It’s an old joke, that the way to make a small fortune in aviation is to start with a large fortune, but the truth is, there is no shortage of upgrades, accessories, and associated gear that airplane owners can spend money on. The utility, essentiality, and value of such contrivances can be the subject of endless hangar debate, but I will share the ones I have found to be the most worthy.
As hard as it is to believe, there are some instances where modern technology offers notable improvement over OEM parts that are notorious for producing recurring headaches in pilots. Among the items I would include in this category is the Lord shimmy damper. Though not inexpensive, it obviates the need for the regular servicing, which, if overlooked, can allow the forward strut to shimmy sufficiently to crack the nose wheel pant. Ask me how I know. Another maintenance bane is the recurring replacement of the landing and taxi lights, which can be all but eliminated by installing LED lamps. I found the Teledyne-Reynolds Alphabeam lights were one of those rare, truly drop-in, replacements. The improved visibility of the lights is amazing, and their longevity and low power consumption assuages all concerns about leaving them on through all phases of flight. Finally, there is the chore of removing the cowl, which can be enough of a hassle to even deter prudent inspections of the engine compartment. Replacing all the hardware with Skybolt fasteners has been worth every penny for the frustration avoided, not to mention better security for the cowling.
Among those accessories’ worth infringing on the airplane’s useful load, I consider a fire extinguisher to be beyond debate, and a survival kit nearly as essential. The kit in the Friendship Flyer is a small but comprehensive affair of my own compilation that is stocked for two scenarios: providing trauma care immediately following a crash and providing the basics for overnighting in remote areas. Less essential, but of greater practical use, are my Kennon sunshields and a BatteryMINDER unit, which monitors, charges, and desulphurizes the battery when plugged in on the ground. In addition to extending the life of my battery and ensuring max power is always available for cold weather starting, it provides a means for using commonly available ground power to recover a dead battery, which might otherwise be difficult with a 28VDC system. Lastly are those items used to secure the airplane when parked away from home base, namely, tie-downs, lightweight chocks, cowl plugs, and a pitot tube cover.
I’ve also taken to storing a small tool and spares kit in the plane, with the idea that it contains parts prone to incurring damage or failure, that would make the plane unable to be flown, but that could be easily repaired by an on-scene mechanic if the part was available. In this category I have include things like wheel inner tubes, an alternator belt, spark plugs, a fuel tank drain valve (and o-ring), a seat track pin, and various cowling and access plate fastener hardware. And I’ve given some thought to adding a spare fuel tank cap. Some might regard the tool roll and this spares kit with a critical eye as hefty, but I suppose, whatever else they make lack, Skylanes have the luxury of payload capacity, which enables carrying this sort of peace of mind.