Upgrading your plane

The next print issue of General Aviation News features a special focus on Upgrading Your Plane, so we wanted to go to our readers to find out what upgrades they’ve recently had done. What was involved? How much did it cost? What did you learn from the experience that you can pass on to other aircraft owners?

If you haven’t had a chance to upgrade yet, what’s on your wish list? Why?

If you are in the business of upgrading airplanes, what is the most popular upgrade? What upgrades boost the value of the aircraft the most? What mistakes do you see aircraft owners make when they choose to upgrade?

Post your comments below or send them to janice@generalaviationnews.com Feel free to include before and after photos.


  1. Jeff Sumeracki says

    I own a 1969 Piper Cherokee 6-260. Recent IFR upgrades that add value include the $1200 software update to my GTX-330 Mode-S transponder to join the fully compliant ADS-B crown 7 years before the 2020 mandate. Now I get not only weather on my iPad for free( via tax dollars, of course), but also get traffic. This adds to the TIS traffi on my 530W/430W stack, helping situational awareness. I also added a new 406MHz ELT, Icarus SAM GPSS Steering, a JPI EDM-830 engine monitor (cheap upgrade from the existing EDM-800), an LED belly strobe

    Most recently, after going to Oshkosh for the first time, new LED wingtip NAV lights that offer a strobe option! YUP, I wanted wingtip strobes, but did not want to fork out $1,000 for the stobes and $700 to fish wires wingtip to wingtip to sync them. So I did the next best thing and recommend these to ANYONE that has traditional incandescent NAV lights: http://www.aircraftspruce.com/pages/el/ledlighting_znavstrobe/navstrobesextant.php

    They are so popular, they are constantly backordered. Even if you never use the strobe function (really nice in fog, better ramp visibility), they are so much brighter than the old lights you’ll never regret the upgrade.

  2. Johe Kile says

    I recently purchased a low time 1978 Cessna 177RG. All original panel and interior in good shape. Upgrades over the next year are.
    New Airtex interior with custom conform foam seats- about $3,500
    Aspen PFD 1000 PRO- $14,000
    S Tech 55x with auto trim- about $31,000
    GPS to be determined- most likely the new Bendix/king KSN-770- cost TBD, probably around $15,000
    PMA8000BT audio panel- price about $4,500 installed

    • says

      Hi Johe; All “wise” and practical upgrades IF and when you decide to sell. Add a nice $9-10K late mode, say “210” paint scheme, and you have a real winner! However, I caution you that IF you investment in the “new ” paint job, best to keep the bird for 5-10 years to “recoup” a good portion of the cost. Frankly, also resell values on Cessna Cardinals, including the RG, are questionable at best – not mine or anyone’s else’s money – that said, your investment – your risk!

  3. Jay says

    I have a 1947 Aeronca. My upgrades include new leather gloves for swinging the prop, fresh batteries for my handheld, cleaning the oil from the belly, and an iPad with foreflight for some pretty nifty navigation planning tools, not to mention moving maps.

    I find it to be a capable ship now that moves me anywhere within these fine United States about 1500 feet over the tree tops at a nose bleed speed of 91 MPH.

  4. says

    Upgrades are the heart of our business. We specialize in upgrading engines in Cessna 172, 180s, and 182s. To say which one is more popular than the other depends! Our customers typically have a timed out engine and looking for a reliable and safe replacement; or, they need the climb and cruise performance of a higher horsepowered engine without purchasing a bigger aircraft.

    Evaluating costs to overhaul existing engine, prop and replacement hoses etc. compared to purchasing new engine, prop, accessories PLUS the added performance is a decision worth exploring-you may be surprised what you can get for a little extra cash. The only regret we hear from our customers is that they didn’t upgrade sooner!

    Katie Church
    Air Plains Services

  5. says

    One MUST consider this with regard to improvement/upgrades: How much of the ADDITIONAL cost will be recouped when going to SELL – that is the X dollar question!
    Keep in mind – “custom” improvements, etc are for YOU – not necessarily for the next buyer.
    Wisest and prudent upgrades include MOH, Lyc O- 360 (180 HP) conversion in C-172, nice late model paint scheme, refurbished interior and a basic GPS. All of these will enhance the future sale and desired by MOST buyers – but few, if any, are going to reimburse for “color radar, de-ice boots, an inappropriate paint job (your wife wanted pink, or threated to leave) and a leopard style (big game hunter?) interior” on your 71 C-172!
    Take a look at WHY many bird are on the market for one year or longer – maybe you’ll find a 74 Cherokee with a PT-6 in it – just KIDDING of course!!!!

  6. Buford Suffridge says

    Everyone I know owns a plane because they wanted one and not because it was a necessity. Same for upgrades. If it’s something someone wants and adds value to their life and safety to their flying, then who cares if the cost will be recouped with a sale? Remember, “owning an airplane makes buying a sailboat look like a good investment.”

  7. Mack says

    I upgraded with an iPad mini!

    I hope someone will update with Aspen Evolution hardware, and let us know how much that costs. Their advertising $1000 off, but I still don’t know their pricing from their website.
    Hmmm……If you need to ask it’s too expensive……that’s what then wealthy always say!

  8. Jim Hughes says

    I fly a 1961 Cessna 175, so anything that is replaced qualifies as an upgrade.
    We replaced a Narco comm radio with a Mitchel, with flip-flop selector. It was a plug in replacement, but the tray connector was corroded and initially the Mitchel didn’t work well. Using some contact cleaner/lube from Radio Shack on a long q-tip cleaned the contacts. I also used a long probe to make sure the connector contacts were free to move. After that, the Mitchel worked great !
    When any work is done behind the panel, it’s a good idea to take a short screwdriver and check the tightness of all the terminals at every breaker and switch. I find 4-5 of them a bit loose at every annual.
    Since I fly mainly day, vfr, the only upgrade I plan on are wingtip strobes.
    When 2020 rolls around I’m hoping that an ADS-B out, mode S transponder with gps will be reasonably priced. The current $5k would buy me a set of cylinders on the GO-300.!

  9. says

    I have spent the last two and a half years upgrading a 1979 Cessna 172N. I have upgraded the panel, interior and just recently the exterior/paint. There is no way I will ever recoup what I have spent in this process through a sale but I now have exactly what I want. My 172 is very capable with current advanced technology avionics, sufficient power for the environment in which I fly and commands respect on the ramp.

  10. Greg W says

    My thought is that “upgrades” to increase value is a gamble that will vary with the type of aircraft, some items will cost much more than the added “value” to the plane. While those items may make the aircraft easier to sell it may not be worth the cost. For your own use if it is something you need for the type of flying that is commonly done by all means do it. A new nav/com or mode “S” transponder, may be of great use. In an area away from Bravo airspace or Charlie airports the cost of “upgrades” may be better spent on fuel and more flying. I believe that “true” upgrades are things like replacement of obsolete parts with easily obtainable ones such as changing from Firstone/Shinn brakes & wheels/brakes to currently produced Cleveland.

  11. Doug Haughton says

    To keep an airplane in a safe, satisfying, and flyable condition the “upgrade” process should be a constant goal. In other words, if it ain’t broke…..fix it better. When investing in an upgrade I believe there are two approaches; first, an investment into the airplane in which you plan to see a significant return on your money, and second, an investment into “you” simply because its something you want to do to your flying transport device. Just because you wanted “it” on the airplane doesn’t mean that the next owner will be willing to pay for the additional shiny stuff. While that’s not a reason not to do the upgrade, it’s something to consider as you spend the children’s inheritance.

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