Against an onslaught of inexpensive if not cheap electronic displays, how much longer can conventional iron gyros persist? The latest nail in the coffin comes from a startup called AeroVonics, which unveiled a pair of new instruments at AirVenture last year aimed center-lane at legacy panels.
The company has two models: The diminutive AV-20 that’s best thought of as a clock with high-level features and the more sophisticated and flexible AV-30 that mimics the look of a traditional spinning gyro, but overlays a ton of additional flight data. Both are priced as bargain entries.
The AV-20 fits into a standard 2.25-inch clock hole. This instrument is available in two versions, the AV-20 at $499 and the AV-20-S at $895. The difference? The AV-20-S has pitot/static input so it can display real airspeed, not GPS-derived groundspeed and it also functions as a capable attitude gyro. The entry-level AV-20 lacks the plumbing input and has no gyro, but it has multilevel clock and timer functions. Both are approved for installation under the FAA’s NORSEE rule-non-required safety enhancing equipment. Technically, that means it can’t replace a panel clock if the airplane requires one, nor can it provide a legal attitude source backup if one of those is needed.
Not that it couldn’t do the job. The AV-20-S’s gyro function is one of many features in the instrument, including multiple pages for angle-of-attack indication, G-meter, OAT, true airspeed, bus voltage, density altitude and clock and timer functions. Some of these are paired with audio alerts via tone or chime.
The instrument has a backup battery that will run it for 30 minutes if the ship’s voltage fails. That’s obviously a pile of functionality in a tiny instrument and as is the way of these things, you can’t look at them all at the same time. The AV-20-S has a view toggle to cycle through the AI display, the timers, the AoA and G-meter and so forth. But there’s some smarts built into the instrument in the form of customizable alerts that will pop up the AI, the G-meter and the AoA if certain limits are exceeded. The AI pops if the instrument loses bus power, the reasoning being that the primary displays may be dark and you’d need a backup sooner rather than later.
The AV-20-S is big on AoA display and as does Aspen, it derives this data not with a dedicated probe, but in the software by comparing airspeed with accelerometer-derived flight path. As shown in the graphic at right, AoA can be displayed as a hard angle in conjunction with load factor or graphically with a color-coded rising scale. It also lives on the right side of the AI as a tape-type display. If you’re a big believer in AoA as a safety factor, the AV-20-S may fill the need.
Given its size, installation is minimally invasive, but there’s some wiring and plumbing to do. The rear of the instrument has a pair of standard -inch quick connecting fittings and these will have to be tee’d into the aircraft’s system. There’s also a DB9 jack for power and ground, the audio alerting and an OAT probe. AeroVonics says it will require about two hours for installation.
The more capable AV-30 retails for $1595 and for the higher price, you get a full-featured primary flight display with some planned autopilot functionality. For the time being, AeroVonics is selling only the AV-30-E for experimental aircraft. A certified version with full autopilot integration is planned for early to mid-2020.
In the current version, the AV-30 has a highly customizable attitude indicator display that faithfully mimics a traditional spinning gyro, but overlaid with data such as indicated airspeed, altitude, baro, AoA, OAT and GPS track data. That’s a lot of stuff on a single instrument but AeroVonics pulls it off with clean typography. If any of it proves too much for the data-saturated pilot, it can be entirely decluttered.
A word here about the display design. In our view, it’s superb. AeroVonics took the trouble to add shading to the pitch ball to give it depth and readability and, frankly, it’s a welcome departure from the boring modern EFIS standard. But if you want that, the AV-30 can be set to display it, along with a vintage look that suggests a post-war gyro. AeroVonics reasons that this matches the look of legacy panels where an EFIS might jar. Maybe, but the old airplane will still have an iPad, so the effect may be lost.
The AV-30 incorporates some of the same features found in the AV-20 including probeless AoA, OAT, TAS, Denalt and bus voltage. There are audio alerts for AoA, G and roll limits. The AV-30’s backup battery has a claimed two-hour endurance.
Autopilot interface remains a work in progress, according to AeroVonics. An AML-STC certified version without autopilot capability will be ready by the end of 2019, with full autopilot and HSI-display integration available sometime in 2020. Autopilot integration will require an AeroVonics-provided adapter box. The company’s Bill Shuert told us that it plans to accommodate most popular autopilots.
In our view, the Albuquerque-based AeroVonics is a company whose products are worth watching. We didn’t have time to try these instruments in an airplane, but have that on the calendar for a future report.
What’s most impressive is AeroVonics’ integration of safety-related flight data-AoA, G and roll limits-into an instrument that can also nudge the pilot with aural warnings. The artful graphics are a plus.
For more, see www.aerovonics.com.