Avionics at Oshkosh

 - October 2, 2006, 8:18 AM

The amateur-built market has been a crucible for avionics development for decades. The word “experimental” on the airframe often also applies to the panel. It was, after all, a homebuilder who first tried out a loran receiver from a bass boat in his airplane and adapted it for aerial navigation. There’s significant cross-pollination between the computer industry and aviation, largely because both appear to attract the same sort of personality. Here are some of the latest goings-on as witnessed at the booths at AirVenture 2005:

Jeppesen: The Colorado company is persistently doing its best to shed its title as the most prolific customer of the local post office. Full-scale electronic delivery of charts databases and other navigation services is the Holy Grail, and the company’s latest initiative is to streamline and simplify the process for its customers. The Jeppesen Integrated Toolkit for OEMs is part of the process.

To punctuate its commitment to the paperless cockpit, Jeppesen hosted Cirrus pilot Mike Radomsky, president of the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association, at its media presentation. Randomsky was planning a transatlantic flight in his Cirrus and realized–after trimming all but the absolute essentials–the airplane was still about 100 pounds overweight. He reluctantly left behind 20 pounds of paper charts, and his presentation showed, graphically, how efficient and intuitive he found the electronic flight bag to be for him.

XM Weather: Bob Baron, president of WxWorx, asserted that the advent of XM radio-delivered weather in the cockpit is as big a development for general aviation as GPS. Using XM radio satellites, Brown said, means available broadcast power is measured not in tens of watts, but in thousands of watts.

WxWorx launched the product at EAA AirVenture 2003, and the company now has penetrated an estimated 75 percent of the OEM market. It has added satellite mosaics and freezing-level reports to its product offerings at the upper level. The subscriptions come in two levels, the full-service Aviator package at $49.99 per month; and the Aviator LT package at $29.99 per month.

Some other features of the higher- price package include airmets and sigmets; echo tops; severe weather storm tracks; surface analysis maps; lightning; and winds aloft. Standard features include Nexrad radar; metars; TAFs; TFRs; city forecasts; county warnings and precipitation type (at the surface).

On the audio side, XM radio is appearing in more and more cockpits. Cirrus introduced an aircraft audio system that enables pilots to listen to music (or ball games) from any one of 150 stations knowing that ATC calls will override the entertainment broadcast.

Avidyne: The first avionics manufacturer to put full-size glass screens in light airplanes, Avidyne continues to penetrate the OEM market, laying claim to being the largest provider of integrated flight decks. Now with XM radio weather capability, Avidyne’s OrbComm datalink is freed up to provide two-way text messaging and position reporting. Avidyne is now an option or standard on 18 different aircraft models from the two-place Symphony SA160 to the Eclipse 500 and Adam A700.
Avidyne also announced a partnership with simulator manufacturer Frasca International to develop an Entegra version of its Mentor training device.

Garmin: The avionics giant from Olathe, Kan., focused its AirVenture briefing on the latest portable navigator, the GPSmap 396, which incorporates an XM weather receiver. Garmin demonstrator Dave Brown held up a picture of a GPSmap 396 in a recessed flush panel-mount linked to a Garmin TIS-enabled transponder and said, “This should be a great setup for the RV guys. [The RV line of kitplanes, based on the designs of Richard VanGrunsven, is the most popular kit array on the market, with thousands sold and flying. Most are two-place, but the latest, the RV-10, is a four-seater.] It covers the four big ones; nav, traffic, weather and terrain. And it can interface with the com radios for tuning just like a 430 or 530.”

Chelton: The company still has a firm hand in the experimental aircraft side of the market, announcing a new software version for its non-certified products. The new version 6.0 software is the basis of what will be available in the certified systems next year and includes new features such as shaded-relief terrain with coloring similar to that on a satellite map; 400-plus nm of terrain depiction; automatic PFD reversion; both V-bar and dual-cue flight director symbology; and a basic ADI mode for training and transition applications.

The new software also includes enhanced Vnav autopilot control, enabling Lnav and Vnav coupling, including low-speed envelope protection–the first digital EFIS/ autopilot combination available, even in the experimental market. Kirk Hammersmith, president of Direct-To Avionics (Chelton’s distributor for the experimental market), said, “Flying a full procedure turn ILS followed by a missed approach with parallel entry to a holding pattern without ever touching the controls is truly amazing.”

Up and Coming: And look out for companies such as Blue Mountain Avionics of Copperhill, Tenn., and Dynon Avionics of Woodinville, Wash., and others whose ads sprinkle the pages of EAA’s magazine, Sport Aviation. These upstarts make impressive EFIS displays for the kitbuilt market at prices that might concern even the mighty forces at Avidyne, Chelton and Garmin. For example, Dynon’s EFIS-D10A, with attitude, heading, airspeed, altitude, slip-skid and trend monitoring, retails for $2,195–and it runs on batteries. I asked Dynon president John Torode what would keep me from sending away for one and duct-taping it to the glareshield of my airplane as a “backup.”

He said, “I wouldn’t do that.” I thought, ‘FAA enforcement of non-certified equipment?’ But no. Torode, a college professor, continued, “Because we’re working on a new system without the long tube you see on the back of this one. You don’t need it, so the new product will be able to Velcro on the face of the panel and run for 14 hours on a battery charge. It should sell for less than half what the EFIS-D10A costs.”