New FAA Policy Simplifies Attitude Indicator Upgrades

by HPA · October 22, 2015

On September 14, 2015, the FAA published policy statement PS-ACE-03-08, “Replacement of Vacuum Driven Attitude Indicators in 14 CFR, Part 23/CAR 3 Airplanes.” This will make replacing a vacuum-driven attitude indicator with an electronic attitude indicator a “minor alteration” in most instances (for Part 23 aircraft weighing less than 6,000 pounds). The new policy attempts to create a workaround to the current part 23.1311 regulations requiring electronic displays to have independent sources of altitude, airspeed and attitude instrumentation, in case of power failure to the PFD. An unintended consequence of this regulation prevented the replacement of vacuum-driven altitude indicators by electronically driven altitude indicators. The new policy provides relief from having to install an independent standby attitude instrument as required by §23.1311

The non-regulatory policy is meant to increase flexibility of improving aircraft safety quickly and efficiently with new technological advances. Many, including AOPA, consider the decision a move in the right direction, signaling a shift towards more commonsense policies by the FAA.

In its statement, the FAA references its 2001 Safer Skies initiative that identified vacuum system failures as a significant cause or contributor to fatal accidents under IMC conditions. Failed bearings, primarily caused by contamination due to dirty air supply can lead to pump failure, rendering the AI inoperable. Loss of AI function in IMC flying can be catastrophic without a backup, especially since the devices can degrade slowly, making it difficult to recognize a failure. Replacing vacuum driven AI with solid-state electronic versions gives an extra margin of safety, increases reliability and decreases maintenance costs. Electronic gyros eliminate the problem of bearing failure since they are solid-state gyros (with no spinning bits).

Electronically driven systems also improve functionality by providing:

  • More precise attitude indication
  • Greater internal error-checking ability
  • Internal redundancy

The policy change allows the replacement of a vacuum-driven AI with an electronically driven AI with backup battery that can include a secondary function, such as a turn-and-slip indicator. The only caveats are that the new unit must be positioned to allow for partial panel operations in the event of instrument failure and that it must include a dedicated circuit breaker.

Upgrade Options

There are several electric and electronic AIs on the market:

RC Allen RCA2600

RCA2600From $2,649.00, the RCA2600 is lightweight and fits a standard cutout. The compact design and updated processors make it versatile and dependable.


RC Allen ESP Battery Backup

ESPAt $650, this battery-based emergency power supply is designed to provide an hour of auxiliary power to an electric AI or DG and up to 6 hours of power to the RCA 2600 Digital Horizon. Easily mounted behind the instrument panel, it provides an extra margin of safety when you need it.


Mid-Continent Instruments and Avionics’ 4300 Series Electric Attitude Indicator — theLifesaver®

lifesaver-1Priced at $3800, this electric attitude indicator has a self-contained battery backup, and it delivers one full hour of emergency attitude reference.


Castleberry Electric Attitude Indicator – 300-14 Series

castleberryHeaderThe Castleberry Series runs from $2300 to $3800, depending on model. This high quality electric attitude indicator replaces the turn and bank and may be installed in the same panel location, freeing up crowded panel space. Installation of these units is straight-forward.


How it Started

One of my best friends in high school, (Doug Gray) was a private pilot. He offered to take me up for a flight in a 1967 Cessna 150, N6228S. We took off from Calhoun, Georgia, and he took me on a scenic tour of the area, I was hooked. I later found out that my English teacher, (Jan Haluska) was also a flight instructor and the school was offering a ground school course the next year, which he taught, along with flight training with the goal of becoming a private pilot. I managed to talk my dad into funding the training, at the time the total cost was right around $500. Cessna 150 rental rates where $12 an hour, and the 172 we used for cross country was $15 an hour including fuel.

Training Begins

It started August of 1977. The fall semester rolls around, and I am enrolled in ground school, and if memory serves me, we met twice a week. First came the paperwork for my student pilot certificate, which at the time was included with the 3rd class medical. I loved ground school, especially learning navigation, plotting courses on the sectional, again this was before iPads and GPS, so we did a lot of dead reckoning and VOR navigation for cross countries. At the end of the course, I made an 83% on the Private Pilot written exam, remember this was before we had the question-and-answer books that on future test I would consume before taking a written.

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The fun really began on August 22, 1977, it was my first flight. To my surprise we used the same Cessna 150, N6228S that my friend Doug Gray had taken me for a ride in. The Cessna 150 had a standard VFR instrument panel, with one NAV/COM, and one VOR CDI. No intercom, so no headset, at the time I didn’t know what I was missing. I didn’t get my first headset until I started my instrument training in 2003. I was a big guy, I was 6’ 4” and weighed 245 lbs. but I do not remember being uncomfortable in the 150 even with the instructor in the right seat.

First flight lasted .8 hours, and we accomplished orentation, shallow turns, stability, and effects of flight controls. Over the next few months we added steep 720’s, slow flight, stalls, turns around a point, S-turns, emergencies, landings, (short field, soft field and normal).


At this point I want to talk about a training experience that still stands out. We were close to solo and were practicing takeoffs and landings. Turning base to final Jan got very upset at the way I was cross controlling the aircraft. Cross control is when you are in, say a left turn, and use opposite rudder to line the nose up with the runway. So, he had me depart the pattern and head east to the practice area, and climbing up to 5500 feet MSL, he had me slow down to just above stalling speed, start a left shallow turn and add right rudder. As the airplane stalled I had the strangest sensation, no roller coaster has ever come close, instead of blue sky in the windscreen I was looking at brown ground, and as far as I could tell we were upside down, through the terror of the moment Jan talked me out of the spin, controls neutral, oposite rudder, pull slowly out of the dive. As we leveled off he asked me what altitude we were at, as I remember it was around 2,800 feet MSL. Then he asked me what would happen if I experenced this on base to final in the traffic pattern. The answer was obvious, I would be a pile of wreckage off the end of the runway with a very short-lived aviation career. Needless to say this cured my cross-control tendencies.

Another training event the sticks out in my mind was the first time we did takeoffs and landings at the High School runway. The runway was 1,500 feet long, not sure of the width, but it seems like we had about 5 feet on each side of the wheels when on the center line of the runway. Landing from the south you also had to go between a cutout in the trees to be able to stop in time on the runway. After getting confortable landing here every runway since seemed huge. I remember landing at Chattanooga (KCHA) on a night cross country and commenting to Jan, that I felt like I could of landed sideways on the runway, it felt that large.

Very soon after this I started wearing old shirts to all my flight lessons, the reason for this occurred on February 8, 1978. The lesson that day was stalls, takeoffs and Landing. As we were taxing back in Jan told me it was time for my first solo. I was very excited, and after some last minute advice from Jan, including watch for floating on landing the plane will be light with him not in the right seat, complete 3 takeoffs and landings to a full stop. It was a blast, and at the end of my shirt was shorter in the back because Jan cut the tail out of it signed and dated my solo [an aviation tradition]. Total flight time accumulated on the day of my solo was 18.1 hours. I was now officially a pilot with solo priveleges.

In my next article I start cross country training, when Jan decided that it would be best accomplished this in the 172. Checking out in N5970R was like moving into a 747, this started a love affair with one of my faviriote planes to date. Since this time I have flown over 900 hours in many different models of the 172 and feel like I am stepping into an old friend every time.

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