasma cutting 6061 is cleaner than 2024 since 6061 is better at rejecting heat (6061 can be welded, whereas 2024 cannot). Also, a thicker panel has less tendency to warp during heat-producing operations such as plasma cutting.
Next, the 0.090″ thickness will allow hiding the panel switches’ anti-rotation keyway holes, which coincidentally need to be 0.063″ deep. Below, the blue arrows denote 8 of the 10 anti-rotation keyways (on the panel backside) –which were once all through-panel holes– that were removed from the front face of the instrument panel once I thickened the panel from 0.063″ to 0.090″.
Below is a more “3D view” to better see the switch anti-rotation keyway holes at an angle, again, on the backside of the panel.
Meanwhile, over on the front side of the panel: no visible switch anti-rotation keyway holes!
Here is just a quick annotation of all the anti-rotation keyway holes that I was able to remove (hide) off the panel front by going with the thicker 0.090″ 6061 aluminum panel.
22 March 2019 — Today I checked the fit of my cardboard mockup of the panel that Marco printed out on his plasma cutter. I found a number of areas where the dimensions need to be tweaked, especially around the leg holes and along the top edge, the latter being around 1/4″ short for a good 4 or so inches each side of the center line.
So, it’s literally back to the drawing board for the panel.
26 March 2019 — I’m not sure exactly when I came up with the idea, but over the last couple of days –while updating the Instrument Panel CAD drawing– I decided to move forward with aPanel Warning Annunciator Cluster Sub-panel that would include the major panel components that I would need in case of most emergencies: including notification via the pair of AG6 Warning Annunciators and possible fix actions via the Gear Automatic Extension System/Emergency Gear Down Switch and the Backup Alternator (SD-8)/E-Bus activation switch.
In addition, I would move the “AEX ENGAGED” notification Korey LED light from the row just above the HXr EFIS to this sub-panel cluster as well. That would, in turn, allow me to use that empty light position to add a “RAM Air Open” indicator light to give me positive feedback that my RAM air butterfly valve was in fact in the open position…. good to verify when descending below 3000 feet for low level flight ops, landing, etc.
Finally, conspicuously not added to this group is the Alt-Static Source switch, which I will leave in a different spot on the panel.
I then spent a few hours creating and then extracting this model drawing from the Instrument Panel CAD drawing…. thus, not only does it share the same DNA, but more importantly the same top curvature and centerline. This will allow me to better appropriately notch the panel for clearance of this cluster if I end up going this route.
Just in case you’re scratching your head wondering what the heck I’m on about (probably not unusual!), I’ve depicted a rough outline of this Panel Warning Annunciation Cluster overlaid on a pic of the panel.
I should note specifically that I have 2 main driving reasons for incorporating such a warning annunciation cluster: First, I want to ensure unimpeded visibility of the AG6 warning annunciators by literally putting them “in my face,” and by extruding the mount for the AG6’s rearward and placing them just under the aft edge of the glare shield gets them in that “in my face” position.
Second, by consolidating the 2 key emergency-specific electrical switches in this cluster, I both better organize the panel functionally and concurrently clean up the panel of extraneous switches placed in a somewhat willy-nilly fashion.
Upon arriving home this evening from NC, I fired up my trusty 3D printer and made a very fast, rough “proof of concept” 3D print of this warning annunciation cluster.
As I was leaving out from NC, I stopped off at the hangar to scavenge the AG6 warning annunciator display/buttons, “AEX ENGAGED” Korey indicator light, the emergency gear down switch guard and some mini-toggle switches.
I then used all the above to populate my freshly 3D printed warning annunciator cluster sub-panel.
Here’s a top view, which would actually never be seen if this sub-panel were mounted in the airplane since the top abuts the underside of the glare shield.
Moreover, the pic below does show a change that I quickly realized I needed to make on this model, which was to increase the “height” (technically depth) of the switch stepped platforms moving aft by 0.15″. This will serve to get the aft edge of the switch guards (there will be one on the right side switch as well) closer aligned with the AG6 annunciator faces.
This sub-panel will be mounted to the top center of the panel via 5x #6 screws, which I have a couple installed to test fit the screw hole sizes.
Here’s a shot of the backside of the sub-panel, showing AG6 module, switch, and Korey light position, configuration and clearance.
With space tight, and to keep this cluster as compact as possible, I incorporated the “AEX ENGAGED” Korey indicator light so that it is actually embedded into the body of the sub-panel. Moreover, the switch guard of the AEX OFF/ON and Emergency Gear Extend switch slightly overlaps the bottom edge of the Korey indicator light.
So far I’m very happy with how this Panel Warning Annunciator Cluster Sub-panel has turned out and I’m excited to test fit it in the actual airplane.
29 March 2019 — Today I kicked off a 5+ hour long PETG (my first with this black filament) of the Warning Annunciation Subpanel Version 2.
Here it is after it finished printing. Again, PETG is known for being stringy, and the label fits since it is quite that.
One reason why this particular 3D print took so long is that there were a considerable number of supports printed to ensure the print came out straight and true. The blocks on each end, the rectangles containing the holes and the inset linings of the middle squares were all full height supports that I removed.
Here’s the part a bit later, after I removed all the supports, cleaned it up a bit and then swapped the components out from Version 1 to this version.
As you can see, I added tabs to each side specifically to be able to add labels to the switches. The raised-letter printing didn’t come out so great, although I will try to apply some white paint to see how bad/good it actually looks.
My thought though is to simply increase the height of these side tabs, and then order some sticker labels that I will then attach to each tab. So far I’ve noted about 7 different changes that need to be made to Version 2 to create a new Version 3 down the line.
17 April 2019 — While visiting Marco at his house I spent well over an hour updating the remaining tweaks I had noted that my panel drawing required to fit properly as on overlay onto the existing composite panel structure. The main areas that are difficult to dial in is the top curve and the leg hole curves, but after a bit I had them as close to what I wanted and was ready to print.
It took a bit more time for Marco to convert the Fusion 360 CAD generated G-code into a usable format for us since we have to have the plasma cutter stop after each drawn component so that we can lift the Sharpie, then position the print (plasma cutting) head to then drop the pen and draw the next component.
Just as before on panel version 1, it was no real difficult feat and after a short bit of time Voila! We had panel version 2’s mockup drawn up on a large piece of cardboard.
I then spent another half hour cutting out the panel just before me, Marco, Gina, Chris Cleaver and his wife Mary Kay went out for some delicious fish tacos down near the Virginia Beach boardwalk.
Upon returning back to Marco’s I then set the warning annunciator sub-panel in place in the notch I had created in the upper centerline area of the instrument panel. The fit was good, although I may need to scale down the gap just a touch between the main panel and sub-panel.
19 April 2019 — Today I was able to test fit version 2 of my instrument panel cardboard mockup. I’ll reiterate that I feel that it would be infinitely easier to simply trace out, cut a panel by hand and then mount it than it is to constantly fiddle with drawing up the instrument panel in CAD to fit the existing composite panel structure . . . again, especially at the top curve and leg cutout curves.
However, since I do have a bit of time available to do draw up and check the panel –since I’m still in the amazingly protracted process of moving down to NC– in the long run it will be so much better to have a match-fit panel available in CAD if I ever want to do any panel upgrades, improvements or overhauls. The ability to plan and fit on “paper” in CAD will make any future (and has definitely been proven during current planning machinations…) upgrades or additions much, much easier to handle.
Clearly the major change between panel version 1 and panel version 2 is the notch made top centerline to incorporate the warning annunciator sub-panel. Since we didn’t print out all the switch positions with the marker, it’s not easily identifiable to note that there are a couple fewer switches on the panel.
Panel version 2 fit much better than version 1, most significantly at the leg holes. The top curve still offered up a few challenges, but that should be easily remedied but just one slight shaving in the upper left corner and lopping off about 0.030″ on the bottom corners just above each arm rest.
In addition, I do plan on moving ALL the instruments and avionics up about 0.15″ to create a wider crosspiece just above the leg holes.
5 June 2019 — On my latest trip to North Carolina I was able to stop by Marco’s on the way down, where Marco and I then printed out the latest cardboard version (#3) of my instrument panel before I left for my NC hangar.
After unloading all the hangar stuff from my load I then quickly cut out the perimeter of the cardboard panel mockup to test fit it in place. Note that I didn’t cut out any of the internal area to ensure the panel was as strong and rigid as possible for the test fit.
The cardboard test panel fit well, but it still needs just a couple minor tweaks: shaving off about 0.020″ on the upper left edge and also shaving about 0.050″ off each vertical edge. I also need to assess clearance between the lower corners on each side of the panel with the respective armrests and switches.
12 June 2019 — I was quite tired from this last trip so I decided to “take the day off” today, take it a bit EZ and do some CAD work.
I started off by updating my Warning Annunciation Sub-panel to bring the face of it further out from the panel. I then 3D printed the new version 4.
To show you the design machinations, here’s a shot of all 4 variants so far. As you’ll see later below, I’m now on version 5.
The reason for this new added sub-panel depth was that I checked the visibility of the warning sub-panel while I was sitting in the cockpit with the canopy closed (probably a good thing to check eh? …. actual flight configuration?!) and realized that the top edges of the AG6s were obscured from the canopy skirt and the angle that I view it from. Also the top 2/3rds of the embedded Korry indicator lights were obscured as well.
So I added 0.3″ to the back side of the sub-panel to bring it out to the very edge of the glare shield so I could see it fully with the canopy closed. Now only less than the top 1/3 of the Korry indicator lights will be obscured while the AG6s will be fully visible.
Here’s a top-down view showing the depth difference between version 3 and version 4.
While Subpanel version 4 was busy in its nearly 7 hour 3D printout, I updated the panel with a ton of minor tweaks.
- Shaved 0.040″ off each side edge so panel won’t cut into sidewall from vibrations.
- Notched the upper right corner at underside of longeron — for cable routing.
- Moved the ALT Static switch to the upper RH corner (not sure if I’ll leave it there).
- Moved RAM air & oil cooler louver adjust rockers to left of fuel pump switch (LLHS).
- Re-situated the 4 top row CAMLOCs for the Aft Nose Cover mounting
- Re-situated the 2 top panel screws.
- Lopped off bottom center strut leaving just a hint of the curve for aligninment.
- Added 2x 1/4″ holes to mount modified diamond RAM ball mount for my iPad Mini (via moving the RAM air and oil cooler rockers from the lower center strut to LHS).
- 1/4″ RAM mount bolts will also serve as panel mount bolts on lower center strut.
- Moved on/off indicator lights dimmer to account for the warning sub-panel width.
- Moved gear/canopy warning LEDs to account for the warning sub-panel width.
- Verified distance between Circuit Breakers and right armrest top.
One last task left to do is to shave about 0.020″ off the upper LH “corner”… something that with all my changes this curve mod will be a bit trickier to accomplish.
I also moved the panel’s Push-to-test button for the on/off indicator lights to mount on the right side of the Warning Annunciator Sub-panel in order to get that small push button off of the panel and out of the way [it’s a pain to mount because it’s so small you have to dig out a bunch of original panel to get it mounted].
This of course resulted in Version 5 of the Warning Annunciation Sub-panel… same as V4 except for the mounting plate I created on the right side for the Push-to-test button.
For my last hurrah of the evening, I took a solid Korry light mockup that Marco had drawn up in Fusion 360 and turned it into a hollow, functioning Korry light case and then 3D printed it (on the left):
This will allow us to print these light cases in case we need one a spare. I’m also working on the lettered front plate process to be able to make a complete light unit to customize as required.
For the right side of the warning sub-panel I split the case (below left) in the interior to allow for two different colored annunciator lights to correspond with the two different states that my single switch will manipulate (B/U ALT & E-BUS PWR).
1 September 2020 — As I was checking over the state of the panel mockup, and doing some impromptu dusting, curiosity got the best of me and I cracked open the panel’s Fusion 360 CAD file. That led to another hour of adding in the latest tweaks to get the panel pretty darn close to its final plasma cutting state. My main focus was reposition the switches on the center strut between the leg holes to then position the mounting holes for the RAM ball mount, the result of my iPad operational positioning testing last week.
14 September 2020 — Today I powered through getting my instrument panel plasma cut (8″ cuts at a time!) before I do some straight line test cuts to obtain some troubleshooting data for Langmuir Systems.
Well, my evil plan almost worked. Then at just about the last cut the plasma torch crashed into a raised part of the panel and went all askew. Being the good soldier it kept going to complete its mission, but at that point was starting in the wrong position. It made a nice little “accent” line across the top, and then just about lopped off all my Korey lights in the row above the EFIS.
Luckily this is a test panel, and it didn’t do enough damage to render it unusable.
I added some uber Gorilla duct tape to the Korey light top cross piece and proceeded to test fit the panel into the plane. VERY NOT BAD! A few round of final tweaks to be sure, but very close… I’m very pleased with the outcome.
The fillets along the composite panel edges and especially the corners are keeping it from lying flat on the original composite panel… and being able to be skewed slightly left and a little up. Again, some corner trimming will help immensely on tweaking the final fit.