PA32 Autopilot Replacement


May 21, 2019
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Hi All,

First time poster here.

Am in a partnership with a 1998 PA32-301R Saratoga. Has some avionics upgrades, most notably with an Aspen Evolution 1000 from a prior owner.

Had the KFC-150 autopilot box go out the outbound leg of a recent trip (really went out - smoke and all, tripped the breakers - fortunately, this occurred on the ground). Box was pulled by an A&P at our final destination field, swapped for a refurb unit from SouthEast Aerospace. The deal was pay upfront (10k!) and refund the core when received back ($7k refund, therefore our total swap-out cost should have been $3k). Expensive, but we were OK with that at this time.

Was notified Friday (at 5pm) that the core return did NOT meet specs for return. The exact reason given was that the "Pitch Board" was damaged, and that the pitch board was NOT available for replacement. Thus, SE Aerospace rejected our core and effectively charged us $10k for a slide-in replacement on a 20+ year old autopilot.

Myself and my partner are investigating our options, but we have some questions that we're hoping someone here can help with:

1) Anyone know what the pitch board is? Is that part separately replaceable? If it is, why is SE Aerospace not willing to replace it (I mean, isn't that their business model?)

If they continue to reject the core return, we may have to engage another outfit for a swap in the hope they would accept our old core. We aren't going to pay $10k for a unit this old.

2) Our other thought was use this as an opportunity to upgrade - to go to the Aerocruz 230 which is supposed to be a slide-in replacement for the KFC-150 and gives new warranty to the servos. However, my understanding is that it is STILL not STC'ed for the Aspen. Does anyone have better/newer information on that?

Appreciate any thoughts/suggestions anyone might have. We have another long trip planned, not sure I want to undertake it without a fully functioning AP.

Your problem starts with the name on the box. If the board is replaceable, they probably don't make it available. It's why the 230 is a slide in replacement. Lots of threads about the 150 going tango uniform. And they seem to really not like Aspen. I believe you're right that the 230 and Aspen aren't compatible. I think you might be stuck eating that cost or gfc500 and g5?
I agree. We're sorta boxed in.

Have been exploring a number of options. Doesn't seem to make good sense to sink $10k into a old system that will have another issue likely sooner than later. Upgrade paths get expensive though.

We're looking at the AeroCruz 230. Biggest issue is that it hasn't traditionally been thought to work with the Aspen. We spoke with BK yesterday about this, and they are stating that there is an "open STC" that would allow this system to function normally with the Aspen as well. I'm questioning this because I've not seen anyone else report that they've had luck between the AeroCruz and the Aspen.

I'll admit that I'm still learning here about my options. Can anyone enlighten me on the above - what is an "open STC" and does it apply here?

We've also considered the Stec 3100. More costly and time consuming overall to install. But better/newer technology and it would have new servos. Plays well with the Aspen, STCed for the Saratoga. I believe it can work with a Garmin system as well should be pursue that route in the future. So it's kind the "switzerland" option.

Third option is GFC500. Would need G5s to run it. Aspen becomes essentially "display only" or we remove it and sell it (unfortunate because we both like the Aspen). Could go whole-hog with the GTN750 and a G3x or Txi .... for a lot more money.

Anyone have suggestions for me? Cautionary tales? Tales of woe?
I think you have to evaluate the type of flying planned. With a good bit of single-pilot IFR flying, a good autopilot can be ‘almost’ essential. The busier the space, more so.

If flying mostly VFR or IFR into lighter conditions, MVFR, I’d give thought to if you want to spend the $$. I just have an older Century II, that doesn’t do much more than hold the wings level. It’s almost what you get with a trimmed airplane. For what I do, I have no plans to sink $$ into it.

One can easily sink $$ into an older system, then end up at the same place a bit down the road, in need of more attention.

As to flying without an A/P, it may take more setup before launching, not as easy to adjust on the fly in IMC.