Accessories

October 2018 Issue




uAvionix tailBeacon: ADS-B On The Tail

The uAvionix tailBeacon is the latest certified low-cost ADS-B Out option, but a patent lawsuit from Garmin could have potential buyers watching and waiting.

For almost two years the market has been dazzled as Montana-based uAvionix introduced smartly designed ADS-B mandate solutions that seriously curtail the installation effort and cost. As weve been reporting, the first product aimed at the masses is the skyBeacon, a wingtip LED position light with internal WAAS GPS, L-band antenna, an ADS-B transmitter and wireless Bluetooth. With a two-wire interface (power and ground) and a mounting footprint thats the same as many existing incandescent position light housings, the $1849 bolt-on skyBeacon is about as simple as ADS-B Out installs get. uAvionix has been selling the skyBeacon to the experimental market while it soldiered through the TSO certification process, which was awarded as we go to press.

The follow-on product is the tailBeacon, a product thats essentially a repackaged skyBeacon and is designed to easily replace tail-mounted position lights. Like the skyBeacon (and unlike most other ADS-B Out products) the idea is to side-step a big teardown installation by utilizing the existing tail position light wiring, the existing circuit protection and the existing mounting holes for the original light. But like the skyBeacon (which cant be mounted inside a wingtip fairing, for example), some installations will require more modifications when the lights base doesnt match the one on the tailBeacons mounting footprint, although theres a good chance the existing wiring can be used.

In addition to an LED position light that meets TSO-C30c criteria, theres also a built-in anti-collision strobe, which will likely require additional wiring.

The tailBeacon has some smart, but controversial tech built in, including a pressure altitude encoder that interacts with the existing transponder through a patent-pending wireless interface that uAvionix calls a power transcoder reading pressure altitude and the current squawk code without additional hardware or wiring, although the power transcoder is not intended to replace the aircrafts existing altitude digitizer for Mode C functions.

Configuration and setup of the tailBeacon (and wingtip skyBeacon) are done through the uAvionix installer tablet app. Here you program the aircrafts call sign, ICAO address and anonymous mode, plus the app has a performance monitoring utility so installers can verify the system is working before launching on a test flight in ADS-B airspace.

uAvionix says a typical tailBeacon installation might be accomplished in around 15 minutes. Weighing 2.9 ounces including the 6-inch wiring pigtail, rebalancing the aircrafts rudder will depend on the weight difference between the existing light and the new tailBeacon, although in many cases the weight difference is less than 0.5 ounces, uAvionix said.

Buzzkill

As we go to press, the black cloud parked over the uAvionix facility in Montana is a lawsuit filed by Garmin for patent infringement.

In the legal document filed this past June, Garmin alleges that uAvionix has taken/copied its patented AutoSquawk technologyU.S. patent number 8,102,301 (the 301 Patent)without permission. Garmins AutoSquawk curtails the installation and reduces equipment costs of mandate-compliant ADS-B Out upgrades because it eliminates the need to install a dedicated ADS-B control head for keeping the existing transponders Mode 3/A and altitude data in sync with the ADS-B Out data. Other manufacturers ADS-B equipmentincluding FreeFlight Systems and L3, to name tworequire the use of a control panel and wiring for 978 UAT systems.

In an official statement, uAvionix denies infringing on Garmins patent and says it has its own patent-pending method for using the transponders Mode 3/A and altitude data that differs from Garmins 301 Patent.

We are disappointed and frustrated we have to go through the expense, distraction and effort of defending ourselves, but also recognize that disruptive products often attract unwanted attention from incumbents, uAvionix said. The company said it wont be able to comment on the proceedings, which will take some time to resolve.

Garmin doesnt comment on any ongoing litigation, although the litigation document states that it sells the GDL82, GDL84 and GDL88 ADS-B systems to Garmin OEMs and dealers, and it competes directly with uAvionix. The document also says uAvionix approached Garmin with promises of new technology in the drone market and Garmin engaged in extensive communications and meetings with uAvionix throughout 2016 and 2017, and realized that uAvionix had not developed any new technology. It goes on to say Garmin made efforts to resolve the infringement on the 301 Patent before resorting to litigation.

The document reitorates that the uAvionix EchoUAT and skyBeacon products are not merely for amusement, to satisfy idle curiosity or for strictly philosophical inquiry, but instead have a definite, cognizable and not insubstantial commercial purpose. Yes, the uAvionics ADS-B products directly compete with Garmins low-cost (under $2000) ADS-B Out solutions.

Some buyers are understandably concerned about investing in any uAvionix product given this lawsuit. The company said publically that this suit in no way impacts our ability to certify and ship any of our productsincluding the skyBeacon and tailBeacon. We are innovators with integrity and are defending that integrity.

With the ADS-B equipage mandate nearly 15 months away, well be following and reporting on this litigation in future ADS-B coverage.