Of interest to both sim builders and aircraft owners, the Panel Planner J is a great application for panel design. Running on both Mac and PC, this app is designed in Java, hence the J in its name. The developer, OneMileUp, specializes in aviation-related design tools.
While there are other products on the market with lower prices or even free, none seems to match the comprehensiveness of the database of Panel Planner. They go to great lengths to ensure that its underlying database is current and includes both avionics, over 1600 of them, and standard panels, about 600 from a number of GA aircraft manufacturers. When you design your panel, Panel Planner tracks total cost and weight, electrical loads, generates an equipment list, and outputs the cutout in DXF format, ready for the fabricator to build.
The developers state that “Panel Planner gives you the power to design and build instrument panels in record time”. We put this statement to the test. Installation, we tried both Mac and PC, is a breeze. Once installed, the software updates itself with the latest changes and new instruments as they become available. This takes a few minutes. When it’s ready, you can search for a panel template from most GA aircraft. Search for the avionics you want either by manufacturer (e.g. Garmin) or by instrument type (e.g. Altimeter). The list is amazingly comprehensive. Start populating your panel by simple drag and drop. All measurements are true to life so you can immediately see how much space your avionics take and where. We used a PA28-161 panel (Piper Warrior II), and would have liked to see more reference points within the panel, such as the position of the yokes, which are at a fixed distance from the panel’s edges and the location of the standard radio stack.
Once we started loading instruments we found the above-mentioned statement true, within a few minutes the panel was fully populated with a mix of new and legacy avionics and instruments. We easily found the GNS430 and the older KX155, but also the new Garmin G5 AI and HSI.
There is a measuring tool to calculate distances, but it was a bit awkward to use, and it got stuck on a fixed point. Not sure what caused that but we had to leave the app and get back in to clear it. In the end, we got a very accurate measurement of the panel. Another slight flaw may be in the placard tool. While there are a few placard templates, we did not find some of the most commonly used (like the category limitations or “No Spins Allowed”). You can, however, type in the ext you want and then position the placard by entering the coordinates of the location you want. Once all was done we exported the panel cutout drawing to a DXF file. If you know what you want, this is the way to go. If you are looking for a new design and solutions, you will have fun playing with the avionics available.
Designing your dream panel is a great thing to do. As mentioned, the summary covers info related to known instruments (some may be no longer available or have multiple prices and features, so they show up as $0). Weight and amps drawn are included and totaled.
Overall the program was a pleasure to use and we enjoyed its many additional features, like the panel top view, which lets you see behind the panel, how far each instrument protrudes. The “Panel Perfect” page is a reprint of a great article on panel design, albeit a bit dated.
At $280, the price is a bit high and definitely will discourage some, given other available offerings on the market today. But for those who are serious about panel design, this program takes you 90% into what you need to do to get it done, cut and all. For this reason, we award it with our AFSBI Seal of Approval.